Concealed Budget Cuts ‘Killing’ Australia's Health Sector
13 November 2015 at 10:24 am
A coalition of over 20 peak and non-government organisations from the health and community sectors has called on the Federal Government to scrap plans to cut nearly $800 million in funding to key health initiatives over the next four financial years.
A public health forum, Hidden Harms – How concealed budget cuts are killing Australia's health sector, held at the National Press Club in Canberra was told that the Government’s plan to cut almost $800 million was “appalling”.
“This amount of money goes a long way in the Not for Profit sector,” CEO of the Public Health Association of Australia, Michael Moore, told the the Forum.
“The foreshadowed cuts would drastically reduce the capacity of NGOs and peak bodies to deliver services across the country and to provide advice and support for reform in health.”
The Forum heard that in the latest round of Senate estimates $596.2 million is to be cut from the Health Flexible Funds over the next four financial years. This is on top of cuts totalling $197.1 million announced in last year’s Budget, making a total of over $793 million.
Moore said that among the 14 Flexible Funds apparently to be affected are those supporting the provision of essential services in rural, regional and remote Australia. This includes work to close the gap in health outcomes for Indigenous Australians, managing vital responses to communicable diseases and delivering substance use treatment services around the country.
He said most existing funding contracts for NGOs are set to expire either at the end of 2015 or on 30 June 2016.
“Eighteen months on from the first Hockey Budget there is still no clarity on how these budget cuts will be achieved,” he said.
“These cuts amount to 10 per cent of the current flexible funding. It’s appalling.
“There are 14 flexible health funds and the cuts are taking their toll on Not for Profit services and those people who access these services.
“With just over a month to go [before the funds end] no one knows where the cuts [to flexible funds] will fall.
“This doesn’t have to happen. When there is less tax, it’s simple, there are less services.The Turnbull Government promised open discussion. Let’s hope that this leads to a fair go for all Australians.
“Let’s hope that the government sees the folly of its cuts and it reconsiders the $800million cut to service delivery.”
The Chief Executive Officer of Services for Australian Rural and Remote Allied Health (SARRAH), Rod Wellington told the Forum that the health gap continues to widen for rural and remote communities.
“The Government must increase investment is social determinants of health in rural and remote Australia and introduce longer term program funding between five and ten years,” Wellington said.
“We need to prevent poor health and support flexible funding arrangements… and broaden Medicare.
“SARRAH acknowledges that addressing these issues won’t be easy but to do nothing is not an option.”
CEO of Palmerston Association, one of Western Australia’s leading Not for Profit drug and alcohol rehabilitation services, Sheila McHale told the Forum that there has been little real leadership or vision over a number of years along with limited growth in funds to support innovation in the Not for Profit sector.
“The anticipated cuts make no sense,” McHale said.
McHale is a former Member of Parliament, having served in the WA Parliament for 12 years, eight of them as a Cabinet Minister, where she held portfolios including Tourism, Consumer Protection, Community Development, Culture and the Arts, Disability Services. She is a member of the national advisory body to the Australian Charities and Not-for-profits Commission.
“Circuit breaker, a program run by Odyssey House in Victoria, is a small award winning rehabilitating program re-integrating former drug users into the community,” she said.
“It works. But despite a waiting list that extends to April 2016, this service will be lost without the flexible funding. Programs such as this should be replicated not threatened with closure.
“One of the strengths of the flexible funding has been the opportunity for the Not for Profit sector to build and improve their capacity to support and build the health of those with mental illness and drug and alcohol issues.
“This has been a really positive outcome of the funding but again it is in jeopardy.”