The Crest of the Commonwealth of Australia Treasury Portfolio Ministers
Picture of Wayne Swan

Wayne Swan

Deputy Prime Minister and Treasurer

3 December 2007 - 27 June 2013

19 December 2012

Doorstop interview

Townsville

SUBJECTS: Townsville Hospital Federal Government investments; Newman Government health cuts; ADF abuse; Foreign Aid; Tony Abbott and Mal Brough; Eligibility for service medals.

TREASURER:

Cathy O'Toole and I have just finished meeting with a significant number of nurses from the hospital, talking to them about the impact on services, and on themselves of the very savage cuts that are being made to healthcare at this very important hospital. 

It's a very important medical facility, not just for Townsville but really for the whole of Northern Queensland.  A very important facility which is deserving of significant government support. 

In terms of the Federal Government, we have made very significant investments in this hospital over a significant period of time.  Since coming to office we've made $390 million worth of investments in this hospital because that reflects our commitment to quality health care for people living in rural and regional Australia. 

For example, we've expanded the current operating theatre; there's a new clinical block that will accommodate up to 64 additional beds; expansion of pathology, laboratory and other supporting infrastructure; $60 million in both capital and recurrent funding [for] subacute beds; $67.5 million to enhance cancer services - and in particular the PET scanner.

So I make the point that the Gillard Government absolutely understands the importance to the well-being and peace of mind of Australians living in rural and regional areas, the importance of quality healthcare. 

But unfortunately from what I've heard today talking to the hard working nursing staff, that healthcare is now under pressure.  The fact is that staff have been sacked here, something like 300 full time equivalent positions have been lost, and in terms of nursing positions, significant numbers of nursing positions have been lost. And what the staff have been saying to us today is that it is having a tremendous impact on the quality of care, on the ability and confidence of staff to make decisions about how they prioritise cases within the hospital, it's impacting upon morale. It's, in short, having a devastating impact on this community.

So today I would urge Campbell Newman to put down the scalpel.  Stop cutting away and get back to talk to the people at the grassroots about how this is impacting - not just on the staff - but on the whole community. 

I know from my local area in Brisbane, the same is happening there.  We're seeing the impact on what's being decided on Eventide in Brisbane, and of course, decisions are still forthcoming here in terms of aged care beds.

So I urge the Queensland Government to put away the scalpel, because when it comes to health funding in Queensland, there are significant increases in Commonwealth funding flowing through to Queensland Health. An additional $600 million over the period of the current agreement, a 21 per cent increase. 

Sadly, at the same time as that increase in federal funding is flowing through, the Newman Government is cutting $1.6 billion from the Queensland health budget, and of course, we've seen the loss overall state-wide in health of something like 4,000 jobs, state-wide, in health alone.  This is a very serious issue and that's why it was a privilege to hear today from hardworking nurses about the impact of this on this community.  Because at the end of the day what they're most concerned about, and Cathy can attest to this, is what this means for their patients. And there are flow on effects, and that's what is so serious.  I'll just turn to Cathy to say a few words.

O'TOOLE:      

I've been speaking regularly over the last few weeks with a range of health workers, nurses and allied health professionals, and their concern is really about the quality work that they can do given these savage job cuts.  They're being put in a position where they have to work in a much quicker mode, being asked to spend less time with patients and to move on quickly so that patient throughput is increased.  This is causing huge distress for these people because we have a number of incredibly dedicated staff at this hospital and it's simply not fair to them, or their patients.  And it's the patients that they are most concerned about. 

JOURNALIST:

What do you make of Lawrence Springborg's comments of the recent federal cuts to funding – what do you make of that comment?

TREASURER:

He's simply a desperate man.  He's slashed the health budget by $1.6 billion.  The Federal health budget is increasing substantially, by 21 per cent or $600 million.  The problem is that he's cutting his budget by $1.6 billion, and that's the problem.  We reached an agreement with the states for a very generous increase in funding over time, and that generous increase is flowing through.  But at the same time, Mr Newman and Mr Springborg have got the scalpel out and are cutting state funding, that's what's happening here and the consequences of it were readily apparent when talking to the nurses today.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, apparently some of the state based health and hospital boards have written to the Federal Government asking you to have a look at their funding?

TREASURER:

Our funding is in a signed and sealed agreement, signed with the State Government.  The problem is that the State Government is pulling its money out as additional federal money comes in.  That's what we're living with the consequences of.  And I tell you what, for many communities, they are dire. 

JOURNALIST:

Mr Springborg has accused you of refusing to outline the impacts of the federal cuts to the health funding, how do you take that considering the impact that has possibly come from their cuts?

TREASURER:

It's just not true.  There's a signed and sealed agreement that delivers very significant funding increases to the Queensland Government, it is there for everybody to see. Now, Mr Springborg and Mr Newman, they're desperate people.  They've got the scalpel out and they're trying to escape responsibility for the devastating impact of these cuts on local communities. 

JOURNALIST:

Today it was revealed that Brigadier Shane Caughey mishandled a sexual harassment claim back in the 90s.  What is your response to that, that Townsville's most senior military personnel mishandled sexual harassment -

TREASURER:

This is a serious issue which the Defence Minister should respond to.  I certainly am not in possession of all of the details and I would refer you to the Defence Minister.

JOURNALIST:

Are you concerned about revelations that around 10 serving officers that are accused of rape in the 1990s may still be serving? And should they be stood down while the investigations are carried out?

TREASURER:

These are issues which are the subject of processes instigated by the Minister for Defence.  There's a process going on now outlined by Minister Stephen Smith to the Parliament about two weeks ago.  And those matters are best dealt with in that process. Where there have been past legal processes and investigations, I'll leave it to the Defence Minister to talk to you about those.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, which foreign aid programs will be cut to make sure there's enough money to house and look after asylum seekers that are coming to Australia?

TREASURER:

Can I just make this point really clear: we have a record foreign aid budget, $5.2 billion, and it has increased by 71 per cent since the Government was first elected.  So there's a substantial increase going on in the aid budget, and we're on track to meet our commitment and targets for foreign aid.  So I just would urge people to be careful with their description of what is going on with the aid budget because it is increasing. 

In terms of where the aid budget is spent, they are decisions that are taken by the responsible Minister and by the Government, and it is entirely appropriate that some of the foreign aid budget is spent dealing with displaced persons and people who are applying for refugee status, and it's entirely appropriate under those OECD guidelines that that money is spent offshore or onshore and that is what occurs elsewhere in the world.

JOURNALIST:

But surely you're operating under a budget, so that means if you are going to be spending money on those things which you said are appropriate and the OECD says is appropriate, you'd have to find some room from somewhere else? Is it a Kenyan Budget or -

TREASURER:

They have always been appropriate under those OECD guidelines -

JOURNALIST:

Absolutely. So which other programs would be cut then to make sure there is enough money for these other programs? 

TREASURER:

First of all these are matters which are budgeted for by the Minister and the Department and they are decisions taken by the Government.  There is a substantial increase in the aid budget flowing through.  Decisions about priorities within that are [part of] the normal course of decision making within the Department, and I reject completely the notion that there are cuts to the overall aid budget, it is simply not true. 

JOURNALIST:

Will the office of Treasury be investigating any sort of leak to the media on this story?

TREASURER:

I'm not aware of any investigations that are going on, but information has from time to time been disclosed in inappropriate ways.  Those are legitimate matters for the Department, not for the Minister.

JOURNALIST:

Tony Abbott had admitted to not reading the findings of the James Ashby and Mal Brough involvement in the Slipper saga.  What's your take on Mr Abbott not looking at those findings?

TREASURER:

He's a serial offender at not reading important reports which have very important conclusions for the future of public policy.  It is extraordinary that he has not read the Ashby judgment which makes damming conclusions about a colleague of his, Mr Brough.  I think there's a real pattern of behaviour here emerging from Mr Abbott.  He went on national television said that he hadn't read a report from BHP, even though he had made allegations and statements about what was in the report, which were incorrect.  Mr Abbott is constantly at war with the facts.  He will say anything and do anything, but he won't look at the available evidence or the facts. And the facts in this case are that there has been a damming judgment of the actions of Mr Brough, who is a candidate for the next federal election, and he has the gall to go on radio and admit that he hasn't even bothered to read it.  It says a lot about Mr Abbott and his approach to public policy. 

JOURNALIST:

Mr Abbott has said that he's going to campaign alongside Mal Brough in the upcoming election.  What do you make of that decision?

TREASURER:

I think it just indicates that the standards that Mr Abbott has are very low.

JOURNALIST:

Mr Swan, can you guarantee there will be no more fiddling with the AusAid budget this financial year? 

TREASURER:

What I can absolutely guarantee is that our AusAid budget is strong, increasing, and we're on track to meet our GNI target. And I think everyone should be very, very confident that will occur.

JOURNALIST:

On your visit to Townsville is there anything else that's concerning as far as the State Government's cuts? 

TREASURER:

Well of course the cuts are far wider than what's occurred here in health.  I think there's something like 800 jobs in total which have been lost in Townsville through State Government cuts, around 300 of those in health, so I'm very concerned about that, and I'm concerned about the impacts on the individuals, I'm concerned about the impact on their families and I'm concerned about its impact on the local economy.

JOURNALIST:

There's some concerns in terms of some medals being sent to fire-fighters who went over to Christchurch to help out with the recovery there, that they won't receive the medals because of a technicality, they weren't there for enough days.  Will there be reason to rectify that?

TREASURER:

I'm informed there's a review into the eligibility for this medal, that's a matter that's best dealt with by the appropriate Minister.