Independent Member for Denison Andrew Wilkie at a press conference at Parliament House in Canberra, Thursday, February 14, 2019. (AAP Image/Mick Tsikas) NO ARCHIVING

Has the Tasmanian government diverted $1.6 billion in GST funding away from its health sector since 2014?

July 4, 2019

The Statement

“Since 2014 approximately $1.6 billion in health-related GST funding for Tasmania has been diverted to other areas by the state government.”

Did this statement by Independent federal MP Andrew Wilkie on July 3, 2019 correctly reference the Goddard State of Health report.

The Analysis

Independent MP Andrew Wilkie said Tasmania’s health system is in crisis and attacked the coalition state government’s funding record, describing it as a “long-running fraud on both the Commonwealth and the people of Tasmania”

AAP FactCheck examined Mr Wilkie’s comment that the Tasmanian government had diverted $1.6 billion in GST funding away from health into other sectors since 2014.

Mr Wilkie’s office told AAP FactCheck his claim was based on a 2018 report titled ‘State of Health, An analysis of the adequacy of public hospital services in Tasmania’, by health policy analyst Martyn Goddard.

Mr Goddard is a Hobart-based health policy analyst who has worked on commonwealth policy development projects. He has been a member of the Australian National Council on AIDS and Related Diseases and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee and a health policy officer at the Australian Consumers’ Association (Choice). 

Mr Goddard’s State of Health 2018 report found Tasmania’s population was older and poorer than any other state with the lowest level of income and wealth. The average age of people in Hobart in 2016 was 39.7 years, higher than any other capital. Life expectancy for men in Tasmania was 78.8 and 82.9 for women compared to the national average of 80.4 and 84.6 respectively. Median weekly income and average household assets were substantially below any other state, the report found. 

Mr Goddard’s report also detailed per capita state government day-to-day health expenditure for 2014-15 to 2016-17 and examined Commonwealth activity-based funding. Per capita expenditure for that period was 15.2 per cent lower in Tasmania than in Australia as a whole and capital investment was 38.4 per cent lower.

The report lists how the Commonwealth Grants Commission administers GST funding in the two stages – redistribution to the states for an equal per capita amount and the needs of each state’s population. It determined how much health-related GST was being diverted from health into other government priorities by adding these two figures together.

The report concluded the Hodgman Liberal government, which came to power in March 2014, had “underfunded the state’s health system by around $1.6 billion since being elected, compared with the amount the Commonwealth Grants Commission has calculated needs to be spent to give Tasmanians the same standard and level of care as other Australians”. 

The Commonwealth Grants Commission does not have a view on how a state should spend GST revenue, and spending is in accordance with each state’s own priorities.

AAP FactCheck concludes Mr Wilkie correctly referenced the Goddard report in stating that $1.6 billion in health-related GST funding has been diverted by the Tasmanian government since 2014.

Mr Wilkie’s description of this as a “long-running fraud on both the Commonwealth and the people of Tasmania” is purely his opinion, as there is no compulsion on the Tasmanian government to spend GST funding on specific services.

AAP FactCheck contacted Tasmania’s new health minister Sarah Courtney regarding her department’s rejection of Mr Wilkie’s claim but received no reply by the time of original publication. A later reply claimed Tasmania’s health budget is “up from 25 per cent of total spending to 32 per cent in a decade” but it did not address Mr Wilkie’s claim in reference to the Goddard report.

Former health minister Michael Ferguson was replaced in a reshuffle on June 30 by Ms Courtney. Mr Ferguson had suffered a series of no-confidence and censure motions in the parliament over his handling of the health portfolio and criticism from wider health sector. 

The Verdict 

True – The checkable claim is true. 

First published July 4, 2019  18:30 AEST

Updated on August 1, 2019 16:38 AEST  – Paragraph 2 amended to show AAP examined Mr Wilkie’s comment; paragraph 10 updated to show Mr Wilkie accurately quoted the Goddard report; paragraph 12 of the analysis updated to include the Tasmanian Minister’s response.

Updated on October 29, 2019 15:00 AEDT – Amending the second sentence of The Statement section to query if the statement correctly referenced the report in question.

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