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Thursday, 17 June 2010
Page: 3653


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Evans. The ink is barely dry on Mr Rudd’s COAG agreement and the government has dropped a major plank of the grand health plan that was to provide transparency and accountability. Mr Rudd has dumped the national funding authority in an answer to a question on notice slipped out by his department late yesterday. When will the government admit that the states are still in control, that it is actually business as usual on hospitals and that the blame game continues?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —I thank the senator for her question, which was one of the most rhetorical I have heard. She got a whole range of rhetorical phrases into one question—she did very well. Unfortunately, none of them actually went to representing the facts of the situation. The National Health and Hospitals Network will be funded nationally and run locally. The Commonwealth will fund 60 per cent of the efficient cost of hospital services. There will be a jointly governed National Health and Hospitals Network funding authority in each state and territory. This was agreed at COAG. These authorities will be funding warehouses through which both Commonwealth and state government funding will be paid directly to local hospital networks.

This means that for the first time funding from both levels of government will be used to pay for services directly and will not be paid from or administered by state treasuries or health departments. The original proposal would have still had state funding provided by state government bureaucracies without transparency. This new arrangement represents an unprecedented new level of transparency in health funding. Both state and Commonwealth funding for hospitals will flow automatically based on the number of services actually being delivered. There will not be the possibility for state government funding to be shuffled around in state budgets or skimmed for other purposes. The price for services will be determined by the independent hospital pricing authority, which will have Reserve Bank style independence from government. Each local hospital network will be funded for the services that it provides and the information on the funding provided will be transparent to communities. There will also be a national performance authority to monitor and report on the performance of local hospital networks, individual hospitals and Medicare locums.

As the senator quite rightly confirmed, when she asked for that information from this government we provided it in accordance with normal procedures, which is that questions are taken on notice. The answer was provided to the senator. That is open, transparent and in accordance with Senate procedures.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. It has certainly changed in the last two weeks, because that is not what—


Senator Sherry interjecting—


The PRESIDENT —Order, Senator Sherry! When there is silence on both sides, we will proceed.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Since the national funding authority was supposed to stop the states from siphoning money from hospitals, are the states now just going to have free reign with extra billions of dollars that they have extracted from Mr Rudd’s latest backflip?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —This confirms that senators ought to listen to the primary answer and not just read the supplementary question that the tactics committee has provided for them. I provided the answer to that question in the primary response. I indicated that there will be a jointly governed National Health and Hospitals Network funding authority in each state and territory. That was agreed at COAG. That means that for the first time funding from both levels of government will be used to pay for services directly and will not be paid from or administered by state treasuries or health departments. The original proposal would have still had some state funding provided by state government bureaucracies without transparency. So it does represent an unprecedented level of transparency in health funding. There will not, therefore, be the possibility for state government funding to be shuffled around in state budgets or skimmed for other purposes.


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Since Labor’s health reform advertising campaign promises that the network will be run locally and the COAG agreement states that clinical expertise on the local hospital networks will be ‘external to the LHN wherever practical’ when will the government withdraw its deceptive and misleading campaign or, at the very least, come clean and tell the Australian public the truth—that ‘local’ does not mean local?


Senator CHRIS EVANS (Minister for Immigration and Citizenship) —There is an enormous leap in logic in the claims made in the apparent question by the senator. What I have made clear is that the network will be funded nationally and it will be run locally. We will have unprecedented transparency in terms of that process. It is the case that the advertising properly reflects the changes that our health reform is driving. We have brought together the money in one place, we are going to be able to directly fund services and it will not be administered by state treasuries or health departments. We are achieving our objectives. We are ensuring that we have a new basis for funding our health system. We will start tackling the many issues that the previous government left untackled.