Budget estimates 2003-04
© Parliament of the Commonwealth of Australia 2003
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Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Mr Elton Humphery
Canberra ACT 2600
Phone: 02 6277 3515
Fax: 02 6277 5829
Membership of the
Senator Sue Knowles, Chairman
Senator Brian Greig, Deputy Chair
Senator Kay Denman
the Hon Bill Heffernan
New South Wales
Senator Gary Humphries
Australian Capital Territory
Senator Steve Hutchins
New South Wales
Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee
Report on Budget Estimates 2003-2004
On 13 May 2003 the Senate referred the
following documents to the Committee for examination and report in relation to
the portfolios of Health and Ageing and Family and Community Services:
particulars of proposed expenditure for the service of the year ending
on 30 June 2004
particulars of certain proposed expenditure in respect of the year
ending on 30 June 2004.
The Committee has considered the budget expenditure of the portfolios
set out in their respective Portfolio Budget Statements 2003-2004 and related
budgetary documents. Explanations relating to the estimates were received from
Senator the Hon Kay Patterson, Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator the Hon
Amanda Vanstone, Minister for Family and Community Services and Senator the Hon
Eric Abetz, Special Minister of State and officers from the portfolio
Departments at hearings held on 2 to 5 June 2003. The Committee expresses
its appreciation for the assistance of the Ministers, Ms Jane Halton, Secretary DoHA, and Mr Mark Sullivan, Secretary, DFaCS, and the
officers who appeared before it.
In accordance with Standing Order 26, the Committee has agreed that the
date for submission to the Committee of written answers or additional
information relating to the expenditure is 21 July 2003.
The Committee discussed many of the expenditure revisions and
information contained in the Portfolio Budget Statements. These discussions are
detailed in the Committee’s Hansard
transcripts of 2, 3, 4, and 5 June 2003, copies of which will be
tabled in the Senate. Hansard transcripts
of the estimates
proceedings are also available on the Internet at http://www.aph.gov.au/hansard/senate/commttee/comsen.htm
Volumes of Additional Information received by the Committee containing answers
to questions taken on notice and tabled documents relating to the Committee’s
hearings, will also be tabled separately in the Senate and be accessible on the
Committee’s web pages at http://www.aph.gov.au/senate_ca
The Committee discussed a range of issues with both portfolio
Health and Ageing portfolio
The Health and Ageing portfolio was questioned at length on the budget
initiative titled ‘A Fairer Medicare - Better Access, More Affordable’. Amongst
issues discussed in detail in
relation to the package were the General Practice access scheme; bulk billing
both for concession card holders and others; the safety net for concession card
holders; gap payment between Medicare rebate and doctor’s fee; increased
remuneration for doctors; assistance for general practices to employ a practice
nurse or allied heath worker; options for private health insurance to insure
against out of hospital medical expenses; additional medical school places and
GP training program places.
The Fairer Medicare package also has provision for an additional 234
medical school places to be created each year from 2004. The Committee was
advised that the places will be distributed across medical schools around Australia. Students who take up these
medical places will be ‘bonded’ to areas of workforce shortages for a minimum
of six years. This will be of particular value to outer-metropolitan and rural
and regional areas. The Minister also announced at the time of the estimates
hearings that the Government had given an in principle agreement to two new
medical schools in Western Australia and Queensland.
There was also extensive debate with the Therapeutic Goods
Administration (TGA) on matters relating to pharmaceutical products,
particularly truth-in-labelling issues; regulation of
complementary medicines; the Pan Pharmaceuticals recall, including breaches
of code of good manufacturing practice, the processes involved in auditing and
identifying problems, the actions undertaken and procedures of recall.
When questioned regarding a recent case of BSE reported in Canada, TGA advised the Committee
that they were reviewing those therapeutic goods which may have beef products
originating from Canada. TGA will do a risk
assessment on individual products and stated that TGA’s general policy is to
avoid using material which is sourced from countries which have reported BSE,
so they will be investigating the re-sourcing of those materials identified as
sourced in Canada’.
The Committee also discussed with TGA the status of a report on an internal
review of audit and licensing of good manufacturing practice referred to as the
Corcoran review. A copy of the report was provided to the Committee together
with a progress report on the implementation of the recommendations contained
in the report.
Other population health and safety issues discussed with DoHA included blood products and
the National Blood Authority; vaccines
and immunisation programs, particularly pneumococcal and meningococcal; the HIV Aids strategy; SARS, including advice to GPs; anti-smoking campaigns, tobacco
advertising and the national tobacco strategy.
A number of matters were raised in relation to hearing services,
particularly for services provided for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander
(ATSI) peoples. A range of issues relating to other ATSI
health issues were also discussed with the Committee.
In response to questions concerning assistance with medical expenses
for victims of the Bali bombings the Committee was advised that a program of assistance and
guidelines had been developed by the Health Insurance Commission (HIC) to meet
the out-of-pocket expenses of victims of the terrorist attack.
The Committee discussed the construction of the replacement reactor at Lucas Heights with the Australian
Radiation Protection and Nuclear Safety Agency (ARPANSA), with the focus being
on safety issues.
Matters relating to genetically modified foods were raised with the
Office of Gene Technology, in particular the inspection of research sites,
licences for the importation of genetically modified grain, and cost recovery.
Progress on negotiations with the new Australian Health Care Agreements
was considered, with the Minister indicating that she was waiting for the
States to advise ‘how much they are going to spend in the first year and what
their rate of growth will be’.
Issues were raised with DoHA relating to community
pharmacy agreements, particularly in the Karratha area, and the activities of
the Australian Community Pharmacy Authority.
Matters were also raised with the National Health and Medical Research
Council (NHMRC) concerning research conducted under a particular grant and the
alleged misuse of funds and breaching of requirements in the performance of the
The Committee discussed a range of aged care matters with DoHA, including issues relating to nursing home
accreditation standards. In particular the Committee raised with the Department
problems relating to Tangerine Lodge nursing home in Melbourne and was advised that some
very serious failures and breaches had been identified. A recent audit of
Tangerine Lodge identified that the home failed to meet 33 of the 44
accreditation standards. As a result of these findings Tangerine Lodge had its
funding withdrawn during the time of the estimates hearings.
Family and Community Services portfolio
In the Family and
Community Services portfolio there was extensive debate with Centrelink on the
enhanced information technology capabilities measure which
provides for additional funding of $312 million over five years. The Committee
was advised that the initiative involved:
putting in place the additional
infrastructure to support new service delivery options to enhance the access
that we have available for our citizens, to enrich the quality of services that
we have, to continue to enhance security and privacy considerations for our
citizens and to create an environment within Centrelink to support our staff as
they provide services to our citizens.
discussed with Centrelink details of the various aspects of the proposed IT
project, including the rolling out program and the anticipated administered
savings from increased efficiency of Centrelink operations which were expected
to result from the measure. 
Support Pension (DSP) payments under the Australians Working Together package,
with the change of focus of the reviews from medical to work capacity, were
discussed with the Committee. Details of the planned enhancement of the present
process of reviewing Disability Support Pension (DSP) payments with the
introduction of service update reviews were provided to the Committee. The
updated review system would provide for a considerable increase in the number
of reviews - from 89,000 under the current review system to 150,000. FaCS
advised that this would provide a far more targeted system and involve the use
of face-to-face interviews and phone contact to help ensure DSP recipients
receive their correct entitlement.
The Committee was further
As part of the new review process, if Centrelink identified that
someone could usefully benefit from going not just to an external medical
provider but to an external work capacity provider, there is an ability in the
system to say, ‘This person wants to do something and we need to work through their
barriers and look at the best interventions. Maybe a referral to an external
work capacity assessor would be useful for this individual.’
Centrelink were questioned in relation to the process of family assistance
reconciliation. The Committee was informed that the method of calculating the
reconciliation result had been revised to more accurately reflect the overall
net outcome for families who have a reconciliation. Family Tax Benefit (FTB)
and Child Care Benefit (CCB) overpayments were also discussed in detail.
evaluation of the Men and Family Relationships services program had been
recently released and results showed that the program was seen to be highly
successful. The Committee was advised that:
The interesting information coming out of the evaluation was
that, if you tailor services to meet the needs of men so that you remove some
of the obstacles in mainstream services, men will access those services. They
appreciate the quality of the service, they refer it to other men in similar
circumstances and they say that it has improved their relationships with their
discussed Child Care Benefit (CCB) expenditure and entitlements and requested a
number of statistics to be provided.
Issues concerning child care services were debated in some
detail, particularly unmet demand for child care places in long day care and
family day care, and the allocation of places.
Issues in housing
support included rent assistance and access to affordable housing, including
housing for Indigenous peoples.
the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement were also raised with FaCS advising
that the Victorian and Western Australian Ministers had announced that they
will be signing the agreement and that the indication from other States was that their
position would be advised in the near future.
An update was provided on negotiations for the Commonwealth, State and
Territory Disability Agreement. The Minister advised that significant progress
had been made. Western Australian and Victorian Ministers had signed and
agreement had been obtained from South Australia and the Northern Territory.
The Committee requested information on the Ministerial Council on
Gambling and why the Council had not met for some time. The Minister advised
that although more regular meetings had been planned, due to a number of
factors outlined to the Committee, this had not been possible.
Matters discussed with the Australian Institute of Family Studies
(AIFS) included the Institute’s research projects, the new Australian Centre
for the Study of Sexual Assault, and the National Child Protection
number of other important administrative and process issues involving both portfolios
were raised during the estimates discussions and are detailed in the Hansard transcripts of evidence.
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