Annabel Stafford and Carol Nader, October 4, 2007
THE health bidding war continued yesterday as Prime Minister John Howard trumped Labor's pitch for the parental vote with a $190 million plan to help children with autism.
Opposition Leader Kevin Rudd was forced to match the Government policy, which dwarfed the ALP's own pledge to set up at least six autism-specific child-care centres.
"The purpose of being an alternative government is not to oppose everything that Mr Howard puts forward," Mr Rudd said. "Where it's a good policy we would seek to combine it with ours on a bipartisan basis, and when it comes to autism we should take the politics out of it."
Nicole Rogerson — who founded Autism Awareness and set up a centre for autistic children to get intensive behavioural therapy after bringing up an autistic son — declared the Labor plan "incredibly disappointing".
Ms Rogerson — whose Lizard Centre was one of several sites across the country at which the Coalition launched its policy — said advocates had "been up front with the fact that if you've got 30,000 kids in Australia and each of them have got two parents and four grandparents — that's at least six votes a child."
The $190 million, five-year plan will provide up to 200 new autism-specific playgroups for 8000 children as well as intensive one-on-one or small group programs for up to 4000 children with moderate to severe autism. For 1200 severely affected children, the Government will provide up to $20,000 over two years to help pay for intensive behavioural treatment.
There will also be new Medicare items to diagnose and treat children and $46 million for education and support programs for parents and teachers.
Meanwhile, Health Minister Tony Abbott said Victoria's public hospital system was better than those in other states.
As Mr Howard continued his criticism of the NSW Government's management of hospitals, Mr Abbott yesterday said Victorian hospitals "generally operate better" than those in other states partly because they still had boards, a management structure absent in most states. "It's good to see that at least in Victoria we do still have strong hospital boards," he said.
The Howard Government announced this week that, as part of the health funding agreement with the states, the nation's 750 public hospitals must have their own board.