As health minister Tony Abbott "took $1 billion out of hospital funding for the states".
Kevin Rudd on Sunday, August 11, 2013 in the leaders' debate, National Press Club
The $1bn question: did Abbott do it?
In arguing that Tony Abbott will cut "to the bone" spending on health and education Kevin Rudd has no more serious charge than the one he again wheeled out in the leaders debate on Sunday night.
"That's what Mr Abbott did when he was health minister, when he took $1 billion out of hospital funding for the states at a time when he had responsibility to oversee that expenditure," Rudd said.
It’s a charge with an impressive lineage. Wayne Swan, Lindsay Tanner, Penny Wong, Nicola Roxon, Tanya Plibersek and Julia Gillard have all repeated it. It was even printed on a 2010 Labor campaign leaflet. It read: "Tony Abbott cut $1 billion from health and hospitals. Don’t let Abbott cut health funding again."
It goes back to the 2003 budget. It delivered not a cut in hospital funding (as Rudd says) or a cut in health and hospital funding (as Labor says). But an increase in hospital funding for the next five-year intergovernmental agreement.
The increase was around $1 billion less than had foreshadowed a year earlier, but an increase nonetheless.
The 2003 budget papers explained the increase in funding for public hospitals was less than had been foreshadowed partly because "more services are being provided in private hospitals following the introduction of the government’s 30 per cent private health insurance rebate".
Under the new agreement states were offered "up to an additional $10 billion to help run public hospitals," but instead of receiving up to $43 billion as had been foreshadowed they were offered up to $42 billion.
It was a "cut" only in the sense that someone who is led to believe they will get a pay rise and then doesn’t get all of it believes they have had a pay cut.
And Abbott wasn’t the health minister at the time. He was the minister for employment and workplace relations.
Abbott became health and aging minister on October 7 2003, five months after the 2003 budget and one month after the last of the disgruntled state and territory health ministers signed up to the new agreement.
Kay Patterson was the health minister who stared down the states in the bitter and protracted dispute, a fact Rudd tacitly acknowledged on Sunday night when he used convoluted language to say Abbott took "$1 billion out of hospital funding for the states at a time when he had responsibility to oversee that expenditure".
Abbott didn’t impose the agreement worth $1 billion less than had been expected over five years; he merely presided over it, as Patterson's successor in the health portfolio.
Statistics compiled by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare show that under Abbott commonwealth funding of public hospitals climbed 4 per cent in 2003-4, 7 per cent in 2004-5, 4 per cent in 2005-6 and 6 per cent in 2006-7.
The percentage increases were lower than those of earlier years, but increases all the same.
Tony Abbott neither "took $1 billion out of hospital funding for the states" nor engineered a cut. You cannot attribute to Abbott the actions of another minister. Yet Labor has done just this and quite deliberately, leaving the impression that Abbott alone is to blame.
But blame for what?
The charge is serious and personal.
We rate it False.
Published: Friday, August 16, 2013 at 9:30 a.m.
Commonwealth of Australia, Budget Paper 2, 2003-04 "Other Measures in the Health and Aging Portfolio".
Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2003, bill digest.
Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Health expenditure Australia 2008-09.
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