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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7850

Mr DUTTON (3:21 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to his promise to the Australian people that he would fix public hospitals by mid-2009 or take them over. Prime Minister, isn’t the government’s decision to consult for a further six months, having first announced a plan two years ago and having consulted for 16 months and received a report with 123 recommendations, only about creating more photo opportunities and political advantage for the government?

Mr RUDD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. The government is committed to fundamental health and hospital reform. We were elected with a mandate to establish the Health and Hospital Reform Commission. That, led ably by Dr Christine Bennett, reported in the middle of the year. The honourable member is right to reflect on the fact it has contained within it wide-ranging recommendations, 123 in all, which go across the totality of the health and hospital system. I referred to these, in part, in response to a question from the honourable member for Lyne yesterday in relation to the future of the Port Macquarie Base Hospital. These go to what we do for the future of preventative care, primary care, acute hospital beds, subacute care, aged care, dental care and mental health as well.

The reasons that we have had to do this are twofold. Firstly, challenges are faced right across all OECD economies at the moment coming from population change, the ageing of the population and increasing costs of medical treatments. These are matters on which the previous government, I am sure, were comprehensively advised in their period in office, which brings me to the second reason: what we saw in 12 years was a big, fat zero in terms of health and hospital reform on the part of those opposite—absolutely zip. Instead, it was the old, old game of playing the blame game with the states. Furthermore, on top of that, not only did they embark upon no program of reform; they instead ripped out $1 billion from the public hospital system of Australia. They ignored the systemic challenges to health systems right across the world. Secondly, they did not even engage in one fundamental reform to the health system themselves despite 12 years in office, with public revenue awash off the back of the mining boom. Thirdly, instead, they ripped $1 billion out of the states. That is the system we have inherited.

The honourable member’s question also goes to the extent to which we now consult the community to road-test the commission’s recommendations with key representatives of the health and hospital system across the country. We believe this is the right approach because the recommendations are far-reaching and, in many respects, quite radical. We would much rather hear from those working at the coalface. That is why the health minister and I have most recently been at Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney, which I think those opposite would agree has been the subject of some controversy in recent times; the Flinders Medical Centre, which is a major public hospital in Adelaide; most recently at Townsville General Hospital; and, again, at Cairns Base Hospital, which has also been struggling with the huge increase in population of Far North Queensland, the particular complexities which arise from a very large Indigenous community on the cape and the impact on accident and emergency. So we make no apologies for the fact that we will be road-testing these recommendations around the country. We have also said that we would then present proposals to the Commonwealth and states for their consideration. The health minister addressed the process relating to that in her answer to a question on health and hospitals only a day or two ago.

I would say this to the honourable member: whether it is health and hospitals reform, whether it is climate change reform, whether it is building the education revolution or whether it is navigating Australia through the global economic recession, this is a government which is on about the task of preparing Australia for the future. Those opposite, for 12 years, languished in the past. Today, what we have seen on such a fundamental issue as climate change is the Liberal and National parties hauling up the white flag and saying, ‘It is all too hard,’ and pretending this is a serious debate about policy on their side of the House when the reality and the truth is that it is all about the internal politics of the Liberal Party. What we have had today is the most appalling collapse in the authority of the Liberal leadership I have seen in this place since I have been a member. The nation wants leadership for the future, not excuses for inertia.