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Will PM honour pledge to take over public hospitals?
letter published in The Australian, 3 July 2009

Kevin Rudd claims the increased number of COAG meetings under his government is "central to our commitment … to end the blame game between Canberra and the states" ("Reformed COAG a one-stop co-op", Opinion, 1/7). But what eventuates from such meetings is surely the real test.

How does, for example, cutting numbers of specific purpose payments to the states "from more than 90 to just a handful" (Rudd's first claimed outcome) benefit State residents? And do the continued problems with the $14.7 billion allocated to the school building program demonstrate the Commonwealth's capacity to run efficient and effective policies from Canberra and end  the blame game?

In that regard, will the Prime Minister's confirm his election promise to take over public hospitals if, as now seems clearer than when he made the commitment, they are being run less than efficiently by states?

Most importantly, however, Rudd says nothing about whether his enumerated changes in arrangements between the Commonwealth and the States have improved  the functioning of  the government sector as a whole.

He boasts that "we've doubled the investment in Australian schools" and  Budget Paper No 3 on "Australia's Federal Relations" does show that  estimated grants for state education services will increase by 64.4 per cent - from $11.9 to $19.4 billion - in 2009-10 alone. But what contribution are the states themselves making to those education services?

Can  Rudd assure us that the states are not offsetting the increase in Commonwealth grants by a commensurate reduction in their own spending? As a similar question arises with other Commonwealth grants, the total of all government sector spending in 2009-10 may also be significantly lower than implied by the Rudd government's claimed stimuli and jobs support plans.

The point is not what "we've" done but what the whole government sector is doing.

Des Moore
(Former Treasury head of Federal- State relations)
South Yarra, Vic

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