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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1999 Week 1 Hansard (17 February) . . Page.. 211 ..

MS TUCKER (12.14): The first comment I will make about this motion is that I intend to amend it to change the last words to "hospital system", not "health system". I take the opportunity to move now the amendment circulated in my name. I move:

Last line, omit "health system", substitute "hospital system".

The reason I have moved that amendment is that the list of concerns in this motion are related to hospital management primarily and I could not support the motion in its current form because health is more than hospitals. I believe that Mr Moore has stressed that fact more than most Health Ministers, present and past, here and in other States and Territories. I will be supporting this motion if my amendment is supported. However, I want to say from the outset that, in fact, my concerns are equally directed to past and present Ministers, Federal and State.

Yes, there has been an extraordinary blow-out in the Canberra Hospital budget and there has been an increase in waiting lists. I listened with interest to Mr Moore's explanation about the difference in waiting times and the various procedures that are given precedence. I was also interested to hear his response about the use of Medicare money, which made some sense to me. Yes, there have been industrial problems, another chief executive officer has been removed - apparently the twenty-seventh in 25 years - and the Minister has taken an unusually close and probably inappropriate interest in day-to-day management matters. However, it is not fair to lay the blame entirely at the feet of this Minister and this Government as if their failing is somehow unique. If, as was said in the paper today, the chief executive officer is the twenty-seventh in 25 years, it is pretty obvious that the problems are not new. Maybe the political response of sacking the chief executive officer needs to be seen as a common response from all governments trying to escape responsibility for the problems.

I believe that there are real issues facing the public health system, both here in the ACT and across Australia. The issue is ideological. It is about the approach of governments to the role of government and service provision. We have, basically, Howard's disciples sitting across the chamber here. The Liberal ideology is to subsidise those who can afford private health insurance by giving them a 30 per cent rebate. No expense is spared on a national advertising campaign. In the ACT we had the Government promote the building of another private hospital, co-located with Canberra Hospital, even though there was no clear need for this facility and no market analysis done; there was no attempt to look at possible implications for the public hospital's viability. Now we are not surprised to see that there have been consequences and that the Government is reluctant to accept responsibility for this action.

In countries where this economic rationalist approach has been the favoured approach there is now a movement away from it. The obsession with efficiency measures and costings has not led to improved patient care or services in health care. The communities of New Zealand and the UK are saying that they believe that everyone should have access to high-quality free health care and that the conservative user-pays approach to services is unjust and offensive to principles of fairness and equity. There are many people in the ACT and elsewhere in Australia who share that view. They are tired of the spin doctors talking numbers and they do not believe them anymore.

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