Consideration of Urgent Motion
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.23]: I move:
(1) calls on the Federal Government to reverse their funding cuts to New South Wales public hospitals; and
If there is any issue which should unite this House it is the Commonwealth's attitude to hospital funding. From this week, Federal funding for our State's public hospitals is being cut by approximately $1 million a week. Our hospitals cannot afford this budget cut. All honourable members of this House have argued that public hospitals need more money, not less. A cut of $34 million means that 400 beds would close, that 900 nursing and medical positions would be lost, and that 17,000 fewer patients could be treated. This cannot be allowed to happen. This Government's primary interest is not to apportion blame; it is to stop the cuts. Members opposite should take a special interest, of course, in not apportioning blame - it is their Liberal colleague Michael Wooldridge who is blaming them. I spoke with Dr Wooldridge on 2GB radio this morning and he said, "This is not Andrew Refshauge's fault." He also said that cost-shifting went on for years in New South Wales. He blames the former Liberal-National Government for the vast majority of what he calls cost-shifting.
This year, according to the Commonwealth's figures, New South Wales has the lowest growth in Medicare benefit payments in Australia. Dr Wooldridge claims that he is recovering money from entrenched cost-shifting in the past and has impugned the good name of the Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition in another place. He has accused them of defrauding the Commonwealth during their time as New South Wales health Ministers. If the Opposition votes against this motion today it will be accepting Dr Wooldridge's argument that three senior Liberals in the New South Wales Parliament rorted the system.
I can and will prove that New South Wales is not cost-shifting $34 million onto the Commonwealth. However, that is not the number one issue. The number one issue is: what will happen to patients if Dr Wooldridge takes $34 million in recurrent funding from our hospital system? Over a year New South Wales would lose of the order of $68 million. According to the New South Wales public hospitals data book that is equivalent to the budget of Sutherland hospital: it is the annual cost of our largest metropolitan district hospital. I will not close Sutherland hospital to pay for this cut, but the people of New South Wales should know that Dr Wooldridge is taking the equivalent of Sutherland hospital away from them.
All honourable members would be aware of the distress which arose in the health system when I proposed to move $34 million from established hospitals into the growth area of the State. Doctors claimed that after years of Liberal budget cuts and productivity cuts they could not afford any further change. Even though all those health professionals supported the policy of building better health services in growth areas, they claimed that they could not afford to make a contribution. Dr Wooldridge wants to take $34 million - not move it - out of our public hospitals straight to the Federal coffers. Dr Wooldridge is not proposing any new services; he is not replacing any of the services he wants to cut.
Every service is under threat; every service he is cutting. I have an answer to Dr Wooldridge's lies about cost-shifting: all the evidence shows that New South Wales hospitals do not engage in $34 million worth of cost-shifting and we have a much better record than any other State. In order to avoid any argument over the statistics, I will use the Commonwealth's figures, which it has supplied. State to Commonwealth cost-shifting occurs when a State reduces the public hospital outpatient services, forcing patients to receive their treatment from a doctor who then bills Medicare. If New South Wales was cost-shifting there would be a decrease in outpatient services in public hospitals; in fact, the reverse is true. Throughout New South Wales there is an increase in the number of outpatients.
Mrs Skinner: St Vincent's clinic for stutterers is one.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for North Shore may want to argue about individual hospitals, but she is missing the point. The honourable member should recognise that the Commonwealth's own figures show that the number of outpatients services in New South Wales is increasing. Therefore this Government is not cost-shifting, but is paying its fair share. Every year New South Wales public hospitals provide 2,300 outpatient visits for every 1,000 people. Basically, that is the equivalent of every person in New South Wales going to an outpatient clinic 2.3 times every year.
The Commonwealth says that any cost-shifting will be shown in the growth of Medicare payments to doctors. But this year New South Wales has the lowest growth in Medicare payments - a 1.2 per cent growth. That is certainly in line with the ageing of the population as well as the increase in its absolute number. The New South Wales Government spends more per head on acute hospital services than any other State. Our share of health funding has increased by 4 per cent to 50 per cent under this Government while the Commonwealth share has fallen by 3 per cent to 27 per cent. New South Wales has increased its contribution; over the years, the Commonwealth has decreased its contribution. Now it wants to take a further slug from our public hospitals.
Under this Government over the past two years there has been an increase in health spending of $632 million, that is, an extra $632 million for the New South Wales health budget, or a 7 per cent increase in real terms, after inflation, that this Government has provided to public hospitals. Honourable members opposite have hypocritically claimed that that is not enough. I would like to spend more. As honourable members opposite have been calling for more funding for our public
hospitals and have been loudly proclaiming and publicly taking that position, I believe they are obliged to vote in favour of the motion to stop these Federal budget cuts that will affect our hospitals. A budget cut is a budget cut, whatever the Liberal Party calls it. It is cutting funding to our public hospitals, and it is unfair.
As the coalition has spent six months claiming that the hospital system was in crisis because of a funding shortage, not even they could be hypocritical enough not to support this motion. We must act together to stop this Federal assault on our public hospitals. This decision must be reversed. I intend to lead a campaign against these cuts. I have seen the ridiculous statements made by the honourable member for North Shore calling this blame-shifting. I do not want to blame-shift; I do not want the Federal Minister for Health and Family Services, Michael Wooldridge, to take any blame for the cuts; I want those Federal cuts stopped so that our public hospital system can get on with the job of looking after patients.
I ask the Opposition to act in a bipartisan way and tell the Commonwealth that our public hospitals need this funding. Will they join the New South Wales Government in telling the Commonwealth that we need this funding, or will they support their Liberal mates? Will they support our public hospitals in looking after patients? That decision will put them on their mettle. I look forward to their decision. To conduct a strong campaign in the media, this Parliament and the Federal Parliament we need a bipartisan approach to overturn these health budget cuts. Every honourable member of this House should be committed to ensuring that our public hospitals are adequately funded and should resist any proposal that undermines them. I call on all honourable members to support the motion to assist the Government to do all it can to persuade the Federal Government to overturn its ridiculous decision. I urge Opposition members to join the Government in a campaign to make the Federal Government see sense.
Mrs SKINNER (North Shore) [4.33]: The Minister has been caught out trying to shift blame for his cuts in the health system on to the Federal Government. It is hypocrisy in the extreme for the Minister to bleat about the loss of beds and nurses as a result of the Federal Government's crackdown on cost-shifting when the New South Wales Minister cut at least $80 million from this year's health budget. It is just too rich to hear this from a Minister who only five months ago tried to axe 2,000 staff positions and cut almost 900 beds from New South Wales hospitals. The Minister for Health was more than happy to cut $80 million from this year's health budget, paying no regard to the resultant loss of nurses, closure of beds and reductions in elective surgery. Honourable members should not just take my word about the Minister's cuts to this year's health budget. They should read excerpts from comments printed in newspapers the day after the budget was brought down in May. The Sydney Morning Herald, in an article by Nathan Vass, said on 22 May:
(2) supports the State Government leading a campaign for the restoration of the health budget.
I quote from an article in the Australian of 22 May by Mike Steketee:
The budget papers show the health capital works budget will be down 4.2 per cent and the recurrent budget will be squeezed by 0.9 per cent.
It is simply nonsense and hypocrisy for the Minister to suggest that his Government in no way is responsible for the budget cuts and the pain being experienced in our hospitals. That may be one reason that the Minister has made such a fundamental mistake as to calculate what is supposed to be a $34 million cut by the Commonwealth at $1 million a week; as my colleagues have quickly pointed out, there are more than 34 weeks in the year. The Minister cannot even get his sums right. He said that 400 beds will be lost as a result of what he termed the Federal Government's health budget cut of $34 million. Minister, how many beds will be lost because of the $80 million cut from the New South Wales health budget by your Government? The Minister spoke of 900 nurses being lost because of the $34 million cut. How many nurses will be lost by the Minister's $80 million budget cut? He said also that 17,000 fewer patients would be treated because of the Commonwealth's $34 million health budget cut, but how many fewer patients will be treated because of the Minister's $80 million budget cut?
I heard the interview of Dr Wooldridge and the New South Wales Minister for Health on the Jenny Brockie program on 2BL this morning. The Federal Minister made it quite clear that the $34 million he will deduct from money coming to New South Wales is due to cost-shifting occurring this year. I say to the New South Wales Minister for Health: you should acknowledge that cost-shifting has been a problem for a long time and that New South Wales under the former coalition Government got the best Medicare agreement from the Commonwealth. The Minister should be shouting that from the rooftops. I move:
Current spending on health falls by a real 0.9 per cent compared to rises of 4 to 5 per cent in the past three years.
That the motion be amended by deleting all words after "calls" and inserting instead:
This is a constructive amendment because it addresses the real problem of cost-shifting, which has been going on for a long time. The Commonwealth cost shifts were drawn to the attention of honourable members in this place many times by the Hon. Ron Phillips. This is the practice adopted by Commonwealth governments to avoid responsibility for aged care patients who occupy beds in our public hospitals because of lack of beds in nursing homes. If the New South Wales Minister
is not prepared to acknowledge that that practice went on under the former Commonwealth Labor Government, he will show that he does not know anything about health. The Minister is absolutely right: this is an example of cost-shifting that has gone on from State to Commonwealth, and from Commonwealth to State, over many decades. That is why the Minister should respond favourably to my amendment and act on behalf of this Parliament to liaise with the Federal Minister about putting an end to the practices that make cost-shifting between the State and the Commonwealth almost inevitable.
I heard Dr Wooldridge interviewed this morning on radio. I have also heard the New South Wales Minister for Health speaking in this place. There is no doubt that budget cuts causing a crisis in our hospital system at the moment fall directly at the feet of the Carr Government and of its Minister for Health. I refer to a double-page story in the Sunday Telegraph last Sunday in which more publicity was given to the doctors of Liverpool Hospital who, interestingly, are contacted and intimidated by the Minister's staff every time those doctors choose to speak out. Those doctors will not budge. They are refusing to move into the final stage of the new $200 million hospital redevelopment commissioned by the former coalition Government, simply because the Minister has not provided the money to enable them to move new services into that hospital within the greater western Sydney.
Dr Refshauge: They are moving in next week.
Mrs SKINNER: They will not be moving new services into the hospital. The Minister engaged in the sham of moving in old beds but without providing new services. He will not get away with trying to mislead the House into believing there are 242 new beds at the hospital when people at the coalface are telling their local friends, patients and health care professionals that all they are getting is 35 beds.
Let us have a look at the results of the $80 million budget cut imposed by the Carr Government. Recently I attended a rally at Blacktown - a rally held long before any announcement about budget cuts by the Federal Minister. Because of this Minister's budget cuts elective surgery at Blacktown Hospital was cancelled for nine weeks of the year during school holidays. The ban is longer for more complicated cases. A 54-bed surgical ward is to be closed for more than two months of the year. Eighteen medical beds are to be closed for 22 weeks and eight children's beds are to close for 32 weeks. Last year's debt was $3.2 million. I attended a rally at Campbelltown Hospital. The Minister was very uncomfortable about Campbelltown Hospital.
I can inform the House that the honourable member for Campbelltown does not know where Campbelltown is. The reduction in the number of maternity bookings at Campbelltown Hospital is staggering. The day surgery unit staffing is still down despite the lifting of a recent staff freeze. In answer to the interjection, I was engaged by the Wran Government on a consultancy basis to work on the Macarthur growth area, and I spent a great deal time out in Campbelltown. The honourable member should be careful about his interjections.
Let me have a look at further budget cuts. Hornsby and Ku-ring-gai hospital was this year instructed to reduce admissions by 72. Last year's debt was $250,000. This year the hospital was told to save $2.2 million in spending. In the Illawarra area - which is Labor heartland - staff at Wollongong hospital fear elective surgery will be restricted because the Government backed down on staff cuts and bed closures. Staff at Wollongong Hospital have actually taken industrial action because of the Government's cuts. As I have said, staff at Liverpool Hospital - which was built by the coalition when in government - are refusing to move into the new building.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The honourable member for The Entrance will cease interjecting.
Mrs SKINNER: Manly hospital has now been told by this Government that it can reduce admissions by 581 this financial year. Mona Vale hospital has been told by the Government that it can reduce admissions by 232 this financial year. Nepean hospital, which was substantially upgraded by the former coalition Government, has had 30 beds lost with the transfer of 30 acute care geriatric patients from Governor Phillip Special Hospital. A short while ago I visited Nepean hospital together with the Leader of the Opposition. We have never been so welcomed anywhere.
Mr McBride: No-one knew who you were.
Mrs SKINNER: The honourable member should read the local paper.
Ms Meagher: You have 50 T-shirts out there.
Mrs SKINNER: We have got lots of T-shirts. Except that I think Mr Speaker might not like me wearing in this place a T-shirt that displays a derogatory drawing of the Premier. I would encourage all my colleagues to come into the Chamber one day wearing such a T-shirt. Perhaps that could be kept for the last sitting day of the year. It would certainly keep the smiles off the faces of those opposite. Nepean hospital is one of the great losers under the failed budget of this Minister. Let us look at elsewhere. Royal Newcastle Hospital had a 30 per cent reduction in surgery on last year's figure - [Time expired.]
Mr MILLS (Wallsend) [4.43]: It is clear from this rather pathetic and spineless amendment of the honourable member for North Shore that in cutting out the second sentence of the motion for urgent consideration moved by the Minister for Health she does not want to see the health budget restored because she chops out that completely and supports the Government leading a campaign for the restoration of the health budget.
Mrs Skinner: That is very destructive.
Mr MILLS: The honourable member for North Shore, just as she did last week, rattles away at the House with inane interjections. I think she must have inhaled the same stuff as that inhaled by the honourable member for Wakehurst at lunchtime today. Today we are talking about doctors, nurses and patients. No-one in this House should need to be reminded just how hard doctors and nurses are working in our public hospital system. Last night in this House I praised the hard work of the doctors and nurses and other public health staff who work in hospitals in the Hunter region. Today I want to extend that praise to the hard work of doctors and nurses who work in the public hospital system all over New South Wales. Those of us who represent the growth regions of New South Wales certainly understand the work that is put in by those people.
We have seen how hospitals struggled under the previous coalition Government in New South Wales in our growth areas. Hospitals in the Hunter, the Illawarra, the greater west of Sydney and the central coast have worked for years with less than their fair share of health resources. That underresourcing has placed enormous pressure on staff and forced many patients to travel long distances for care. The annual 1.5 per cent productivity cuts that were imposed by the coalition Government year in and year out saw 5,000 hospital beds across New South Wales closed during the Government's time in office. Thirty New South Wales hospitals were closed, downgraded or privatised under the State coalition Government. Thousands of patients waited years for surgery. That is what State Liberal budget cuts did to our health system before - and it will happen again if these further Federal Liberal budget cuts go ahead.
I know what it is like to live in an underresourced area health service. But I have also seen the doctors and nurses from better resourced health areas strongly opposing cuts. I have heard loud complaints from members opposite who were in government when the established hospitals were padded at the expense of the growth areas. They were prepared to fight against needy hospitals in my area, the western Sydney area, the central coast, the Illawarra and in country New South Wales receiving better resources. They were prepared to fight against more Hunter patients receiving their care close to home. Are members opposite now prepared to fight against that same money going into the Federal Treasury? $34 million is a substantial cut to the hospital system. Over a full year the cut would add up to the operating budgets of Maitland hospital, Kurri Kurri hospital, Belmont District Hospital and Cessnock hospital. That is what it would mean just in the Hunter region if $34 million were cut out of the hospital system, and that is what Dr Wooldridge is doing.
Honourable members know that Liberal governments like to call their cuts fancy names. The former State Greiner and Fahey governments called them productivity savings or efficiency gains, and now the Federal Liberals are calling the cuts cost-shifting. Whatever the cuts are called, it means beds closed, nurses sacked and patients waiting longer to get into hospital. That takes the heart out of those hard-working professionals in the public system. As Dr John Yu said today, his hospital staff work very hard because they are helping families in need. How can we ask them to work even harder because of some dispute between governments? We cannot accept excuses from Dr Wooldridge. Taking $34 million out of the New South Wales health budget hits our doctors, our nurses and our patients. What is the Federal Government giving in return? It is giving nothing.
I want to remind the House that since 1 July last year the Carr Labor Government has injected $632 million extra into health in New South Wales. The honourable member for North Shore continues to talk about an $80 million health budget cut. Perhaps she thinks that if she repeats the lie often enough people will start to believe it. Since the Carr Government came to office it has injected $632 million extra into health. Thank you, Dr Refshauge. What has the Federal Government done? It has made $60 million in specific health cuts in the August Federal budget; $902 million in cuts to general Federal grants to New South Wales over the three years; and now there is to be another $34 million in cuts. The honourable member for North Shore can only blame the Deputy Leader of the Opposition and the Leader of the Opposition for that pathetic amendment that she has moved to the motion of the Minister for Health.
Ms FICARRA (Georges River) [4.48]: The Opposition is trying to be as bipartisan and reasonable as it possibly can. At the end of the day what the constituents care about is health resourcing throughout the State; they are not interested in sniping between State and Federal governments. It might make good radio news, but at the end of the day what people are interested in is health resourcing. They are interested in the fact that if they go to their hospitals they will not find the accident and emergency department shutdown.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! The Minister and the shadow minister will cease conversing across the table.
Ms FICARRA: What the Opposition has proposed in its amendment is reasonable. It calls on the Government to restore the New South Wales health budget and urges the Minister to liaise with the Commonwealth Minister to put an end to State-Commonwealth cost-shifting. Everyone knows that cost-shifting has been occurring for a long time. It is nothing new. The only State that does not indulge in cost-shifting is Tasmania. Let us not kid ourselves. The coalition was successful in getting huge amounts of funding from the Commonwealth Government. Whatever happened in the past cannot
be altered. The Federal Government will not cooperate if it is hit on the head. New South Wales thinks that it can lead the charge. Victoria is claiming that it will lead the charge, as is Queensland. No one State is going to lead any charge. Everyone must sit down and discuss these issues rationally with the Federal Minister for Health. It requires leadership and statesmanship. At the end of the day a compromise will be worked out, but it must be done in a reasonable fashion.
The Federal Government's approach is not new. It is not just Dr Michael Wooldridge. Dr Carmen Lawrence, the former Labor Federal Minister, tried to do exactly the same thing and that has been recorded in Federal Hansard. The Federal Government's action should come as no surprise. It is ironic that the Deputy Premier and Minister for Health blames it all on the Federal Government after the recent fiasco and the wonderful jargon about resource restructuring, beds to the west, the attempted sale of St George Hospital to St Vincent's Hospital and the massive embarrassing backdown by the Minister. This Minister tried to axe 2,000 staff positions and cut almost 900 beds from the New South Wales hospital system. It is not merely the coalition parties talking about the $80 million shortfall in the budget. On 22 May the Australian reported:
on the Government to restore the New South Wales health budget and urges the Minister to liaise with the Commonwealth Minister to put an end to State-Commonwealth cost-shifting.
On 22 May, the day after the budget was released, the Sydney Morning Herald reported that the budget papers showed that the health capital works budget will be down 4.2 per cent and the recurrent budget will be squeezed by 0.9 of 1 per cent. It is not just the coalition saying it. Everyone knows. It is a fact. The allocated budget for 1995-96 was $5,008 million. The revised budget was $5,080 million - a $72 million debt incurred on recurrent spending in 1995-96. Much of this was incurred because the Government's allocation to the ridiculous waiting list program was insufficient. Evidence from a variety of sources has shown that this program cost double that provided by the Government.
Available funding was provided on an incentive basis. Hospitals were paid only if they reached their designated targets and as a result they borrowed against their next year's promised waiting list program money, which has not been provided. That is why hospitals are all suffering budget shortfalls and that is why massive cuts have been made to hospital bed numbers and services. At St George Hospital the 80 beds closed since December 1995 have not been reopened. Some 98 staff lost between August 1995 and August 1996 have not been replaced. There has been a reduction of one in four elective surgery theatre sessions. The orthopaedic surgical department has been cut to billyo. Research and teaching positions have been cut. To add to the woes of this Minister's budgetary problems, the underlying - [Time expired.]
Mrs BEAMER Badgerys Creek) [4.53]: The Opposition has totally lost the plot about what the Federal Government is doing to New South Wales.
Mrs Skinner: Go out to Nepean and speak to the hospital staff there.
Mrs BEAMER: The honourable member for North Shore said that I should go out to Nepean and speak to the hospital staff there. They are joining Labor's campaign, as is North Shore. They think that the Federal Government's actions are outrageous. Let us face it, last year when we entered into an agreement to stop cost-shifting it was acknowledged that New South Wales has a long way to go, but we are absolutely being slugged by the Federal Government for $34 million. Why? It has nothing to do with cost-shifting. It has to do with punishing the people of New South Wales because they voted Labor. That is the one and only reason. The people of New South Wales are being punished yet Opposition members are saying that the Government should go to Canberra and say softly and nicely, "We are sorry. Look, we are doing it now. Perhaps we can negotiate, perhaps not $34 million but $32 million." What a load of rot.
The New South Wales Government has considered and addressed the issue. The people of New South Wales deserve to know that the Government is addressing the problem. Victoria is asked to pay $24 million, although it has cost-shifted to the tune of $40 million. Why? Perhaps it is because Victoria does not have a Labor Government. Perhaps it is because the Federal Government does not want to upset its friend Jeff Kennett. I am sure the $24 million has upset him, but not half as much as a $34 million slug will upset the people of New South Wales. I am not surprised that we are talking about this now. Before the Lindsay by-election Howard said he would not move on health. Now that the by-election is over he is moving to cut this State's health budget. The Federal Government has lied to the people of western Sydney.
The Federal Government's approach to health care in Australia is to cut back the public system and give tax concessions to the private sector. This is absolutely appalling. The Federal Government, ever generous to the private sector and its mates, opened the coffers wide for the health insurance industry by giving billions of dollars in tax concessions so that the industry could increase its already exorbitant premiums. But when it comes to the public health system, the Federal coalition has shown itself to be nothing more than a penny-pinching low life for what it is doing to patients in New South Wales, who can least afford health budget cuts. There is spurious analysis of who the guilty party is. The guilty ones in New South Wales are the former Greiner and Fahey governments.
The Federal Government is saying, "Because we cannot pin you down for last year, we will go back in time, revisit and try to get money from you on that basis." The Opposition should join with the Government and say to Canberra that its actions are
unfair to New South Wales patients. The shadow spokesperson on health laughs while the Federal Government takes $34 million from New South Wales patients. All she is doing is covering up for her Federal mates. It is about time she got behind the people of New South Wales, the people that she was elected to support, and said to the Federal Government that this State needs the money for the public health system. Obviously, Opposition members are covering up for their mates. New South Wales needs that money for those patients who, under this system, will not have beds to go to. After these cost cuts they will not have a place. [Time expired.]
Dr REFSHAUGE (Marrickville - Deputy Premier, Minister for Health, and Minister for Aboriginal Affairs) [4.58], in reply: I thank the honourable member for Wallsend and the honourable member for Badgerys Creek for their constructive contributions to the debate. The Opposition has argued that its amendment is the most bipartisan that it could provide. I hoped that on this issue we could have been bipartisan. Unfortunately, the Opposition cannot afford to support the Government and vote in favour of the issue in respect of which it wants to be bipartisan. The honourable member for North Shore should act her age. Unfortunately, she has not been prepared to stand up for the people of New South Wales and fight her Federal colleagues, despite saying some months ago that if the Federal Government made the wrong decision she would criticise it for doing so. She has not criticised the Federal Government in this debate. By not criticising it she is saying that the Federal Government is doing the right thing. It is a joke.
Let us be bipartisan. Let us put our differences aside. The honourable member stated that she was prepared to say to the Federal Government, "You are doing the wrong thing." She has had an opportunity to say that but she has said nothing. In other words, she believes that the Federal Government's behaviour in taking $34 million from New South Wales is acceptable behaviour. The people of New South Wales will want to hear loud and clear what the honourable member's alternative is.
Mrs Skinner: Show some leadership!
Dr REFSHAUGE: Exactly, show some leadership! You are absolutely rudderless; you are showing no leadership at all.
The honourable member for Georges River is parroting her shadow spokesperson's view on the budget. The honourable member for Georges River has not recognised that, since its budget was handed down, the State Government has increased the health budget by $134 million.
Mrs Skinner: Where has it gone?
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for North Shore is showing not only her stupidity but also her inability to understand numbers and her inability to act responsibly as a person who should be promoting debate on health policy. I know that the honourable member for Georges River understands figures; she can count and she can understand those issues. I ask her to look at them and to decide whether she wants to say that the budget provided by this Government is actually less than the budget provided for hospitals by the coalition when it was in office. It has been significantly increased; we could argue that point forever and a day. The reality is whether or not we support Federal budget cuts. I have listened intently to the honourable member for North Shore and intently to the honourable member for Georges River. Do they or do they not support the Federal Government's budget cuts? I remind the House that the honourable member for North Shore said that if the Federal Government made a decision that she believed was wrong she would speak out against it. By not speaking out against it in respect of this issue, and by moving an amendment to the Government's motion, she is very clearly saying that she supports the actions of the Federal Government in taking $34 million away from New South Wales public hospitals. That is what she is saying.
Mrs Skinner: Don't support cross-shifting. Read the amendment.
Dr REFSHAUGE: I am happy to stop cross-shifting, as I did immediately on coming to office - and Michael Wooldridge said today that that is exactly what I did. It is disappointing to hear members of the Opposition talk about bipartisanship and disappointing that they should move such an amendment. It makes me wonder what the Opposition believes about bipartisanship on Aboriginal health, on mental health and on AIDS. If this is what the Opposition means by bipartisanship -
Mrs Skinner: On a point of order. At no time was Aboriginal health or AIDS discussed. My point of order relates to relevance. At no time in this debate have those issues been discussed. I find it absolutely offensive and out of order.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! No point of order is involved.
Dr REFSHAUGE: The honourable member for North Shore stated that the amendment is bipartisan - [Time expired.]
Motion agreed to.
Current spending on health falls by a real 0.9 of one per cent compared to rises of 4.5 per cent in the past three years.