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Thursday, 13 September 1984
Page: 962


Senator COLSTON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I refer to a letter written by the Queensland State Minister for Health, Mr Brian Austin, to the Chairman of the Pittsworth and District Hospital Friendly Society. Mr Austin stated in that letter that there is no power under the relevant Act for a State Minister for Health to make recommendations to the Federal Minister for Health in relation to the categorisation of any hospitals. Is it not a fact that under regulations made under a Federal Act, Mr Austin could make recommendations in relation to the categorisation of any hospital in Queensland? Does any recommendation made by Mr Austin under these regulations need to be initiated by the Federal Minister for Health? Has the Queensland State Minister for Health made recommendations in relation to any Queensland hospital's categorisation? If not, does this indicate that Mr Austin is satisfied with the categories of private hospitals in Queensland or that he is interested only in public hospitals?


Senator GRIMES —Senator Colston gave me notice that he would ask this question. I have obtained the following information from the Minister for Health. Under section 31 of the Health Insurance Act 1973 which was gazetted in the Commonwealth of Australia Gazette on 22 March 1984, any State Minister, including Mr Austin, can make recommendations in relation to the categorisation of any private hospital in his State. In essence, the gazetted order defines a category 1 or 2 hospital as being one which either satisfies the relevant statistical criteria or does not satisfy the criteria for a particular category, but has been subject to a recommendation by the relevant State Minister that it be determined to be in that category. In addition, it is open for the State Minister to recommend that a hospital be placed in a higher category.

The order also provides for a State Minister to recommend that a hospital may be placed in a lower category. This particularly applies where the hospital does not meet State safety standards or regulations. The effect of the order is that the Minister for Health can use his discretionary power to upgrade a hospital which does not satisfy all the criteria only if a State Minister so recommends. This in no way obliges any Minister to make a recommendation, but it does place considerable constraints on the Federal Minister.

Where a State Minister does make recommendations concerning individual hospitals, the Federal Minister for Health has the option of either accepting or not accepting the recommendations. A recommendation by Mr Austin or any other State Minister does not need to be initiated by the Federal Minister for Health but can be made by a State Minister of his own volition at any time. Mr Austin has been provided with a list of the categories of all private hospitals in his State and has been asked to advise the Federal Minister for Health of any changes that he considers appropriate. The fact is that Mr Austin has not made any recommendations in relation to any Queensland hospital's categorisation. I am unaware why Mr Austin has written this in a letter to the Chairman of the Pittsworth and District Hospital Friendly Society. Perhaps he wishes to avoid his responsibilities in this area. Quite clearly Mr Austin is not telling the facts or the truth in his letter to that friendly society.