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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3655

Mr RAMSEY (4:50 PM) —I rise to address the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010. We are asked to believe that this bill will fix all the problems in our hospital systems. It does not matter how I line it up, I am afraid I just see it as a pea and thimble trick. What are we doing? We are shifting a funding split basically from 40-60 to 60-40 and taking the money from the states to fund it. That means the federal government will take roughly one-third—and I say ‘roughly’ one-third because now we find the states do not know what part of their GST receipts they will be giving up. I must say it is quite curious to me that the Labor-controlled state governments have been in such a rush to sign on to something they cannot possibly fully understand at this stage. It does in fact have a parallel with what the parliament is being asked to do with the NBN at the moment, which is to sign a blank bill. We have heard of blank cheques but this is in fact a blank bill. The states are unsure what they will be paying for the privilege of having 20 per cent of their hospital funding obligations taken off them.

When the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd proclaimed this new deal it was about the federal government taking over the whole system and, as the major funder, the Commonwealth would of course assume responsibility. But, no, that is not exactly what has been negotiated. The states are to be left in charge but answering to a new bureaucracy, the Australian Commission on Safety and Quality in Health Care—and we have debated the formation of that body in this place before.

In my state of South Australia, not only is the state bureaucracy to be left in charge; the government has also managed to convince their federal counterparts the management systems we are using at the moment are just fine, thank you very much. Very little is likely to change. As far as the administration of hospitals in South Australia is concerned, we are being told that we are to have very little change, yet this is to fix a health system that is in need of major reform. I really do not see what is going to happen here that is very different from what is happening at the moment. It concerns me because the track record of the Labor regime in South Australia towards regional health services is deplorable.

In 2008, the Rann government launched an attack on regional hospitals with its ill-conceived country health plan. The intent was to reduce services in country areas. It elicited outrage from not only the affected communities but from right through the South Australian public, and the government was forced into retreat. In a similar time frame, the government sacked our local hospital boards, which had largely established these services and which were the community advocates for our hospitals, our health services and, in many of the smaller towns I represent, our aged-care services. To me, this was the really big change because, after it, local communities had no say in the operation of their local hospitals. That is why I was pleased that, last election, the coalition committed to reinstating the boards. The state Liberal team still has that intention if it is elected to government, which will hopefully occur sooner rather than later.

We well remember the great debates that came with the introduction of the GST, which the Labor Party implacably opposed. Government members should remember what their voting record on economic reform was when they were in opposition, because we are hearing much nowadays about the way oppositions should behave. It was a very important reform for the nation and particularly for the states, because they had a totally new growth tax. I am just amazed that the Labor state governments are prepared to give up access to this tax and take on what is basically, as I said, a blank bill.

I want to keep this relatively short today, but I do want to focus on something that has been happening very recently in South Australia as a result of the state budget, which was delayed and delivered in September. It is an example of what can happen with country health systems if you have hostile and uncaring governments. There are 32 state government hospitals in my electorate and there are two not-for-profit community hospitals. These not-for-profit community hospitals, Moonta and Ardrossan, have been receiving a small part of state funds to supplement their income. In total, the Ardrossan Community Hospital has been receiving $140,000 a year, which covers about 50 per cent of the cost of their accident and emergency. Moonta Hospital has been receiving $288,000 a year, which pays for up to eight public beds, should they be occupied, at about $110 a day—a pretty good deal for the Commonwealth, I might point out.

The state government has decided to pull that money out of those hospitals. In the case of Ardrossan, which is a 22-bed hospital, 50 per cent of their admissions come through their A&E department. It is highly likely that their admissions will take a big dive. These are private, paying patients and, without them, the hospital would be likely to close. The extra ‘hang on’ in this case is the 25-bed aged-care facility attached. If there is no hospital, there will be no aged-care facility. So it is a tragedy for the community and we will keep working to try to put pressure on the state government to reverse the decision. Up the road at Moonta, if the $288,000 is taken out of the budget it is highly likely that the acute services there will cease and the hospital will have to be turned into an aged-care facility.

I would like to speak much more about both of those issues and about the GST changes that are proposed with this bill, but I will keep it short and just reiterate my opening comments. I believe this is a pea and thimble trick and that very little will change on the ground. We are being sold a pup.