Friday, April 13, 2007

Australia's leaders agree! Sweetness at light at COAG (as it is called)

Canberra is in the box seat to host a new $126 million climate change research centre and is also in line to get more doctors. The Prime Minister announced funding of $26 million to set up a new Australian Centre for Climate Change Adaptation at the conclusion of yesterday’s Council of Australian Governments meeting. He promised it operational funding of $100 million for the first 5 years.

The ACT’s Chief Minister Jon Stanhope said after the meeting he expected the national centre to be located in the national capital, although he conceded that the Prime Minister had not been specific about the location.

In a separate announcement yesterday Mr Howard promised extra funding of $44 million to help the CSIRO to develop localised climate change forecasts...

Mr Stanhope said that he expected that money to go the CSIRO in Canberra and that it would make sense for both climate change research units to be co-located in the national capital.

The new centre will be asked to develop tangible responses to climate change such as designing heat wave warning systems and working out ways to protect coastal development from storm surges.

Mr Howard rejected pleas from the states and territories to join them in adopting a national target of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 60 percent by 2050, but in an important and new concession said he not necessarily against the idea of targets.

He said he would wait for the report of his Emissions Trading Taskforce, due at the end of the May.

In a significant development for the ACT and the Northern Territory COAG has agreed to set up a national system of registering health professionals and accrediting health training programs. This should mean that after July 2008 the number of training places available for doctors and other health workers in each state and territory will more closely match demand.

Mr Stanhope described it as an attempt to wrest control of the number of training places from specialist colleges.

The ACT has the lowest number of GP’s per head in Australia, in part because until recently it has not trained doctors at the undergraduate level. The Northern Territory has been undersupplied with nurse practitioners able to take on the role of doctors in remote areas.

The leaders also agreed to a $200 million program to fight the growth of type 2 diabetes, to be funded half by the Commonwealth and half by the states and territories.

South Australia’s Premier Mike Rann described Australia’s diabetes epedemic as a “time bomb”. He said one million Australians suffer from it already and that number is projected to climb to 3.3 million in the next two decades. “This is an extraordinary figure for a disease much of which is preventable. Already in South Australia we spend $800 million treating diabetes and the length of time in hospitals is growing,” he said.

Victoria’s Premier Steve Bracks said he envisaged a major campaign to change the behavior “a bit like the Quit campaign on smoking” as well as nationwide diabetes screening from an early age.

The leaders also endorsed a program put forward by Victoria to cut red tape, boost training and improve aboriginal life outcomes, but in a move that disappointed the Victorian Premier did not agree on how to fund it.

State, territory and Commonwealth officials will develop and begin to implement programs and then have the break up of funding decided by the newly-established independent COAG Reform Council, which will take account which governments have gained the greatest financial benefits from the programs.

Victoria’s Steve Bracks said he went into the meeting with a 10-point plan and walked out of it with 8.1.

Mr Stanhope said he feared that without upfront programs some states and territories might be reluctant begin some programs. The ACT in particular found it very expensive to improve childhood literacy because the general standard was already high. “We are at the point now where advances in literacy and numeracy are harder and more expensive than other states,” he said. He was worried that the COAG reform council might not recognise the ACT’s special position and might not compensate it for the expenditure it was about to undertake.