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Wednesday, 16 June 2010
Page: 5543


Ms REA (3:15 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. How is the government providing more choice and information for women and families in maternity care—

Opposition members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! There was too much interjection. I am not sure what was being said but it was not helpful at all. The member for Bonner has the call. She should be allowed to ask the question in silence.


Ms REA —Thank you, Mr Speaker. My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. How is the government providing more choice and information for women and families in maternity care and are there any threats to this policy approach?


Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Bonner for that question because there is good news for expectant mothers and their families in the reforms that the Rudd government is introducing. I must say I think that the member for Dobell’s baby and partner are in the audience. Perhaps particularly baby Matilda might be interested in this answer. I did not know that they would be there when we were preparing our question. There is good news because the package of maternity reforms that are starting to come on line do offer many more choices for women and their families if they are expecting children to make sure that women can access high-quality, safe maternity care as well as providing support for our talented midwives. We have introduced a package of services to provide new and innovative options for thousands of Australian women and their families—improved Medicare rebates for doctors, historic recognition for midwives and a new insurance product to ensure appropriate professional protection.

Members might recall that earlier this year the government passed reforms in this House providing MBS and PBS access to midwives and nurse practitioners, the first expansion of front-line access to a new professional group in the last 25 years. When this reform takes effect on 1 November this year it will expand choices for women and reduce financial pressure on those who choose midwifery care in the community. I also wanted to bring to the attention of the House that our $120 million package also includes the government establishing a new government supported professional indemnity scheme for eligible midwives. This insurance product is now available for sale and its coverage will commence on 1 July.

Something that the House has not had reported to it to date is another initiative starting on 1 July—an expanded and improved pregnancy, birth and baby hotline. This new expanded helpline will provide more comprehensive care and advice and information to women during pregnancy on any concerns they might have with the demands of a new baby, including maternal nutrition, breastfeeding, a baby’s development and sleeping habits. An estimated 180,000 women and their families are expected to access this new helpline. Although the Leader of the Opposition has been talking through most of this answer, I think even he will be pleased to know that funding will be provided to SIDS and Kids, PANDA, SANDS and Bonnie Babes Foundation to provide referral services and peer support for those mums experiencing, for example, perinatal depression or grief through miscarriage or stillbirth. This helpline will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week and will offer non-directive, non-denominational professional advice.


Mr Dutton interjecting


Ms ROXON —The member for Dickson is forgetting that a promise made in an election campaign by the Liberal Party without funding and not during his time of government does not count as a commitment that they ever delivered. It is our government delivering funding to SIDS and Kids, PANDA and Bonnie Babes and he is quite determined to misrepresent this new announcement and new service, something that they should be ashamed that they never provided.

What we want to do is offer help to new mums during what can be a very exciting time but can also sometimes be difficult and confusing. We want to provide help and information and choice to women, not give them a lecture. This is in stark contrast to the complete failure of the Leader of the Opposition’s own baby and that was the National Pregnancy Support Helpline. Mr Abbott’s pregnancy helpline was one of the few decisions that he actually made to expand health services as a health minister. The only problem was he allowed his personal beliefs to interfere and get in the way of providing completely accessible and non-judgmental public services. Since $13.3 million was put into the helpline from May 2007, it has received just 5,500 calls. That is five calls a day over three years at a cost of more than $2,000 per call. No wonder women did not call this hotline of the Leader of the Opposition, it could not give women information about depression, breastfeeding and family planning. It could only counsel options of what was available but not provide any information beyond that, forcing callers sometimes to go to Google or the Yellow Pages if they wanted to make contact with any other service provider or information service.

The reason for those problems is that Mr Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, does not live in the real world or understand the information that many women and girls might want and need. Unfortunately, he has a record of judging women through his own extreme views. He jokes about women and their ironing. He is on the record as saying that he is dead against paid maternity leave. And he used his position as the health minister to make it hard for women to get information and support, failing to understand the trauma, grief and outright dilemmas that many women experience.


Mr Briggs —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order on relevance. A big personal attack cannot be relevant.


The SPEAKER —The member for Mayo will resume his seat. The minister has the call.


Ms ROXON —Let us be honest: if this discussion was just about personal views, it is entirely a matter for the Leader of the Opposition. But when your personal views interfere with the national policies that you make then it is a problem. This help line will provide real help and real services for women. We are proud that we are not letting our personal or extreme views interfere with the policies that are being supported. Women need and want this service. We are pleased to provide it. It will be a valuable service. It will stand in stark contrast to the service provided by the Leader of the Opposition, who wanted to deny information and support to women at times when they needed it.