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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 84


Senator MOLAN (New South Wales) (17:31): A key part of the motion that Senator Griff has put forward—and it's a very good and logical motion—is to provide facts. As Senator Griff said, quite often people don't have access to facts or are reluctant to ask for the facts that they need. In a general sense, I'd like to state that the government supports greater transparency to assist patients. We are certainly keen to work with the states to develop mechanisms to ensure greater public disclosure in our healthcare systems.

Information is currently collected and published by the states. It varies and it generally focuses on matters such as admissions, emergency department wait times, elective surgery wait times, hospital acquired infections and patient experiences. The government will work with the states to harmonise the reporting of this information, which can be incredibly important for patients. We will also continue to work with the states and territories to progress a national approach to clinical quality registries, which should lead to relevant outcomes measures being reported through the new Australian Health Performance Framework. But when we consider a motion which speaks of 'the need for Australia to have a more transparent and accountable health system that helps consumers make informed choices' we immediately come up against scare campaigns, disinformation and intentional wrong information that quite often can overcome the well-intentioned information that people themselves may seek.

There is the need for Australia to have a more transparent and accountable healthcare system that helps consumers make more informed choices. There are no two ways about that. But what goes against this is, in particular, the approach that Labor takes to this key issue. I recently had experience of this in Eden-Monaro, the electorate in which I live. The problem is that disinformation provided by Labor, particularly the scare campaign about the health system that was run during the 2016 election campaign—a campaign that was tried again in Bennelong and failed—goes against what Senator Griff is trying to achieve. The member for Eden-Monaro, Mike Kelly MP, as part of that campaign, recently claimed that the government is cutting $2.2 million from Eden-Monaro's public health system. When this is broken down, he claims that certain amounts have been cut from the South East Regional Hospital, from Queanbeyan hospital and from Cooma, Tumut, Yass, Pambula, Braidwood, Bombala, Tumbarumba, Batlow-Adelong and Delegate hospitals. Mr Kelly said:

Access to health care should be determined by your Medicare card - not your credit card …

That's just a ridiculous statement. Mr Kelly claims:

… we will always fight to protect Medicare and we will fight Turnbull's $2.2 million cut to Eden-Monaro's hospitals.

Of course, the relationship between the member for Eden-Monaro and the Labor leadership is something we have to remember.

The Department of Health go to the point that Senator Griff was making, in that they put out the truth. The truth is that, in contrast to Labor's last year in government, this year the coalition has delivered nearly $2 billion more to New South Wales hospitals. The truth is that funding is increasing by $9 billion more under the new hospital funding agreement for New South Wales hospitals. That is a fact. In 2012-13 Labor delivered only $43 million for the Southern NSW Local Health District, the district within Eden-Monaro, compared to $100 million from the coalition in 2016-17. If we want transparency, we must have truth, and you cannot have truth when these facts are being misrepresented. The coalition delivered an increase over 2012-13 of 131 per cent. The coalition delivered $13.8 billion in 2012-14 and increased this to a record $22.7 billion by 2021—an increase of 64 per cent. This is not a cut.

When we were faced with these claims we actually responded, and the response has to be considered. I will take this opportunity to quote what I said in response to the member for Eden-Monaro and his claims that we are cutting in Eden-Monaro. I stated: 'I would not go so far as to say that one of my parliamentary colleagues is lying, but this is scaremongering at its worst. It targets vulnerable patients.' I said: 'The truth is that federal funding for public hospital services under the coalition has increased from $13.8 billion in 2013-14, to a record of $2.7 billion in 2021'—that's a 64 per cent increase—and that 'in New South Wales the coalition is delivering nearly $2 billion more to New South Wales hospitals, compared to what Labor funded in their last year in government.' In 2012-13, Labor only provided $43 million for the Southern NSW Local Health District, which compares to almost $100 million the coalition funded in 2016-17—as I said before, a 131 per cent increase. I said: 'It's deeply disappointing that Mike Kelly and Labor will say and do anything to try to trick patients with patently false statements. Thankfully the real figures show the truth.'

I think that it's a very good idea to go to the reaction of locals, people who live in, work in and administer the health system within Eden-Monaro. I would like to quote from the Bega District News of 11 April. The article reads:

The head of the Southern NSW Local Health District says there is no issue with funding for the region’s hospitals, allaying concerns raised in recent days.

Andrew Newton is the CEO of the Southern NSW Local Health District. The article continues:

While the federal parties bicker over public hospital funding allocations, Andrew Newton, Southern NSW Local Health District CEO, said there was no issue for the 'very robust' budget arrangement across his region.

'I’ve had no indication that we’re getting anything other than what we asked for,' Mr Newton told Fairfax Media on Wednesday.

If we're going to have transparency on the issue of health, we must tell the truth; the truth must be available. The article goes on to say that Mr Andrew Newton, the CEO, said:

'I’m the one who allocates the funding to hospitals anyway [not the federal government].'

The article continues:

Mr Newton said a national partnership agreement is from where federal funding for health comes, with the state’s health districts putting forward their case based on capital needs and activities at LHD level.

'We look at a district level, remoteness of hospitals and the activities undertaken—it's a very objective process, not emotive,' he said.

'We get a fair allocation for our 12 hospitals and there’s been no reason to believe we’re getting anything different.'

I make the point that if we're going to have transparency and accountability in any aspect of a health system, it is absolutely critical that we encourage people to ask questions of their doctors—to go on websites and check to see what is written about the health organisations they're going to. They also must ask political parties—in this case, the Labor Party—to produce the truth. It is of utmost importance that we look back, at least a little bit, to see that Labor's $2.8 billion better hospitals fund simply rehashes an old policy from 2010. This policy failed to meaningfully reduce wait times in emergency departments or for the elective surgeries that Senator Griff spoke about. It is critical that we get transparency. Transparency is based on truth.