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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2002 Week 1 Hansard (13 December) . . Page.. 269 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

The area that I would like to concentrate on primarily is health. I am pleased that Ms Dundas heard the comment yesterday about the fixation of the Health Minister-perhaps he should be called the hospital minister-simply with the hospital. The hospital will absorb as much money as we put into it, and more, and we need to put appropriate amounts of money into the hospital to make sure that Canberrans, when they need it, get the appropriate health care that they deserve and should have. None of us would object to that. But I think we need to know what we are getting for this money. Any questions that we have put to the Health Minister-sorry, the hospital minister-so far have been just brushed aside. The very thought that we should ask about what this money will buy is of no consequence. Mr Speaker, this is the magic $6 million. This is the $6 million that initially Mr Stanhope said would take the hospital system out of crisis. We all recall that it was all going to collapse by Christmas. Let me quote a statement by Mr Stanhope as Leader of the Opposition:

There can be no doubt without budget supplementation the hospital will be well over budget by Christmas.

First, he was saying that the hospital could not meet its debts. Then he was saying that he would give it $6 million. But it was not to meet the existing debts; it was actually to employ more nurses, admit more inpatients and treat more people in emergency. This week we heard that it will also be used to buy oncology equipment-nobody quibbles with that-and will help to pay for an increased Comcare premium. This is an amazing $6 million. This $6 million is going to do more work in the hospital system than any other $6 million in the history of ACT since self-government. I look forward to him doing that. I will pursue the subject of what that $6 million will buy because I think people need to know exactly what they are getting from this government. I think we are already getting smoke and mirrors; we are getting glib promises that cannot possibly be fulfilled without a deficit, without pushing up the deficit that Labor's angling for.

With that in mind, the next question is: where will the government's health funding take us? It will take us to a reduction in health funding in 2003-04, and Labor know that. They have to know it because it is actually covered in their funding. In their funding promises they say that in 2001-02 there will be $6 million and in 2002-03 there will be $6 million. In 2003-04 it will drop to $2.3 million, as it will in 2004-05. So what we already have is a Health Minister, or in this case a minister just for hospitals, who will oversee, I believe, the first reduction in hospital funding in the history of the ACT since self-government. I think that is a shame. What they are doing is saying, "We have a hospital in crisis. We are going to put money in to rescue it. We are going to ramp it up, we are going to buy more services, we are going to get more nurses, and then we are going to take the money away."

The money that they will take away amounts to $2.7 million, but that would be offset by money that this government had already put into the budget. The forward estimate for 2002-03 was, in fact, an increase of $2.1 million. The offset is that the hospital will lose $500,000.

MR SPEAKER: Order! At least three or four separate conversations are going on while Mr Smyth is trying to make a speech. He is not doing too badly, given the circumstances, but I am sure that he will do better if you leave him to it.

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