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Tuesday, 16 September 2003
Page: 15253


Senator McGAURAN (2:05 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. Will the minister outline the federal government's record offer under the health care agreements to the states and territories? Will the minister inform the Senate as to how this record funding will assist states in running their public hospitals?


Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator McGauran for his question. As people know, the states and territories have signed up to the new health care agreements. It is a $42 billion offer to the states—$10 billion more than the last five-year agreement and 17 per cent over and above inflation. The states also have a growing revenue from the GST and, as Senator Vanstone said yesterday, a windfall from some stamp duties, including stamp duties on medical indemnity, which they did not have before. I would ask the states to take the stamp duty off medical indemnity, but I do not think I can expect much from that.

In signing the new agreements, the states have recommitted themselves to Medicare principles and, specifically, the availability of free public hospital treatment for all Australians regardless of their insurance status. For the first time, we have provided a much more transparent, specified level of funding for each year in the next agreement and, for the first time, the states have had to commit five years ahead for their funding. They have never had to do this before; they have always expected the Commonwealth to do this. As a result it will mean there will be much greater certainty for the health system in each state.

As well, they have committed to a new financial and performance reporting framework. In the past we have not known sometimes two years back how much the states have spent on their public hospitals. We have also not known statistics about waiting lists and other issues associated with public hospitals. We will be able to better compare, state by state, the various hospitals and their performance, and the states and their performance. The states now need to work with the Commonwealth on some of the reform agenda items such as streamlining cancer care, improving safety and quality, and easing the pathway of patients from hospital care to home.

I am glad to say that despite all the colour and movement that went on with regard to the Australian health care agreements I had four ministers who came and discussed with me the reform agenda during that whole debate. I look forward to seeing the other health ministers and I will make myself available if they wish to come and talk to me about the reform agenda. We must be able to spend the $40 billion a year that the Commonwealth and the states spend on health much better and more efficiently. We spend just over nine per cent of our GDP on health and we must be able to do it more efficiently. I am determined to do all I can to improve health outcomes for people.

Some states, like Victoria, New South Wales and Queensland, are claiming that the record funding falls short for them to treat their public hospital patients and that the Australian government is not interested in reform. My commitment to the reform agenda is unwavering. I have had significant discussions with some health ministers and I look forward to working with them on improving patient care, but we must never forget that the states run the public hospitals and it is no good blaming the Commonwealth. Last week we saw Mr Carr running advertisements when stories were littered throughout the paper on Friday of the failure of his government to run the public hospitals—Camden, Campbelltown and Prince of Wales. Over and over we see stories of the failure of the New South Wales government to run their hospitals.

When you have reduced your hospital beds by 5,000 you might expect that there will be problems in your public hospitals. Why are we seeing the drive for reform coming out of New South Wales? It is because they have dropped the ball on public hospitals. They have dropped the number of public hospital beds by over 5,000. When you listen to the emergency doctors and nurses in New South Wales, they talk about the lack of beds. They do not talk about the issue of patients who do not require emergency care going into emergency departments; they talk about the lack of beds. Over the last 12 months we have seen a 9.5 per cent increase— (Time expired)