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Monday, 8 February 2010
Page: 610


Mr ABBOTT (2:47 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his 2007 promise to fix public hospitals by 30 June last year or, if he did not, to take them over from the states. Why has this promise not been kept? If the Prime Minister cannot keep promises from 2007 why should anyone believe the promises he makes in 2010?


Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I welcome the beginning of the health and hospitals debate, because the member who was just on his feet was the man who as health minister for four years ripped $1 billion out of Australia’s public hospitals. We have before us now the man who as health minister for four years froze GP training places. We have before us at the moment the man who as health minister did nothing about the undersupply of nurses to the Australian health and hospital system.


Mr Abbott —Wrong.


Mr RUDD —To all of those he says, ‘Wrong, wrong, wrong.’ The bottom line is we now have a health and hospitals debate, and I welcome each day of it from this day forward.

The Leader of the Opposition was asked about this this morning. He put forward his strategy for the future on health and hospitals when he said, ‘I think many of them out there are wishing for the good old days.’ That is the pre-2007 days. That line was just referred to by the member for Melbourne. If the Leader of the Opposition has learned absolutely nothing about the state of our hospital system since exiting as health minister and the change in government, he has had his head buried in the sand.


Mr Anthony Smith —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. The Prime Minister has not attempted to answer the question of why he has broken his election promise. He has been going for two minutes; it is about time—


The SPEAKER —The member for Casey will resume his seat. The Prime Minister knows his responsibility to be relevant to the question.


Mr RUDD —As I said before, I welcome the debate. I welcome what we have done in the two years that we have been in office and those opposite, I am sure, will welcome the reform plan we will unroll to the Australian public this year.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr RUDD —Those opposite interject as though health and hospitals was their top priority for 12 years in office. Those 12 years in office saw them rip $1 billion out of the hospital system when the honourable member was the health minister. In the period that we have been in government, with the health minister at the helm, we have increased overall funding to the hospital system by 50 per cent. That is what we have done. We have also increased the training of GPs and nurses. We have invested significantly in cancer treatment and research. This is what we have done in two short years. As for the future plan which will be put to the states very soon, I say to those opposite that we will seek to achieve a compromise with the states on one thing.

Opposition members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! The House will come to order.


Mr RUDD —Those opposite seemed to relish the idea of achieving any kind of compromise with the states. The compromise that we have sought with the states is in one area—that is, bringing down—


Mr Anthony Smith interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Casey is warned.


Mr RUDD —the waiting times for elective surgery by pooling our funding to make a difference on the ground. Those opposite found that sort of compromise arrangement with the states for the last two years unacceptable. They find those sorts of compromises and cooperative arrangements for the future unacceptable. We have done it for elective surgery and we are doing it with emergency departments, with practical measures on the ground. But I say very clearly to this House: if the states and territories do not accept this year the reform proposals for the future, the government will take this matter to the Australian people as we have previously committed to doing.

I also say to those opposite, on the question of consistency—

Opposition members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! A question has been asked, the—


Mr Lindsay interjecting


The SPEAKER —The member for Herbert is warned. The Prime Minister is responding to the question. The Prime Minister has the call.


Mr RUDD —On the question of the Commonwealth’s role in relation to health and hospitals, and our approach, which is a reform document for the nation to examine, there have been, firstly and secondly, six months of consultations by the health minister and myself with more than 100 hospitals across Australia—some of which the former health minister himself, when he was the health minister, never visited—and, thirdly, there is a decision-making framework with the states which will come to its conclusion very soon. I am very confident that those opposite, when they see what reform plan we have for the nation, will have a very stark choice indeed.

And let us remember, on the question of Commonwealth takeover, that there was a certain Leader of the Opposition, who was previously a health minister, who when asked about this question several years ago said that only one level of government should run the hospitals. He was advocating, then, a Commonwealth takeover of the hospitals. Then, when he becomes Leader of the Opposition, he backs away from it at a million miles an hour. It is a bit like last year backing the emissions trading scheme as Leader of the Opposition and this year saying that the emissions trading scheme is unacceptable. A few years ago he was backing a Commonwealth takeover of the hospital system; when he becomes Leader of the Opposition he pretends that that had never been uttered.

The government welcomes health and hospital reform. We have done more in two years than you did in 12 and the reform plan will be for you to back or oppose when the states and territories have reached their own decision in the immediate future.