Doorstop interview, Adelaide
Opening of new Health and Medical Sciences Building at the University of Adelaide; Tony Abbott; Business confidence in South Australia; Energy costs

Journalist: Tell us about today. How exciting is this announcement?

University of Adelaide Vice Chancellor, Warren Bebbington: Well, this is a new beginning for the University of Adelaide. This is an absolute transformation of the way we teach Health Sciences, the technology we use, and the research potential for the future, as well as collaboration with other institutions. So this is the way of the future for health.

Journalist: Can we talk about that collaboration? Because we saw an arts student kind of surprise us, dressed as an older pensioner perhaps. We also have nurses here; we have dentists in training. Could we talk about that a bit?

Warren Bebbington: Well, you know the future of healthcare is in interdisciplinary teams, rather than sole practitioners, and putting our dentists and medicators and nurses together here has really forced us to rethink the curriculum, educate them together in an integrated way, and so right from the start they’re going to be in the kind of teams they’ll end up in in the future.

Journalist: Can you talk us through some of the special suites that we’ve seen on the tour this morning? It’s pretty high tech equipment in there. 
What sort of benefit will that provide students going forward?

Warren Bebbington: Well, the simulation suites on this floor are really the high point of the building. These are in advance of anything else in the country. The mannequins used to operate on, there’s no other examples of that current technology in Australia. So this is absolutely cutting edge, and it means you deliver young medicators and nurses on the real patients already having experienced and made all their mistakes [laughs] on mannequins first.

Journalist: Yeah, how does this change the face of their learning? I mean, at the moment, I imagine there’s still some practical learning, but how does this sort of evolve the way you teach?

Warren Bebbington: Well, it’s just in a traditional setting they hear about this in lectures and they watch it on pictures, but then they’ve really got to wait until they have live patients to find out how it really works. Here they can work on mannequins, and when they make contact with the patient, they’ve really already experienced what it’s like.

Journalist: And what breakthroughs could we see from this new technology [indistinct]?

Warren Bebbington: Well, it’s very hard to say what that is. Medical discoveries are very serendipitous. You set out to deal with problem A, you come up with solutions there, and so it’s very hard to predict that. But there’s been a marvellous heritage of medical discovery here, and I’m sure it’s going on.

Journalist: With regards to this facility, where does this place the University of Adelaide compared with its peers, not only in Australia but also in [indistinct] specifically?

Warren Bebbington: Well, in the last five years, we’ve leapt 86 points up in the national rankings, which has been the biggest leap of any Australian university, so we’re now in the top 150 in the world in all of the major rankings, and that’s been driven almost half by our medical research, because 47 per cent of our grant income is health education. So that’s been a very powerful part of our rank and position.

Journalist: Just on that research, too. We’re going to have some 400 researchers based here looking at things like obesity and other kind of chronic illnesses. Do you maybe run through I guess any other kind of research that will be taking place here that’s getting you excited?

Warren Bebbington: Well, the key thing is there’s not just the 400 in this building, but there’s the ones next door in SAHMRI, because nearly half the staff in SAHMRI are ours as well. So it’s a very big force. But the fields you mentioned, but also cancer research, diabetes, problems of ageing, paediatrics, and internal(*) research, neonatal. We’ve got about 11 fields here that are very, very strong.


Premier of South Australia, Jay Weatherill: Can I just say, we’re now seeing this world-class, biomedical precinct take shape. It is just so exciting to see the University of Adelaide Medical and Nursing School, the University of South Australia Allied Healthcare School, and of course, the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute building next door, and within weeks, the completion of the new Royal Adelaide Hospital. All of these facilities together make up one of the world’s leading biomedical precincts. That’s not just great for healthcare for South Australians, it’s also great for the jobs of the future, because increasingly, these research efforts that are going on here are unlocking the secrets for solving the medical problems, not only for South Australians and Australians, but also for people around the world. 

Journalist: What were you most excited about, going through the tour?

Jay Weatherill: Just the way in which the teaching’s evolved, the way in which the theoretical and the practical elements of teaching are coming together. So it’s fine to teach somebody to put sutures in, but to do that in an environment where the patient is also suffering some other medical condition and that’s happening in front of you with a mannequin which is incredibly lifelike, all of those things coming together in the one place obviously reproduces the stressful situations our medical practitioners will find themselves in as they go about their daily work, and that must be better for patient outcomes.

Simon Birmingham: Well, this is- this world-leading- from this world-leading research centre and facility, we will see Australian and South Australian students leave with world-leading skills to treat patients, to provide better healthcare to people right across South Australia and around the nation, as well as to make ultimately world-leading breakthroughs in terms of research. So it is with enormous congratulations to the University of Adelaide for their foresight, planning, and commitment that this project has happened today, and it’s a project that will make a vast difference, not just to the next generation of doctors, nurses, or dentists, but to the next generation of patients and Australians in terms of the care it will provide.

Journalist: What’s been the Federal Government’s contribution to this particular project? Can you talk us through that? 

Simon Birmingham: Well, the Federal Government provided some $60 million in capital funding for this project, but I think more importantly is the fact that we have a continual commitment to Australia’s universities across teaching, learning, and research, and that this year alone we will provide around $430 million in funding to the University of Adelaide alone to support their teaching, learning, and research activities, and of course that’s a commitment that will go on year after year, particularly because of outstanding institutions like this. Also want to highlight, as I did in my remarks downstairs, that this will not only benefit the university within Australia, it will increase its reputation internationally, will make it more attractive for international students and international researchers to come here, and of course will elevate the standing of the University of Adelaide in South Australia as a centre for medical research and training.

Journalist: Senator, Tony Abbott, has he still got designs in the leadership?

Simon Birmingham: Well that’s a matter for Mr Abbott, but look, I know there’s a lot of coverage around his speech that was given last night, and it’s easy for people to come up with simple slogans, but the challenges Australia faces are complex policy challenges. The Turnbull Government is focussed on the complex policy challenges. You can go out and say that you think we should have no more spending, but the complex challenge is how we reprioritise spending to deliver the child care support that Australians want, or to deliver investment in the National Disability Insurance Scheme that Australians want. We’re focussed on those difficult decisions of prioritising spending where it can best help hard working or vulnerable Australian families. 

It’s easy to say that you want to see no more migration, but the policy challenge that is really facing Australia is how we make sure migration is targeted to get the best people who bring the best skills, the best investment potential to grow the Australian economy in the future, just as migrants have grown the Australian economy in the past. It’s easy, perhaps, to say ‘no more renewables’, but the policy challenge is much more complicated as to how you provide investment certainty in the energy market; how you ensure that we actually have investment in things like the types of storage facilities – like the Cultana pumped hydro storage facility here in South Australia that the Turnbull Government committed to support the development of this week – how it is you get focus on those issues that can actually fix the complexities of the national electricity market, not just deal with simple slogans.

Journalist: How’d the nature of the comments …

Journalist: [Talks over] [Indistinct] Tony Abbott comments to the Coalition’s brand?

Simon Birmingham: We are, as a government, the Turnbull Government – the Prime Minister, through the Cabinet – absolutely resolutely focussed on the issues that matter. As Education Minister, I’m going to get on with prosecuting the case for our child care reforms, going to get on with working with how we pay for them as part of our responsible budget strategy to fix the budget deficit, but to do so in a way that is mindful that there are vulnerable Australians we have to care for. 

Journalist: But it doesn’t look good to have someone on the inside unravelling the unity.

Simon Birmingham: Well, of course we’d always prefer that backbenchers didn’t make errant comments from time to time, but that won’t distract us from getting on with the job at hand.

Journalist: Is it time for him to quit though? Is it time for Mr Abbott to go? This is not helpful for the party – should he quit?

Simon Birmingham: Well I trust that every single member of the Government will get on with focussing on the job at hand: the complex challenges of ensuring that we have economic prosperity, national security. And underpinning those, of course, are the policies that we are delivering already, focussing on how we can deliver our company tax cuts to inspire investment in Australia, and jobs growth in Australia, and drive down the level of tax for Australian businesses. Of course, I’m ensuring that we have support for the hardest working Australian families to participate in the workforce through those child care reforms that we are fighting to get through the parliament at present. There’s plenty of good policy on our agenda at present, dealing with issues that are important to Australians and Australia’s future, that every single member of the Coalition should be focussed on.

Journalist: But are you comfortable to have him continue to sit on the backbench throwing grenades at the party?

Simon Birmingham: Well, I trust that nobody will throw grenades and that every single member of the Coalition will focus on the hard work we have ahead of us.

Journalist: But due respect, I mean, you suggested in your speech they’re errant comments from the backbench. They certainly don’t come across as errant comments from the backbench.

Simon Birmingham: I addressed before that you can put out simple policy ideas that resemble three word slogans, if you like, but of course the reality is the challenges Australia faces are far more complicated than that. And we need, and we are as a government, focussed on the complexity of those policy issues, about how we make sure we repair the budget, whilst doing so in a responsible way that allows us to fund the NDIS and to fund more investment in child care support for hard working Australians. They are difficult, complex challenges, and we are working through them.

And of course, we face, yes, a challenging Senate environment, challenging political environments, but we are committed to working as we have to successfully deliver – and deliver the Turnbull Government has over the period since the last election, getting through the parliament things like the ABCC and Registered Organisations Commission reforms, which were blocked multiple times by the previous parliament. Malcolm Turnbull, in this parliament, got them done. Tax cuts for middle income Australians, protection for volunteer fire fighters, reform of our vocational student loan system, all of them legislated through the current Senate in the last six months of last year. 

And of course, in the first period this year we are committed to getting those child care reforms through and are continuing to work on ensuring that we deliver when it comes to other policy settings, like driving down company tax to make this a more competitive place to invest, and fixing our energy market, which is not a simple fix despite what some may say. It of course requires recognition firstly that there problems – profound problems – because of the intermittency in supply in energy generation. They require solutions to the way the market works, but they also require focus on new investment opportunities, such as those at Cultana in pumped hydro storage. 

Journalist: [Interrupts] Is there anyone within your party who wants Tony Abbott to be Prime Minister again? Is there anyone in your party who wants Tony Abbott to be Prime Minister again?

Simon Birmingham: Not that I’m aware of.

Journalist: That being the case, you talked about energy there and finding solutions. Has the time come for the Prime Minister to stop taking swipes at South Australia like he has this morning on social media?

Simon Birmingham: Well, let’s be honest here. You have to firstly acknowledge there is a problem, and South Australia has a more acute energy problem than anywhere else in the country. Prices in South Australia for electricity are higher than anywhere else, and reliability is worse than anywhere else. This is a problem and it’s not going to be fixed if Jay Weatherill fails to acknowledge the problems South Australia has. We have to and we are as a Turnbull Government absolutely getting on with working with all of the states and territories to fix the issues of the National Electricity Market and to make sure that it works more effectively. But we also recognise that there will have to be investment in dealing with the reality we have in a state like SA of higher levels and intermittency of energy, and that’s why a project like the Cultana pumped hydro storage is a real, practical solution. Jay Weatherill is talking about maybe having a plan that he might release sometime soon. The Turnbull Government’s actually getting on with fixing the National Electricity Market and investing in new proposals that can actually make renewable energy work for us, for a state like SA, rather than working against us.

Journalist: You just heard the Premier here describe the attack this morning as unprecedented by the Prime Minister.

Simon Birmingham: Jay Weatherill is a desperate Premier, desperately struggling for his survival, of course, in a state where we’re seeing record levels of unemployment compared to the rest of the nation, where we’re seeing the state with job loss after job loss and real problems in terms of investor confidence in this state. You have investors like Michell Wool out there, a company that’s been here for as long as the University of Adelaide, and what they said is it’s been cheaper in recent months to simply stop production than it actually has been to deal with the spiralling cost of electricity. There are genuine problems here, and they won’t be fixed by Jay Weatherill throwing accusations at Malcolm Turnbull or ignoring the fact that there’s a real problem.

Journalist: But is the Prime Minister of this country taking cheap shots at South Australia helpful, and as representatives of South Australia, what are you doing to confront those kinds of remarks?

Simon Birmingham: Malcolm Turnbull is absolutely focused on the solutions, and those solutions are fixing the National Energy Market, investing in projects in South Australia  …

Journalist: [Talks over] My specific question is about South Australia. You represent South Australia. You’re from here. Do you take it personally when those types of comments are thrown around? Is that helpful for the brand of South Australia?

Simon Birmingham: I am absolutely committed to working with Malcolm Turnbull to support investments in South Australia, like the Cultana project, that can make renewable energy start working for us, not against us. And of course, we don’t see any solutions of that sort coming from Jay Weatherill at present. It’s only the Turnbull Government that has taken any action since the blackouts, since the brownouts, since the phase outs, since the price spikes, to try to fix the issues of South Australia. Jay Weatherill says he has a plan, but we haven’t seen anything yet. The Turnbull Government has actually got on with making changes through the National Electricity Market. There will be further changes to come there, and looking at areas of investment that can actually deal practically with the problem here, and that’s because of Malcolm Turnbull’s leadership, even though Jay Weatherill refuses to even acknowledge there’s a problem.

Thanks guys.