Friday, 28 September 2012

Transcript – Doorstop at the Princess Alexandra Hospital

Brisbane
28 September, 2012

KEVIN RUDD: It’s great to be back here at the PA, this is a fantastic tertiary hospital which is all for the delivery of public health services here in South-East Queensland. There is a massive use of this facility not just across the Southside of Brisbane but across the wider metro area and I’m proud and pleased to have such a landmark facility in my own electorate, here on Brisbane’s Southside.

The reason I have come here today is to emphasise the absolute importance of maintaining proper State Government funding to deliver health and hospital services for the good people of Queensland. The Federal Government, under the inter-government agreement with the Commonwealth and the states, has been boosting its investment in the health and hospital system of the nation. At the same time, the Liberal-National Party State Government of Queensland has been pulling funding out. Let me just give you an example: the Federal Government funding since we signed the new agreement with the states and the Commonwealth, back when I was Prime Minister, since then we have increased our allocation by nearly 17% to the health and hospitals of this state. They are currently getting about $3.2 billion a year.

At the same time, we see slash and burn by the State Government, the withdrawal of funding from the health and hospital system here in Queensland. And frankly, that’s not good enough.

Let’s go down to the local level here. Here in metropolitan south region which covers a huge slice of South-East Queensland, we, the Federal Government, have injected some $47 million in additional project funding here and our calculations are that some $40 million has been extracted by the State Government from this particular health region. Then of course we go to an immediate area of concern for me and that is organ transplant. This really worries me. Back in 2008 we convened something called the 2020 Summit, this was in Canberra. One of the ideas coming out of that nationwide was that we had to radically change the way in which organ donation and transplant was going to occur in this country. The reason being 2,000 people or so on waiting lists for transplants around Australia and not enough donations coming in. We then consulted worldwide on the best systems we could use and we concluded based on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of the Commonwealth to establish the Organ and Transplant Authority, the Organ and Tissue Authority of Australia. And it supports action through a group called or an organisation called DonateLife.

What does all that mean in practical terms? A single, dedicated authority, nationwide responsible for maximising organ donation and maximising the successful transplant rate. In three short years what we’ve done is take up the number of organ donations from just under 200 a year to something in the vicinity of 350 a year and we’ve got more to go. Today I spent time talking to some of the recipients of liver transplants who, if that had not received those livers, would not be alive. 

With this particular service, I am deeply worried about the future commitment by the Liberal National Party Government in Queensland. Correspondence has been going backwards and forwards between Mr Springborg, the State Health Minister and the Federal Parliamentary Secretary responsible for organ and tissue transplant, Catherine King and this has indicated the possibility, or the real threat, of the Queensland Government taking its support away from this dedicated network for organ transplant and donation and absorbing it into the general functions of Queensland Health. If you do that, you are returning exactly to where we were three, four, five years ago when the system wasn’t working.

Now a few of us have been kicking up a bit of stink about this and there’s some mixed messages coming out of the State Government now as to whether they are going to support or pull their funding back from the maintenance of this core Organ and Tissue Authority and its operations here in Queensland.

My call is very simply this – for the State Government to make absolutely clear cut that this Organ and Tissue Authority and its operation through DonateLife at this hospital, the PA, and elsewhere in Queensland, are left alone.

They are preserved, that there are no cutbacks to this critical service. I am deeply wedded to this. Apart from all the other injections of funding we, the Australian Government has made, into critical services elsewhere in the nation. Health, public health, the ability to get a transplant, is too important, frankly, for state government, politicians and bureaucrats, to play games with. This should be off limits. I’m encouraged by recent signals as late as the last few days out of Queensland Health and their Minister that they may be beginning to wobble on this. The early correspondence that we had from them to the Commonwealth was bad, it’s now started to improve, but this is one where we simply have to draw a line. My overall point is this: we the Australian Government are investing in the future of Queensland’s’ health and hospital system by inversing record funds – a 17% increase, $3.2 billion a year. I’ve been part and parcel of that in recent years with the health and hospitals reform program, and I’m not about to stand idly by while this Liberal National Party Government takes the Federal Government money with one hand and pulls its own out with the other. That’s just wrong. Bad for the delivery of health services in Queensland and bad of course for the nurses who I’ve met many of today, who actually are the lifeblood of making this system tick and work every day. Did you want to add anything to what I’ve just said?
BETH MOHLE: No, it’s just that ah, it is the case as we all know – 2,754 jobs are being slashed with these cuts within Queensland Health, over 1500 of those are from the 17 hospital health networks. We really don’t know where these jobs will be cut from at this stage with the exception of Townsville where we have further intelligence and to top it off, these jobs are just absolutely essential to the provision of quality health services in Queensland. But it is not only those jobs that are at risk, it’s also jobs from the non-government sector that are under threat because funding has been cut (inaudible). I’ve got to say that our members are going to be campaigning on the ground, we have already started that in Townsville with a community campaign lobbying politicians in Townsville, Ayr and Charters Towers. We’ll be fighting against every single one of those 2,754 jobs. We do not accept that this is necessary – no case has been made for it so, we’ll be doing everything we can to campaign and putting a lot of pressure on politicians to make sure that these cuts do not eventuate. Because, as I said there has been absolutely no case made.
KEVIN RUDD: Well, just to conclude before your questions, health is too important to play politics with: breast screening and its services state-wide – too important to play politics with; Tuberculosis services – too important to play politics with; organ donation and transplant – too important to play politics with. For goodness sake, we’re bigger than that in Australia, we’re bigger than that as Queenslanders, let’s do the right thing. My call to Premier Newman and the Liberal National Party Government here in Queensland, is to do the right thing and to preserve health from this onslaught and assault on basic government services here in Queensland, it’s too important to be sacrificed. Open to questions folks.
QUESTION: What is your relationship with Lindsay Tanner as somebody who came to your defence earlier this year?
MR RUDD: I’m focused on the future of the health system in the country. I’ve put in a huge amount of effort in my period as Prime Minister in ensuring that we have a better system for the future with better levels of federal funding which will (inaudible) into the future, that’s where my focus lies. In terms of the other political debate, that’s a matter for others. Others have contributed to it, Mr Swan’s contributed to it, Mr Burke’s contributed to it, Ms Roxon’s contributed to it, and now Mr Tanner has as well. We should be broad-shouldered enough to sustain that kind of debate.  My priorities are about the future of the health and hospital system.
QUESTION:  Mr Rudd how do you think we will go with getting a seat on the UN Security Council?

KEVIN RUDD: The number one priority for Australia is to make sure that we have a strong economy, the number one priority is that we therefore have the tax revenue to deliver the basic services that Australian people want in health and in education and in the provision of support in maintaining a clean environment that’s what Australians want, and our national defence as well. Part of our national security lies in what we do in critical institutions like the UN Security Council. I launched this bid, I support the Prime Minister’s effort to secure the success of this bid, it will be difficult as a contest, all ballots in the international community are, but you got to be in it to win it.

QUESTION: Are you opposed to it? Do you agree with that?

KEVIN RUDD: Absolutely not. When I launched the bid back in 2008, I made it very plain that this was going to be very, very difficult. In the international community people vote for different reasons, all sorts of different reasons and this is by no means a lay down (inaudible). It’s going to be hard fought all the way, and as somebody who served as Prime Minister and as Foreign Minister until earlier this year, I have some familiarity with how complex this is on the ground. We’re here today primarily to talk about the future of the health and hospital system. May I throw in one further local point which I think is pretty important? The Liberal National Party recently endorsed a candidate against me here on the Southside, the former Head of the Australian Medical Association, who said that his job as the Liberal National Party candidate for the federal election is to get out there and defend and explain what Premier Campbell Newman is doing in cutting funding to the state health system. So let me get this straight, we have the former Head of the Australian Medical Association running here in this electorate, where the PA hospital is, where the Mater Hospital is, and he sees his job as to go out there and defend the cuts brought about by his Party at the state level. I mean give us a break. I think the Liberal National Party candidate needs to get his priorities right.

QUESTION: Mr Rudd, what are we to read into the fact that you seem to make media appearances whenever the Prime Minister is out of town?

KEVIN RUDD: What you can conclude from that is that I take seriously my responsibility to get out there and argue the case for what the Australian Government is doing in health and hospital services when they are being ripped and torn apart by the Liberal National Party at the state level.

QUESTION: Are you saying the Prime Minister doesn’t do that?

KEVIN RUDD: The facts speak for themselves. $49 million was injected to this health region alone by us at the federal level. $40 million ripped out by the Liberal National Party Government at the state level.

QUESTION:  Is it a deliberate strategy on your behalf to get some clear media air while the PM is out of the country?

KEVIN RUDD: It’s my continued objective to do everything within my power to prevent Mr Abbott from becoming the next Prime Minister of Australia, because what we have with Campbell Newman, Barry O’Farrell in New South Wales and Ted Baillieu in Victoria, we have simply the entrée. The entrée of slash and burn to basic government services nationwide, Tony Abbott, he’s the main course. So I will do everything while I draw breath to make sure that that man does not become Prime Minister of the country and I have a contribution to the public debate to make and I remind you we are here in my electorate of Griffith on the Southside where my constituents use this hospital.

QUESTION: Do you support the budget surplus target?

KEVIN RUDD: The Government’s made clear its commitment to the budget surplus. I fully understand the budgetary pressures the Government is under, having just come back from China this morning and looked at the debate there about the weakness of Chinese demand and the impact that will have on Australian exports therefore Australian tax receipts, this is a difficult task. But I support the government, I’m a member of Government, I support its commitment to returning the budget to surplus.
QUESTION: (inaudible)
KEVIN RUDD: I’ve just returned to the country this morning, I’m unfamiliar with the details which form the basis of your question, I’m a member of the Government, I support the -
QUESTION: Mr Rudd, the Premier has tweeted while you’ve been speaking, he says “can Kevin Rudd explain how taxing Australian super is a budget saving as Swan and Wong are saying”.
KEVIN RUDD: What I would say to Campbell Newman, he seems to have a habit of sending out tweets when I stand up and talk about things to do with State Government services, is that the Premier of Queensland should get his priorities right. Why am I talking about health? It is a shared responsibility between the federal government and the state government. We put in - they put in. And right now we’re putting in more and they’re taking out more. It’s a shared responsibility. What’s Mr Newman doing by raising his voice about the superannuation debate is simply seeking to throw out a distraction in an area where he, the Premier of Queensland, has zero responsibility. Health is a joint responsibility, that’s why I’m here. And if the Premier of Queensland has time to monitor my press conferences and send out a tweet may I suggest he comes down here, has a discussion with me outside the PA Hospital to provide a guarantee, not a Tony Abbott styled one, but a serious role goal guarantee that the delivery of critical health and hospital services will not be effected by his announced health cuts.
And if I could add to what the (inaudible) had to say before: we have this great distinction which the Liberal Nation Party Government makes between front line services and supposably administrative functions. Let everyone be clear: if you are taking thousands of people out of the administration of a health system, even if you accept his definition, guess where the administration of the health board flows to? To the front line workers, the job, the function, doesn’t disappear - it gets transferred elsewhere. And that means an impact on the quality of the health services delivered to the Queensland public. I don’t intend to remain silent while that goes on. So to the Premier, out there in the Twitterverse, in the Twitterverse today, get your priorities right and stop launching such a full scale assault on the public health system of Queensland.
QUESTION:  What did you think of the (inaudible)?
KEVIN RUDD: (inaudible)...and I know Johnsie as well, but can I say, I’m a Queenslander. Mal for me is somewhere near to a God to me.
QUESTION: (inaudible)
KEVIN RUDD: Look I’ve just (inaudible) as I came here to speak to you this morning, I think it’s important but if you’re seeking comment on that matter you should go to the Attorney General, Ms Roxon, and it’s my understanding also that there are other matters on foot therefore it would be inappropriate for me to provide any substantive comment. Having that said folks, it’s time for me to zip.

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