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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29708

Mr BEAZLEY (2:51 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, now that you have dismissed concerns about our health system by blaming the states and by evading responsibility on bulk-billing, dental care services and specialist services, are you standing by your comment in the Sydney Morning Herald last week that you have done enough on health?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —The record of this government in providing additional resources to health in this country is quite outstanding, and it is not something that finished with the last budget. We provided an increase, via the Australian health care agreements, of something in the order of 28 per cent in real terms over the next five years. In case those opposite did not listen, let me repeat: we put $2.5 billion into saving private health insurance. That has not only dramatically lifted the number of people covered by private health insurance because we have made it more affordable; it has also taken some of the load off the public hospital system.

In addition to that, we have committed 28 per cent more in real terms under the Australian health care agreements. I would also remind the Leader of the Opposition that two budgets ago we doubled the federal government provision for health and medical research in this country as a result of the recommendation of the Wills committee. That is an investment that had been allowed to waste under previous Labor governments, and we in fact have doubled it. So that is the third great thing that we have done for health in this country.

The fourth thing that we have done is something that we have done for the capacity of this country to provide ever growing amounts of revenue for public services years into the future—that is, we have introduced a broad based indirect tax that will provide a growing revenue base for state governments to fund essential public services. Two of the great public service responsibilities of state governments in this country are government schools and public hospitals. Both of those things are the responsibility of state governments. So what you have is a picture quite specifically in relation to health where we have provided ever growing amounts of money. In relation to the generic capacity of state governments to boost public services, we have provided a growing revenue base.

This issue is very interesting. I was asked a question by the leader of the federal parliamentary Labor Party, the Leader of the Opposition. When you go through the performance of some of the states, the figures you get are very interesting. I quoted earlier the gap, the $1.5 billion shortfall from state governments for public hospitals over the last four years—that is a $1.5 billion shortfall from all state governments. When I go through the list, I find that between financial year 2000-01 and financial year 2001-02, under the Australian health care agreements—that is the money we pay direct to state governments to help run the Medicare system and to help keep public hospitals going—our Australian health care funding rose by six per cent, while Mr Carr's funding in New South Wales, through his minister Craig Knowles, rose by only 1.9 per cent, despite the fact that these are New South Wales government hospitals. We do not run those hospitals—we do not have the primary responsibility for them—any more than we run the government school system. Year after year you have seen state governments thieving money from public hospitals and public schools, while the federal government has progressively increased the amount. Yet, on top of that, what does the federal leader of the Labor Party want to do? He wants to lift your income tax so that state Labor premiers can be further let off the hook. That is unacceptable to us.