New Health Minister Lawrence Springborg. Photo: Daniel Hurst
Queensland Health grants to a raft of community groups could be on the chopping block as the new government looks for ways to find savings.
In an interview with brisbanetimes.com.au, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg said he would go through the grants handed out by Queensland Health “with a fine-tooth comb”.
“That's something which is very, very important because I think there are savings to be made there,” he said, while insisting legitimate groups had nothing to fear.
Queensland Health's latest annual report shows the department handed out $907 million last financial year to a range of groups, including foundations, health service providers, charities, government agencies and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander corporations.
The 11-page list of funded organisations shows beneficiaries in 2010/11 included the Alcohol and Drug Foundation Queensland ($3.36 million), Children by Choice Association ($382,000), Family Planning Queensland ($5.8 million), Hear and Say Centre ($2.8 million), Playgroup Association of Queensland ($141,000), Tai Chi for Busy People ($6000) and many other groups.
While big funding recipients included Mater Misericordiae Health Services Brisbane ($466 million) and the National Blood Authority ($82 million), there were numerous organisations on the list that received smaller grants.
Mr Springborg yesterday would not disclose which groups he had in mind for grant funding cuts, except to say many organisations would be safe from the axe.
“Well, if you're a legitimate group, you've got nothing to fear,” he said.
“If what you're doing is tying in with the values of better quality health care in Queensland, not just a favourite Labor organisation, then that's fine.
“We're working through that at the moment and we'll probably hear some more in the not-too-distant future with regards to that.”
Premier Campbell Newman has written to each minister outlining their responsibilities.
One of the items on Mr Springborg's ministerial charter is to identify wasteful expenditure that can be redirected to frontline services.
Mr Springborg said he would be following through on the government-wide push to cut spending on non-essential travel and work done by external consultants.
He argued such directives could potentially save the department “millions of dollars” each year.
“I think we've got to trust in our in-house ability to be able to do things too that consultants have done in the past,” he said.
“We actually have that ability, cause what I've seen for myself is a lot of the information that we actually have here is very good information, but you give it to a consultant then to give it an external credibility and I think we've got to start trusting in some of our own [capacity].
“We've got to have a culture of openness. We've got to be able to get to the nub of the argument when it comes to information we need and get people to actually start to have confidence in Queensland Health.
“At the moment I think there's this fundamental lack of confidence publicly, so you doubt yourself internally, so then you start to use external agencies that cost millions, tens of millions of dollars a year.”
Mr Springborg said the department needed to improve its culture of accountability to ensure money did not go astray.
“We've seen that with regards to some of the fraud issues of recent times, we've relied upon whistleblowers to actually tell us what's going on, rather than line managers who were delving deeply to look at the way that money was being spent and used in the department,” he said.
The former Bligh government was embarrassed last year by allegations that former Queensland Health employee Hohepa Morehu-Barlow, who pretended to friends he was a member of the Tahitian royal family, embezzled more than $16 million from the department.
Mr Springborg said the auditor-general had been called in to strengthen processes within the department.
“Because I think that there has been a significant amount of money that has been lost to this organisation as a consequence [of inadequate processes],” he said.
“I don't think we really know how much, frankly, because we're relying on whistleblowers to tell us, because audits aren't finding this.”
Mr Springborg said the department should always be on the lookout for efficiencies and ways of reducing duplication.
“We're going to get more good results for the money that we spend,” he said.
Later: Lawrence Springborg feature ... The father of the LNP explains how he will tackle the health role and vows to prove his doubters wrong. Full story to be published on brisbanetimes.com.au at lunch time today.