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Abbott Govt starts to wield the scalpel

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Department of Health secretary Jane Halton has admitted that “hundreds” of jobs will go amid signs the Abbott Government is eyeing off major spending cuts in health, including the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.
Appearing before a Senate Estimates hearing on 20 November, Ms Halton dismissed media speculation that her department was set to shed 350 jobs, instead intimating that the final number of positions cut could well be more.
“It will undoubtedly be in the hundreds,” she said. “There is no doubt about that. It is not in the thousands, and it is not below 100.
“Will it be precisely 350, as The Canberra Times and various other people have claimed? I think the answer to that is no.
“Will it be that order of magnitude? I think it is very difficult to say, other than within a range.”
Earlier, a senior Health official admitted the Department was in “some state of structural flux”, and was still determining where to allocate staff and identify redundant positions.
But the official denied there would be any forced redundancies.
A number of agencies have come under close scrutiny from the new Government, which has launched reviews of Medicare Locals and the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, and is believed to be looking closely at the operations of Health Workforce Australia and the National Health Performance Authority.
Apprehension of severe cuts in the health sector has been heightened by the Government’s shock decision last week to immediately axe all funding to the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council of Australia – just seven months after it had been given a written assurance its funding was secure until July 2015.
The Commission of Audit, appointed by the Government to identify savings, has raised the prospect of cuts to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, according to The Australian, warning that subsidies for some medicines may become unaffordable in the longer term.
In a pointer to where it is looking for saving, the Commission has in recent held discussions about health funding, the PBS, the National Disability Insurance Scheme and school funding, The Australian said.
Health Minister Peter Dutton has repeatedly assured the health sector that the overall health budget will not be cut, though funds were likely to be reallocated in line with the Government’s policy priorities.
But confidence in these assurances has been tested after the Government appeared to walk away from its pre-election commitment to implement the Gonski reforms to school education.
Adrian Rollins