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Labor's health initiative riddled with cynicism.

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The Hon Dr Michael Wooldridge

Minister for Health and Family Services


27 August 1998

MW 188/98




The promise of extra funding for public hospitals contained in the package announced today by the Oppositi on is cynical and condemned to failure.


Compared to the record $31.34 billion that the Coalition Government is contributing to public hospitals under the five-year Australian Health Care Agreements, the paltry gesture of an extra $9.6 million a week is tokenistic. Not one cent would flow before the middle of 1999, and there is no commitment to build this into the base or continue this beyond 2001-02.


Because this money would not be built into the base, and because there is no intention from Labor to make this funding ongoing, they will repeat Bob Carr’s mistake and end up with even longer waiting lists when this supplementary money from this short-term boost runs out.


Once again, Labor would not require the States to maintain their own spending, so inevitably they will withdraw some of their own funding.


Secondly, the method of financing this promise is highly questionable. Labor is making an explicit and dependent link between tobacco consumption and hospital funding.


If every smoker quit tomorrow, the Coalition would still be able to deliver every last cent of its $31.34 billion commitment to public hospitals — but Labor would have a gaping hole in its financing that could only be filled by cutting $250 million a year from other health programs.


This raises a very real doubt as to whether Labor in government would be fair dinkum about trying to cut smoking and Binding strong anti-tobacco campaigns.


It is noteworthy that even with this tobacco revenue and an extra slug on the Medicare levy (which Mr Lee denied in Parliament only a few months ago), Labor will still have to cut other health programs to meet the cost of this promise.


Mr Beazley should tell us which health programs he will cut to save the $65 million needed in 1999-2000 to top up the fund to his promised amount. Presumably the National Tobacco Campaign will be the first to go.


Finally, Labor has still not appreciated the fact that if the decline in private health insurance is not halted, our public hospitals are going to continue to face escalating pressure and growing waiting lists — which token gestures will not adequately contain.


We presumably have to wait a little longer to see what Labor will promise with respect to the Private Health Insurance Incentive Scheme, which Mr Lee has consistently criticised this as a lemon, a dud and a waste of money.


Media contact: Bill Royce, Dr Wooldridge’s office, (02) 6277 7220 or 0412 137 699