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Transcript of doorstop interview: Standing Council on Health, Perth: 9 November 2012: Commonwealth and State health budgets

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Minister for Health



Standing Council on Health, Perth 9 November 2012

Tanya Plibersek: I've been at St John of God Hospital this morning at Subiaco, announcing some very serious improvements to our health workforce here in Australia today. We've gone a long way to resolving the interns issue which has been bubbling along for some time and I'm very pleased that I've been able to work with the Western Australian Government, with Queensland, the ACT and the Northern Territory to resolve - get very close to resolving that issue.

I just want to make a few comments about the suggestions that the three health ministers have just made about Commonwealth cuts to their health budgets.

It is the absolute truth that every year for the next four years Commonwealth funding to their states increases. It goes up.

The reverse, the fact that the state health systems have cut their budgets, is also true.

So when you look at the figures, Queensland, over the next four years, will have a 21 per cent increase in Commonwealth funding. It'll go from $3.1 billion to $3.7 billion, a $600 million increase. What's the Queensland Government doing in response to that? A $1.6 billion cut.

New South Wales will get a 23 per cent increase from the Commonwealth Government, from $4.7 billion to $5.8 billion. That's $1.1 billion extra from the Commonwealth Government. And what's New South Wales doing in response to that? Three billion dollars’ worth of cuts.

Victoria will get a 26 per cent increase from the Commonwealth Government, from $3.6 billion to $4.5 billion and what are they doing in response? Six hundred and 16 million dollars’ worth of cuts.

Now, unfortunately what we have here are three health ministers who are looking around for someone else to blame for the cuts that they have made to their own health systems. It's very unfortunate and it's not fair to patients when these cuts have been so large in the states and territories.

I understand why those health ministers are defensive about it but it's not fair to look for someone else to blame.

What I also want to say is that there is an extraordinary claim that this is about - simply about the federal Treasury taking a different view on statistics. All of these health ministers belong to governments that signed up to a formula for delivering health costs, Commonwealth health contribution to state systems.

That formula has three elements to it. It has an element that's based on population, it has an element that's based on health price inflation and it's got a technology element as well.

The Australian Bureau of Statistics is the only organisation in the country that produces credible population figures. Every five years they go out, door to door, they count everyone in the country so I believe the ABS when they talk about population figures.

The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is the organisation that produces the figures on health cost inflation. The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is the only credible organisation that produces these figures.

What you need to remember about this formula that the Commonwealth and states have signed up to is that every premier, every first minister and the Prime Minister signed up to a formula and now that the states and territories are looking around for a smokescreen for their own cuts, they want to blame the formula that they haven't complained about in previous years.

There's one more thing I want to say in addition. New South Wales and Victoria have received substantial extra funding through unexpected GST revenue. New South Wales found a billion dollars down the back of the couch that they didn't know, last - didn't know about last week as well. Maybe they could use GST money that's come in or the unexpected billion dollars that they have left over in New South Wales to fund some of the health cuts that they've been made to make - that they've decided to make instead of looking around for someone to blame for the decisions that they took months ago, to cut their own budgets.

Any questions?

Question: The health ministers were also quoting ABS figures but it seems like you're looking at two different sets of…

Unidentified: That's right. The statistician is quite clear the population has increased in Victoria.

Tanya Plibersek: Yes, indeed the population…

Unidentified: And Western Australia.

Tanya Plibersek: Excuse me; I didn't interrupt your press conference. Maybe you could just stand aside for a minute.

It's true that population is increasing around Australia. It's the rate of that increase that is what the ABS is counting. The ABS expected that the population would grow more quickly than it has. What the state health ministers are asking for is money to treat population growth that hasn't occurred at the speed that it was expected to.

Now, this is the same formula that they've signed up to in previous years. Their first ministers, their treasurers, our Prime Minister, our Treasurer, all of them signed up to this formula and the fact that they don't like it this year I don't think is - is reason to look around for someone else to blame for their massive health cuts.

Question: Is it a case of misunderstanding the formula?

Tanya Plibersek: No, it's not. The Australian Bureau of Statistics is the premier organisation that can count population in Australia. It is a world-leading statistical outfit and to suggest that there's any, as I read in one of the press releases, dodginess about these figures is insulting to an independent organisation full of highly trained professionals that go door to door around Australia and have been doing it for 100 years, so that we have in Australia some of the best and strongest and most robust data anywhere in the world.

Thanks, everyone.