Health reform deal ‘close’

There are signs an agreement has been reached between state and territory leaders and the Rudd government over its planned health reforms.

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Tasmanian Premier David Bartlett said he was pleased to have signed a new health agreement, but he would not comment on whether every state had signed the deal.

Premiers and chief ministers have broken from a Council of Australian Governments meeting in Canberra.

“The deal I’ve signed up for does allow the commonwealth to retain 30 per cent of our GST,” he told reporters.

“I’m not going to speak for other premiers, I think it’s best if they outline their own outcomes.”

Mr Bartlett said the commonwealth had offered more money for mental health and non-acute hospital beds during Tuesday’s negotiations.

Mr Bartlett used a coffee table outside the meeting room to sign a new inter-governmental agreement before rushing off to catch his plane.

Sky News reported that the Victorian premier had agreed to handing over 30 per cent of its GST revenue, and said talks were continuing between the federal government and Western Australia on the health deal.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann, when asked if a deal had been reached, told reporters: “It’s pretty good.”

He said there would be a news conference later on Tuesday afternoon.

NSW on board

Earlier New South Wales agreed to allow the federal government to retain a third of its GST revenue to directly fund the state’s public hospitals system.

The major breakthrough follows one-on-one discussions between NSW Premier Kristina Keneally and Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.

As part of the deal, NSW would allocate 30 per cent of its GST revenues into a federal-state funding pool instead of giving the funds directly to Canberra.

The federal government has promised NSW it will not have to contribute more than 30 per cent under a “clawback” guarantee.

Canberra agreed to a request from Ms Keneally for $686 million in federal funds to help NSW meet national reform targets for emergency and elective surgery waiting times, a spokeswoman for the premier said.

“We are in a position to be able to have the commonwealth retain a third of our GST for direct funding of hospitals in NSW,” Ms Keneally told reporters.

The deal was subject to safeguards and governance arrangements that included state participation in any funding pool.

Western Australia remains the only state holding out in a second day of talks between the commonwealth and premiers.

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