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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 3 Hansard (13 March) . . Page.. 1050 ..



discuss issues around how to deliver, through the health care agreements, the joint responsibilities of the Commonwealth, states and territories for a functioning health care system.

What did the Commonwealth do? What did Mr Smyth's Liberal Party colleague do? What did the federal Minister for Health do? She refused to turn up. Here is Mr Smyth plaintively bleating, "Why don't you go out, talk to the Commonwealth and negotiate a better deal?"

Where was your federal colleague? Where was Senator Patterson? She refused to turn up! She boycotted! She did not want to talk about the health care agreement because of the Commonwealth's enormous embarrassment, particularly about Medicare. I think it was only a week or two-Mr Corbell would be able to confirm it-after Senator Patterson's boycotting of the last Health Ministers meeting that there was a flat, "No. I will not come and talk to you about these issues."

Two weeks later, we find the reason why-we find that she has no responsibility for Medicare. We find that, in the federal parliament, it is the Prime Minister and the Treasurer who are running the debate on Medicare. It is the Prime Minister and the Treasurer who are effectively determining the direction of the federal government's response to health.

Of course, their response was basically all about how much money they need for the war. It is not about how much money we need to maintain a proper and fully-functioning health care system, it is about how much money has been siphoned off to fight the war and how much money is left for Medicare. What do we find? We find there is not much left over.

Then we find the classic rewriting of history around Medicare. Actually, it was never meant to be universal. It was really meant to be only for the battlers. Nobody ever expected, or intended, it to be a universal system. Of course, that was news, and a surprise, to Senator Patterson, almost everybody else in the Liberal Party and indeed in the federal parliament. It certainly was news to your federal Minister for Health.

Now we discover the agenda. The agenda is essentially all about starting a slow, inexorable process of dismantling Medicare as a universal system to push us-to thrust us, to drive us-into a two-tiered health system. That system has been foisted upon us incrementally by the significant underfunding, by the Commonwealth, of their responsibilities for the states and territories, especially, as Mr Corbell discussed, in areas such as aged care and general practice.

Mr Corbell concentrated on issues around aged care, general practice and Medicare-all the issues and items of Commonwealth responsibility-responsibilities they have not maintained. As a result of that, we have seen this massive drop in the availability of bulk-billing, and a concomitant forcing of people, who can no longer access either a GP or a bulk-billing GP, onto accident and emergency. The states and territories are facing an enormous burden in relation to their hospital costs.

That is the crux of the matter. You can say it is all about duck shoving, you can say it is about trying to swap responsibility. But it is essentially all about a lack of commitment,

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Acknowledgement of Country

We acknowledge the Ngunnawal people as traditional custodians of the Canberra region. It is also an important meeting place for other Aboriginal peoples. We respect their continuing cultures and value the contribution they make to life in the ACT.