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Tuesday, 12 May 2009
Page: 3488

Mr GEORGIOU (3:10 PM) —I address my question to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his election promise of August 2007:

A Rudd Labor Government will seek to take financial control of Australia’s 750 public hospitals if State and Territory Governments have not begun implementing an agreed National Health Reform Plan by mid-2009.

Will the Prime Minister now admit that the government does not intend to honour its election commitment and that all Australians will pay the price for the government’s failure in public health?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Kooyong for his question. He is a member in this place whom I have great respect for. However, I say to the member for Kooyong that the question he has just put is actually constructed on a false premise. Firstly, the undertaking I gave the Australian people, as those opposite will be familiar with, was as follows: if there was not substantial and serious commitment to health reform and hospitals reform on the part of the states and territories, the government would then proceed to seek a reference from the Australian people with a view to taking over hospitals from the states and territories. Secondly, since the election, as the honourable member will know full well, we have commissioned the Bennett commission of inquiry—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr RUDD —Oh! Those opposite say ‘inquiries’. Did I hear of inquiries launched recently in the matter of climate change—one inquiry, two inquiries, three inquiries; I think we are up to six now, aren’t we? Yes, six inquiries. Any inquiry will suit those opposite rather than take a position on the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme. It just folds one into the other in this pathetic excuse for leadership, which is waiting for the member for Higgins to move down from the back bench to the front or for the member for North Sydney or, I understand, perhaps for the member for Bradfield’s replacement in Bradfield, who is about to make his way into this chamber. It will be an interesting four-ringed circus once that occurs. Arthur Sinodinos is apparently on his way to Canberra.

The commitment we gave to the Australian people was that we would commission, through a National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, an investigation as to the best model for reform for the future.

Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. That is not the Prime Minister’s quote. I know he is selective in the way he uses media but his words were that he would ‘fix public hospitals by mid-2009 or he would seek a mandate for financial control to take—

The SPEAKER —Order! The question was in order and the Prime Minister is responding to the question.

Mr RUDD —I apologise to the member for Dickson for not including him in the list of leadership candidates for the Liberal Party.

Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker—

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will answer the question. I think we will just deal with it like this: the Prime Minister should refer to the question in his answer and leave other matters alone.

Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker, I have a fresh point of order: the Prime Minister’s hair—

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson will resume his seat. The Prime Minister has the call.

Mr RUDD —We will now formally review the member for Dickson’s candidature in the leadership contest for those opposite. The commitment we made was to establish the Bennett commission of inquiry, which is a Health and Hospitals Reform Commission inquiry. It has a wide mandate. It is due to report to the government, I believe, around midyear. It will contain a range of options for the government to consider. We will be responding to those as well.

Mr Pyne interjecting

Mr RUDD —Before the member for Sturt interjects about inquiries and investigations, I would reflect on the appalling substitute for policy action which constitutes the approach of those opposite to climate change right now—refusing to take a position on climate change. The member for Flinders pretends to have a position; the member for Goldstein has the reverse position.

Mr Pyne —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. It is pretty clear that a question about his election commitments in health cannot stray into climate change.

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will return to the question. The Prime Minister will ignore the interjections, and the member for Sturt will cease interjecting.

Mr RUDD —The government’s commissioning of Ms Bennett to conclude this inquiry will have its end point when it reports around midyear. It will examine a range of options for the future of our health and hospital system. Those opposite would also be familiar with this, having themselves sucked out $1 billion in federal investment into the public hospital systems of Australia. The government, through the last Council of Australian Governments meeting, returned that investment into the hospital system and agreed on a wide-ranging set of health and hospital reforms with the states and territories. That is practical action for the future.

We will consider the Bennett commission of inquiry’s report when it is deliberated on and concluded, and we will take what necessary action there is for the future. That is a proper course of action on the part of the government, as opposed to those opposite, who saw hospitals as one single opportunity in the past: a political opportunity simply to kick the states at every single pass and to make themselves look like the big, responsible people in Canberra—disinterested in what was happening in the states, disinterested in the crowding in our emergency departments and disinterested in the lengthening lists of procedures which were necessary in hospitals for people who had a range of complaints and medical conditions. Instead, we have engaged in practical cooperative arrangements with the states. We will act on the Bennett commission’s report when it is properly submitted to government.