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Govt wants healthy talks -

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Govt wants healthy talks

The World Today - Thursday, 23 October , 2008 12:50:00

Reporter: Lyndal Curtis

ELEANOR HALL: Next month the states and territories will try to finalise a new five-year health
agreement with the Commonwealth that is likely to be worth more than the existing $42-billion deal.

The Commonwealth has called for a new era of co-operation but it's also threatening to take over
state health systems if the talks are not successful.

The Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, told Lyndal Curtis that the Government is prepared to
spend extra money but it wants firm agreements from the states in return.

NICOLA ROXON: I guess our argument is all of the Commonwealth's new investments in health do need
to be taken account of when we have these negotiations with the states.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Are the states still reluctant to sign up to the process?

NICOLA ROXON: No I think that the states have been very engaged in the process. Of course, we've
got another month or so to go and I think we will see negotiations and I am sure they will be
hard-fought negotiations because...

LYNDAL CURTIS: Because we have already seen at least one state refuse to sign up to the program to
have computers in schools. Does this signal that the states are willing to engage in what the Prime
Minister has called argy-bargy?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, I think there will be argy-bargy. It won't be a surprise to any of your
listeners that the states will be seeking a lot of money from the Commonwealth and what we've made
clear is that we, in giving large amounts of money, as we have in the past, and investing more to
develop a health system for the next, sort of, couple of decades, we will need to invest but we
will need change in the system too.

There aren't going to be any blank cheques signed in healthcare but what we argue is look more
holistically at health. The previous government was very focused just on hospital's component and
take it or leave it.

We are much more focused on hospitals, what you can do outside hospitals, what is needed in
infrastructure, and we want all of those new investments from the Commonwealth to be taken account
of when you look at the sort of commitments that we are making in health and I think to date, the
states have been very engaged and interested in that process.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Is a $5-billion package aimed at spending money on public hospitals and life-saving
equipment part of that process?

NICOLA ROXON: Well, we make clear in the budget that the new health and hospital infrastructure
fund would be able to fund infrastructure in hospitals but also in research centres, also
equipment, also in other settings.

Of course the process for how and when that is spent will be something that is negotiated and
working through the Cabinet and also dependent on the applications that we receive but it is not a
fund exclusively for hospitals but absolutely, it will be available for infrastructure in hospitals
that brings about the sort of change and reform that is needed to set up our health system for the
future.

LYNDAL CURTIS: Finally, Minister are you concerned that the options for women wanting screening for
a breast cancer gene are going to be more limited in the future because the company which holds the
rights to the gene is saying that, that patients must come and have testing in its laboratories
rather then elsewhere?

NICOLA ROXON: Look, I am very concerned about it. I understand from the advice I had that this has
been threatened on previous occasions and the states and territories and the breast cancer
organisations have been able to persuade the company not to take that approach.

I hope that the same is going to occur. We are obviously involved closely in discussions and trying
to see if there is any role we can lay to bring about a sensible resolution but I think it is
worrying and I think that women would want to know that they are able to have these tests without
there being an enormous cost attached to them and it is certainly something that we are watching
closely.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the Federal Health Minister, Nicola Roxon, speaking to Lyndal Curtis.