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Full transcript of media conference by Premier Denis Napthine – 22 May 2014

Thursday, 22 May 2014

Subjects: Funding for Chelsea Primary School, Austin Hospital, Federal Budget, meeting with PM

E&OE

 DENIS NAPTHINE:

Thanks you. Pleased to be here with Lorraine Wreford, at Chelsea Primary School, to continue to celebrate Education Week and the great schools we have right across the state. And here to announce a small amount of funding that will make a real difference to what is a great school – $392,000 will make a real difference to this school and we can see over here, with the painting that is absolutely needed for that Grade Six room and of course, what we need here is new fencing which is safer and more attractive.

So these amounts of money that are really well-utilised by the school council and the school leadership to make a real difference in making what are our terrific schools across the state even better and more attractive for young people to give those young people every opportunity for their education in the 21st century in an increasingly global environment.

REPORTER:

That’s it?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

That’s it – I’m waiting for your brilliant questions.

REPORTER:

Premier, there’s some leaked emails from the Austin Hospital this morning which shows that elective … sorry, emergency surgeries are struggling and staff being ordered to clear beds as soon as possible. What’s your response to that?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, what we’ve done, since we’ve been in government, is increase health funding each and every year. In this year’s budget, it’s increased to $14.9 billion, nearly $15 billion for health and each of our hospitals has received increased funding each and every year, including the Austin Hospital. On top of that, in this years’ Budget, we’re providing an initial $60 million for dealing with the winter activity that peaks each year at our hospitals, and particularly our emergency departments and $190 million extra for elective surgery.

The Austin Hospital this morning have said, ‘yes, they’ve had a busy time over the last week or 10 days,’ but they are getting on top of that and they also made it very, very clear that when people go to the emergency department at the Austin, that have high needs, they are seen straight away, seen immediately. And we’re seeing this in our emergency departments and in our surgery, that if you have serious, life-threatening conditions, you are attended to straight away, you receive your surgery straight away and there’s nobody in Category One surgery waiting more than 30 days.

REPORTER:

Is the situation getting worse, though? With Category Two and Category Three patients?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

We’re seeing an increase in the population, increase in demand for health services – that’s why we’re increasing our funding. We’ve increased funding from $14.3 billion to 14.9. This is well over $2 billion more than the previous Labor government. So we’re significantly increasing funding for our health services to meet the growing demand. We’re also investing $4.7 billion – a record level of spending – on upgrading and improving our hospitals, building new hospitals like the Bendigo Hospital, the Box Hill Hospital, the Monash Children’s Hospital, upgrading Frankston, upgrading the Northern Hospital.

We’re investing in our health services, including a $12 million upgrade at the Austin emergency department. So we’re investing in capital and recurrent to meet growing demand, and the latest hospital figures, from the hospital report, show that waiting lists are actually coming down because of the investments our government is making in improving our health services across the state.

REPORTER:

Did you secure any commitments from Tony Abbott yesterday to wind back any of the cuts that the Federal Government in implementing?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, we had a full and frank discussions with Tony Abbott last night and I explained that my priority is dealing with the short-term and immediate effects of budget decisions starting from the 1st of July and I think he certainly had a better understanding of the concerns of myself and Victoria, about the impacts of the decisions with regard to concessions and in regard to some of the national partnerships in health, and we agreed that there’d be further discussions at the minister to minister level on the health issue, to ensure that we can guarantee Victorians there’ll be no reductions in services, no reductions in availability of emergency departments or hospital beds. That’s our outcome that we want to achieve and David Davis will continue to work with Peter Dutton to deliver that outcome.

REPORTER:

Will any of those cuts be [inaudible] those immediate cuts be wound back before the 1st of July?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, we’ll be working on an ongoing basis with the Commonwealth Government to make sure that Victorians are not adversely affected in the ’14-’15 financial year by these decisions by the Federal Government in the Federal Budget. I’ve already announced that, with respect to concessions, while that will cost Victoria $75 million in the upcoming financial year, we will not be reducing concessions for people in Victoria. Vulnerable Victorians can be assured the concessions they’re receiving for their electricity bills, for their rates and their sewerage, for their public transport fares will not be touched by the Victorian Government, because we see that as a high priority.

And I want to also assure all Victorians that we will be working with the Federal Government to guarantee there’ll be no closure to hospital beds, there’ll be no effect on our emergency departments and effects on our hospitals. There may be other decisions we may have to take, but in terms of frontline services in hospitals, in concessions, they will continue in the upcoming financial year.

REPORTER:

So is the deal that you cover the concessions, that shortfall, and the Federal Government steps back a bit from some of the cuts it’s made in hospitals?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, we’ll have ongoing discussions with the Federal Government and certainly, David Davis will have ongoing discussions with Peter Dutton. We’ll work together on this, but I wanted to emphasise and  in a one-to-one meeting with the Prime Minister, that there were decisions in the Federal Budget that had an immediate and significant impact on Victoria and potentially, on Victorians. And to me as Premier of Victoria, effects on concessions and hospitals was totally unacceptable and I want to assure Victorians that we will not be reducing any concessions, we will not be reducing any of our health services and indeed, in our budget, we’re increased funding for health services – we’ll be increasing services to people to cater for the growing needs in our society.

REPORTER:

Does that mean the state’s going to pick up the slack?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

In the short term, we’ll certainly be having to pick up some of the slack. You know, we understand that and we’ve said that directly to the Prime Minister. We’ll be having ongoing discussions to get further cooperative ventures with the Federal Government in relation to these, but we will be picking up the concessions of $75 million. We think that’s unfair and unreasonable, but as Premier of the state, I will not stand by and let the most vulnerable in our community bear the additional cost of passing on those reductions in concessions. We’ll pick that up because we want pensioners to get the 17.5 per cent electricity concession, get the concessions on their gas, get the concessions on their sewage and water rates – that’s what we want. We want to give a fair go to the most vulnerable in our community.

REPORTER:

Are you concerned by the drop in federal grants for local councils, particularly smaller regional councils?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I’ve met with a number of councils who are concerned about changes made in the Federal Budget. I’m sure local councils, through their peak bodies and directly, will take up those issues with the Federal Government.

REPORTER:

Is that an issue the state’s going to have to look at, though, in terms of … obviously, they do a lot for road funding and things like that – is the state going to have to step in and try to fill that gap as well?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, the State Government can’t step in and fill all the gaps. These are issues for local government, who are independent in their own right, and that’s why we, as a government, will not try and dictate to democratically-elected local governments about how to run their business. We will not be taking the populist rate-capping option of our Labor opponents, because that has been rejected out of hand by local governments around the state and what we want is local governments to make their own case to the Federal Government on the issues that they believe affect them.

REPORTER:

Did the Prime Minister ask you about a rise, or broadening, of the GST?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I made it clear to the Prime Minister that I’m not interested in an increase in the GST, or a broadening of the base of the GST, but I am very, very interested in getting Victoria’s fair share of the GST and we went from 90 cents in the dollar back to 88 just this year and we want to get back up into the high 90s. We believe that’s our fair share. We believe in assisting Northern Territory and Tasmania. We certainly don’t believe in subsidising Queensland and getting less money back in the GST than New South Wales.

REPORTER:

Given the [inaudible] protests yesterday regarding the Federal Budget, are you concerned that the budget … measures that it’s taking are taking away oxygen for you and your government and what you’re trying to promote?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, as Premier of the state, I’m on about delivering good governance to the people of Victoria and I’ve continued to do that and I’ll continue to provide funding for schools like Chelsea Primary School, Alamanda K-9 that I was there yesterday announcing funding for their school in our growth areas, in Point Cook.

We’ll continue to deliver better education services, better health services and key transport infrastructure, and wasn’t that highlighted again today? Absolute problems in our transport system and it highlights absolutely the need for the East West Link, the full East West Link, so people have choices and alternatives. Too much does Melbourne and Victoria depend on the Monash and the West Gate Bridge and when there’s any problems on the Monash or the West Gate you have congestion, chaos and gridlock that costs millions and millions of dollars. But under Daniel Andrews and Labor, you are condemned to decades of congestion and disruption because he refuses to back the Eddington plan, the Coalition plan, for an East West Link right from one end of Melbourne to the other.

REPORTER:

What was the private event you attended on Tuesday night with the Prime Minister?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

It was a private event.

REPORTER:

Given the funding cuts to health which are due to hit on 1st July, we’ve got problems at the Austin Hospital, the Children’s are telling people not to go to emergency unless it is an emergency; isn’t that just going to get worse if the State Government doesn’t pick up the slack?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

The State Government has allocated $14.9 billion for health; that is a record level of funding for health, plus $4.7 billion in capital works for health, again, a record level for capital works. This is a significant increase on the previous year and $2 billion more than under the previous Labor Government only three and a half years ago. So, we’re investing record level of funding into our hospital services and there’ll be a record level of funding for the Children’s Hospital and the Austin Hospital. So, we recognise the need to put more money into health, more money into education, more money into community safety and more money to look after the most vulnerable in our community. We’re doing that through good budget management and because we care about the future of Victoria and meeting the growing needs of our Victorian community.

REPORTER:

With federal funding coming out, can you see that there’s a little bit of anxiousness in the community about – when we’re already seeing these problems?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I want to assure the Victorian community that, as Premier of this state, the Coalition Government will not let them down. We will fully deliver on concessions, despite the decisions of the Federal Government. We will fully deliver on additional funding for our health services and our hospitals, including special funding to deal with the winter activity that we expect over the winter time, additional funding for elective surgery waiting lists. We will invest in our health system, we will provide the funding our hospitals and our nurses and doctors need, to deliver the services to the people of Victoria. We will not let them down.

REPORTER:

So by extension of that, is the Federal Government letting them down?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

The Federal Government has made its decisions, it can answer to its decisions, but we are seeing to do it to make sure that Victoria is looked after. We are fortunate that we have a strong budget position, because of three years of good management of our budget and our economy, that we’re able to make sure that we can deliver record health funding, record education funding and deliver the services people need. But we also need a fair go from the Federal Government. We’re not getting a fair go in the GST distributions and I believe the recent decisions in the Federal Budget that come into effect on 1st July were not fair and not reasonable, and that’s why we’re having ongoing discussions with the Prime Minister and senior federal ministers, to get a fair go for Victoria.

REPORTER:

That’s what you mean though isn’t it, that Victorians are being let down by the Federal Government?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, what we’ve seen is that the Federal Government has made a number of decisions. They inherited a desperate situation with debt and deficit from the previous Labor government. I understand the dilemma they face. But when they make decisions that impact in six to eight weeks’ time, in 1st July, in key areas such as health and concessions, then we need to work with them to make sure that we can continue to deliver the quality of services people need in our great state of Victoria. And I can assure the Victorians we will deliver the health services they need, we will deliver the concessions that we’ve outlined. We will deliver those. But behind the scenes, we will work hard with the Federal Government to try and  get assistance for the State, to make sure that we do that without impacting adversely on our financial situation.

REPORTER:

Just back on health. The Sentinel Event’s annual report has been put out, talking about deaths in the state’s hospitals. Are you concerned by the level of deaths that we’re still seeing?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, any death in our hospitals due to an adverse incident, any adverse incident that impacts on patients’ health and welfare is something that is regrettable. And that’s why we have an active program through our hospitals to reduce those incidents. We have over 1.5 million people each year attend our hospitals, so we have a large attendance and through put through our hospitals and what we seek to do is seek to work with our nurses and doctors and health professionals to reduce the number of adverse events. And certainly,  in the three years we’ve been in government, they have reduced significantly. By one-third, there’s been a one-third reduction in the number of adverse events by better management practices in the operating theatre, at the bed side, in the hospital. So that’s a significant achievement, but more needs to be done, because any adverse event hurts a patient, hurts their family and we need to do everything we can to reduce that. 

REPORTER:

Are you looking at any other solutions to deal with this funding shortfall in education and health?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

No. We’re not proposing any tax increases or anything like that, if that’s what you mean.

REPORTER:

You did say though, quite a few minutes ago, that there may be some other measures that you need to take as you work through this process with health ministers. What are some of those other measures?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

Well, I think we’ll have to work through that. But what I can say to Victorians, and absolutely tell them directly, there’ll be no reductions in concessions for Victorians, there’ll be no reduction in health services for Victorians. We will deliver the services our growing Melbourne and Victorian community needs.

REPORTER:

You said it was a full, frank and productive meeting; was it a heated meeting?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

It was full and frank.

REPORTER:

Did you get a wink?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

No. What we did is we got eyeball to eyeball and had a fair exchange and I particularly raised the concerns on behalf of all Victorians that … saying that we respect the Federal Government’s right to make their decisions, but we find it particularly difficult and challenging and unfair and unreasonable when decisions are made without consultation and that will impact in six weeks’ time on 1st July. Those are the things that absolutely are frustrating for state premiers and certainly for me as Premier of Victoria. To have a decision in the Federal Budget that hasn’t been foreshadowed, hasn’t been discussed, that has an immediate impact on cost to the state and potentially services for Victorians. That’s not acceptable.

REPORTER:

Do you think he was aware of the impact that these cuts were going to have on Victoria?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

I can’t comment on what the Prime Minister was aware or not aware of, but I made it very, very clear to him that decisions that have an impact in a few weeks hence need to be properly consulted and proper consideration and proper planning and that’s the most annoying thing about the recent budget decisions.

The longer-term decisions, we may have some differences. But decisions about reductions post 2017-18, let’s work through those, let’s discuss those, let’s have our White Paper on federation, our White Paper on tax. We can work through those. But decisions that have an immediate impact and a significant impact, they’re the ones that we need to actually, you know, sit down face to face and sort out immediately.

REPORTER:

Do you think the 15 year old girl on the front page of the Herald Sun this morning involved in yesterday’s protest should be charged by the police?

DENIS NAPTHINE:

That’s a matter for the police.

REPORTER:

[Inaudible]

DENIS NAPTHINE:

No, that’s a matter for the police. And it’s a matter her parents need to talk to her about as well. 

[ends]

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