02/11/2007 - 23:05

Round 3: An eye on the clock in View from the Arch

02/11/2007 - 23:05

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This week the Treasurer and Ministers for Trade, Health and Aged Care faced their opposite numbers in debates. Meanwhile, the final preference deals were made and Mersey Hospital re-opened as the PM and Opposition Leader attended another soldier's funeral

Round 3: An eye on the clock in View from the Arch

This week the Treasurer and Ministers for Trade, Health and Aged Care faced their opposite numbers in debates. Meanwhile, the final preference deals were made and Mersey Hospital re-opened as the PM and Opposition Leader attended another soldier's funeral.

The Treasurers: Costello vs Swan

Treasurer Peter Costello and his shadow, Wayne Swan, kicked off the week of debates with a simple stoush at the National Press Club - an even-handed fight most commentators considered a draw.

After a few chuckles when the coin used to determine the opening speaker went missing - an event which never does much to inspire confidence in economic management - Mr Swan opened with his party's now unsurprising declaration of economic conservatism.

"Australia now needs an economic plan ... that will grow our economy and an economic plan that will deliver for all Australians whether they sit around the board room table or the kitchen table," he said.

He highlighted the skills crisis as a key economic issue that is affecting inflation and accused the Howard Government of a lack of investment in skills.

The announcement came two days after Prime Minister John Howard announced an extra $393 million would be added to the Work Skills Voucher program - helping another 60,000 year 12 leavers or holders of certificate level II qualifications to obtain vouchers worth up to $3,000 for educational courses in areas such as administration, communication skills, accounting, maths and IT.

The allocation brought the program's total funding to $800 million.

In his opening address, Mr Costello told the audience he wanted to see Australia build on its prosperity, with more "income protection" for pensioners and self-funded retirees.

According to the Financial Review, both men insisted they would proceed with tax cuts worth more than $30 billion, rejecting suggestions their tax packages would fuel inflation by saying that the policies would encourage more people into the workforce.

Mr Swan accused Mr Costello of wanting to make changes to the current Industrial Relations laws, a claim Mr Costello denied.

Instead, Mr Costello revealed a plan to provide $168 million to help small businesses provide training to their staff, through the allocation of training vouchers worth up to $1,500 each - to be matched by the business.

Unsurprisingly, both sides called the debate for their candidate, with the Prime Minister saying Mr Costello had "creamed" his opponent, while Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd said the shadow treasurer had done "fantastically well, and the worm agreed with that."

Trade Ministers: Truss vs Crean

There is life yet in the Doha round of the World Trade Organisation, Federal Trade Minister Warren Truss has assured an audience during a debate with Labor counterpart Simon Crean on Wednesday.

The stalled Doha round of the WTO talks is on its deathbed, as industrialised nations and the developing world struggle to agree on ways to liberalise trade, particularly in the areas of agriculture and manufacturing.

But speaking at the debate at the Lowy Institute in Sydney, Mr Truss said a conclusion of the Doha talks was a major priority for a re-elected coalition government.

He then accused Labor leader Kevin Rudd of pronouncing Doha "as dead as a dodo" in July last year, while he was still opposition trade spokesman.

"We believe as a main priority we must have a successful conclusion to the Doha round - we still see it as a live prospect, not as dead as a dodo," Mr Truss said.

"I know that WTO talks are tortuous, and we knew how tough Uruguay (round) was. It's a lot more difficult now, but we simply can't give up and walk away."

Responding to claims Mr Rudd had administered the last rights, Mr Crean said Doha still had bipartisan support.

"The Doha round (is) our number one priority," Mr Crean said.

"It is at a precarious stage, but I still remain an optimist."

Mr Crean accused the government of undermining multilateral agreements with too great a focus on bilateral free trade agreements, such as those struck with the US and Singapore.

"You've made the primacy FTAs, and in the process you've undermined the negotiating position that we take in the multilateral round," he said.

But Mr Truss denied bilateral FTAs had eroded multilateral agreements, saying they could become building blocks for a sagging Doha round of negotiations.

"We may well find solutions to some of those issues which are troubling Doha at the time," he said.

"I see these bilaterals as being constructive building blocks."

Turning away from bilateral FTAs would only harm exports, as Australia struggled to compete with countries willing to back such agreements, he said.

"We need to be in there for offensive reasons ... but also for defensive reason," he said.

Asked about Australia's FTA talks with Japan, which enter a third round next week, Mr Truss said everything remained on the table, including the sensitive area of agriculture.

"We think that we can achieve a great deal in broadening the trading relationship," he said.

"We want it to not just be a matter of us buying manufactured goods from Japan, and we sending raw materials to Japan. We want that relationship to more strongly encompass services and industrials. We certainly expect agriculture to be on the table, and we want to work our way through all those issues."

Mr Truss said a Rudd Labor government would damage Australian exports, painting it as beholden to green groups opposed to energy exports.

He also raised Labor's links with the unions, saying union leaders such Labor Senate candidate Doug Cameron had opposed the US free trade agreement.

"A Rudd Labor government would be hopelessly compromised by the inward looking union heavies in their midst," Mr Truss said.

Mr Crean, a former ACTU president, dismissed the suggestion.

"I've never been anti-business in my life," he said.

Aged Care: Pyne vs McLucas

Meanwhile, on the same day as the Treasurer's debate, Minister for Ageing Christopher Pyne and Opposition Spokeswoman for Ageing Care Jan McLucas both pledged to continue a review on the community aged care system in their debate at the Aged Care Association conference in Sydney

Mr Pyne said the system was already under review and receiving more funding than ever, with the Government increasing funding from $3.1 billion in 1996, to a proposed $10.1 billion in 2010.

But he told hundreds of delegates he could see the need to improve community aged care.

"I would like to see a movement towards a longer process where people can keep the same providers and even the same person who's providing that care right from the first moment ... right through to the time they might move into residential aged care," he said.

Mr Pyne told the conference that Labor's ageing policy was almost identical to the Coalition's, except for a promise of 2,000 additional places for people moving from hospital to an aged care facility.

He said the Government has already created 2,000 new transitional places, which have not yet been filled.

Senator McLucas promised to conduct an aged care review and renew Labor's focus on the issue if it wins the upcoming election.

"If Labor were elected in November this year we would undertake a review and refocus (on) the quality system we have in residential aged care," Senator McLucas said.

She said the commonwealth had to move older people out of hospitals after treatment because there was greater health risk for them and it added stress to waiting lists.

"There is now a crisis where planning hasn't happened into the future and that's why you need to review," she added.

A partnership approach was the way forward to better care.

Mr Pyne and Senator McLucas both told the conference to expect significant announcements on health and aged care as the election campaign continues.

Health: Abbott vs Roxon

But the debate of the week, as far as headlines go, was the debate between Health Minister Tony Abbott and Opposition Health Spokeswoman Nicola Roxon, not so much for what was said, but the minister's late arrival.

The minister had joined Prime Minister John Howard that morning in Melbourne, when he announced a plan to allocate $164.5 million over four years to allow veterans, people over 65 and the very sick to be visited by a nurse practitioner in their homes instead of going to a see a general practitioner.

Mr Howard expects 1300 general practices covering 2 million people to take up the new program, which would also see restrictions on the employment of nurse practitioners removed.

The announcement was part of a $310 million plan, which would also see extra doctor training places.

The PM, Treasurer and Mr Abbott were scheduled to arrive at the Melbourne clinic hosting the announcement at 10am, with the formalities to start at 10.10am and Mr Abbott to leave at 10:45 AEDT so he could make the 30- to 40-minute car trip to a chartered plane at Essendon Airport and the one-hour flight to Canberra for the 12:30 AEDT debate.

But the meet-and-greet at the clinic went overtime and Mr Howard did not start speaking until 10.35am. Then Mr Costello spoke, followed by Mr Abbott. Then there was a press conference.

Mr Abbott arrived at the debate at 1:04 pm, waving to Ms Roxon before apologising to the crowd.

For all that, the parties' policies on public hospitals were well known, with Labor pledging to invest $2 million and put to a referendum a proposal for a Commonwealth takeover of the system if State and Territory governments are unable to agree on hospital reform by 2009.

The Coalition also plans to put more money into the system, with hospitals to be run by local boards - the prime example being Tasmania's Mersey Hospital.

Show no Mersey

The Prime Minister and Mr Abbott were both due in town for Thursday's announcement of the first step in the Commonwealth's $45 million community takeover of the Devonport hospital after it was earmarked for downgrading by the State Government.

However, the Tasmanian government still holds the keys, after concerns surrounding registration and supervision of overseas-trained doctors working at the Mersey were raised by the independent Tasmanian Medical Council.

According to the TMC, around 75 per cent of doctors working at the Mersey were overseas trained, with many only able to work under supervision.

Mr Abbott said the administrative bungle showed flaws in Labor's hospital policy.

"How on earth does (Labor leader) Kevin Rudd think that he can take over all 750 (hospitals) especially when four of the state Labor premiers have said over our dead bodies.

"Labor's plan is a recipe for chaos."

Meanwhile, in his home state of Queensland, Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd released details of a $600 million plan to reduce elective surgery waiting lists.

Other Policy Announcements

COALITION:

  • $300,000 funding boost for Recfish Australia. (Plus up to $300,000 in grants).
  • $393 million for skills training vouchers.
  • $150 million for a bypass in Victorian marginal seat of Dunkley.
  • $2.1 billion to build 100 more technical colleges over 10 years.
  • $12 million for the Royal Rehabilitation Centre in Bennelong.
  • $1.5 billion plan ($850 million new money) to improve local roads in regional Australia.
  • $168 million to provide 100,000 small business vouchers to buy training.
  • $51 million to build respite facilities for disabled.
  • $800,000 to fund phone counselling for families who lose babies.
  • $44 million to train more doctors and nurses to make home visits.
  • $433 million for 50 emergency medical centres.
  • $25 million to duplicate Clyde Road in Victoria.

This puts the total amount allocated by the Coalition over the course of the campaign at $43.90 billion, with $4.37 billion allocated this week.

 

LABOR:

  • $150 million climate change initiative for energy efficient insulation.
  • $1 billion tax credits for companies to invest in desalination plants and water recycling.
  • $3 million upgrade of Leichardt Oval (Sydney).
  • $200 million to protect Great Barrier Reef.
  • $361 million roads funding for Western Australia.
  • $2.2 billion to upgrade Bruce Highway in Queensland.
  • $4.1 billion "grey" package including utilities allowance of $500 a year and Australia-wide concession travel rates.
  • Pledge to generate 20 per cent of Australia's electricity from renewable sources by 2020.
  • $143 million for improved transport links in northern Tasmania.
  • $20 million for a desalination research centre in Perth.

This puts the total amount allocated by the ALP over the course of the campaign at $46.24 billion, with $6.01 billion allocated this week.

Bits and Pieces

  • Environment Minister Malcolm Turnbull is rumoured to have recommended to cabinet that the government ratify the Kyoto Protocol, only to be rebuffed. He later denied rumours in News Ltd newspapers that he had spread the rumour to help his chances of re-election.
  • Opposition environment spokesman Peter Garrett didn't do much better, when he was forced to clarify earlier announcements that the absence of developing nations like India and China - major greenhouse gas emitters - as signatories of the Kyoto protocol "would not be a deal-breaker" to Australia's decision to sign. Mr Garrett said, at a later press conference with Mr Rudd, that he was referring to the next four years - until 2012, when Kyoto expires. After then, India and China would need to be on board before Australia would sign.
  • It wasn't a good week for Mr Garrett, with claims today from Sydney radio host Steve Price that Mr Garrett suggested to him that Labor would change its policies if it won the election, a statement both Mr Garrett and a third witness to the conversation, Nine Network's Richard Wilkins, said were part of a "short, jocular and casual" conversation. Treasurer Peter Costello said Mr Garrett had shown that Labor was planning on breaking its promises if elected.
  • And reports of confidential correspondence between the Australian Federal Police and a senior adviser to Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews, revealing a "contingency" plan to keep terror suspect Mohamed Haneef behind bars after he was released on bail justify a full judicial inquiry, said Mr Rudd. Mr Andrews' office denied involvement in any plan.

The Final Word

In a week where Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono's hidden passion for songwriting was shared with the general public with the release of a CD of Indonesian talent performing his tracks, and Health Minister Tony Abbott was caught saying rude words to Opposition Health Spokeswoman Nicola Roxon - and justified it on ABC Television by saying the word appeared in other shows broadcast by the network - the final word goes to former South Australian attorney-general and Hawke government minister Peter Duncan.

News Ltd newspapers report Mr Duncan, 62, was taken into custody on Tuesday on charges of defrauding the Commonwealth of more than $800,000, after allegedly falsely obtaining a grant for plastics recycling company Omnipol Pty Ltd in 2001, through the alleged provision of false information to AusIndustry.

Speaking to media outside the courtroom, where he pleaded not guilty, Mr Duncan was asked to predict the election winner.

"I think last time I was here was just before the grand final, and I was giving you my prediction that Port Adelaide would win," he told reporters.

"In light of that I don't intend to say anything about the federal election today."

Arch wouldn't mention the margin either.

 

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