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Monday, 23 February 2009
Page: 1503

Mr RIPOLL (9:07 PM) —This is a very important motion, but I am afraid that justice has not been done to it in this chamber tonight. As much as I respect the member for Farrer, I do take issue with the criticism from the opposition that the Labor Party has not lived the life of the bush, does not represent rural communities and only represents the urban areas. I do not agree with that, but even if it were true—and it is not—this government’s record will prove that we have done more in the area of rural and regional health in 12 months than the former government did in 12 years. The reality is that those from the opposition who represent those areas have been very good at driving political agendas but very bad at driving dollars and funding for health into regional and rural communities over a very long period of time. If I can recall the Howard years for any one great thing it is the practice of cutting funding to health, whether it was in urban, rural or regional areas.

What we need now is change. We need a government that is prepared to work in partnership with the states, not just blame them and take money away from critical and vital areas. Unfortunately, this motion does very little to put any of that on the record. The motion talks about supporting the long-tern viability of regional and rural medical practices and hospitals—and we ought to do that—but very little evidence has been provided of any action in that area over the past decade. The motion also notes the concern at the failure of state governments to provide adequate health services. But, if that is the view of those opposite, why did the Howard government stand idly by while this took place?

The motion talks about the Royal Flying Doctor Service, but opposition members failed to actually mention it in their speeches. That shows what little regard they place upon the great services provided by that organisation. The motion also calls on the Australian government to eliminate inequality in healthcare services, and so the Australian government should work to eliminate inequalities—inequalities that have stood in place for many years and decades. But it will actually take a government that is prepared to put funding on the table and work with the states and local and regional communities to make that happen. You cannot just talk about it. The difference is that this government, the Rudd government, has been prepared to commit $64.4 billion to the states and territories and it has further committed $1.1 billion for doctor training in those communities to make sure that what is contained in this motion can actually be delivered. Otherwise, they are just hollow words; they are just words in a motion that are politicised and designed to draw attention and blame somebody else for what, in the end, is a collective problem and an issue for all of us in this place.

This should not be a debate about who is responsible, because we are all responsible. The opposition, and perhaps the shadow minister for health, would do themselves a great service today if they took a very close look at the words contained in this motion and actually decided to act in partnership with the government, the states and rural and regional communities. Perhaps if those members elected to those areas and who, allegedly, care about these issues could see what positive plans can be brought forward then they could assist this government in actually delivering that funding and they could support us in this place when we try to make a difference. Health to me is a little bit like infrastructure—if you do not continually maintain it and invest in it every year, eventually it falls apart and gets to a state of disrepair that makes it exceptionally difficult to fix. That is the situation we face today. We will fix infrastructure and we will fix health as well.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. Peter Slipper)—Order! The time allotted for this debate has expired. The debate is adjourned and the resumption of the debate will be made an order of the day for the next sitting. The honourable member will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.