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Thursday, 29 August 2002
Page: 6111


Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) (9:31 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

This bill proposes to amend the Health Care (Appropriation) Act 1998. That act was made to permit the Minister for Health and Ageing to determine grants of financial assistance to a state, or to a hospital or other person, for the purpose of providing or paying for health and emergency services of a kind or kinds that are currently, or were historically, provided by hospitals. As such, the act provides the legislative basis for the Commonwealth to pay financial assistance under the 1998-2003 Australian Health Care Agreements, including Health Care Grant and National Health Development Fund payments to the states and territories and Commonwealth own purpose outlays for mental health, palliative care and case mix development.

The act currently provides that total grants of financial assistance must not exceed $29,655,056,000. This estimate was current when the act commenced on 30 June 1998.

Since that time, the Commonwealth's financial responsibilities have increased because of Commonwealth government decisions which have increased the level of funding available under the agreements and forgone the government's right to claw back any funding from the states in recognition of increased private health insurance coverage. As a result, the ceiling currently specified in the act will be reached in early 2003.

The bill proposes amendments which will allow the Commonwealth to discharge its financial responsibilities by increasing the ceiling to $31,800,000,000. As the precise financial responsibilities of the Commonwealth will not be known until May 2003, this amount includes an allowance above the current approved estimates for the five years to 30 June 2003 for unexpected population growth and rounding.

The proposed amendments will also require the tabling of a statement of the total amount of financial assistance paid under the act as soon as practicable after 30 June 2003 to ensure that public accountability requirements are met. I present the explanatory memorandum to the bill.

Debate (on motion by Mr Zahra) adjourned.