KIERAN GILBERT: Welcome back to AM Agenda, joining me now from Adelaide the Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Climate Action, Senator Simon Birmingham. Good morning Senator.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Good morning Kieran.
KIERAN GILBERT: And in Sydney the Parliamentary Secretary for Employment, Jason Clare. Jason thanks for coming in and I’ll start with you. If the States don’t come onboard this is just going to be another reform that was a good idea but fails in the process like the ETS.
JASON CLARE: Well no doubt it’s going to be tough, all big reform is tough and the Opposition have said that they’re going to oppose this, they said that before they’d even seen it. That’s true to form, they opposed Medicare, they opposed Medibank they voted against that four times…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: We’re the best friend Medicare ever had, mate.
JASON CLARE: Well go back in history, Simon, and have a look at what happened under Medicare and Medibank. The Libs voted against it. But this is big reform, I think the States will see the benefits of this over the next decade. It’ll mean that the States will be 15 billion dollars better off, it means that the Federal Government will be doing the lion’s share of the funding and taking that off the States, and they’re the sorts of things we will talking to the States about over the next few weeks.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, Simon Birmingham, I’ll let you respond to that because the Opposition did reject it. In fact they were critical before the details came out and did you really have a chance to analyse the detail before the criticism?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well Kieran, much of the detail, such as in fact there is any detail with this process-driven agenda of the Prime Minister’s, was leaked before his speech yesterday, so in terms of commentary we were making before his speech a lot of it was put out there by the Government in advance. But the key issues here that we need to look at are of course what the Prime Minister’s proposing and he is still fundamentally proposing a process-driven plan. We have a Prime Minister who back in 2007, in an election year, outlined a process for healthcare reform. He failed to meet any of the timelines, any of the deadlines he set in that process and now here we are again in 2010, in another election year, he announces another process another process with timelines that stretch out beyond the electoral cycle into 2012 and of course we don’t expect the Prime Minister on his track record to meet any of those timelines or deadlines either. This is just another election smokescreen by a Prime Minister who is so desperate of course to distract attention from the failings of his Government in issues like home insulation.
KIERAN GILBERT: But Senator Birmingham doesn’t this also reflect the complexity of what they’re doing here… it’s the biggest change to the health system, he says, since Medicare… it’s a dramatic shift in the way that the funding occurs, moving a third of the GST straight into a health and hospital fund… it’s a pretty big reform, shouldn’t they take a bit of time to get it right?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, if you want to take time then ask the Prime Minister why, of course, he’s giving the States one month to sign up to it. The Prime Minister can’t have it both ways here… he wants to put the deadlines that affect him out beyond the next election but he expects the States to sign on to it next month, in April. So either this is urgent and he can rush it through and he can deliver it and he should be able to start implementing it in a serious way where patients will see a difference this year, before the election, or he needs to take time to implement it, in which case surely the State Governments deserve more than a few weeks to consider how this will affect the running of hospitals… so the Prime Minister’s trying to put a foot in both camps here which is something we see consistently from this Prime Minister but the real issues are outlined of course by many critics, who are starting to emerge, of this proposal that there are no clear extra dollars in this, there are no clear extra services in this, it will do nothing to clear waiting lists that exist today any quicker than they would happen under the current regime so what is in it for better healthcare for patients in the near term?
KIERAN GILBERT: Well that’s an interesting point that you make about the lack of dollars… you’re a Liberal of course but some of the Labor figures at State level have also raised that issue… let’s play you now a little bit from the Labor Health Minister in the Victorian Government, and also the Liberal Shadow Health Minister at the Federal level.
DANIEL ANDREWS, Victorian Minister for Health: Their only priority in relation to the reform of our health system has always been to get more money so that we can provide more patients with the treatment they need faster… there is no new money in this agreement for at least the next four years and obviously that doesn’t meet the tests that we have put down…
PETER DUTTON, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing: This was the chief bureaucrat’s big day out and he didn’t disappoint himself… he announced huge additional funding, completely uncosted…
KIERAN GILBERT: Peter Dutton there, Jason, but obviously you wouldn’t expect to get his support off the bat, but the Labor colleagues at the State level, you’re yet to win them across and they’re certainly very, very cautious at best at the moment, certainly Victoria…
JASON CLARE: You wouldn’t expect to have the Liberals’ support here… Tony Abbott has decided that he’s going to oppose every single thing that we do… we could introduce legislation to make budgie smugglers mandatory and Tony Abbott would vote against it at the moment, but the Libs…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: I’d hope you would too, Jason.
JASON CLARE: Yeah, yeah, I’m a board short man. I don’t know about you, mate, but board shorts are my go.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Absolutely.
JASON CLARE: The Libs don’t have any credibility when it comes to health… they didn’t just do nothing when they were in government, they ripped a billion dollars out… this is like Dracula complaining because the body doesn’t have enough blood in it. They sucked a billion dollars out of the health system… made it worse… what we’re trying to do is make the system better, and the first step, the most important step is to get the funding of the structure right… the Intergenerational Report says that if we do nothing then the States won’t be able to fund anything else other than health by the time we all retire.
KIERAN GILBERT: You haven’t even won the States… got them on board yet. I mean if that’s the case, if that’s such a compelling argument, why have you got WA, Victoria and others expressing concern?
JASON CLARE: The point that the Prime Minister will make to the State Premiers, I’m sure, over the course of the next few weeks is that you can’t put your head in the sand… if we keep doing things the way we are, then the States won’t be able to fund anything else other than health by the time we retire, by 2045. This new funding system is going to ensure that there’s enough funding to run a proper hospital system and it’ll mean that the States will be 15 billion dollars better off over the next decade.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay well let’s hear what the head of the AMA, Andrew Pesce, said straight after the Prime Minister’s speech yesterday.
ANDREW PESCE, President, Australian Medical Association: The AMA is receptive to the various suggestions that could empower local workforce… the nurses and the doctors… to provide the decision making capacity and have input in the decisions at the hospitals… so these are all things which the AMA has been emphasising as very important and they look to have been delivered…
KIERAN GILBERT: Senator Birmingham, so the Government doesn’t have the support of the States at this point but they do of the medical fraternity, that’s a pretty good start…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well you see on the front page of The Australian today, Kieran, that medical fraternity has split and divided on opinions around this and that’s hardly surprising given the lack of detail that’s really been spelt out by Kevin Rudd on what this will deliver for patients and how quickly it will deliver for patients. I just want to tackle Jason’s points on criticisms of the Howard Government and what happened there. Let’s remember that it was the Howard Government that put in place a safety net for Medicare, invested significantly in addressing some of those issues in the health system, it was the Howard Government that put in place the GST framework to give the States and Territories a growth tax that of course the Rudd Government is now trying to start to rip back off them to pay for this promise. Now if Kevin Rudd wants talk about ending the blame game in this, someone could explain to me how they’re going to, by changing the funding formula from a 75- or 70-30 split to a 40-60 split between State and Federal Governments, end that argy bargy between the States and the Federal Government… is a little beyond me because frankly the States will still be putting in a large, large 40 per cent share of this… there will still be that annual argy bargy… Kevin Rudd is not coming up with a clearer formula, he’s coming up with a formula that will still involve the Federal Government, still involve State Governments, add a level of regional bureaucracy to the mix… and so you end up with a bigger case for blame game, a bigger case of argy bargy between State, Federal and regional authorities before the poor old hospital and health service at the end gets a look in anywhere.
JASON CLARE: I’m happy to answer that if you want.
KIERAN GILBERT: Okay, well I’ll let you respond, Jason, but also I want to ask you the question about the referenda… the history of referenda in this country shows that a third, I think less than a third, of all referenda that have gone to the people have failed (sic), so if you don’t get the States on board this is likely to be another big ticket reform that goes by the wayside.
JASON CLARE: Maybe I’ll do those in two parts. On the blame game, the reason that the States blamed the Howard Government was because when the Howard Government came to power the Federal Government was funding 45 per cent of the hospital system and when they left office it was below 40 per cent… that’s where the blame game started…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: And States have been given a GST to pay for health services in the meantime… a big new growth tax, that’s the GST, was given to the States …
JASON CLARE: … and Tony Abbott… hang on, mate, you had a good crack, you had a good crack… let me respond to the comments you made…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: How many dollars did the states get?
JASON CLARE: Hang on a sec, mate, no one can hear us if you keep interrupting… Tony Abbott ripped a billion dollars out, it went from 45 per cent of funding for hospitals down to 40 per cent… this now sets it in stone at 60 per cent and instead of funding based on a block grant, a big cheque that goes to the States, we’re funding based on services and procedures… that’s the advice of Dr Christine Bennett… the experts there… and in terms of these new local hospital networks we’re getting rid of those area health services like in New South Wales, the one that’s in my area of western Sydney goes from Balmain all the way to Bowral… it’s got 1.3 million people in it and a dozen hospitals… changing that to local hospital networks, now that’s getting rid of one layer of bureaucracy and having something in place which is going to have feedback from doctors and from nurses and local experts… that’s the way we should go.
KIERAN GILBERT: Alright, let’s just pause there, a couple of other quick issues before we go… Tony Abbott, Simon Birmingham, the ‘action man’ went missing on quad bikes in the middle of nowhere. Bit of a scare for him, he’s certainly proving to be, as I said, a bit of an adventure man, isn’t he?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Well, Tony likes to get out there and listen to people everywhere… I had him here in South Australia a few weeks ago… he was on and off boats and in and out of paddocks around the Murray listening to water problems… he’s out there in central Australia listening to indigenous people but I think Tony hit the nail on the head yesterday when he said that if you’re with the traditional owners in the Australian outbackm, you’re never lost… it might take you a little bit longer to get back than you planned, but you’re certainly never lost and certainly I think he’s found it to be a very valuable experience to see and hear firsthand many of the issues that people in central Australia are confronting.
KIERAN GILBERT: Jason Clare, he certainly setting a cracking pace, some people suggesting he resembles a Vladimir Putin almost, an Australian Vladimir Putin… the fit leader, what do you think? He’s going to be hard to keep up with…
JASON CLARE: He’s a bit like Vladimir Putin, I’m surprised that we haven’t seen him half naked on a horse yet… or jumping into a freezing lake or shooting a tiger… if Tony Abbott was running for Prime Minister of Russia then he’d be a shoo-in I suspect. He’s a risk taker… he takes risks, he gets out there and occasionally he’s going to get lost but my mail this morning, Kieran, is that when he was at Fossil Creek he found half the Liberal Party there, including that rare endangered species the Wilson Tuckey-saurus and the Barnaby the Dinosaur, but seriously…
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: You were practising in front of the mirror this morning, Jason, you’ve got all the witty one-liners.
JASON CLARE: I agree with Simon, good that he’s out there, it’s very important work and good that he’s back safe.
KIERAN GILBERT: Fellas, we’re almost out of time, one minute to go and I just want to get your quick response to the suggestion a group of Coalition and Labor MPs pushing for a more generous lump sum when they leave the Parliament… Jason, 20 seconds or less what do you think?
JASON CLARE: The importance here is that it should be done independently and politicians should be accountable for everything that they’re spending and it should all be transparent.
KIERAN GILBERT: Simon?
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: Ditto is the probably the easiest answer there, Kieran. We all stick by the rules as they are set by independent bodies that’s the way it should, that’s the way it needs to stay.
KIERAN GILBERT: Well that’s good, we reach an agreement at the end, good on you Senator Simon Birmingham and Jason Clare, appreciate your time this morning, thanks.
JASON CLARE: Thanks, Kieran.
SIMON BIRMINGHAM: A pleasure, Kieran.