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Wednesday, 22 August 2001
Page: 29966


Mr PROSSER (2:13 PM) —My question is directed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister update the House on the Howard government's contribution to the public hospital system in Western Australia? Is the minister aware of recent comments concerning the performance of the public hospital system in Western Australia?


Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for his question. Western Australia is an area where in recent times we have put very substantial extra resources into the public hospital system. We do not have the latest figures on overall funding, because the Western Australian budget is yet to be brought down. I understand that is going to happen next month. In terms of the Commonwealth's own spending, this year the actual Commonwealth money paid over to Western Australia will go from $586 million to $644 million, an increase of $58 million, or about 10 per cent. That is an enormous additional increase in just one year, particularly when you consider it is a middle year of the health care agreements and that big increases like that were usually factored towards the first year of the health care agreements to get the states to sign up. So we are halfway through the health care agreement, and we are delivering an extra $58 million to the Western Australian government.

I am aware of some comments about the functioning of the Western Australian health system made by the Western Australian health minister, Bob Kucera. He has been on radio recently, and I have heard him say two things. The first thing I have heard him say is:

I am certainly embarrassed by anybody that has to put up with the difficulties we have within the health system.

It is easy to understand why he is embarrassed, because in the West Australian on 14 August we have an article entitled `Health faces budget axe'. In what appears to be a very well sourced story, the reporter says, `The health department will have its finances slashed by 20 per cent in this year's budget.' So here we are, in the month before a budget, and we are having leaks to the West Australian newspaper. After the expenditure review committee in Western Australia has made its deliberations, the leaks start coming out: the Western Australian government is planning to slash funding to health by 20 per cent. That is at the same time as the Commonwealth is putting 10 per cent additional funds into health care. This is a new Labor government in office, and we have a well sourced leak that the health department is facing a 20 per cent cut in health care.

Bob Kucera went on to make a very revealing statement—the sort of statement that is disarmingly frank and charmingly made during someone's early career in politics. He said:

I make no apologies that we have got problems within the system. The problems are within the system. Six months in the job, and we are starting to forge forward, as I said. We are going to get over these pay claims, and I suspect that as soon as the pay claims are settled, the crisis will disappear. It is as simple as that. It has on every other occasion with these unions.

Here we have a Western Australian state Labor minister blaming the unions for manufacturing a health crisis in his own state. I would not be so cynical as that about his unions, because Bob Kucera will find, as he has been in the job longer, that the unions probably have a legitimate claim for being under some pressure. The fact is that to have a Western Australian Labor health minister simply trying to blame the unions for his own pending 20 per cent cut in health care budgets when the Commonwealth budget has increased by 10 per cent shows you where the blame for this problem clearly lies.