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                    [post_content] => P1010247

 

Australia’s dentists have mauled what they fear is a looming shutdown of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS), warning the program’s closure “will be the biggest setback for oral health in a generation.”

Peak body the Australian Dental Association has gone on the attack over uncertainty surrounding the scheme’s future funding in the run-up to the May 3rd Federal Budget, cautioning any rollback will come just as the subsidy program is starting to have an impact.

The CDBS is targeted at around 3.4 million children from lower income backgrounds and provides funding for families of $1,000 in dental treatment every two years.

Its core purpose is to get kids whose parents would otherwise struggle to pay a dentist’s bill turning-up to surgeries to get dental problems, especially decay and cavities, treated much earlier and before they develop into major issues that can cost thousands of dollars to fix.

However with the scheme’s take-up initially lower than estimated, there are fears the cash will be snatched back and repurposed, leading to long terms negative consequences.

As Australian kids gulp down big volumes high sugar soft drinks, dentists say cutting the CDBS isn’t just inviting a disaster, it bucks a wider international health policy push to control excess sugar consumption by using taxes to send a price signal.

“Australia is one of the top 10 countries for high levels of per capita consumption of soft drink where a third of Australians drink a can a day and almost half of children (47 per cent) aged between two and 16 years, drink sugar-sweetened beverages each day. This means that if such habits continue, Australians stand to develop a multitude of health problems in the future,” the ADA said in its statement.

“In spite of the increasing trend of government to support public health, the Australian Government is rushing to get some election year Budget savings by planning to end the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.”

One challenge the Child Dental Benefits Schedule has encountered is that although the program is hitting its mark in terms of targeting, take-up remains lower than estimated thanks to a combination of under-marketing and poor awareness of how to access the scheme.

Dentists say they want a voucher system introduced to replace the present standard form letter from Medicare so that people better understand that they’re entitled to free treatment.

While a voucher system is potentially more expensive to devise, deliver and administer than present bulk billing arrangements, many believe it would be worth implementing to maximise take-up.

A real risk for schemes and programs that underspend is that sooner or later Treasury and the government’s bean counters will seek to claw back the cash and put it to work elsewhere—precisely what the ADA is trying to avoid.

It is understood Health a primary concern of Minister Sussan Ley’s office is that uptake of the CDBS has only been around 30 per cent of eligible recipients.

While the Health Minister is certainly talking-up the long term benefits of early dental intervention, any conspicuous commitment to retaining the CDBS appears to have been shoved under the Budget cone of silence.

“The Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure every dollar it invests in dental services delivers the best health outcomes possible,” a spokesman for Ms Ley said.

“We also know that tackling dental health issues early is vital and can alleviate more significant problems and expense later in life. The Turnbull Government continues to work on its previously announced dental health reforms, with more details expected in coming weeks.”

However Labor’s Shadow health Minister, Catherine King, is accusing the Turnbull government of purposefully burying the scheme she says Labor first put in place.

“The government's own report confirms Labor's dental scheme is a success,” Ms King told Government News.

“It shows the scheme has been providing dental devices to the kids who need it most but the Turnbull government is deliberately hiding this, denying millions of kids the chance to get their teeth fixed.”

One obvious policy option both major parties will be cautiously observing is the rollout of taxes and levies on sugary drinks overseas to combat obesity and diabetes – a far tougher public policy sell in a sugar exporting economy like Australia.

Dentists, who frequently go into bat against sugar marketers, are happy to point out how domestic policy contrasts and link it back to the kids’ dental program.

“While the United Kingdom is protecting oral health by announcing its sugar tax, the Australian Government instead plans to kill the Child Dental Benefits Schedule,” the Dental Association said.

It argues that in the two years the scheme has been operating it’s been hitting the mark.

“In just over the two years of the CDBS’ operation, children from low income families have benefited from provision of more than 9.7 million dental treatments; services which they could not otherwise have been able to access,” the Dental Association said.

“No government can legitimately claim it cares about Australian children’s oral health if it denies them dental care because of the lack of means.”
                    [post_title] => Pulling kids dental scheme a kick in the teeth: Dentists
                    [post_excerpt] => Mistake of a generation.
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                    [post_content] => Pills Vitamins Pile Bowl April 23, 2012 2

A revived Coalition plan to outsource archaic in-house payments processing technology at Medicare – and potentially claims processing too – has exploded during heated Senate Estimates hearings after the Department of Health admitted it has been working on a stealth payments outsourcing project now in the market.

Both the Health Department and its Minister Sussan Ley this week confirmed the active scoping of a new, commercially provided payments facility for Medicare, a move that had initially been put to the market in 2014 but then appeared to stall.

Specifics surrounding exactly what kind of payments service or outsourced infrastructure Health is shopping for remain somewhat unclear; but what is now known is that a Request for Quotation was quietly issued to eight consultancies including KPMG, Boston Consulting Group, PWC, Ernst & Young and McKinsey.

The quotes are due on Friday 12th February and a decision is expected by the end of the same month.

However the new deal appears to be separate to the initial request for Expressions of Interest (EoI) for commercial services sent out by former Health Minister Peter Dutton.

It is understood that a number of respondents to the initial EoI have been taken by surprise by the revelations of a restricted approach to market as they are still waiting on a response or feedback from the government.

The use of a ‘Request for Quotation’ mechanism also suggests that the government has settled on at least a basic set of technical specifications rather than the more open-ended EoI process.

Concurrently, Health has now created a so-called digital payments taskforce headed by John Cahill, who took the reins in January and has been allocated $5 million and around 20 departmental staff to get the ball rolling.

The raw political sensitivity surrounding the nascent project being linked to the idea of privatising Medicare is acute. Health Minister Sussan Ley on Tuesday raced out a statement declaring that the Turnbull government “remains committed to Medicare” and was only “investigating ways to digitise its transaction technology for payments to a more consumer-friendly and faster format”.

There is understood to be considerable anger within parts of the Coalition over how the issue has been handled by Health, with one adviser saying it was not the first time a health minister had been “thrown under a bus” and that the Opposition had been handed a gift.

Labor has immediately seized on the revelations as proof the Turnbull government is secretly plotting to privatise the universal public health scheme.

The thrust of the Opposition’s attack centres on why Health has been keeping its digital payments efforts under wraps, going so far as to keep its approach to market out of the normally open publication stream of the Department of Finance’s AusTender system – which would have alerted potentially interested parties to the business opportunity – along with Labor and the unions.

“The Government has been secretly pursuing the plan after a request in late 2014 from former Health Minister Peter Dutton,” said Shadow Human Services Minister Doug Cameron and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King.

“The Turnbull Liberals’ advanced, secret plans to sell off Medicare services could jeopardise the patient data of every Australian and the jobs of 1400 staff at centres all around the country.”

Offshoring health data is political and regulatory strychnine. In July 2014 the Department of Defence tore up a $33 million contract with optical provider Luxottica Retail Australia after it was revealed the company had sent claims data offshore. The risks are real.

A big part of the problem for Ms Ley and the Health Department is that the initial approach to market in 2014 – based on the hardline Commission of Audit – did little to distinguish between buying-in now commoditised electronic payment services (to put money like refunds into bank accounts) and wider Medicare claims processing and assessment.

The cost and cumbersome nature of Medicare’s payments and claims process have been producing headaches for its political masters, stakeholders and industry for least a decade.

Under the Howard government the cost of conducting an over-the-counter refund for a non-bulk billed doctor’s visit was pegged at about $10 – a figure that often equated to as much as 30 per cent for a refund of $30 for a $50 doctor’s bill.

Put more simply, in the worst cases, Medicare has been paying out as much as 30c for each dollar it refunds, whereas commercial payment services normally charge a capped flat fee per transaction plus whatever a bank might layer on top.

Medicare is also no stranger to technology outsourcing. In 2012 the agency finally scrapped a 12 year deal with IBM to maintain its legacy mainframe infrastructure and transferred its systems onto the Department of Human Services’ infrastructure in an effort to consolidate the welfare system’s costly technology base.

A key question surrounding the present fracas over modernising Medicare’s payments systems is why the agency and its parent Health Department now appear to be separating development efforts away from Human Services, which itself is scoping for a core payments technology overhaul estimated by former Treasurer – and inaugural Human Services Minister – Joe Hockey to cost at least $1 billion.

At the end of January Human Services revealed it had recruited the National Australia Bank’s transactions and deposits chief, John Murphy to take on the recently created role of Deputy Secretary in charge of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation Services project.

Given a big part of the policy intention behind Human Services portfolio was to create a more centralised customer experience for welfare recipients, logical cost and structural questions arise out of any new bifurcation.

Another known concern is about Health’s sometimes chequered execution record surrounding technology, especially its management of the repeatedly delayed Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record where problems prompted a near walk out by doctors and the Australian Medical Association.

In the interim, Health Minister Sussan Ley is reaching for the fire extinguisher and insisting – like several Health Ministers before her – that Medicare’s systems need to evolve and become more usable.

“This is why the Department of Health is investigating ways to digitise its transaction technology for payments to a more consumer-friendly and faster format,” Ms Ley said, adding the now obligatory reference to ensuring the government is embracing “innovation and is agile and responsive to changes in the digital economy.”

“This work will be undertaken with the assistance of business innovation and technology experts, to determine the best and most-up-to-date payment technologies available on the market for consumers and health and aged care service providers.”

The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which represent Medicare’s employees, isn’t having a bar of it and immediately accused the government of harbouring “secret plans to privatise Medicare, putting the highly sensitive medical and financial records of all Australians into private hands.”

As the countdown for a pivotal industrial bargaining vote ticks down in Human Services, CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood applied maximum pressure.

“Privatising Medicare payments would mean that when you need to lodge a claim, that personal information would be handled and processed by a private company, with the data possibly being sent overseas," Ms Flood said.

“This privatisation could threaten thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia. It’s privatisation by the back door. It’s the beginning of the end of Medicare as we know it, opening the door to the privatisation of other public services as well.”

The Health Minister responded in kind, branding the offshoring and outsourcing claims as scaremongering that demonstrated “their focus is on politics over patients.”
                    [post_title] => Medicare outsourcing skunkworks explodes into confusion
                    [post_excerpt] => Accusations fly as stealth project outed in Estimates.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19325" align="alignnone" width="287"]8534699243_8c418530d3 Knows what cuts it: Health Minister Sussan Ley.[/caption]

 

A final decision on whether more than $30 billion a year in Medicare benefit claims and payments processing will be outsourced to private industry looks no closer to resolution.

The Department of Health has confirmed it is still mulling over its options despite issuing a heavily publicised call out to commercial providers to submit Expressions of Interest (EOI) in August 2014.

“The EOI process is still with the Department of Health and possible next steps are under consideration,” a Health spokesperson told Government News late last week.

Despite a flurry of initial submissions last year, parts of industry now appear to have heavily tempered any expectation of movement on contracts or pilot projects until at least 2016 because of a new review of the Medical Benefits Scheme and the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme instigated by recently appointed Health Minister Sussan Ley.

After investing almost a year in terms of engagement and bringing the government up to speed, industry is now avidly watching for potential signs that Medicare payments outsourcing push flagged by the Commission of Audit may be headed into political palliative care.

Ms Ley last week revealed a three pronged overhaul of Medicare which closely involves health professionals and is being spearheaded by the creation of a Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Taskforce led by Professor Bruce Robinson, Dean of the Sydney Medical School at University of Sydney.

“Currently, the MBS has more than 5,500 services listed, not all of which reflect contemporary best clinical practice. The MBS Review Taskforce will consider how services can be aligned with contemporary clinical evidence and improve health outcomes for patients, Ms Ley said.

The giant stocktake, which will be led by clinicians, has the clear potential to generate savings which informed speculation has put at up to $3 billion. At the same time the Ms Ley has announced another review of subsidised drugs that make it onto the PBS that could generate savings claimed to potentially be has high as $7 billion.

One well publicised target is the writing of scripts for already cheap over the counter medications like paracetamol where the cost of processing of the script for a retail product can be higher than the price of the medication itself.

The raft of reviews have serious ramifications for any potential suppliers of outsourced Medicare and PBS claims and payment processing because future policy decisions would almost certainly influence the business rules that potential outsourcers would need to build their services on.

It could also dramatically change the business case assumptions for outsourcers, with the Department of Health now clearly keeping an open mind on where that might leave commercial options for both the government and industry.

The most Health will say is that Medicare payments will still be made, although it has remained conspicuously ambiguous over what form these may take.

“The EOI process was to assess the potential and feasibility for commercial payment service providers to support health service payments, and while the outcomes of the Medicare review could change the policies that lead to health service payments, it is anticipated that payments will continue to be processed in some form,” a Health Department spokeswoman said.

The latest reviews which heavily involve clinicians are a far cry from the government’s previous failed efforts to ram through a Medicare co-payment that resulted in a policy backflip, sharp criticism from doctors and ultimately the appointment of the more personable Ms Ley to Health Minister to replace Peter Dutton who has been sent to Immigration and Border Protection.

Selling the Medicare review as a major step forward in restoring productive relations with clinicians and the Australian Medical Association on ABC Radio last week, Ms Ley described Medicare co-payment backflip as “ancient history.”

Another major factor industry is watching is the Department of Human Services’ announcement that it the business case for an overhaul of Centrelink’s ageing mainframe-based payments applications, dubbed ISIS, has been approved.

The approval raises the clear question of whether the government will try and pursue both an in-house build of one key welfare payments engine while trying to get commercial providers for another.

Although Health is formally the custodian of the Medicare and PBS payments system in terms of accountability it has in fact used DHS to make the equivalent of a giant electronic cheque-run for years.

Under the Howard government the cost of manually processing Medicare refund claims over the counter had been estimated to be as high as $10 a transaction, a figure that jarred against costs to well under a dollar for electronic transactions.

Human Services has said planning for the Centrelink overhaul “will begin on 1 July 2015 with the first stage to be completed by the end of 2016.”
                    [post_title] => Payments outsourcing stuck in Medicare waiting room
                    [post_excerpt] => Industry, public service still waiting for answers.
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                    [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_8772" align="alignnone" width="614"]Image: Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government. Image: Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government.[/caption]

The Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has lessons to offer on how elected representatives can stay well on course.

The role of a councillor has always been a challenging one - balancing council rules, policies and procedures with the expectations of constituents who expect high quality service at a reasonable cost.

Contemporary local elected leaders have new and increasing pressures due to the complex nature of councils and the work they do, plus external factors such as changing local government and planning legislations, finance constraints, governance reviews and reform agendas, among others.

The required skills-set of an elected local leader to effectively deal with these challenges is extensive.

A new course for elected members has been designed to help improve this situation in NSW called the Executive Certificate for Elected Members, and was developed with support from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG).

The program is the first of its kind to be based on the new National Skills Package for Elected Members developed by the federal government, and will allow elected councillors a pathway to vocational and tertiary education.

This means that participants of the Executive Certificate in NSW can access further learning with TAFE NSW and the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS).

The course will be piloted in NSW in November with project partners the Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS:CLG), TAFE NSW, and Local Government NSW (LGNSW).

This is a gain for local communities. ACELG Director Roberta Ryan said:

“The course will help elected members to better understand their legislative responsibilities, and build their skills and capacity to have a positive and well informed impact on council decision-making. This will help ensure local governments have the leadership capability required to meet the needs of the community and to create productive, sustainable and inclusive local places for the future.”

A local representative with up to date skills helps ensure that the best interests and expectations of local communities are met, and can instil greater confidence by citizens in local representation as a vocation. This may attract a more diverse array of local government leaders in the future.

Supporting elected members

The successful function of a council depends on councillors not only having the skills to fully understand issues that impact communities, but a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities within the council and in the context of state legislation.

Councils are increasingly becoming large and complex organisations, in some cases, multi-million dollar businesses with large, diverse communities who expect much more from their council than traditional responsibilities of “roads, rates and rubbish”. Some local governments are also becoming principal providers of government services to local communities on behalf of other tiers of government which adds another layer of complexity to the role of elected members.

Yet councillors sometimes have limited or no relevant experience or training before being called on to make critical decisions on infrastructure projects, budgets or important land use planning - to name a few examples.

The development of the Executive Certificate for Elected Members has been a partnership between the UTS:CLG, TAFE NSW, and LGNSW. The initiative has received financial support from ACELG which was established in 2009 with significant support from the Australian government to help local government achieve consistently high standards in leadership and governance, among other goals.

The partnership between the vocational, tertiary education and local government sector is a ‘first’ in Australian education. Local Government NSW Interim Board member Cr Maria Woods (and Portfolio Manager for councillor training at LGNSW) commented:

“This initiative is a wonderful example of a partnership between local government and education bodies. With some development funding from the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government, we worked over the past nine months with the UTS Centre for Local Government and TAFE NSW to develop this unique accredited program for elected members, the first of its kind in local government in NSW.”

National perspective

Along with the local government sector, the Australian Government has supported and recognised the need to diversify and strengthen the quality of local government representation and its workforce generally.

In August, federal Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government and Territories, the Hon. Catherine King released Future-Proofing Local Government: National Workforce Strategy 2013-2020, prepared by ACELG and its partner organisation Local Government Managers Australia. This critical document is currently being implemented in local government jurisdictions around Australia.

The development of the Executive Certificate has also been informed by national and international research by ACELG about how local governments can better perform and address the education and professional development needs of people working in local government, and the needs and issues of elected members in particular.

The ACELG Learning in Local Government project has produced six issues papers focusing on key education and professional development issues for Australian local government - including the potential for e-Learning, the development of better learning pathways in key skills shortage areas, and the need to raise the standard of workforce planning within Australian councils. Other nationally focused research papers by ACELG also inform the course such as Australian Mayors: What Can and Should They Do? and, Political Management in Australian Local Government: Exploring Roles and Relationships Between Mayors and CEOs.

As the Executive Certificate is based on the national elected member skill set it can be adapted to other jurisdictions and with other local government associations and registered training organisations.

On completion of the NSW pilot, discussions will commence with other jurisdictions to identify partners interested in rolling out the program nationally.

The Executive Certificate for Elected Members will be run as a pilot program in NSW through November and December 2013.

Further information can be downloaded from www.lgnsw.org.au
                    [post_title] => Training councillors to become better leaders
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                    [post_content] => 

By Paul Hemsley

Councils across Australia are facing an unprecedented shortfall in replacements for retiring baby boomers with the local government sector cautioning it could soon be up to 60,000 staff short unless new talent is recruited to backfill anticipated departures.

Around one third of the nation’s 200,000 local government employees are now estimated to be more than 50 years-old, a figure that equates to 60,000 employees from the “Baby Boomer” generation that will soon need to be replaced - a situation that presents serious staffing challenges in terms of both imminent retirements and the potential loss of valuable corporate memory.

In terms of scale, the number of local government employees estimated to be aged 50-plus is just below the total workforce of Australia Post, which last tallied its workforce to be around 33,000.

To help stem the brain drain, Federal Minister for Local Government, Catherine King has formally launched a strategy aimed at making councils more attractive workplaces for new recruits as the sector seeks to offset the predicted depletion its ranks.

Known as the National Local Government Workforce Strategy 2013–2020, the paper has been released on behalf of Local Government Managers Australia (LGMA), as a consortium partner of the Australian Centre of Excellence for Local Government (ACELG).

Between them, the organisations are trying to overhaul the image of local government as a workplace by selling councils as more attractive places to work while at the same time addressing the retention of personnel.

Attracting successors for the growing ranks of older employees within the public sector is a serious pressure point for local governments as they try to build sustainable workforces.

A shortfall of suitable staff in the pipeline has the potential to impact service delivery and drive up recruitment costs. Put simply, without action councils could face crisis levels of understaffing where fewer employees have to contend with the extra workloads that the retired workers leave behind them.

One factor that the new workforce strategy tries to address is candidate uncertainty about whether the local government sector is an attractive place to build a career.

Retaining workers in the local government sector is particularly crucial to councils at the moment because of the elevated demand for skilled workers across Australia, a situation that is amplified by the increased burden of service delivery responsibilities that have been shift to councils by other jurisdictions.

Ms King said the latest workforce strategy will build-on and reinforce existing good practices in workforce planning and development and facilitate improvements throughout the sector.

"Local governments are local employers with national reach. This gives them an appealing place in the employment market and allows them to use this unique profile to attract and retain a diverse workforce,” Ms King said.

She said everyone stands to benefit from a stronger local government workforce with improved capability to deliver essential social and community services.

LGMA National President Mark Ferguson called the strategy a “comprehensive” and “consistent” national approach to local government workforce planning and development.

“The strategy addresses this by providing long-term solutions for building diverse and flexible workplaces that draw on local resources to deliver local services,” Mr Ferguson said.

He said the strategy provides for increased investment in skills, improved productivity and the use of technology, maximising leadership and people management skills, and greater integration with the changing political and operational environment in all tiers of government.

“Effective implementation of this strategy will establish councils as the local employer of choice,” he said.

ACELG Chair and former Minister for Local Government Margaret Reynolds said it is not a “one-size-fits-all mandate”, but it is a comprehensive framework and it requires a cooperative effort within local government and between all tiers of government to be effective.

“This requires a rigorous and long-term approach by governments at all levels, and this strategy is a blueprint to achieving this,” Ms Reynolds said.

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By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley

Australia’s 565 councils and shires have been handed their third federal minister for Local Government in as many months on the back of an inevitable reshuffle following the second incarnation of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister.

Member for Ballarat, Catherine King has been elevated into Cabinet under a simplified portfolio of Minister for Regional Australia, Local Government and Territories after being promoted from the cross-portfolio outer ministries of Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories which were lumped together with her duties as Minister for Road Safety.

(Click here for the full Rudd Ministry)

Ms King, reportedly previously a Gillard supporter, replaces now Deputy Prime Minister Anthony Albanese who has added the challenging and complex portfolio of Broadband, Communications and the Digital Economy to his existing role as Transport and Infrastructure minister as well as being the Leader of the House.

Mr Albanese most recently took on the Regional Development and Local Government portfolio after veteran Labor minister Simon Crean quit the post for the backbench after he instigated an abortive and damaging spill that failed to produce a leadership challenge.

Although not fortuitous for Mr Crean – who has announced his retirement from Parliament - the Labor elder’s removal from the front bench acted to propel Ms King to a full minister after serving in Parliamentary Secretary roles.

With only a short time until the election, Ms King’s has taken over ministerial duties at a highly volatile period in local government as councils across Australia anxiously attempt to keep the prospect of referendum on financial recognition in the Constitution alive without certainty of an election date.

The fortunes of the referendum being held at are directly dependent on the naming of the date because of the relatively small window of time allowed for in enabling legislation for the poll - with an early election almost certainly ending any prospect of a popular vote on direct funding for councils.

"Our advice has been that a referendum would have to be held no sooner than two months after the passing of the Constitution Alteration Bill in the Senate and no later than six months,” said Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) president Felicity-ann Lewis.

However just a week prior to resuming Prime Ministerial duties, Mr Rudd told Government News through a spokesman that the then back-bencher “supports the government’s work to bring this [the referendum] to the Australian people”.

The spokesperson said “Mr Rudd is proud of the increased engagement with local government that has occurred under this government including vital partnerships to build community infrastructure and save jobs during the Global Financial Crisis.”

So far ALGA has welcomed Mr Rudd's “acknowledgment that the referendum for Constitutional recognition of local government will be one of the main factors considered in any decision regarding the date of the 2013 federal election.”

But the other “main factor” that is more likely to ultimately influence the poll date is which day the government reckons will maximise its electoral chances, regardless of the referendum.

The question that councils and shires are now necessarily asking is how long they will have to wait to find out whether or not they can start spending $10 million in federal money freed-up for the ‘vote yes’ campaign along with a matching amount in the form of a campaign war chest mustered by ALGA.

“The timeframe for passing the referendum legislation was very tight to allow the Government to meet the 14 September election date and moving the date forward may create administrative problems around the referendum date which cannot be resolved," ALGA President Felicity-ann Lewis said.

"Australians should have the right to vote at a referendum to include local government in the Constitution and ensure the continuation of direct, federal funding for community infrastructure and services.

But many of those in the Liberal Party beg to differ after they staged a Senate mini-rebellion and walkout that not only broke with the Coalition’s stated position of support for the referendum, but prompted Opposition Leader Tony Abbott to concede that no action would be taken against objectors.

On the night of the leadership change former Howard Government Industrial Relations minister Peter Reith took to Twitter to pan the referendum’s chances of being held.

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By Julian Bajkowski

Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rewarded Anthony Albanese, one of the key protagonists in the attempt to unseat her, with the Local Government and Regional Development portfolio as fresh uncertainty over the prospect of a referendum to guarantee federal funding for councils grows.

In an announcement on Monday, Ms Gillard said that Mr Albanese had been promoted to take on the “the critical role of Minister for Regional Development and Local Government, taking over the work done by Minister Crean across regional Australia since the 2010 election.”

While Mr Albanese’s appointment delivers a minister with undoubted competency, it has done so by lumping in Mr Crean’s former ministries into a new mega-portfolio that will have to be integrated in the six months immediately prior to the September 14th election.

Mr Albanese is already very well known to the local government sector having served as Minister for Local Government from 2007 to 2010.

The question of whether Mr Albanese will pursue Constitutional change through a referendum on financial recognition for local government has become the central question for local government groups that immediately welcomed the new minister’s appointment.

Australian Local Government Association (ALGA) President, Felicity-ann Lewis said she would be seeking a meeting with Mr Albanese as soon as possible.

"It is important that we meet with Minister Albanese as soon as possible to discuss the current priorities facing the local government sector, including the constitutional recognition of local government," Mayor Lewis said.

"Having worked as Minister for Local Government previously, we hope that Minister Albanese will be able to take forward the case for constitutional recognition of local government."

A specific diary item that ALGA is chasing from Mr Albanese is an urgent meeting of state and territory local government ministers organised by Mr Crean and scheduled for the 4th April to 5th April in Hobart called to thrash out details and work on planning for a 2013 referendum on financial recognition.

“We are keen to find out if this meeting is still able to go ahead under Minister Albanese," Ms Lewis said.

Ms Lewis also welcomed the appointment of Catherine King as Minister for Regional Services, Local Communities and Territories and Road Safety.

“ALGA has worked closely with Ms King on road safety issues in the past and we look forward to engaging with her in her new role," Ms Lewis said.

[post_title] => Albo returns to Local Government [post_excerpt] => [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => albo-returns-to-local-government [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2014-02-11 13:12:48 [post_modified_gmt] => 2014-02-11 02:12:48 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 7 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23582 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-04-11 16:41:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-11 06:41:26 [post_content] => P1010247   Australia’s dentists have mauled what they fear is a looming shutdown of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS), warning the program’s closure “will be the biggest setback for oral health in a generation.” Peak body the Australian Dental Association has gone on the attack over uncertainty surrounding the scheme’s future funding in the run-up to the May 3rd Federal Budget, cautioning any rollback will come just as the subsidy program is starting to have an impact. The CDBS is targeted at around 3.4 million children from lower income backgrounds and provides funding for families of $1,000 in dental treatment every two years. Its core purpose is to get kids whose parents would otherwise struggle to pay a dentist’s bill turning-up to surgeries to get dental problems, especially decay and cavities, treated much earlier and before they develop into major issues that can cost thousands of dollars to fix. However with the scheme’s take-up initially lower than estimated, there are fears the cash will be snatched back and repurposed, leading to long terms negative consequences. As Australian kids gulp down big volumes high sugar soft drinks, dentists say cutting the CDBS isn’t just inviting a disaster, it bucks a wider international health policy push to control excess sugar consumption by using taxes to send a price signal. “Australia is one of the top 10 countries for high levels of per capita consumption of soft drink where a third of Australians drink a can a day and almost half of children (47 per cent) aged between two and 16 years, drink sugar-sweetened beverages each day. This means that if such habits continue, Australians stand to develop a multitude of health problems in the future,” the ADA said in its statement. “In spite of the increasing trend of government to support public health, the Australian Government is rushing to get some election year Budget savings by planning to end the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.” One challenge the Child Dental Benefits Schedule has encountered is that although the program is hitting its mark in terms of targeting, take-up remains lower than estimated thanks to a combination of under-marketing and poor awareness of how to access the scheme. Dentists say they want a voucher system introduced to replace the present standard form letter from Medicare so that people better understand that they’re entitled to free treatment. While a voucher system is potentially more expensive to devise, deliver and administer than present bulk billing arrangements, many believe it would be worth implementing to maximise take-up. A real risk for schemes and programs that underspend is that sooner or later Treasury and the government’s bean counters will seek to claw back the cash and put it to work elsewhere—precisely what the ADA is trying to avoid. It is understood Health a primary concern of Minister Sussan Ley’s office is that uptake of the CDBS has only been around 30 per cent of eligible recipients. While the Health Minister is certainly talking-up the long term benefits of early dental intervention, any conspicuous commitment to retaining the CDBS appears to have been shoved under the Budget cone of silence. “The Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure every dollar it invests in dental services delivers the best health outcomes possible,” a spokesman for Ms Ley said. “We also know that tackling dental health issues early is vital and can alleviate more significant problems and expense later in life. The Turnbull Government continues to work on its previously announced dental health reforms, with more details expected in coming weeks.” However Labor’s Shadow health Minister, Catherine King, is accusing the Turnbull government of purposefully burying the scheme she says Labor first put in place. “The government's own report confirms Labor's dental scheme is a success,” Ms King told Government News. “It shows the scheme has been providing dental devices to the kids who need it most but the Turnbull government is deliberately hiding this, denying millions of kids the chance to get their teeth fixed.” One obvious policy option both major parties will be cautiously observing is the rollout of taxes and levies on sugary drinks overseas to combat obesity and diabetes – a far tougher public policy sell in a sugar exporting economy like Australia. Dentists, who frequently go into bat against sugar marketers, are happy to point out how domestic policy contrasts and link it back to the kids’ dental program. “While the United Kingdom is protecting oral health by announcing its sugar tax, the Australian Government instead plans to kill the Child Dental Benefits Schedule,” the Dental Association said. It argues that in the two years the scheme has been operating it’s been hitting the mark. “In just over the two years of the CDBS’ operation, children from low income families have benefited from provision of more than 9.7 million dental treatments; services which they could not otherwise have been able to access,” the Dental Association said. “No government can legitimately claim it cares about Australian children’s oral health if it denies them dental care because of the lack of means.” [post_title] => Pulling kids dental scheme a kick in the teeth: Dentists [post_excerpt] => Mistake of a generation. 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catherine-king

catherine-king

Training councillors to become better leaders

The Centre for Local Government at the University of Technology, Sydney (UTS) has lessons to offer on how elected representatives can stay well on course. The role of a councillor has always been a challenging one – balancing council rules, policies and procedures with the expectations of constituents who expect high quality service at a […]

Local governments could be 60,000 workers short

By Paul Hemsley Councils across Australia are facing an unprecedented shortfall in replacements for retiring baby boomers with the local government sector cautioning it could soon be up to 60,000 staff short unless new talent is recruited to backfill anticipated departures. Around one third of the nation’s 200,000 local government employees are now estimated to […]

Referendum teeters as Rudd makes King latest Local Government Minister

By Julian Bajkowski and Paul Hemsley Australia’s 565 councils and shires have been handed their third federal minister for Local Government in as many months on the back of an inevitable reshuffle following the second incarnation of Kevin Rudd as Prime Minister. Member for Ballarat, Catherine King has been elevated into Cabinet under a simplified […]

Albo returns to Local Government

By Julian Bajkowski Prime Minister Julia Gillard has rewarded Anthony Albanese, one of the key protagonists in the attempt to unseat her, with the Local Government and Regional Development portfolio as fresh uncertainty over the prospect of a referendum to guarantee federal funding for councils grows. In an announcement on Monday, Ms Gillard said that […]