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Crean Declines To Oppose Death Sentence For Amrozi

August 8, 2003

This is the transcript of the press conference held by the Leader of the Opposition, Simon Crean, at the North Haven Medical Clinic, in Adelaide.

Simon Crean, Leader of the Opposition CREAN:

The health system is in crisis in this country because the Government is not prepared to fund it adequately. We have seen under this Government the continuing decline in bulk billing in every year since they have been in.

The decline has been the most dramatic over the past three years. Here in South Australia, bulk billing is now down to 59%. It's an outrage. And that is because of the difference between a Labor Government previously prepared to invest in our Medicare system, and the Howard Government that is not prepared to invest.

The package of measures that I have put forward will restore bulk billing to back over the 80% level. We recognise the importance of increasing the patient rebate. We also understand the importance of building incentives in to encourage doctors back into bulk billing. But we need a Government in Canberra committed to restoring bulk billing and to saving Medicare.

The other problem, of course, is that if bulk billing disappears, Medicare goes. And it's great that the clinic that we have visited here today with Paul and Peter still prepared to offer full bulk billing services in the community. These are the examples of practices we want to re-establish all around the country.

If people can't find a doctor that bulk bills, they go to the emergency ward at the local hospital. And that puts added pressure on the waiting lists at those hospitals. The problem in health care is to fix bulk billing and to get a decent agreement with the States on funding the hospital system.

I had discussions with Mike Rann this morning, and he is yet another Premier complaining about the fact that the Howard Government is not only putting pressure onto the hospital system, but it won't fund them adequately.

This Government won't even turn up to the meetings with their State counterparts to discuss proper hospital funding. This has got to stop, but what it requires is a political party with the conviction to support Medicare and restore bulk billing. And that is what my plan does.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible] resonating with the public?

CREAN:

I have no doubt that it is resonating. Everywhere I go around the country, people are saying, ‘Why can't I get a doctor who bulk bills?' They keep getting told every time about, not just the decline but about the continuing trend downwards. They know that our package is a significant down payment.

This is a trend that has happened over seven or eight years, and I am not pretending I can fix it overnight. I'm not pretending that this solution of mine will get bulk billing back there immediately. But, progressively over time, it will get there.

My commitment is to say we are serious about restoring bulk billing. We can do it by reordering priorities in this one Budget. And if we get the chance to do it in future Budgets, we will get back to the system that people paid for.

I've never argued that a health system comes for free, but people have paid for their health care through their Medicare Levy and through their general taxes. They shouldn't have to pay again when they walk through the door to see a doctor. And that is what is happening under this Government.

Under the Government's proposals, for any family that earns more than $32,000 a year, there is no incentive for a doctor to bulk bill them any more, none. Now, $32,000 is not wealthy.

What the Howard Government is saying any family over $32,000 would have to pay when they walk through the door to see a doctor. That is not a system that I support. That is not a system that needs to prevail. The proposal that I have put forward will stop that happening.

JOURNALIST:

So are you able to disclose what sort of amounts of money you would need to start with to get that figure up where you'd like to see it?

CREAN:

The $1.9billion package that I've put out is the huge down payment on it. That is fully funded and fully costed. It is fully funded in the sense that it doesn't drive the Budget into deficit. It doesn't put pressure on interest rates. It is a sensible reordering of priorities. That is what Budgets are about. That is what Governments are about – about saying how do we get the better spend for the revenues that we collect?

The most important investment that can be made for a community across all of its age groups is investing properly in affordable healthcare, and that is what I want to see.

JOURNALIST:

Did Mr Rann mention shortages in Flinders Medical Centre during your discussions – staff shortages, bed shortages?

CREAN:

No, he didn't mention the specifics of the shortages. But when you look at the fact that the Federal Government is not even prepared in the new five-year agreement on hospitals to fund at the level that the last five years was funded. And that ignores all of the increased costs, all of the increased demands on the system.

You can understand why the States are struggling. But what is the attitude of the Federal Government? Its Minister won't even turn up at the meeting to discuss the new five-year health agreement, the Medicare agreement.

JOURNALIST:

Should she be removed?

CREAN:

Well, she is totally ineffective. It is interesting, the other day she was reported in one of the medical journals admitting that their Medicare package is a failure, that it won't get through, that it's inadequate.

So this is a Minister that has run up the white flag knowing that her package is inadequate but not doing anything to go back into Cabinet to argue for a reordering of priorities. I've shown how, by reordering the Budget, we can save the system. That is what the Government should be picking up.

JOURNALIST:

Just on the Amrozi issue – does justice now seem to be done?

CREAN:

Justice has to be done, because there were horrendous consequences for the victims of the Bali bombing. Eight-eight Australians died, and there were many injured. With those acts of callousness, those acts of wanton destruction, the perpetrators have to be brought to justice. And whilst it will never return the loved ones, whilst it will never ease the pain and the suffering of those who have been through the incident, it is important for them, I believe, that justice be seen to be done, and is done.

JOURNALIST:

To the relatives of the victims, how do you think they're feeling now that there is talk there that the legal system maybe not getting justice done because the charges brought against him just may not be legitimate?

CREAN:

I haven't heard that argument. I think we're talking about the …

JOURNALIST:

The retrospective, sorry, the legislation over there, in regards to retrospective legislation.

CREAN:

I must say I'm not aware of that issue that you're talking about. But I think that we've got to distinguish two things here. The hurt, pain, suffering and the loss can never be corrected for the people who have lost loved ones, and for those who have suffered injury and lasting trauma as a result of the bomb blast.

And no one is pretending that simply bringing a sentence down against someone is going to ease that pain. But it is essential in the process of healing that those who perpetrated the crime are brought to justice and are dealt with.

JOURNALIST:

And if that means the death sentence, so be it?

CREAN:

Well, I'm not a believer in capital punishment. I've made that point clear time and time again. But this crime was committed on Indonesian soil. It's tried in accordance with Indonesian law, and the penalty has been applied in accordance with Indonesian law. I won't be using the opportunity to argue a different outcome.

JOURNALIST:

Even though the Democrats say you should be?

CREAN:

They can say what they like. I think that the important thing here is to recognise that the perpetrators have been brought to justice in accordance with the law of the land under which the crime was committed.

The important thing for Australia to be doing is not concentrating on that particular detail, but resolving to strengthen the hand of the Australian Government in cooperation with other countries in stamping out the threat of terrorism, in bringing better intelligence-gathering, intelligence-sharing to ensure that these sorts of crimes can't be committed in the future.

JOURNALIST:

David Hicks turned 28 yesterday after 20 months without charge in Guantanamo Bay. What should happen to him?

CREAN:

He should be charged, and the details of those charges be made known. It's not good enough to simply have run out, every time pressure is raised, that they are close to bringing charges.

The Attorney-General should be demanding to know from the US Government what it is that he is going to be charged with. The Australian Government should be making stronger representations to the US, just as the British have done. But, fundamentally, David Hicks should be brought home to face justice under our system.

JOURNALIST:

I asked you before about the ABC. Mr Bolding has managed to evade a protest outside the front, and gone via a rear entrance. Do you think that was a bit cagey, a bit unsporting given the circumstances of one of the most popular ABC programs being cut?

CREAN:

I think the Behind the News program, which comes out of South Australia, was an essential public service. When you look at young people these days, I know that they don't look at TV news and they don't read the newspapers. They get their news in other forums. Behind the News was an effective mechanism for communicating news-breaking stories to young people. I think it was an innovative program. It was desperately needed. It wouldn't have happened under any commercial program. It can only be done through an effective public broadcaster being adequately funded.

I think that the Government, in denying that funding, is doing a great disservice to the country and to the young people of our country. The ABC should be adequately funded to enable it to get on with the task of being an effective public broadcaster.

JOURNALIST:

Should it keep the program?

CREAN:

It should keep the program. I think it is one of those great, innovative programs. It must be kept.

JOURNALIST:

[inaudible]

CREAN:

I think you learn over time that, as much as you might like to avoid facing up to difficult issues, when you're in public life you can't. And I think it is important to [inaudible], but it's most important of all to keep the program. And we will keep the pressure on the Government to adequately fund the ABC and, as a Government, we will.

JOURNALIST:

The DPP is dropping the charges against Mr Colston. Do you want to remark on that at all?

CREAN:

I haven't seen the comments of the DPP, but I think it is appropriate that if ex-Senator Colston has misused public monies that charges be pursued. I'd like to see the detail of the DPP's explanation as to why ex-Senator Colston shouldn't be pursued.

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