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Thursday, 22 October 2009
Page: 10798

Mr TREVOR (10:56 AM) —Today I wish to support the government’s Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2009. In speaking on this bill, I would like to make note of the important preventive health initiatives, including the important role that community and supporting infrastructure can play in preventive health, particularly in rural and regional Australia. Health is a serious issue in my electorate of Flynn. People are tired of the blame game and they just want an outcome. At the inaugural meeting of the Prime Minister’s country task force, which I chair, we heard in no uncertain terms that health was the No. 1 issue concerning the local Longreach community, situated in the western part of Flynn. This is a concern that is echoed in my home town of Gladstone in Central Queensland, where many local residents have campaigned tirelessly over many years for better local health care services, including proper cancer treatment services in their own home town. These local crusaders have my full support and conviction on this matter and I call on the Queensland state government to further assist them.

I was pleased to have recently been able to host the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery, the Hon. Warren Snowdon, for a public health forum held in my home town of Gladstone. The minister heard the same story that day, among many others. The public forum allowed Gladstone and district communities to have direct input into the future direction and structure of our healthcare system and to comment directly to the minister on the government’s National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s report. As their local federal member, I was pleased that local residents from various walks of life—from health care professionals to patients—were able to attend and contribute to this forum, giving a true 360-degree picture of our current healthcare system in Gladstone. Today I would like to thank the honourable Minister Snowdon and all those who attended for their participation in this important discussion concerning the national interest—that is, health. I know that the minister left Gladstone with a much clearer picture of our local healthcare system, its faults and its problems and our future healthcare needs.

If it is the case that our health is the most important issue to us all then it is only logical that, as a government, we take steps to protect people’s health. It is after all, as I have always said privately and publicly, the most important asset that we will ever have. To protect people’s health, the Rudd government has a focus on preventive health measures and I am proud to see this bill in this parliament to establish Australia’s first national preventative health agency. This focus on preventative health measures has been a key recommendation from several expert bodies, including in the Preventative Health Taskforce, the National Health and Hospital Reform Commission and the External Reference Group on primary health care through the Department of Health and Ageing. I would like to thank all of these bodies for their advice to government on this matter.

Preventative health is, of course, about preventing chronic diseases. It is about managing our health and our lifestyle in a way that may avoid such serious chronic diseases, including but not limited to diabetes, cardiovascular disease and certain forms of cancer. If one were to visit almost any hospital in any town in Australia, one could quickly see the painful suffering that chronic diseases can bring to the lives of ordinary Australians and their families. One would quickly witness patients along with their families suffering from emphysema, heart disease, lung cancer or complications caused by diabetes, just to name a few. In many of these cases, these chronic diseases and the suffering that comes along with them may have been prevented by better awareness and education on the dangers of modern life, including obesity, alcohol, drugs and tobacco use. Chronic diseases can take an emotional toll on our families and our communities, but there is also an economic toll, with recent estimates that obesity, alcohol and tobacco cost our economy over $31 billion every year when we take into account crime, lost productivity and the burden that they place on our health system.

Up to 70 per cent of our healthcare budget is taken up by treating chronic diseases, many of which are preventable, while currently only two per cent of health expenditure is targeted at preventative health measures. These numbers show that there is a clear need to act towards preventative health and that there are clear advantages in taking action on preventative health. As the old saying goes, ‘An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.’ I am pleased to be a member of a government of action, and this bill before us today acts to create the Australian National Preventative Health Agency. This agency will be a vital weapon we can use to combat the ever-complex and challenging nature of chronic diseases and preventative health in this country. Run by a CEO, the agency will consist of an advisory council of between seven and 11 members, offering expertise from a diverse range of health fields and sectors. It is proposed that the agency will be up and running from 1 January 2010. To ensure the Australian National Preventative Health Agency has sufficient resources, funding of $133.2 million has been allocated over four years, with $102 million of this to be focused on national level social marketing campaigns targeting obesity and smoking.

I am pleased that a significant part of the agency’s resources will be used on social marketing campaigns. We only need to look at the success of anti-drink-driving campaigns over the past decade on shifting community attitudes with drink driving now considered by many as the most unacceptable and antisocial of actions, even if one is not caught. Equally important will be the agency’s role in providing evidence based advice to government on key preventative health measures. This agency will offer long overdue national leadership and coordination on preventative health strategies. The Australian National Preventative Health Agency will be a key driver as we attempt to change certain behaviours through education, promotion and community awareness, all of which will be backed by the latest research and evidence to ensure their effectiveness.

There are already some community and health groups that are stepping up to the challenge of tackling preventative health. I am pleased to see that this bill proposes that the agency can provide financial assistance or grants to third parties to support research and interventions. Perhaps the most important role of the Australian National Preventative Health Agency will be its biennial report on the state of preventative health in this country so that we can ensure that we are on track and that preventative health strategies are indeed working.

The National Preventive Health Agency is just one avenue that the Rudd Labor government is using to help encourage healthier choices and promote the benefits of a healthier lifestyle in our communities. Already, we have the Healthy Kids Check, a new health service this government introduced to ensure that every four-year-old Australian is healthy, fit and ready to learn when they start school. The Healthy Kids Check is also a tool to promote a healthy lifestyle to both the child and their parents, and comes with its own resource, Get Set 4 Life, which ensures that the healthy living message continues well after the initial consultation. I encourage all families in my electorate of Flynn to take advantage of this service.

Another tool in our preventative health campaign is the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program. This is a fascinating and unique program where the government provides funding to local state primary schools to grow, harvest and cook their own food, teaching our students a valuable lesson about healthy food and helping to understand better the relationship between food and the table. The Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program is currently underway at one of the primary schools in my electorate of Flynn. I make special mention of the dedicated staff and students of Rosedale State School for their commitment and great work to date in running this program. I congratulate them for this week being awarded an Order of Australia Primary Schools Citizenship Award, recognising their efforts and innovations in running the Stephanie Alexander Kitchen Garden program.

I also congratulate the Wondai State School—its teachers, students and parents—in the southern part of my electorate, together with their partner BIEDO—the Burnett Inland Economic Development Organisation. Together, and in partnership, they recently won a National Australia Bank award through the Schools First program. The school had a number of concerns, including students with poor eating habits, a lack of knowledge about how to obtain or make healthy foods, a lack of energy and engagement in class, and associated behavioural issues. The program involved a partner assisting students with garden design, choosing plants, teaching students permaculture principles, organising excursions, developing community links, organising working bees and sourcing grant opportunities. Students at Wondai work in the garden planting, growing, harvesting, cooking and eating. They attend working bees, care for chooks and lead an environmental action group. Teachers, parents and community members have also been heavily involved. I congratulate them all, including the National Australia Bank. The Wondai State School is an example to all Australian schools that good outcomes, including a better outcome for health, can be achieved by these programs.

Preventative health is not only about education, healthy eating and healthy choices. It is also about encouraging members of our community to be more active and to enjoy our great outdoors. I am pleased to be part of a government that recognises this fact and is a government committed to health. We have been able to make real inroads into providing better health and community infrastructure throughout Flynn, encouraging residents to be active. In Longreach, in the west, the Rudd government has contributed to new walking tracks and paths. In Emerald we are funding a BMX track and an upgrade to McIndoe Park. In Blackwater the Rudd government is providing $1 million to upgrade the town’s aquatic centre. In Gladstone the Rudd Labor government has committed $200,000 worth of funding to upgrade the local hockey fields. The Gladstone Regional Council and the Gladstone Hockey Association are both contributing to this worthy, healthy project but, despite this, we are still falling short on the total funds required to complete this project. I call on the Queensland state government and big business to come to the table and contribute to getting this project up and running for the health, wellbeing and advancement of our local children.

Building healthier communities takes a great deal of effort and resources, and by attacking the problem from many sides we can expect to see real results. The President of the Public Health Association has said that the National Preventive Health Agency represents:

… a massive step forward in improving health and lives of all Australians.

He said further:

Moves such as this will make Australia the international leader in promoting health and preventing disease.

I firmly believe that this is where Australia belongs, as an international leader in preventing disease. That is why I support the Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2009, and I commend it to the House.