Transcript, Press Conference – Perth
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18 May 2011
Topics: Health Reform Projects for Western Australia, Plain Packaging of Tobacco
Nicola Roxon: Okay, thank you very much for coming. My name is Nicola Roxon, I'm the Federal Health Minister and I'm delighted to be here with Kim Hames, who as you know, is the Deputy Premier and Western Australia's Health Minister.
Apologies first, for being so late but the plane had a few troubles leaving Melbourne, so we've mucked everyone around. But it was very important to be here today and I'm really pleased to be here with Kim. This is the first opportunity that we've had to be together to announce the details of where the health reform investments are going to be spent in Western Australia.
So this is as a result of Premier Barnett and his government, signing on to the health reform deal in February. Kim has been working like crazy with his department to put together an implementation plan which our government has now approved.
We can release today the details of where more than 300 beds are going to be built across the country, subacute beds, some that are going to be in the community, which emergency departments are going to get some extra money, which mental health services are going to get extra facilities.
This is around $304 million of the agreed amount from health reform that's now being allocated and invested across the state of Western Australia. So it's really a pleasure for me to be able to be here. So thank you to the Western Australian Governments for working so quickly on the implementation plan.
This means that services can start planning to get these additional facilities online as quickly as possible and that's obviously a great benefit to the Western Australian community.
I'm going to hand over to Kim to make some general comments. There's a couple of other issues that I'd like to comment on, too, and obviously if you'd like us to comment on any of the particular projects, we're happy to do that.
But you'll see investments that run from Broome to Rockingham to Geraldton and around the country, mental health beds in some places. As I said, emergency departments, elective surgery investments, investments in Bentley, really all across the state and it's been a great process.
As I say, the Western Australian Government and their health bureaucrats have worked very quickly and closely with our government and we're delighted that they have and that we can be here today to announce these benefits of health reform for the Western Australian community…
Kim Hames: Thanks, Nicola. Yes, we're obviously very happy to have the funds, the additional funds, from the Commonwealth and I won't go through the detail of the things that have been covered, you can have a look at those after.
But, needless to say, it goes across the length and breadth of Western Australia in a whole range of areas. It's always hard getting enough money to cover from health, particularly when we're the fastest growing state in terms of population. And our demand is growing so strongly in our hospitals.
So while we, as a state, have put in a lot of additional funding, this allows us to cover some of the critical shortages that are important and probably subacute beds are the most important of those.
Subacute beds are for patients who don't really need to be in hospital, but can't be at home anymore and need some longer ongoing care. So this will allow us to find places for those patients.
Some funded in the hospitals, but some funded in the community. So we can have more beds available for those who have more acute needs. So it is a great addition but there's a whole range of other things, both in helping to support our four hour rule, helping to manage our elective surgery waiting lists, looking after mental health care and a lot of infrastructure for some very important things, including equipment across the state.
So I'm very happy that we're able to come to the arrangement with the Commonwealth Government and have these additional funds that will make the life of our treating health practitioners, our health staff, so much easier and, of course, better looking after the patients in this state.
Journalist: In terms of timeframe though, when will we actually see those 300 beds being ready to go?
Kim Hames: Well, we've got some of the funds already, the first small amount of funds has already come. There's another amount coming in June and really it's been spaced across the four years. But if you look at the documents that list where all those things are going, a lot of them are 2011, 2012 - that those particular projects start.
We had to work quickly, as a state government and health department putting together our wish list but they were wishes based on some critical areas of shortage. So it was excellent to have those additional funds to work with.
Journalist: So Western Australians still won't see a bit of a difference for at least a year or so?
Kim Hames: Well, no, I think they'll see some difference straight away. There are things in terms of some of the equipment, in terms of some of the purchase of beds and, for example, there's money there that allows us to purchase surgery outside our public hospital system for those where there is a critical need.
One of those that we sought funds for is bariatric medicine, so those needing gastric banding that we just are unable to do within our hospital system and the demand is huge, we'll now be able to contract to the private sector to have that surgery done. So a range of things like that can be started straight away.
Journalist: This outlines - sorry - 300 beds initially but then it says 163 later on, can you explain that, just in…
Nicola Roxon: I can probably clarify that for you. Because there are subacute beds, some that will be in the hospital system, some that will be outside the hospital system. So the total is for there to be 300 beds and Western Australia is actually exceeding the target that was agreed to as part of the health reform.
One hundred and thirty-five subacute beds and an additional 170 subacute bed equivalents, so they're mostly the ones that are in the community sector, maybe non government organisations, step down or step up care.
So this is actually a really good story. Our health reform commission said to us that one of the missing links of the health system was the provision of subacute care and Minister Hames has just identified why. That's consistent across the country and our investments in health reform are to try to fill those gaps and you're seeing from the implementation plan that Western Australia is doing that.
I'm sure you'll be interested, there's also, for example, 30 new beds at Joondalup Hospital, 24 beds for Rockingham Hospital that I'll be visiting later today, 18 at Bentley Hospital, 16 for Armadale.
Then, of course, the big investments in surgery, like at Osborne Park, $33 million to deliver two new operating theatres, a reconfigured surgical suite, six new consultation rooms. These are investments that really have been made possible because our governments are cooperating together.
The Western Australian Government is running and planning the health services. Our government is contributing an additional amount of money to be able to fund those new investments. I think it's a sign of what we can do, when we work together.
Journalist: Just on that cooperation, there's been quite a bit of negotiation between the state and the Commonwealth throughout this process. Is it personally satisfying for both of you that we've got to this stage after all those…
Nicola Roxon: Well, I'm sure Kim will have a view, too. I'm delighted. I think there was always, on the record, agreement that the health components of health reform were going to be good for the country and were going to be good for Western Australia.
There was clearly an argument about the GST. Prime Minister Gillard ultimately was prepared to accept that change that Premier Barnett had been advocating for a long time.
What that means with the new arrangements, is that we can deliver these benefits to the Western Australian patients, to the Western Australian community without there having to be an argument over the GST.
Kim Hames: Yep, and from our point of view, I've said over and over again, we always agreed with the components of the health reform. We just didn't agree to the GST being a component of that and some of the structures.
Now we haven't finally signed off, that has to be done before June and we're still working with the Commonwealth to finalise some of the parts of that. But I'm confident that we will be able to reach agreement on those and hence us talking now about the things that we're going to do with the money and how we're going to move forward.
Nicola Roxon: Can I just make a quick other comment? You would have seen a lot of coverage recently in the papers and on the media about big tobacco's campaign that was launched yesterday and I noticed Minister Abbott, Mr Abbott, was on the plane with me to Perth today, he's here in Western Australia.
Mr Abbott has still not come out and declared his position on big tobacco's campaign. I'm very concerned that Mr Abbott, as a former health minister, more aware than almost anyone in the country of the harms that can be caused by tobacco, is sitting on the fence on this one.
We know that big tobacco is going to fight our plans to introduce plain packaging and the more loudly that they complain, the more convinced we are about how effective this measure will be and I'd like to be fighting just big tobacco, not Mr Abbott and big tobacco together.
I think it's time today for Mr Abbott, while he's here in Perth, to declare what his position actually is.
Journalist: Do you think he's compromised because his party still accepts tobacco money?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I think that it's about time that they stopped receiving donations from tobacco companies. I know that Premier Barnett has said publicly in this Parliament that he thinks the Liberal Party should not accept donations from big tobacco.
The Labor Party stopped receiving those donations many years ago and I think it does raise a question mark when a step that we are taking that might be able to reduce the number of smokers in the future, particularly young smokers, and Mr Abbott doesn't know what his position is. The question mark has to be there, you're taking money from these big companies, you're not supporting a public health measure, why is that? What's really going on with the Liberal Party?
Journalist: The Greens want the Parliament to legislate a floor price on cigarettes, is that something that you would consider?
Nicola Roxon: No, it's not something we're currently considering, it wasn't something that was recommended to us when our preventative health taskforce looked at the next steps that should be taken in tobacco control.
We've got a very big fight on our hands to introduce this important plain packaging measure. That's our focus. But obviously if we're going to see all sorts of strange retaliation, including big tobacco companies saying that they'll slash their prices and slash their profits, just to prove a point, then of course in the future we'll have the debate about those issues.
Journalist: The Greens are threatening that if the government doesn't act, that they will. What's your response to that?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I didn't interpret the Greens' comments as being a threat. They've been very supportive about the plain packaging measures that we're taking and I'll look forward to their support, and hopefully the support of the whole Parliament when this legislation is introduced in the coming months.
Journalist: How successful do you think plain packaging will be given that cigarettes are already sort of hidden away?
Nicola Roxon: Well, what we know is that tobacco companies do use colouring and embossing to try to make their product more attractive or more cool. They've spent millions and billions of dollars in designing their logos and trying to attract new smokers to their product.
They're fighting very hard to keep onto them because they know that it is a marketing tool. We think if you take away the last possible opportunity in Australia for marketing tobacco products, that it will have some impact, that it will no longer be seen as cool. I think we're really long past that.
But for some people it obviously is still effective and we think it can make a difference in reducing the number of people who smoke.
Journalist: One of their arguments is that it will make it easier for black market tobacco and illegal cigarettes to get their product out there. Do you believe that's true?
Nicola Roxon: Well, I don't think that the claims they're making are formed from any sort of fact. Obviously there is some amount of illegal tobacco in Australia. We have figures from out customs officers that show that they are far, far less than the tobacco companies are claiming.
But I think we're getting some pretty extraordinary claims. Australia's going to be overrun by criminal gangs, young children are going to start smoking, all sort of things. They're going to reduce their prices even though they never have when there's been an excise increase.
Ultimately, they need to start having this argument about the facts. They spend a lot of money on their logos and their imagery. They know that it's effective in marketing their product and we want to take that tool away from them. Okay.
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