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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23345

Mr NEVILLE (5:16 PM) —Those in the chamber today know me well enough to realise that I do not like unnecessary confrontation with my state government colleagues—and by that I mean state government and opposition colleagues—but it is hard to be sanguine in the face of cost shifting. Since almost day one of this federal coalition government, state ALP regimes have carped and cried about a whole range of issues, but I find their latest target shows breathtaking hypocrisy. Reforming our public health services should come before cheap point scoring, which has flowed in abundance from those in the ranks of the ALP in recent months.

Many of you would be aware that Queensland Premier Peter Beattie has called for reform of the public health sector and the rejection of the Australian government's new MedicarePlus scheme. The state government sheds crocodile tears in public, while pocketing record health funds from the Australian government in private. Mr Beattie was amongst the group of state leaders who walked out of the Council of Australian Governments meeting here in August after being offered a 28 per cent increase in health funding from the Commonwealth. I am surprised he did not pirouette out of the meeting; after all, when he later signed on the dotted line, his health budget went up from $5.9 billion in the previous agreement to $8 billion, a real increase of about 20 per cent—not a bad earner for a few days of theatrics.

Prior to Mr Beattie's skipping out the door, the Prime Minister offered a comprehensive examination of reforming our public health system. Our Prime Minister said to the premiers that he wanted to find the best solution to the problem and he wanted their input. This government offered to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of health service delivery and the best use of all funding and to identify barriers to service delivery for patients. The Prime Minister was at the table—but where were the state premiers? They were outside, wearing their favourite football club jerseys and having their photos taken in the lead-up to the AFL grand final.

So the Australian government offered to hold a review of Australia's health system under the COAG arrangements, but the premiers walked out for a quick photo opportunity. If you will excuse the mixed sporting metaphor, they fell at the first hurdle. It is a sad reflection of their priorities that solving health dilemmas was subjected to a symbolic walkout. Such behaviour begs the question: are the state governments serious about their role in fixing our public hospitals? The bottom line is that public hospitals are their domain and under their jurisdiction. Or is it more about the states being forced to increase their health spending in proportion to the Commonwealth's added commitment? That is indeed where we got the most opposition; that is where the real resistance came from.

In fact, I spoke on the practical application of this very matter last week, when the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Economics, Finance and Public Administration released its report Rates and taxes: a fair share for responsible local government. I told the House about the way the Beattie government had shirked its funding responsibility to the Discovery Coast Health Service, located at Agnes Water, part way between Bundaberg and Gladstone. Miriam Vale Shire ratepayers—Miriam Vale being the shire in which Agnes Water is located—are being forced to pay more than $250,000 a year to keep this vital health service in the area because of cost shifting by the state government. The health centre's recurrent expenditure is substantially provided by a $1.9 million federal government grant, even though it is primarily the responsibility of the Bundaberg district of Queensland Health.

Despite the fact that a $600,000 health centre was announced in state parliament by the member for Burnett on 21 June 2001, such a facility has never been supplied by the state government. Instead, Miriam Vale Shire was forced to lease premises at Agnes Water to provide a home for its health and medical facilities. As a result, the Commonwealth provided a further $165,000 to allow the shire to purchase the existing leased buildings. Despite some savings on rent, it still meant a notional outlay of $200,000 by Miriam Vale Shire Council. Quite simply, if it were not for the Commonwealth there would not be a health service in the shire. But it seems grossly unfair that the ratepayers of Miriam Vale Shire, rather than the state government, should be footing the bill for part of the purchase and the recurrent debt of $250,000 a year.

Since I spoke publicly on this matter, the Queensland Minister for Health has rushed out and announced that a possible site for a $600,000 health centre has been found and that the state government has fulfilled its health obligations in the Miriam Vale Shire. There is a certain sick irony in this. After doing nothing for three years, are the state government seriously saying that they are now about to duplicate the service that Miriam Vale Shire already provides? I ask: where is the Queensland government vision for an expanding area like Miriam Vale, which is the fastest growing shire in mainland Queensland? Perhaps the state government would like us to take education off their hands. I am sure the government could teach them a thing or two about public housing and road funding. It even seems that responsibility for traineeships and apprenticeships is too much for the Beattie government's fiscal reserves.

I have previously spoken about the Queensland government's duplicitous actions in terms of public housing funding and described how over the term of the last Commonwealth-state housing agreement—taking into account the Commonwealth's rent assistance—the Queensland government contributed only 14c for every dollar contributed by the Australian government to welfare housing. The latest news on this front is Mr Schwarten's denial that sales of public housing in Central Queensland have added to the waiting list. The Queensland opposition spokesman, Ray Hopper, has put on record that 3,500 Central Queenslanders are waiting for welfare housing accommodation but the state government has sold more than 440 properties in Central Queensland over the past four years.

Under the current Commonwealth-state health agreement, which runs from 2003 to 2008, Queensland will receive not less than $4.75 billion, an 18.7 per cent increase—well ahead of inflation. This government also helped out our state colleagues when the first home owners grant was introduced in 2000. I took some part in promoting that. Since that time, the Commonwealth has invested around $3 billion in the scheme Australia wide, and more than 94,000 Queenslanders have successfully applied for first home owner grants. What would have been the demands on public housing if the federal government had not done this? It is easy to see which government is serious about helping the most deprived in terms of housing assistance and which government is not.

In recent weeks I have also had to dispel some of the half-truths being peddled by the Queensland government on training. This was touched on briefly in question time today. The Queensland employment and training minister, Matt Foley, came out with the absurd claim that the ANTA funding methodology—created in Queensland's case by the Keating and Goss governments, mind you—would treat Queensland unfairly and result in up to 18,500 Queenslanders missing out on TAFE training places. Mr Foley did not mention that the federal training minister, Dr Nelson, had offered to support Mr Foley to design a formula that reflects Queensland's growth—but whether he wants to tackle his other state colleagues on changing the funding formula is another matter. The resistance has come not from the Commonwealth government but from the other states and territories.

There is $3.6 billion in the ANTA agreement for the next three years, a real increase of 2.5 per cent. That contains $323 million for growth funding. Queensland will receive $594 million, an increase of $42½ million; yet, again, the Queensland government has fudged its responsibilities by reducing its own funding by 0.2 per cent, or 2.6 per cent in real terms after inflation. In a nutshell, as the federal funding goes up the state funding goes down. If these places were so critical, why would Queensland be reducing its funding?

Further, each state was allocated an amount of what is known as `user choice funding', which is meant to create choice for training participants. Of the $102 million that Queensland was allocated this year, 19 TAFE colleges shared $60 million and 116 private providers shared only $40 million. Is this an appropriate way to break up funding among the providers? Does this create an even spread? No—as in health and other matters—it does not. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.