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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18698

Ms GILLARD (2:26 PM) —My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. I refer the Acting Prime Minister to the Prime Minister's statement in this House last Wednesday, where he said:

The reason why the states have not signed the health funding agreements ... is that thus far the states of Australia have been unwilling to match the increase in funding that the Commonwealth has offered.

Isn't it a fact that the Commonwealth received two letters on 1 August from Victoria that document how it is consistently outspending the Commonwealth and will spend $2.4 billion this financial year compared to the $1.74 billion offered by the Commonwealth? Isn't it also a fact that, contrary to the Prime Minister's statement, Victoria offered to match future growth in funding? When will the Commonwealth respond to Victoria's correspondence and when will the Acting Prime Minister arrange for the Prime Minister to make a personal statement to correct the record?

Mr ANDERSON (Minister for Transport and Regional Services) —I thank the honourable member for her question and I notice the very narrow focus of the evidence brought forward to bolster the case—which I think is a very flimsy pack of cards indeed—that the states have been pulling their weight. There is no doubt that we are not going to allow the states and territories to reduce their contributions relative to ours for another five years because, in aggregate, that is plainly what they have done over the last five years. That is what they have been up to. The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare confirm that the states' and territories' share in total hospital funding fell by almost four percentage points in the early years of the last agreement.

You can only go on for so long pretending that black is white. The reality is that the Commonwealth has offered an increase of 17 per cent in real terms over the five-year term of the upcoming agreements. That translates into an increase of $10 billion—from $32 billion to $42 billion. In anyone's language that is an increase. This is predictable—at this time of the negotiations it is not altogether unexpected for the state and territory leaders to mount this sort of campaign. It is almost a sort of old sport. But I think the Australian people are pretty cynical about the states' ploys in these negotiations. They happen every time, and I think it is time that the state premiers and the territory chief ministers put an end to this ridiculous posturing and get on with what is a very substantial agreement.

Ms Gillard —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to table the two letters from Victoria dated 1 August.

Leave not granted.