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Thursday, 17 October 2002
Page: 8040

Mrs DRAPER (12:26 PM) —I rise to speak on the Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2002. This bill proposes to make two changes to the Health Care (Appropriation) Act 1998. The first change will increase the maximum amount of financial assistance that the Minister for Health and Ageing may grant to the states and territories under the Australian health care agreements. The second change requires the Minister for Health and Ageing to table a statement on the amount of financial assistance granted under the new maximum payment level.

Australian health agreements are between the federal government and the governments of the states and territories. They are the means by which the federal government provides health funding to the states. As the Health Care (Appropriation) Act now stands, the ceiling on the amount that the federal government can provide to the states for health spending is kept at just over $29,655 million. As the Minister for Ageing, the Hon. Kevin Andrews, indicated in his second reading speech, this level of funding is expected to be reached by early 2003. Despite the member for Corio's comments earlier, this is the result of the federal government's decision not to reduce health funding to public hospitals despite the huge increase in the number of people with private health insurance.

This bill seeks to increase the cap rather than to reduce the expenditure on health and is yet another example of the priorities of this government when it comes to providing more dollars for our public hospitals. As a result of this government's far-sighted policies in encouraging people to take on private health insurance, there has been a large increase in the number of private hospital admissions. If it were not for the government's incentives, these patients would have added to the waiting lists at public hospitals, putting even greater pressure on doctors and nurses. The government can justifiably claim to have succeeded in its aim of reducing the pressure on our public hospitals by its private health insurance incentives. Labor cannot get over its blinkered, ideological view: it opposes private health insurance and wants everybody to be forced onto the public system. Labor does not like to provide people with a choice and would prefer to have them waiting in lines for surgery than give them the option of having surgery in a private hospital.

The bill will raise the cap on the amount that the federal government can provide to the states and territories for their public hospitals to $31,800 million. The bill will also expand the reporting responsibilities of the Minister for Health and Ageing, requiring her to present to each house of parliament as soon as possible after 30 June 2003 a statement of the total amount of financial assistance paid under section 4 of the act, thus leading to greater transparency and accountability. I commend the minister for introducing this bill and for paving the way for further expenditure on our public hospitals. This will be appreciated and supported by the community of Makin.

The people of South Australia have been disappointed with the recent decisions of the newly installed Labor government of Mike Rann. Within a few short weeks of his Minister for Health, Lea Stevens, being sworn into office, they were already closing down hospital beds and forcing people to wait longer for surgery. At the same time Minister Stevens claimed to be shocked to discover a blow-out in the purchase price of an important piece of medical machinery at one hospital and heralded the fact that heads would roll, but she was later forced to admit, under pressure from the state Liberal opposition, that she had been advised of the purchase.

We can see the very clear difference between Labor rhetoric and Labor action. Before the election they were full of promises about increasing funding for the South Australian health system. Following the election they suffered a case of collective amnesia and, led by a minister who frankly does not know her saline drip from her catheter, they are closing down hospital beds and making a shambles of the administration.

Mrs DRAPER —In contrast we have the federal Liberal government providing real leadership to reduce the pressure on public hospitals through incentives for people to use the private health option, refusing to reduce government spending on health even when more people are choosing private hospitals and, finally, through this bill, raising the cap on the amount of funding that can be provided to our public hospital system by more than $2,000 million. I support this bill because it will deliver more funds to public hospitals, which is what the Australian people are demanding of their governments. The Australian people really do want their taxes spent on their hospitals, because they recognise there is a real need to ensure the highest quality of health care for all. The lesson then is clear: while Labor talks, Liberal delivers.

Debate (on motion by Mr Neville) adjourned.