22 August 2012 Subject: Health, federalism, sovereign risk, political life
CURTIS: Hello and welcome to Capital Hill, I'm Lyndal Curtis. The Coalition has confirmed it's looking at outsourcing some of the administration of federally funded programs in order to cut red tape. It says the plan isn't aimed at slashing the bureaucracy, rather eliminating the duplication. Joining me to discuss this and other issues are Labor MP Shayne Neumann and Coalition Shadow Minister Peter Dutton. Welcome to you both.
DUTTON: Thanks Lyndal.
CURTIS: We'll first hear from the Coalition's family spokesman, Kevin Andrews who says the Coalition's plan to outsource administration is a way of making things more efficient.
KEVIN ANDREWS (GRAB): There’s huge duplication in Australia, if you take the environment area, for example, there are State environmental laws and regulations, there's Commonwealth environmental laws and regulations, there's two sets of bureaucracies, that's really a waste of time, it's unproductive and inefficient.
CURTIS: Peter Dutton, Mr Andrews thinks the approach can be used quite broadly across the Federal Government sector, where can you see it applying in your portfolio area Health?
DUTTON: Lyndal, since the 2007 election, the election you will remember when Kevin Rudd promised to fix public hospitals, they've increased the bureaucracy now with 10 new authorities, they haven't cut funding to the Department but they've taken function away from the Department and we need to look at ways in which we can get more money to front line services and I think that's the driver.
CURTIS: But in this area the Government is talking about devolving more responsibility down to the local level, are there other sorts of health programs that a Federal Government rolls out, that you could see administered by states?
DUTTON: If you look to the Health debate, coming from the 2007 election, the Labor Party had a view that they would try and separate funding responsibility and delivery of service responsibility and public hospitals for argument's sake, there's almost 800 of those around the country and all of those are owned by the State Governments and the Territory governments. So they have the employment relations with the doctors and nurses and orderlies in those hospitals and I want to make sure as a Coalition that we can get as much money out of bureaucratic structures and into frontline services and I think that's how we're going to deliver better for Australians and at one stage the Labor Party believed in that as well, I thought.
CURTIS: Shayne, Labor warns this plan comes at a time when States, particularly Queensland, are cutting services, but wouldn't a move to reduce duplication make things cheaper at the delivery end? That there could be savings between the State and federal public services?
NEUMANN: It's clear Campbell's Queensland will become Abbott's Australia, slashing jobs, slashing funds and slashing services. Let me give you a couple of illustrations. In my area we've seen 4 jobs lost in the West Moreton Health Service by slashing of service. We've seen about 23 jobs lost in a mental health service at Wolston Park, in one particular section alone, these are the consequences. Another interesting thing you should look at is the rhetoric that's being used. Duplication is the word being used by John-Paul Langbroek, the State Minister in Queensland for Education, Training and Employment but they've slashed the jobs and other training problems, as a result of the alleged duplication, which has ripped out millions of dollars out of Queensland.
CURTIS: But eliminating the duplication, the double handling there is in environmental approvals, is already something the Federal Government is doing. Why shouldn't that approach be looked at more looked at more broadly?
NEUMANN: Because what we're seeing is a smoke screen. We know they've got a $70 billion black hole in their budget costings because the Minister for Finance, Shadow Minister for Finance said that.
DUTTON: You’re talking about Queensland.
NEUMANN: We know they've got a problem in this regard we're talking about, we're talking about the Federal Government.
DUTTON: $65 billion is the real debt they inherited from Labor when they came in.
NEUMANN: The situation in Queensland is the Treasury figures are accurate.
DUTTON: It’s dire, it’s dire in Queensland.
NEUMANN: The situation is we've had 3 people in Queensland parliament yesterday, apologise, for telling untruths in relation to the alleged debt and we've seen a concoction. We've got a commission of audit that Tony Abbott wants to bring in and that's what Campbell Newman has done in Queensland, as an excuse to cut jobs, funding and services. This is simply a smoke screen here Lyndal.
CURTIS: I’ll ask my question again. The Federal Government's already doing it in the case of environmental approvals, because it doesn't want companies having to answer one set of questions from a State Government and a similar set of questions from a Federal Government. Couldn't that approach be used more broadly?
NEUMANN: We’ve streamlined processes through the COAG process. We've seen today, for example, in parliament a piece of legislation going through the House of Representatives in relation to greenhouse gas emissions as a result of a COAG process. What we're seeing today from those opposite, what we've seen from Peter and his cohorts there is simply a plan that's going to slash jobs, slash services and slash funding and we see it in every single electorate in Queensland and this is code. I mean their policy is actually to get rid of public servants, just like Campbell Newman is getting rid of 20,000 public servants in Queensland, including 4,000 in Health.
CURTIS: Peter, the Treasurer in Queensland, Tim Nicholls, says he's happy with the approach the Coalition proposes but he expects resources to come from the Federal Government to enable it to happen. Would you see increased funding to the States as part of this approach?
DUTTON: Well if it's a more efficient way of delivering services to Australians and health is my area of shadow responsibility, if I can get more doctors in, to see patients and more nurses in, to see patients, I don't care who runs it. I want to see better health outcomes.
CURTIS: If it comes at an extra cost to the States you'd be happy to pay for that?
DUTTON: I think if it comes at a greater benefit for the taxpayer and a more efficient price for the taxpayer, then that's all we can ask for. I don’t think there is any elaborate tricky plan here, I think it's a statement of the obvious. I think, beneath it all, Shayne and his party believe it as well, if there's a cheaper way of governments doing business, of getting better outcomes for people who are waiting years on waiting lists or waiting hours with sick kids in emergency departments, why wouldn't we do that? I think it's a statement of the bleeding obvious.
NEUMANN: I’d believe Peter in relation to that if they hadn't capped the GP training places and left us to increase the training places and put in more GPs and double the funding with respect to health and hospitals. This is a mob that will get rid of e-health and GP Superclinics and GP after-hours services. That's their policy.
CURTIS: If we could move on quickly.
DUTTON: It's not, but I'm happy for you to move on.
CURTIS: If I can ask you each one question about BHP. It's announced it’s putting off the expansion of Olympic Dam in South Australia, it's a big project for that State. Shayne, the Federal Treasurer talks a lot about the investment pipeline, but doesn't shelving or delaying projects make that pipeline a little shorter?
NEUMANN: Well I've seen the press release, from BHP Billiton and Marius Kloppers doesn’t mention the carbon pricing and they make long term decisions. In fact in the press release he talks about strong commodity prices in the copper industry. This has got nothing to do with perceived industrial militancy, as the Opposition Leader talks about, nor the carbon price. These are decisions that companies make and we've got a strong investment pipeline. There's about $450 billion in investment coming. We've seen about $107 billion in the coal industry, for example, much of it in my home State of Queensland and Peter's home State. The mining sector is going strong and these companies make long-term decisions, they paused it, we believe long term that they will invest. It's a matter for the company and it's got nothing to do with the scare campaigns brought on by the Opposition.
CURTIS: Peter, the expansion of Olympic Dam hasn't been scrapped but BHP is looking at a less capital intensive approach, a cheaper approach, doesn't that mean the expansion is likely to happen at some stage?
DUTTON: Look, I'm really worried not just for our country but in particular for South Australians, Lyndal, because I think South Australia was really banking on this project. They're an economy that's not performing well. They haven't got the industries and the revenue base of some of the bigger Eastern States and people were really hoping that this would come off. Mike Rann had been working on it for years, everybody in South Australia had pushed for this and of course when you talk to these business leaders, behind the scenes, they're dead worried about this Government. They're worried about uncertainty because capital decisions and investment decisions on these projects are made in boardrooms in New York or in London or other parts of the world and they're looking at -
CURTIS: But that's not what BHP said in their statement?
DUTTON: I'm just saying what people say privately. They're worried about sovereign risk in this country and if countries are looking at Australia vis-a-vis parts of Europe or parts of Africa to invest, at the moment the Gillard Government is putting doubt in people's mind about investment and that's what's happened in South Australia.
NEUMANN: I would believe that, Lyndal, but for the fact we've seen so many Liberal and National Party members investing in mining companies and we've seen that on their - in their declarations.
DUTTON: Waiting for a Liberal Government and then the shares will go up. This is the problem for you.
NEUMANN: But you can see that investing in telecommunications technology as well, you know.
CURTIS: If we can move on to finally 'The Age' newspaper this morning, went back and had a look at what the Prime Minister said about education in her maiden speech to parliament and suggested her attitudes towards private schools has changed. It's far from a new thing to go back to a politician's maiden speech and see what changes they've made and far from a new thing for a politician to change their mind. If I could ask you both, do politicians, do MPs come into Parliament as idealists and maybe leave as pragmatists. First to you, Peter.
DUTTON: I'm probably similar to Shayne. I recall my maiden speech being one of the most nervous times that I'd ever presented publicly and I think part of that reason is because you know people are going to then benchmark you against that speech for all of your time in public life. I think politics is the art of the doable. It's not a pretty process, as people say, but you hope that in the end, what you're contributing to is the stability of our country. I think there are good and bad people on both sides of politics and I think in the end people are building up our country to be one of the greatest democracies in the world and I think for all of the niceties and the unpleasantness about question time, that is a very, very small part of our democracy and I think we should be very proud of, as members of Parliament, as contributors to the public debate, what it is that we're able to achieve in this country. I don't think I'd talk down a contribution of anybody in this Parliament at all.
CURTIS: Shayne, are you a little less idealistic than you were when you when you first started?
NEUMANN: I think when you look at maiden speeches, it shows that people are both idealistic and realistic and there are things that Peter might have said in his maiden speech that perhaps he would have changed and I'm the same. But people are quite pragmatic about it. It's a statement about what you believe and what you hope to achieve. I think most people go into the politics for the best of reasons on both sides of politics and people really want to achieve the best outcome for their electorate. Jim Killen, on the other side of politics, said that “not all the best bowlers are in the one team”. He's absolutely correct. People's views evolve over time and change but people I think really want to do the best by the country and by their local community when they go into politics.
CURTIS: How much have you learned, Peter, since you started in politics about the difference between what you really want to do and how much you can actually get done?
DUTTON: I find time in Opposition completely miserable, I might say if we're amongst friends. I think for me, and I think particularly for people who have been ministers in previous governments, to have the capacity there to shape public policy, to direct funding into areas that you think are going to provide good outcomes for the country, to be then starved of that capacity for a long period is difficult and it's a transformation. John Howard always says, use your time productively and come up with good policies so you can hit the ground running when you're re-elected and I think that's good advice. It's a very different life between being in Opposition and being in Government and in a way I feel sorry for a lot of the Labor ministers in this government and Kevin Rudd's Government who had spent 13 years in Opposition and basically have lived a miserable existence over the last 5 years not being able to implement, what it was that they believed in. It's an ironic existence, but in the end I think we make the sacrifice in terms of our family time and the rest to make for a better country.
NEUMANN: I think we are implementing what we believe in. We've done a lot in education and health, on road funding and infrastructure. This is a Labor Government that delivers for people, delivers for those, the poor, those who need it most, in regional and rural communities, in communities like mine and I'm very proud of what we've achieved in my community and other communities around Queensland, things like the Ipswich motorway and the community infrastructure projects we've undertaken and I think that's what being in Government is about and I'm very pleased we are in Government and I thank the Prime Minister and I thank the former Prime Minister for being there.
DUTTON: You don't sing Kevin Rudd's praises enough, I might say. And there needs to be more of it too, Shayne.
CURTIS: On that's note that's where we will have to leave it. Thank you for your time. And thank you for joining Capital Hill. Please be with us at the same time tomorrow, goodnight.