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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 854

Mr NEWMAN(2.53 a.m.) —I think the States (Tax Sharing and Health Grants) Amendment Bill (No. 2) poses very serious problems for the Government. I remind the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) that not only has it been the credo of the Government that a consensus would always be reached but also it was the Minister 's proud boast, as recently as Question Time two days ago, on the question of the introduction of Medicare that a great number of people had been consulted and all States were co-operating and in agreement with the Government. The purpose of this Bill is to change two aspects of the present funding arrangements which presently apply to the States of South Australia and Tasmania which are affected by the introduction of the Medicare scheme. The important part of the explanation given in the explanatory memorandum is this:

In order to participate in the Medicare funding arrangements, South Australia and Tasmania have agreed to terminate their hospital cost-sharing agreements with the Commonwealth with effect from 1 February 1984.

As I pointed out to the Minister earlier that simply is not the case. I give the Minister credit that somehow or other an error has occurred. I am sure that no Minister, particularly this one, would wish to bring forward a Bill on that proposition, knowing that in fact it simply was not true. There has been a breakdown somewhere between the Minister and his Department, I am sure. This disagreement by the State of Tasmania was, as I understand it, brought to the attention of the Minister on 16 August. Far from the understanding of the Minister that it was agreed at the Premiers Conference on 30 June and 1 July that this should happen, in fact Tasmania is very much at odds with the Federal Government on the proposition.

As the Tasmanian Government has pointed out to the Federal Government, the Commonwealth has not put any specific proposals forward as to discontinuing the cost sharing agreement or quantifying the proposed amount of any financial grant to replace it. As a result, Tasmania has not been able to put to the Government its concerns, which cover quite a wide range of issues. I know that the Tasmanian Government has in mind such things as compensation for the nil growth policy adopted by the Commonwealth Government under the cost sharing agreement for several years. It would like to see that changed. Another concern is the need for the State to establish rheumatology, renal and other much needed services. Another very important fact which I have mentioned on several occasions in this debate is that the Commonwealth has shared the cost of building a new hospital at Launceston which is uneconomic, without adding a further stage, and which remains largely unoccupied.

Mr McVeigh —They should do that straightaway.

Mr NEWMAN —I think so. There is the generosity of the honourable member for Darling Downs at this early hour. I am sure that the Minister would probably reflect the same generosity. The unavailability of additional funding for the necessary staff and ongoing costs, the need to reorganise hospital bed provisions by reclassification of many existing beds and the need for computerised management information services to enable statistics to be provided to the Commonwealth are just some of the issues which apparently Tasmania wishes to discuss with the Minister before it could possibly reach an agreement which would terminate the present hospitals agreement.

I remind the Minister that it is a clear proposition put by the Minister that he would not proceed in any of the Medicare arrangements without the co- operation of the States. I believe that, therefore, this Bill is simply unacceptable when we have one of the participants not in fact participating at all. Whilst the Opposition will vote against the Bill, I think the Minister should consider withdrawing this Bill now and not proceeding with it any further until the necessary negotiations are carried out with Tasmania and an agreement reached.

I know that the State has said to the Commonwealth that it would wish these discussions to take place at Premier-Prime Minister level and that it is ready for officers to meet immediately to ensure that that happens quickly. The proposition that Tasmania has agreed to this Bill is quite patently untrue. Add to that the problems that have occurred with the State of Tasmania over the dam issue. None of us wish to reawaken the divisions that that caused. But I think that this could have a great deal of political significance in Tasmania if the Minister is going to ride rough-shod over the State this morning. I appeal to the Minister, not only for the sake of his credibility, not only for the sake of being able, at the end of the day, to say that he did achieve everything he wanted to do with co-operation, but in the absolutely necessary spirit which has been ennunciated by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) so many times in recent weeks of the Government maintaining a co-operative position with the States of Tasmania so that there will not be accusations again that he is riding over its wishes, the Bill should be withdrawn this morning.