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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1995 Week 9 Hansard (23 November) . . Page.. 2419 ..

MS FOLLETT (continuing):

under Mr Connolly's stewardship the health budget was at last contained. It has been a very difficult struggle indeed. We have seen in the first reporting period for the current Government another blow-out in Health. I do hope that that is not going to be a feature of future health budget reporting, Mr Speaker. I believe it is terribly important that, when a budget is set for Health, that is the budget that is stuck to.

There are a couple of issues in this regard that I want to comment on. The first of those is that, as with other budgets, we always have to prioritise what the money is spent on and in Health that is an extraordinarily difficult problem because you are always dealing with sick people. It is terribly difficult to choose between a range of illnesses or a range of disabilities and say that one is going to get funding priority and another one is not. But that is what all governments are asked to do in the area of health care, and I do not underestimate how difficult it is.

The other thing that I wanted to comment on in the broader picture of health funding is the constant assertion by the Commonwealth that the States and Territories have reduced their spending on health. I think that this notion that is being put around, and has been put around by the Commonwealth for some time, really has to be dealt with. It is my view, Mr Speaker, that all of the States and Territories are under enormous pressure to fund health and community services and it is the State and Territory governments that are judged on the performance, not the Commonwealth. It is invariably the case that in any State or Territory election the issue of the provision of health services is crucial to judging the performance of whoever has been responsible for it. With the spending on health at this level of government of around about a quarter of your budget, I fail to see how States and Territories could possibly add substantially to that when they also are providing a wide range of expensive services like education, policing and so on.

It has been my experience that it is often the Commonwealth who starts off a new scheme, or a new range of spending, in the health area and in other areas, and then leaves it with the States to pick up after the Commonwealth's initial funding runs out. I think this is absolutely reprehensible. It is something that I resisted as often and as strenuously as I could in places like Premiers Conferences and so on. Mr Speaker, the fact of the matter is that very often you end up with the States having a program up and running because the Commonwealth started it - the demand is established and the reputation is built - and then the money is pulled from under you.

I am afraid that this may well happen with the breast screening program that the Commonwealth has started, which is a wonderful program and, of course, it is much needed in our community. It is also very resource intensive and very expensive to run. I hope and trust that the Commonwealth will not pull the rug out from under us yet again. It is an area where the ACT was ahead of the game. We have done a better job, I think, on that breast screening task, and may that always be the case. I want to make the point that I think the Commonwealth all too often downplays the role that the States and Territories have played in the provision of health services, and often does not act in the best interests of the provision of those services.

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