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Thursday, 10 February 2011
Page: 509

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (3:36 PM) —It is not surprising that the so-called grand hospital plan that was touted by Labor is now coming to a sad and sorry end. In my contribution to today’s debate I want to go back and look at the history of this plan to see why it has got to where it is and to say to the Australian people that it is not surprising that it is finally falling apart simply because it was never a real plan. It was simply a smoke-and-mirrors exercise in true Labor tradition—all spin and no substance.

Let us go back to 2007 when New directions for Australian health: taking responsibility: Labor’s plan for ending the blame game on health and hospital care was released. In that policy document Kevin Rudd set out a strict deadline for achieving reform. It was repeated in the launch on 14 November: ‘I have a long-term plan to fix our nation’s hospitals. I will be responsible. The buck stops with me.’ One presupposed that the incoming Labor government actually had a plan. But when we traversed this issue in estimates on 10 February 2010 we actually got to the bottom of it. There was actually no plan. There was not even a back-of-the-envelope plan. There was no document that Labor brought when it came into government that outlined what its plan was.

Therefore they had to scramble. They had to find something. They had to do something on health because suddenly the gloss was starting to come off K. Rudd. That is when we suddenly saw the establishment of the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission under the chairmanship of Dr Christine Bennett. This commission produced a number of reports including Beyond the blame game: accountability and performance benchmarks for the next Australian health care agreement. It produced A healthier future for all Australians: interim report. It traversed the countryside. It undertook consultation and finally produced this tome: A healthier future for all Australians: final report June 2009. It is a very comprehensive piece of work and you would think that then Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Roxon would have taken the 123 recommendations through the consultation process and at least responded to them. No, they had to then review the review. They had to consult about the consultations. They had to spend their time trekking around the countryside—surprise, surprise—to most of Australia’s marginal seat areas. Off went Kevin Rudd and Minister Roxon to trek around the countryside and have their picture taken in hospital garb. Mr Deputy President, I have this photograph that you corrected me on earlier, but I can tender it if you so wish.

Government senators interjecting—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, the standing orders are quite clear about the displaying of photographs.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —If anybody is interested in looking at all of the photographs, they can go to the yourHealth website, because that is what all of this was about. We understand how the yourHealth website came into existence through a very amusing piece by Myles Peterson entitled, ‘Yes Minister meets Alice in Wonderland.’ It was a most amusing article which traversed how this website came into existence over a weekend. That website contained a whole lot of pictures of what Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon were doing around the countryside, but it also contained another piece of information—what they refer to as quick polls. This was their way of consulting with people. When you actually go and look at the website you see the government asserting that they have made major decisions based on consultations and these polls. When you have a poll of 62 people, I hardly think that forms a very valid basis for a consultation process. Not only did we pick this up at estimates last year, it is still sitting on the website, which tells you something about efficiency in the Department of Health and Aging. When you point something out to them, they still do not take it off the website.

After they had embarked on this consultation process with lots of photographs—every evening on our television screens there was another hospital and another photograph of Kevin Rudd and Nicola Roxon in the hospital attire and the little hats—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, you must refer to people by their proper titles.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS —Prime Minister Rudd and Minister Roxon were in their attire posing for photographs next to hospital beds. Finally we got the blue book, which was released in March 2010. Before COAG we got the sales pitch, which was contained in the green book. The interesting thing about such books is the variation between the blue book, the green book and finally the red book, which was the document that was released at the time of COAG. Even before the ink was dry on the COAG agreement, this government had lined up its television advertising campaign. Nobody had seen the advertisements but this government had already lined up the $25 million it was going to spend trying to convince the Australian public of what it was trying to do. After that we got the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement, which was much lauded and much trumpeted as a major reform. When you read the nitty-gritty of this agreement, you will see the absolute fabrication and lie that this government has perpetrated on the Australian public.

It talked about federal funding: the new era of federal funding. The ink was barely dry on this document when the national funding authority, which was much trumpeted as the vital mechanism for transparency that would make sure that the state governments used moneys that were directed for health for the appropriate purposes, was dumped unceremoniously. Most cynically it was dumped on the evening of the press gallery ball—slipped into an answer to a question on notice, through the Prime Minister’s department and the Prime Minister’s office. Minister Roxon was left standing there, not really knowing what was going on, telling journalists, ‘Oh, you had better ask the Prime Minister about that one.’ Here we had a major platform of this so-called reform being dumped unceremoniously—‘No, we don’t need pricing transparency anymore’—after they had spent months telling us how important this was.

The other misconception, the other lie that has been perpetrated, has been the falsehood about the networks being run locally. I have traversed this issue before. In this document it is very clear that the clinical expertise on these local hospital networks will not come from the local area; it will come from outside the local area. What is the point of having a local hospital network when the clinical expertise, those doctors who should know about that area, is not going to be appointed to those boards? This is all about maintaining the status quo, trying to portray some sort of national grand plan that is now well and truly falling apart. It faces sure extinction. The question I want answered is: what has been the cost to taxpayers of all the reviews, meetings and photo opportunities—all that stuff? What another instance of disgraceful Labor waste. The grand plan will be confined to terminal waste. It was never a legally binding agreement. It was more about giving us bureaucrats but no doctors and nurses.