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No Federal health takeover just yet -

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No Federal health takeover just yet

Lindy Kerin reported this story on Monday, December 7, 2009 12:14:00

ELEANOR HALL: As the heads of Australian government meet in Brisbane this lunchtime, health
professionals are urging the Prime Minister not to delay launching a bid for a Federal takeover of
the state's health systems.

Expectations were high that Kevin Rudd would announce a takeover at today's COAG meeting but Mr
Rudd has now indicated that he will not make the decision until next year. Health professionals
though say the system is a mess and the Prime Minister needs to stop sending mixed messages.

Lindy Kerin has our report.

LINDY KERIN: It was an election pledge back in August 2007. Kevin Rudd promised a Federal takeover
of more than 700 public hospitals if the states failed to clean up the system.

KEVIN RUDD (AUGUST, 2007): My commitment to the Australian people, if elected, is to end the blame
game between Canberra and the states when it comes to health and hospitals. It's time for someone
to put their hand up and take responsibility, and if elected as Prime Minister in two months time,
that's exactly what I intend to do

LINDY KERIN: But there won't be any Federal takeover just yet. The Health and Hospital Reform
Commission set up by the Prime Minister released more than 100 recommendations in July including
full Federal responsibility for primary health care including GPs, basic dental care and aged care.

Today, instead of detailing the way forward Kevin Rudd will update state and territory leaders
about the past six months of consultations.

Dr Andrew Pesce, is the president of the Australian Medical Association. He told AM's Alexandra
Kirk that the Government needs to act now.

ANDREW PESCE: Everyone has been very patient and given the Government and the Prime Minister leeway
to do his consultation, go through the COAG process, but this was the meeting he said he'd either
get the ministers to agree or if not, he was going to look at taking over the system.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But that's not going to happen now, is it, because the Prime Minister has delayed
the decision until next year?

ANDREW PESCE: We've been waiting for reform for decades. If we have to wait until next year that's
fine as long as we see it happening.

LINDY KERIN: Professor John Dwyer is the founder of the Australian Health Care Alliance and a
long-time advocate for change.

JOHN DWYER: The Prime Minister has been sending all sorts of messages suggesting that the next
meeting in February is going to be the big deal and he wants more time to think about it and more
discussion, but look it's a lot better than them deciding not to move towards a single funder for
health.

The vast majority of us who have really been following this health-care reform debate, absolutely
want Australia to get out of the mess it's in and have one agency running the health-care system,
not the current wretched jurisdictional divisions that have hospitals run by states and the rest by
the Commonwealth.

So those of us agitating for a major reform that would see us have a single agency funding and
running the health care system, well we live to fight another day.

LINDY KERIN: Professor Dwyer says the best way forward to create a sustainable and fairer health
care system would require a compromise from both levels of government.

JOHN DWYER: The truth of the matter is that the Commonwealth couldn't really run the health care
system. They could finance it, but they've had no experience in Canberra at the Department of
Health in running health-care systems. Hospitals have been run by state governments, but the
Commonwealth Government purchases health for Australians and sets the rules, and the like, but
doesn't really run the system.

So the idea put forward by Nathan Rees and I understand supported by Tasmania, of COAG creating a
new statutory authority, an Australian Health Care Commission, to run the health-care system for
both the states and the Commonwealth combining resources and integrating hospital care, community
care and primary care, look that's the idea that, that please God, is going to get traction.

It solves all the political problems. No one is forcing one level of government to give up
anything. A lovechild of cooperative federalism produces a new statutory authority, as we are doing
with water management, to run the health care system. That's the sensible way out.

LINDY KERIN: Today's COAG meeting is being hosted by the Queensland Premier Anna Bligh. She's told
Radio National the hospital system is under pressure because of a dysfunctional relationship
between the federal and state governments. She says emergency departments are overloaded because
people can't access affordable GP's. Anna Bligh says it is a complex problem but she isn't
convinced that a Federal takeover is the best solution.

ANNA BLIGH: I would certainly say that if you talk to some of the hospitals in the remote parts of
Queensland, they will tell you that it is not easy being managed from Brisbane. If you said you are
then going to be managed from Canberra and I think the influence that individual citizens can have
on the people who run the system diminishes and there is a very well established principle of
public administration about managing and administering services as close as logistically possible
to where they are actually operated.

LINDY KERIN: The Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the Commonwealth is serious about
reform. She says today's meeting provides an opportunity to discuss several options.

ELEANOR HALL: Lindy Kerin reporting.