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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4326

Senator CORMANN (2:13 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. I refer to the Prime Minister’s commitment before the last election to fix public hospitals by 30 June 2009—just five days from now. Are Australia’s public hospitals ‘fixed’?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —After the opposition’s neglect and the ripping out of a billion dollars from the hospital system, we have invested in the whole health system. We have invested in a modern health system for a modern Australia, unlike those opposite who are not prepared to agree to pursue health and hospital reform with us.

The Liberals cut $1 billion out of it and now they come whingeing to this chamber to say that we are not doing enough. We are doing more than you ever contemplated. For 12 years the former government played the blame game. That is all you did: you played the blame game with the states over hospitals and you never—through you, Mr President—came up with a long-term plan to deal with the health and hospital system in Australia. In 2000, under the Liberals, the health workforce shortage affected in the order of 60 per cent of Australians.

This government has got on with the business of managing. We have looked at how we can provide healthcare agreements that will deliver $64 billion over five years, an increase of more than $20 billion, or 50 per cent, over the last agreement. We can have a look at what it means for individual states: New South Wales, $19.8 billion; Queensland, $12.01 billion; WA, $6.17 billion; Tasmania, $1.13 billion—more than you have ever turned your minds to. All the opposition did was work out how they could reduce funding. They did not bring a long-term plan forward. They did not even consider there was a need for the national Preventative Health Taskforce, which we established with Professor Rob Moodie. We have also launched—(Time expired)

Senator CORMANN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note the minister was not prepared to say that hospitals were fixed. Will the government publicly release the criteria on which the government will make its judgment as to whether public hospitals are fixed?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —The criteria will be: when we demonstrate that we have invested the $64 billion in the health agreement, an increase of $22 billion, and when we demonstrate $600 million to reduce elective surgery waiting time, as promised, which means over 41,000 procedures delivered under stage 1. We will demonstrate our commitment to the health system when $750 million for emergency departments has been provided. That is how we will demonstrate our commitment to the hospital system in this country—unlike the Liberals, who did not demonstrate any support for the hospital system—because all they could do was work out how to take $1 billion away from it.

We will demonstrate our commitment to the hospital system by ensuring $3.2 billion for the HHF to rebuild health infrastructure, with 32 iconic health projects across Australia. That is how we will be able to test how successful we have been: when we deliver on all of these projects. I hope those opposite will be there to watch it. (Time expired)

Senator CORMANN —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given it is clearly a fact that Australia’s public hospitals are not fixed, with only five days to go, and given that the minister has just indicated the government does not appear to be prepared to release the criteria on which it will make a judgment on that, will the government now move to take over Australia’s public hospitals within the next five days?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —The difficulty with the other side is that they always want to create a straw man—they want to build a false premise and then try to cut it down. In this instance, those opposite are not even particularly effective at doing that. What they have now demonstrated is a complete misunderstanding of the whole hospital and health system. This government are ensuring that we are meeting our election commitments, which include the $64 billion health agreement. What those opposite want to do is play politics with the health system. What they do not want to do is support a reduction in elective surgery waiting lists and support money going to state and territory hospitals to increase the health of Australians. Those opposite want to continue to play politics with the issue rather than to support money going to state and territory governments to support the hospital system. Those opposite do not want to— (time expired)