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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9070


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (18:19): The National Health Reform Amendment (Independent Hospital Pricing Authority) Bill 2011 represents a critical part of the government's national health reforms to improve the efficiency and transparency of the nation's public hospital system. All Australian states and territories have joined with the Commonwealth to implement a national system of activity based funding. This piece of legislation is designed to create the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority. The authority will determine the prices for hospital services across the country and also take into account factors such as safety and quality and the cost of services in regional hospitals. While most services will be provided through this system, block funding will be provided for some hospitals, particularly those in small regional communities. I will come back to that point.

The authority will have strong independence from all governments and will provide the health system with robust decision making, much like that the Reserve Bank provides to our financial system. In addition, the pricing authority will publish this and other information for the purpose of informing decision makers in relation to the funding of public hospitals.

The government have taken action to establish the interim pricing authority, which was part of our commitments under the health reform agreement. The interim authority has taken over the important activity based funding work from the Department of Health and Ageing, which will then transfer to the permanent authority after the passage of this legislation.

I thank senators for their contributions to the debate. I am pleased that the Senate committee has recommended the bill be passed and also that the opposition and the Greens have both said they will support the legislation. And nor should the opposition oppose this legislation, particularly since it implements reforms that have been supported on a number of occasions by the Leader of the Opposition. Of course, that has not stopped the opposition before, such as when they have opposed our other health reform bills in this chamber—in fact, one of those bills they opposed was to make permanent a critical safety and quality body that was created temporarily under the Leader of the Opposition himself.

Today in the Senate we have seen the usual criticising and sniping from the shadow minister for ageing and the opposition, rather than the promoting of any positive proposals of their own. They will continue to try and divert the public's attention away from health, desperate to avoid scrutiny of the Leader of the Opposition's inauspicious record as health minister. Specifically, Senator Fierravanti-Wells claimed that there was no clarity about which small hospitals would receive block funding. That is because under the National Health Reform Agreement it is a matter for the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority in consultation with jurisdictions to develop block funding criteria to be agreed by COAG. It is not a matter for decision by a Commonwealth bureaucrat or even by a Commonwealth minister but one to be resolved by independent experts and agreed by all jurisdictions.

I also note that the NHRA provides for loadings on the notional efficient price to reflect additional costs driven by regional location. Small rural hospitals will be protected as this agreement is implemented. The establishment of the Independent Hospital Pricing Authority is clear evidence of the government's ongoing drive to deliver for all Australians the best quality health care possible and to ensure the future sustainability of our health system. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.