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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3621 ..

MR SMYTH (continuing):

storming out of the COAG meeting on the day, signed up before the deadline so they too could get their extra funding from the federal government.

We will agree to an amended motion, if the amended motion gets up, simply because it is important to acknowledge the extra dividend that Mr Corbell has been able to negotiate, and to acknowledge the fact that that came from the federal minister for health. I note that Ms Tucker has some amendments as well and I think, in the course of time, the opposition will be agreeing with those.

Regarding this amendment, I think the aim of having a little bit more accuracy is worthy, which can be achieved by acknowledging that there were two contributors to the process. I commend my amendment and then the amended motion to the Assembly.

MR CORBELL (Minister for Health and Minister for Planning) (3.32): I welcome the motion from my colleague Mr Hargreaves and I welcome the fact that we are able to, in this place, debate the outcome of the Australian health care agreement process. It is very clear, Mr Speaker, that the approach the ACT government adopted was one which enabled us to get the Commonwealth government to shift its policy position.

Mr Smyth can present it any other way he likes, but the reality is that we got the Commonwealth government to shift its policy setting. Consecutive governments have made representations to the Commonwealth government at officer level and otherwise in an attempt to get it to change the application of these policies, and it simply has not. The ACT is a small fish, Canberra is a Labor Party town federally, and usually the federal government just does not care.

It is that simple: the Liberals do not care about Canberra in the bigger picture of things around the country. Mr Smyth can present it any other way he likes, but he knows that, of the two federal seats and two senators in the ACT, three of the four are Labor, and that the federal government, when it is a Liberal Party government, does not give a damn.

What was this government presented with when it had to negotiate? For once we had some leverage. We had some leverage because the federal government wanted someone to sign and they knew that perhaps we would be willing to sign if we got some shifts. We needed these shifts because, as Mr Hargreaves pointed out, we have one of the lowest levels of GPs per head of population in the country, 30 per cent below the national average. We have one of the lowest rates of bulk-billing of any metropolitan centre outside Darwin, and we have serious issues in relation to access to care for older Canberrans and access to GP services after hours.

The approach the government adopted was to say, "We need these issues addressed."I was saying that from day one. From the day I became health minister, I was saying, "We need these issues addressed."So, when the negotiation came about for the Australian health care agreement, I went to Senator Patterson and I said, "We need these addressed."I thank her for her cooperation, and I am very pleased to say that we were able to get those issues addressed. These are major changes on the part of the federal government. They are major changes because they were not previously looking at changing their policy.

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