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Wednesday, 17 August 2011
Page: 8296


Mr DUTTON (Dickson) (10:42): Since I last contributed to this debate on the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill, significant developments have taken place. The most significant development is that the states have completely and utterly won out in this debate against the Commonwealth. I want the House to understand—and I am going to ask the Minister for Health and Ageing some questions in a moment but I think the Australian public has seen it for what it is— that what has taken place here is that the Prime Minister was desperate to claim to the public that she had had a win. This Prime Minister was desperate over the break to try and flick the switch away from the carbon tax and she was wanting to say to the Australian people that on health reform the Commonwealth was able to strike a deal.

Let us look at the circumstances under which the Commonwealth has been able to strike this deal, and some of it has been discussed in the contribution of the member for Lyne. Essentially, the government has agreed to continue business as usual in Australia's 750 public hospitals in return for the agreement of the states—in particular, the states that held out, namely, Western Australia and, to a lesser extent, Victoria. It has meant a huge bucket of money. The states have got a huge amount of money and there are 29 amendments to this legislation to try and accommodate the capitulation of the Commonwealth to the states. So the Commonwealth again has got itself into a financial bind where this incompetent federal government has said to the state premiers, 'To get a signature on the paper we will do whatever it takes.'

Could you imagine negotiating any sort of business contract in the real world on this basis? Go to BHP and say, 'We are desperate to do a deal with you and, whatever condition you put in the contract, know that we will sign it.' That is basically what has happened here. This government is desperate and on its knees, and it cannot manage money. In trying to give the public the perception that some sort of grand health deal has been done, the Commonwealth has sold out not only this government but also future governments. Future legislators in this place will be bound to this incompetent and lazy deal. It is not good for parliament, it is not good for the Australian people and, most importantly and it is not good for the doctors and nurses that work in public hospitals or, indeed, the patients who access the services. I think it is right that this minister is condemned yet again for the latest failing in the so-called health reform debate.

I might say as part of this contribution that I welcomed some of the words from the member for Lyne, who I think has a genuine interest in the area of health reform. The sincerity stops, I am afraid to say, where the member for Lyne—in spite of having made all of those statements before: that this is bad legislation; that basically the Rudd vision that he was tied up to, quite willingly, has now been abandoned; that the states have won out; and that we are going to have business as usual at a huge cost to the Australian taxpayer—is still going to support this legislation. I think it is disappointing because, as I said, I think he does have a genuine belief in wanting to reform our health system—as we all do.

But we are not going to get that if we end up with the government's own legislation being amended 29 times before the bill has even passed the parliament. Just to put that into context: this is a government that has had to amend its own bill in 29 different areas. Basically, it completely undermines the intent of the original bill. The intent of the original bill was to vest certain powers in the Commonwealth so that we could drive efficiency, productivity and changes in the hospitals, which are owned and managed by the state governments. The member for Lyne has said, 'I'm going to oppose these amendments because I think they weaken the original bill'. He is not going to oppose them, knowing that the other Independents will support his position so that ultimately the amendments would go down. The member for Lyne has decided ultimately to support the bill, which I think undermines credibility in this debate. I think that it has to be put on the record, because I suspect that the member for Lyne would not oppose these amendments if the member for Lyne knew that he could possibly defeat them.

In this debate people should really put their cards on the table, because this is bad legislation. The member for Lyne, who, as I said, does have a genuine interest in health reform, acknowledges that this is just the latest example of a failure to deliver on health reform in this country. I would like to ask the minister: can this minister point to anywhere in this legislation where the Commonwealth has the final say in relation to any aspect of the bill before the House?