02 November 2011
Andrew asks the Minister for Health about using Tasmania to test a federal takeover of public hospitals.
Mr WILKIE (Denison) (14:22): My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Minister, Tasmania’s public health system is in crisis due to the low tax base, spiralling costs, poor performance on health and social indicators, and state government mismanagement and incompetence. This situation will eventually be replicated in other jurisdictions, but the federal government has an opportunity to use Tasmania to test the inevitable federal takeover of public hospitals. Minister, what do you make of this situation? What specific discussions has the Tasmanian health minister had with you about it and what additional assistance can the federal government provide to the state?
Ms ROXON (Gellibrand—Minister for Health and Ageing) (14:23): I thank the member for Denison for his question. He has had a very close interest in health in Tasmania since he was elected. He has a bit of competition in this House because our four Labor Party members in Tasmania—the members for Bass, Braddon, Franklin and Lyons—also are passionately concerned about the situation in Tasmania at the moment. I appreciate the question because it gives me an opportunity to put on the record, on behalf of the government, that we are extremely disappointed about the cuts to health services in Tasmania. This is a particularly disappointing decision by the Tasmanian government when, just three months ago, they signed on to the national health reform with our government. The Tasmanian Premier said at that time:
This agreement will ensure that our health system can remain strong and reliable into the future …
The Tasmanian health minister said that it will also lead to improved patient access to services, including ‘faster access to emergency departments and elective surgery procedures’, so we were surprised to see that there were cuts to the Tasmanian health system.
Mr Dutton interjecting—
Ms ROXON: In contrast to members opposite—including the member for Dickson, who has not asked me a question for more than 800 days in this House—we are investing $2.3 billion into the Tasmanian health system. In fact, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare released a report just last week that showed not only are we investing historic amounts in capital infrastructure in Tasmania but we are also the majority funders of Tasmanian public hospital services. So we are making a significant investment and we expect the Tasmanian government to continue with their investments. We are not planning a takeover of the Tasmanian health system. We have negotiated a true partnership with them and we expect them to stick to their part of the deal.
I also want to put on the record here that throughout the negotiations the Tasmanian government did make very clear that they were worried about reaching the elective surgery targets in our national health reform. They made that clear to me; they made that clear to the Prime Minister. What they never, ever made clear was that they would cut money and, of course, would therefore never be able to reach those targets. We are prepared to work with the Tasmanian government to look at the way they can maintain their effort in the health system and to look at any special circumstances that might apply for Tasmania. But we are proud of what we are investing in, whether it is the hundreds of millions of dollars in the redevelopment of the Royal Hobart Hospital, whether it is the nearly $200 million in running the Mersey Hospital in Braddon, whether it is the integrated cancer centre that is just about to open in Launceston, whether it is the three GP superclinics that are already up and running in Tasmania. We will continue to invest for the benefit of Tasmanian patients and we expect the state government to do the same.