Australia’s biggest health crisis saw the creation of a national cabinet and more than two years later, health remains front and center as the group meets for the first time since Anthony Albanese became prime minister.
- State and territory leaders want consistency in health financing and improvement in primary care
- Daniel Andrews said the government should not proceed with “Scott Morrison cuts”
- Albanese has criticized the possibility of committing additional funds
State and territory leaders want consistency in health financing and an improvement in primary care to reduce the number of people in hospitals.
During the height of the pandemic, the then Morrison government increased Commonwealth funding for public hospitals to a 50:50 split, but that is set to expire in September and all state and territory leaders want it extended.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the government must not proceed with “Scott Morrison cuts”.
“All we want is some time, we want to buy some time to do some really important work, whether it’s three months, six months, whatever, we can’t proceed in September to cut health funding nationally, that it just doesn’t make any sense,” he said.
Victoria, along with other states and territories, has also raised concerns about the number of Australians using the emergency department as a first resort for care.
South Australian Premier Peter Malinauskas said some hospitals are overcrowded because primary care has not been properly managed and the problem is in multiple states.
“This challenge is not just about money … what we also have to deal with as a nation is what we are doing to manage demand,” he said.
“There are a lot of people in hospital emergency departments who, frankly, don’t need to be there, they come from the senior care system … or they don’t have access to their GP.
“If someone is in a hospital because they couldn’t access a GP, we have a problem with the delivery of health care services that is outside the control of the states.”
A spokesman for Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said there are hundreds of older people and people with disabilities who should be cared for outside the hospital system.
While health is a priority for states and territories, the leaders are well aware that they will not walk away with a “magic bullet” at the end of today’s meeting.
Prime Minister Anthony Albanese spoke yesterday about the possibility of committing additional funds.
“We inherited a trillion dollars of debt without much to show for it,” he said.
“That’s the context in which we’ll look at discussions going forward, we’re not in a position to do everything we’d like to do right away.”
Mr Albanese pointed to the government’s promise to fund new GP clinics that aim to ease pressure on hospital emergency departments in a bid to boost support for primary health care.
Shortage of workers to deal with
The Prime Minister has indicated that today’s meeting will cover a range of topics, including ways to reduce cost of living pressures.
“I want productivity to be front and center on that agenda and I will be discussing that … and we will certainly have a discussion on energy as well,” he said.
There have been almost daily meetings of energy ministers discussing the East Coast energy crisis, and today’s meeting between state and territory leaders is expected to focus on issues other than power.
One of these is migration and skills shortages: New South Wales, Queensland and Victoria have signaled their intentions to discuss workforce issues.
Businesses have repeatedly raised concerns about difficulties finding qualified staff, and some have called for changes to make it easier to hire skilled workers from abroad.
The Northern Territory, on the other hand, wants to discuss projects in energy, critical minerals and manufacturing, as well as labor needs.
How will the national cabinet function under Albanese?
While there are unlikely to be any major announcements on the health, energy or jobs front, the group is expected to try to determine how the national cabinet will function in the coming months and years.
Albanese has said he wants to make changes to the way the group operates.
“I’ll work on those things cooperatively… I want to see how we can engage local government, I’ll discuss that with them… and I’ll discuss how we go forward going forward,” he said.
State and territory leaders previously agreed that the national cabinet functioned reasonably well during the pandemic because the group focused on a single crisis.
However, a spokesman for the Queensland premier said there were now “several” crises, including health, skills and energy shortages, and said leaders will look at how best to handle them.
“[For example] who should be in this body, how often will it meet,” he said.
Malinauskas said she was “open-minded” about how the national cabinet would work in the future and who should be included.
“There is a role, if not an urgent need, for collaborative and ongoing state and community engagement, regardless of political beliefs,” he said.