Budget; Telstra; Australian Solar Timbers – Interview with Graham Robinson, ABC Radio

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Budget; Telstra; Australian Solar Timbers – Interview with Graham Robinson, ABC Radio


Interview with Graham Robinson

ABC Mid North Coast Radio

Port Macquarie

Wednesday, 22 May 2002



SUBJECTS: Budget; Telstra; Australian Solar Timbers


Mr Costello is my guest this morning. Good morning.


Good morning Graham.


Did you accept the argument that this Budget does little to ease the growing

concerns of the ageing population?


No. One of things we have done in this Budget is boosted aged care services

and also medical services for a number of areas, particularly in regional areas

actually, helping with better radiological treatments. But in addition to that

what we have done is we have laid down a plan which shows where Australia could

be in the next 40 years. We call it the Intergenerational Report. And we look

at 40 years and we say that with the ageing of the population and increases

in medical sciences we have got to take, start to take some steps now which

will make these services sustainable out into the future.


A recent survey, a Newspoll survey though, showed that the rate of those people

aged over 50 has increased by about 20 per cent, and feel that it might be more

difficult under this current Budget for them to survive or to make ends meet?


Well, I am not sure of the poll which you are referring to but what I can say

is that the Government has a very extensive group of aged services, in fact

were increased in this particular Budget. We also, in last year’s Budget, introduced

very substantial tax cuts for older Australians which people are just starting

to take the benefit of. But one of the things that has attracted a lot of attention

is the Government’s proposal to lift the co-payment for pharmaceuticals from

$3.60 to $4.60 which is an increase of a dollar. Now, the point about this is

that, whereas, people will be able to buy prescriptions for $4.60, the cost

of these prescriptions is much greater than that. It may be $200, $500. We listed

a prescription on the Scheme the other day which cost $6745.


But would you accept that somebody, say living in a regional area, if that

$52 made the difference between purchasing something that they enjoyed or just

having to scrape by. Ultimately the cost of the actual medicine does not impact

on them, it is what they have to spend out of their actual income.


Sure, but nobody would be able to pay a prescription, say, of $6745, would

they? And that is why you have concessional rates. But if, if the taxpayer scheme

is to continue and the taxpayers have to pay for the difference between $4.60

and whatever the pharmaceutical benefit costs, then we have got to make this

sustainable otherwise the Scheme won’t be financially sustainable and nobody

will be able to get the kind of concessional access in the future that we all

want. So, this is a part of making it sustainable, it is a one dollar increase,

and as you said, after 52 prescriptions they are free. So, the maximum effect

that it could be would be $52 or a dollar a week over the course of a year.

And of course, pensions during that period will be indexed to average, total

average weekly earnings. And they will be going up in line with wage increases

over the course of the year.


You again have, in an article following on from Tim Fischer commenting that

he feels Telstra should be privatised, also flagged that you felt the same way.

That it had to be privatised, the Government should get out of that area. Under

a term as a Prime Minister would you consider doing that? Would it be privatised?


Oh, it is the current Government’s policy to first fix services, particularly

in rural and regional areas, and then to offer further shares in Telstra. That

is the current Government’s policy which…


How quickly do you see that happening though?


Well, the faster we can fix services for rural and regional consumers the better.

That is our current policy which I thoroughly support. Now, there has been a

very interesting development overnight. The Labor Party now says that it is

going to sell off certain of Telstra’s businesses. It is talking about selling

off mobile phone businesses and the like and buy back other parts. Now if I

was a shareholder inTelstra I would be very worried about this concern because

49 per cent of Telstra is now owned by millions of Australians who bought it

on the understanding that they were buying into a fully fledged telecommunications

company and now the Labor Party is saying, if they ever got into Government,

they are going to start stripping various assets out of Telstra and buying various

unprofitable businesses back in. So, if I were a shareholder I would be very

worried about this plan, and if I was a shareholder I would want to see the

value of my investment protected. The best way of doing that is moving Telstra,

as is the Government’s policy, to private ownership so that it can provide good

services once the problems in rural and regional Australia have been fixed.


Very quickly, I know you have to go. Medibank Private, will your Government

sell that?


What we have done in this Budget is, we have announced a study, what we call

a scoping study, to have a look at whether it should remain in Government ownership

or be in the private sector like the other health funds, MBF and so on. And

we will, once we get the report back, we will make that decision. So at this

stage we have not decided that.


And just finally, the visit to regional areas, as I mentioned, is a first with

the post-Budget discussion. But is it also an attempt to woo regional Australia,

to let them see you as you challenge, or head towards challenging for the leadership?


I get out to regional Australia as much as I can and the great thing about

being here today is I am here to support Mark Vaile who has been a terrific

colleague of mine, and we are also going to be announcing Federal funding towards

the expansion of Australian Solar Timbers in Kempsey. And that is another reason

why I have come out here about $715,000 to Australian Solar Timbers in Kempsey

as part of a regional adjustment programme to, we think, create about 40 new

jobs in the region.


But it is an opportunity to get out and meet the people and let them see you

as the next potential leader of the Liberal Party?


Oh, I love getting out and meeting people. It is much better than being struck

in Canberra, I can assure you of that.


Mr Costello, thank you for joining us.


Thanks very much.