Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2018 Week 2 Hansard (20 February) . .
Council for the Australian Federation—ACT relationship
MR PETTERSSON: My question is to the Chief Minister. Chief Minister, you recently attended the February COAG meeting as the incoming Chair of the Council for the Australian Federation for 2018. Could you provide the Assembly with an overview of the key deliberations at the meeting and how they will affect the ACT?
MR BARR: The meeting focused on health funding, early childhood education, and on progressing a range of key national reforms, including work on closing the gap. I can advise the Assembly that the meetings were largely constructive, especially when hearing from Indigenous leaders at the special gathering and in COAG about how governments can work with our Indigenous communities to close the gap. The ACT was singled out for commendation for our work to establish Reconciliation Day this year, as well as our consultation processes.
Much of COAG was spent discussing the funding necessary to maintain and strengthen our health and education systems. States and territories, Labor and Liberal, have been very clear that we are collectively facing a significant budget challenge from growing health costs. We are focused on delivering vital services for Australians, and we need to keep pace with this need. We also forcefully put the case for stronger, long-term funding arrangements for early childhood education. Proper funding for early childhood is a critical social and economic investment.
I must say that perhaps the most promising element of the day actually came outside the COAG process. There was strong support for my proposal to decouple state and territory matters from COAG to allow a range of state-specific reforms to proceed.
MR PETTERSSON: Chief Minister, why did the ACT, along with most other states and territories, not sign up to the commonwealth's proposed health funding agreement?
MR BARR: I thank Mr Pettersson. In simple terms, the offer was not good enough, and the commonwealth still owes most states and territories a significant amount of funding for health services already delivered, in our case, around $40 million. Other states are owed hundreds of millions more. Until that outstanding debt to Canberrans is paid by the commonwealth, it will be difficult to move on to the next agreement.
The ACT, though, did not discount the health agreement proposal out of hand. We will continue to negotiate constructively and put forward a range of proposals that will help cater for the growing Canberra community and, importantly, our role in providing high quality health care for the entire region. Surrounding New South Wales and cross-border issues are particularly pertinent for us.
We actively considered the benefits of accessing the commonwealth's rather last-minute, fairly small innovation fund proposal, but determined that when split up by jurisdiction the funding ended up being a rounding error even in our health budget. Importantly, any future funding agreement should help fund health infrastructure that benefits patients from New South Wales as well. Minister Fitzharris and I will
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