Transcript of Interview with Lyndal Curtis on ABC News24 – Canberra
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31 May 2011
Topics: Plain Packaging of Tobacco, Health Reform
Kim Landers: The Opposition has decided not to vote against laws to sell cigarettes in plain packets. There was extensive debate about the plain packaging laws in today's Coalition party room meeting as several MPs raised concerns about the move towards what they described as a nanny state mentality. Opposition Leader Tony Abbott says the Coalition will still try to amend the legislation.
Well, for reaction the Health Minister Nicola Roxon is speaking to our political editor Lyndal Curtis.
Lyndal Curtis: Nicola Roxon, welcome to News 24.
Nicola Roxon: Hello.
Lyndal Curtis: The Opposition has decided it won't block the plain paper packaging. This is the outcome you wanted?
Nicola Roxon: Well I welcome that Mr Abbott and the Liberal Party have finally conceded what has been obvious to every other public health official and campaigner for a long time and that is to support our plain packaging measures.
Australia is going to be a world leader, and I'm pleased that the Liberal Party wants to stand with our government to support this measure.
They certainly had to be dragged kicking and screaming. Honestly, why they didn't do that from the beginning, I don't know.
Lyndal Curtis: But it was never clear that they were going to oppose. And indeed there were some in the party who from early on wanted to support it. So why did you put so much pressure on them when surely it's fair to give them an ample opportunity to look at it, debate it, discuss all the issues.
Nicola Roxon: Well I think that - I mean, I really do actually contest that, because they had many, many people including the health spokesman and others out talking down this proposal and criticising it, and of course they've been receiving big donations from big tobacco.
The reason this pressure has come to bear recently is not actually of the government's doing. It's because big tobacco announced their campaign to great fanfare.
And of course that bought this measure to the public's attention. That's what's put pressure on the Liberal Party, and I'm pleased that they now, especially, on World No Tobacco Day, have decided that they will work with the government to make this a world first.
Lyndal Curtis: The Opposition Leader's flagged the possibility the Opposition will raise some amendments. Will you look at those and consider them on your merits?
Nicola Roxon: Oh, look, we would consider any sorts of sensible proposals that there are. It's a little bit hard to take them seriously. Yesterday Mr Abbott was protesting he hadn't seen the legislation which of course has been released for several months. Today he's moving some type of amendments to legislation he said he hadn't seen. I don't really take that seriously. But of course if there were proposals that were put forward, we would consider them in an appropriate way.
The truth is here big tobacco have not won their campaign to try to hijack the debate in the Parliament, and Australia will be world leaders when we introduce this law to come in effect 1 January next year.
Lyndal Curtis: When will the Parliament see the legislation?
Nicola Roxon: Well the exposure draft legislation is already out. There's one final week of consultation for that. We expect to be able to introduce it into the Parliament either in the last sitting week that we have in July, or perhaps when we return after the winter break. So very shortly the Parliament will be able to vote on this measure, and we want it to come into effect from 1 January next year. And I think that will be an exciting time for us to be taking another step in tackling what is a killer product which is of course smoking, and I'm very proud that our government is taking this step.
Lyndal Curtis: You're dealing, at the moment, too, with another major health reform of the system. There is a report this morning that the health deal you did with the states is far from being implemented there, the states still have some concerns with some of the authorities being set up to manage this.
Are you going to get the states together to try and sort this out?
Nicola Roxon: Well we've been negotiating with the states for some time. The health reform that we've agreed to is very complex. Parts of it are already being implemented, and you're seeing some of the benefits across the country, particularly the extra numbers of doctors and nurses being trained. Other parts are very complex and require legislation, and many of them require negotiations with the states. I don't support some of the states trying to back away from our more stringent performance reporting measures. That's a key part of the Gillard Government reforms. We believe that states should be making more information available and should be accountable for how their system's performing, and we're prepared to be accountable for how our parts of the system are performing.
So I'm not interested in any backing away from that - but I am happy to be working with the states and territories on sensible refinements and proposals. When you're doing complex reform, that's just normal.
Lyndal Curtis: Do the states have any concerns, though, that the changes you're seeking to implement in their view don't reflect the agreement they struck with you?
Nicola Roxon: Well I mean I contest that. The only thing that is publicly on the record is Victoria saying that they don't want a national performance authority. That was part of the agreement that was signed by Premier Baillieu and all other Premiers and Prime Minister in February this year, and it is a key part of us trying to change the dynamic in health care which is having people be accountable. If there's bad performance we should fix it. If there's good performance we should find out why and we should copy it. If state's going to back away from that that's a fundamental part of our reform.
If they want to make sure that there are other processes, because they're the system managers, that they get notified of performance problems - that's fine, we'll work with them to negotiate those sorts of arrangements. But I think Victoria coming out and backing away from the core part of the agreement is obviously something that we couldn't agree to.
Kim Landers: Health Minister Nicola Roxon speaking to Lyndal Curtis.
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