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Australia's State, Federal Governments in Health Talks
Source: radioaustralianews.net.au
Source Date: Monday, April 19, 2010
Focus: Citizen Engagement
Country: Australia
Created: Apr 19, 2010

Australia's Federal Government has agreed to guarantee future funding of the health system in a last minute bid to get the states to sign on to its health plan. The government has answered calls from Queensland and New South Wales to guarantee the $US14.4 billion it has promised to meet the growth in health costs. The guarantee that the money will be handed over has allayed state concerns that the funds would not be provided if growth costs did not reach the predicted amount.

There are still differences over the proposal to make the states hand back 30 per cent of their GST to the Federal Government, but Health Minister Nicola Roxon says the guarantee puts a key issue to rest. "We are so confident ... that we are prepared to guarantee that money will be paid to the states," she said. "Which means if they doubt any of the projections, they still can be sure that that amount of money will be paid, and this is a big security for the states and territories."

NSW Premier Kristina Keneally says the guarantee is "a sign the negotiations are progressing well". Meanwhile Prime Minister Kevin Rudd has taken his health message to YouTube ahead of today's health summit. Today we have an historic opportunity to act," he said. "No ifs, no buts, no maybes, no cost shift, no blame shift. "However the new sweetener may not be enough to win the deal the government wants on health.

The states and territories met last night and will talk again before the Council of Australian Government meeting starts. Their positions up until now have been different, with some, led by Victorian Premier John Brumby, flatly refusing do what Mr Rudd wants and hand over 30 per cent of their GST money. They also want more money for emergency wards and mental health, and health payments indexed at a faster rate to deliver a funding boost immediately. But Ms Roxon says the states should not expect unconditional sweeteners.

"We hope that we will be able to reach an agreement on reforming our health system but we're not prepared to simply meet every request of premiers for more money if we're not going to change and improve the way that we do things," she said. "So those issues will be on the table and discussed. Of course any issues that the premiers bring to the meeting will be discussed. "But we're very focused on making sure the structural reforms are delivered." The states and territories have yet to decide on the crucial question of a funding model.

They are likely to end up proposing a pooled arrangement where the Federal Government and states would tip in money to state-based pools and it would be handed out from there.Ms Roxon says they are willing to talk about that, but the states have to agree to give up part of their GST."We want to make sure that every dollar that we're committing to health is spent on health," she said."We want to clearly ensure that the Commonwealth is the dominant funder of health services through the 60 per cent and 100 per cent commitments that we're making.

"If those matters can be agreed to, I'm sure there are options of appropriate ways of administering a pool that meets both our needs and the states'."But there is a bottom line on the GST and we are very clear that the states and territories will need to agree to that part of our plan."Meanwhile a survey of voters has shown overwhelming support for the proposed changes to health funding.The latest Nielsen poll has found 62 per cent of those surveyed want the states to approve Mr Rudd's funding scheme.The poll also shows a three-point drop in Labor's primary vote and a four-point drop in approval of Opposition Leader Tony Abbott's performance.
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