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Tuesday, 3 February 2009
Page: 34


Senator WILLIAMS (2:59 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. With many hospitals in New South Wales in the worst financial state that they have ever been in, with butchers cutting supplies, threats of security being withdrawn, no chance of paying their bills, no morale and some with no doctors, why has Prime Minister Rudd not honoured his 2007 election promise to fix our hospitals?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I understand the confected anger being put forward by Senator Williams. I recognise that there are a broad range of issues affecting public hospitals in New South Wales, such as unpaid debts and a shortage of supplies, as Senator Williams mentioned. The minister has made it clear that the New South Wales government needs to fix this situation as a priority. I understand that steps are being taken.

It is a pity that the opposition when in government ripped a billion dollars out of the health system. These are challenges that are being addressed. We are taking the action that the previous government failed to take. For too long, hospitals have been starved of money. The previous government ripped one billion dollars from public hospitals. That put them under enormous pressure and strain. That was unnecessary at the time, and it continues to have an ongoing effect in New South Wales and in other states, Senator Williams.

I note the member for Dickson’s comment last week on 2SM when he said, ‘The issue at Dubbo hospital of course has been around for a while,’ and, ‘The hospital and public health issues in general have been around, frankly, for the last 10 years.’ That is what the member for Dickson said. That begs this question: why oh why did the Liberals pull money out of the public hospital system in the first place? You have already recognised that the system has failed because you pulled a billion dollars out of the system. This Commonwealth government is implementing lasting reform to improve the Australian healthcare system for the people of New South Wales and other states as well. (Time expired)


Senator WILLIAMS —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister guarantee that there will be no more resignations from our hospitals because of the poor state of the health system, especially in New South Wales and Queensland?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —What I can guarantee is that the Commonwealth is implementing lasting reform. For the New South Wales hospital and health system, it represents about $20.5 billion over five years. This package includes $1.1 billion to train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals; $500 million to improve subacute care services; and $700 million in 2008-09 for emergency departments. This is about putting in place the infrastructure and the money to provide services in New South Wales and in other states. This will make sure that those employed in providing frontline health care will be there to do it. The Commonwealth government’s package will reduce pressure on public hospitals and assist states and territories to improve the quality and effectiveness of health care and provide flexibility in how they deliver those services to Australian people. That is the guarantee that this government will make. We are taking those— (Time expired)


Senator WILLIAMS —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, knowing that much of $8.7 billion that was splashed around Australia on 8 December gave many liquor outlets and poker machines indigestion and knowing that the $42 billion package announced today does nothing for our hospitals, when will the government do something about the disgraceful hospital situation in Australia?


Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —This only demonstrates the difficulty with a supplementary question that is prewritten. I provided the answer. For those on the other side—and perhaps that includes Senator Williams—who did not hear that answer, this government is taking action, unlike the previous government. There is $1.1 billion to train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals; $500 million to improve subacute care services; and $750 million in 2008-09 for emergency departments. That is what we have put on the table. Through the November 2008 Council of Australian Governments, a historic package of reform for the health and hospital system emerged. That package will provide $64.4 billion over five years for the health system. It is a shame that Senator Williams does not understand the commitment that we have made to hospital systems right across Australia. This is unlike the opposition when they were in government. They took out a billion dollars. (Time expired)


Senator Chris Evans —Mr President, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.