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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 1 Hansard (19 February) . . Page.. 135 ..

MR CORBELL (continuing):

This government is committed to addressing these issues, and our election policy outlined how we would seek to address them. But we will not permit the Commonwealth government to walk away from its responsibility to deliver equitable, efficient and open primary health care for all. The reality is that its policy settings have failed to do this.

It got so bad that late last year my predecessor, Mr Stanhope, along with all other state and territory and health ministers and the Commonwealth minister, met in Brisbane to discuss the process for negotiating the next round of Australian Health Care Agreement.

At that meeting the Commonwealth minister said, "States and territories, go away and work out what you believe needs to be addressed and come back to us."Early in February this year I met with all the state and territory health ministers, and we agreed on our agenda for reform. It was not just an agenda for more money, although resourcing is clearly a key issue. It was about bringing a holistic approach to health care policy in the country. It was about bringing the issue of the private health insurance rebate into the equation of how much is spent on public health.

The Commonwealth government has said, "That's not health policy; that's something else."Despite the fact that they spent over $2 billion on that initiative, there has been no recognition that that $2 billion could potentially be spent in better ways to improve public health for all Australians.

So this government, along with all state and territory health ministers, agreed on a reform agenda. We signed a letter to Kay Patterson at that meeting, and we said we looked forward to discussing it with her at a meeting which will take place on Friday this week in Melbourne-a meeting which she called.

I heard on the radio this morning that Senator Patterson does not want to attend that meeting any more-that she is not interested. The meeting that she called to hear the state and territory response on the key issues that need to be discussed in the Australian Health Care Agreement she now says she will not attend. What a disgrace, what belligerence-when what we need is collaboration and negotiation to address these key issues.

There will always be argy-bargy between the states and territories when it comes to money out of Health-whether they are Liberal or Labor. But we have to be prepared to discuss these issues and negotiate them in good faith and not simply walk away. Of course, the Commonwealth is walking away because it does not have a policy response to these issues.

The ACT has the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country, it has a significant decline in overall GP numbers and it faces serious problems with GPs closing their books to new patients. I am advised that around 50 per cent of all GPs in the ACT have now closed their books to new patients and that that, combined with the lowest level of bulk-billing in the country, has led to a lower number than at any time since 1990-91.

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