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Tuesday, 23 October 2018
Page: 10806


Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (19:46): The member for Cook was just two weeks into his prime ministership when he launched his latest attack on Australia's public hospitals. Every Liberal leader takes the axe to health care eventually. They simply can't help themselves. But even by their standards this was a pretty swift assault. When he was Treasurer, the Prime Minister oversaw $2.8 billion in cuts from public hospital budgets going forward. Those are savage cuts that the Labor Party has promised to reverse with our Better Hospitals Fund. Evidently, the Prime Minister wasn't actually content with that. Now he's trying to retrospectively claw back hundreds of millions of dollars in funding for services that have already been delivered in our public hospitals.

The Victorian government estimates that the new retrospective accounting changes would see more than $200 million slashed from its state's public hospitals alone. Queensland says that it will rip $80 million out of their hospital budgets. If the Prime Minister thinks that there are issues with the calculation of public hospital funding, he should work with the states and territories to fix them. We are open to hearing the government's ideas, but we're not open to this kind of retrospective funding attack. States have already delivered these services in good faith, consistent with the rules that were already agreed to three years ago. To shift the goalposts now is both unfair and simply unacceptable. But the Prime Minister doesn't seem to care about that. He's just seizing the opportunity to rip out more money from our public hospital system.

The last thing we want in this country is a return to the days of the hospital wars, when the Commonwealth was in a constant battle with the states and territories over hospital funding. Labor worked hard in office to end these hospital wars once and for all, by introducing activity based funding and proposing a fair 50-50 funding model for hospital growth. Australia can ill afford to go back to those bad old days, where there were fights between the Commonwealth and states constantly around cost shifting for public hospital delivered services. Yet with one of his first acts, this Prime Minister is risking exactly that. He has started a dispute with every single state and territory, including the Liberal ones.

The government argues that it is following the advice of two independent bodies, but the states say that the Commonwealth has politicised these two bodies in order to make savings. The COAG Health Council's ministerial communique from 12 October states:

All states and territories oppose the proposed adjustments by the national bodies …

At the same meeting the states gave the Commonwealth just two weeks to reconsider its position. We in the opposition urge the government to do exactly that. If they don't, the state health ministers have said that they will refer the dispute to an official COAG process by the end of this week. They will invoke section 23 of the National Health Reform Agreement, a dispute resolution mechanism that, to the best of my knowledge, has never actually been invoked before. That is how seriously the states are treating this issue. This would be a significant move. Our hospitals are already in crisis, with ballooning emergency department and elective waiting lists, and these cuts will only make things worse. Doctors, nurses and patients will suffer across communities.

This current dispute is over the 2016-17 funding, as I said, for services that have already been delivered by public hospitals. It's important to note that there was a similar dispute over the 2015-16 funding. That dispute arose after then Treasurer Morrison directed the independent umpire to audit the 2015-16 funding. So he has form. This is not the first time he's interfered with the independent hospital funding model. So, while he might be trying to remake his image as Prime Minister, this shows that he is simply up to the same old tricks when it comes to hospital funding. Ultimately, it's clear that it doesn't matter if it's the member for Warringah or Malcolm Turnbull or the member for Cook or Peter Dutton in charge of the Liberals; health and hospital cuts are simply part of the DNA of the Liberal Party. This is a very serious dispute with the states. To date, the Commonwealth has shown itself entirely unwilling or unable to actually resolve this dispute with the states, which is potentially cutting millions of dollars further out of our public hospitals.