Page 2518 - Week 08 - Thursday, 30 June 2005

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It is entirely appropriate that individuals in ACT Health, if they have any concerns about their tax arrangements, seek to clarify them with the ATO.

Indeed, ACT Health always reminds people, as indeed does the rest of the ACT public service, that, when it comes to salary packaging, they should always seek their own advice. That is just common sense. There has been no evidence presented that the arrangements that have been put in place are inappropriate for ACT Health employees.

To satisfy the obsession of Mr Mulcahy and the Liberal Party on this issue, the government, in its response, has indicated that it will go the ATO and see if they will give it a ruling. I can say now that I doubt they will, because they will say, “It is up to individuals to seek the ruling.” We are going to try to prove the point that your obsession with this has been a misplaced one from the beginning. I am very, very comfortable with the arrangements; I am very confident in the approach adopted by my department—one which has been prudent, one which has been informed by expert tax advice and one which I believe is entirely legitimate and appropriate to support employees in ACT Health.

The other issues I would like to turn to are around the substance of this budget bill and what provision it makes for providing better health care for Canberrans. The government is focused on improving the care to Canberrans. The reforms that are outlined and the initiatives that are outlined are testimony to that. Focusing on improving access to elective surgery remains a key priority of the government. An additional $2 million is allocated particularly to focus on those people who have long waits in certain categories. We need to continue to improve our performance in that area, and additional funding is being made available to achieve that.

There are further improvements in dental services. I note Dr Foskey was somewhat critical of issues around indigenous health care. It is worth noting that this budget reaffirms the government’s commitment to improving indigenous health care in the area of dental care, where indigenous people have less optimal outcomes than non-indigenous people in our community. Funding to the Winnunga Nimmityjah health service to provide a dedicated health clinic, including a dentist and dental assistant, to provide services to indigenous people is an important part of this budget bill.

Of course, we continue to invest in the operations of our public hospitals. There is additional money for hospital equipment—indeed, a dedicated program for the first time to increase the medical equipment replacement program in our public hospitals—something neglected for many years. Key election commitments are also being met through this program. Indeed, the key commitment that is being met is for additional hospital beds—$2.3 million for an additional 20 public hospital medical beds. Those are anticipated to be on line extremely soon.

I am conscious that other members may wish to contribute further to this debate; so I will end my comments at this point and perhaps rejoin the debate a little later.

MR SMYTH (Brindabella—Leader of the Opposition) (11.33): Mr Speaker, there was much that came out in the estimates process about the way this minister is running the health portfolio. Indeed, over the last couple of weeks there is much more that has come out, including yesterday’s report on the state of public hospitals.

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