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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18756

Mr JOHN COBB (6:01 PM) —One of the big issues facing us today is health, and in particular health care and hospital care. In my electorate of Parkes we have a number of hospitals. Some hospitals—such as Dubbo hospital—are quite considerable in size. In Parkes and Forbes there is a desperate need for new hospitals, for services to be upgraded and equipment and management to be totally overhauled. Hospitals in Condobolin and Warren are currently being considered for downgrading. They will no longer have a hospital manager and somebody in a more junior position will have to take on that role. In hospitals like Lake Cargelligo, Condobolin, Nyngan and even Cobar obstetrics and the delivery of babies are actively discouraged and mothers are sent a long way—300 or 400 kilometres—from home to places like Dubbo, Forbes, Orange and Parkes. Their nearest hospital is no longer able to be involved in the delivery of babies.

Bearing all that in mind—it is a pretty common occurrence in hospitals around the country and certainly in New South Wales—the states now have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to accept the federal government's offer to increase funding by $10 billion over the next five years, from $32 billion to $42 billion—an increase of the order of 17 per cent in the federal government's contribution to health care. What an incredible opportunity for the New South Wales government to hop in behind, accept the offer and, for the first time ever, make a commitment itself for five years. I can assure you that we need it to do that in my region.

People in country New South Wales, and certainly those in the electorate of Parkes, are very puzzled that the New South Wales state government, particularly Premier Bob Carr—along with Premier Bracks from Victoria, I believe—is delaying this offer. The states are saying that they do not want a 17 per cent increase from the Commonwealth government; they want a 27 per cent increase. Yet so far they have not even attempted to match the Commonwealth's offer and agree to the condition attached to it whereby they increase their own funding by the same amount. One can only assume that the states' demands for a 27 per cent increase by the Commonwealth would prevent their having to make any increase at all. That would not happen. It is quite incredible to me that the New South Wales state government is totally ignoring its responsibilities. Not only does it not want to commit to a five-year program; it does not want to match the Commonwealth's offer. It is totally ignoring the plight of not only major hospitals in Dubbo, Forbes, Parkes but also very important hospitals like Condobolin and Warren in meeting their upkeep, providing equipment and handling their waiting lists. As I said before, we have four or five hospitals in the electorate that have been quite capable in the past of delivering babies, but mothers are now being moved hundreds of miles from their families and their local towns to give birth.

What is the Labor Party's position on health? The federal government wants to take away the rebate on the Medicare levy; the state governments do not want to increase, or even talk about increasing, the level of funding. The Commonwealth recognises this need and is contributing $10 billion over the next five years. What is wrong with Labor? They do not want to maintain the rebate, they do not want to take pressure off the hospital system in the most obvious way and, at this stage, they are refusing to increase their own funding at the state level, which is absolutely necessary in country and western New South Wales. It is a disgraceful situation.

We have heard about private enterprise quite often doing more with less. State governments are currently getting far more from the Commonwealth and doing less with it. Since the last health funding agreement was signed, 3,000 beds have been closed. In the last decade 14,000 beds have been closed in Australia. Despite the fact that the Commonwealth has lifted its share of funding in that time, the state governments are doing less and less with it.

For the first time ever, country hospitals and state governments have the chance to look five years ahead. One of the big problems with our country hospitals is that the state governments, until now, have promised funding only one year ahead. The Commonwealth has recognised that this is not good enough—not for a planning situation; not for the costs; not for what has to be done today. We are willing to put in $10 billion extra over the next five years. This means that not only will the state governments know where they are at—provided they are willing to match it; and at this point they are procrastinating and not wanting to do it—but also, more importantly, in the case of New South Wales at least, an area with which I am familiar, the government will be able to plan their health, staff and technological needs five years ahead.

As the member for the most remote electorate in New South Wales, I see all those hospitals I mentioned serving a need. Some are major hospitals, like Dubbo; some are smaller hospitals—MPSs, in fact, like Lake Cargelligo. All of them are serving a very real need for communities scattered over one-third of the state. I make a very real plea to Bob Carr and the New South Wales government to absolutely stop playing politics, procrastinating and trying to get more for less, and to meet the Commonwealth's offer, giving the people of the electorate of Parkes the health care that they must have, that they need and that is currently being denied. It will be the first big step—and a very big step—towards making our local hospital system and our local health care system what it has to be in the future. All they have to do is make the same sort of commitment that the Commonwealth has on offer.

Question agreed to.