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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6106


Ms KING (3:23 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. How is the government increasing support services for Australian mothers and their babies and are there any threats to this approach?


Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Ballarat for her question. I know she has always taken a keen interest in the services that the government is instigating to support women in her electorate. I am sure that all of the House would be pleased in noting that yesterday we announced the new pregnancy, birth and baby helpline, which will be available from 1 July, 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to provide support to people who are considering pregnancy, who are in the middle of their pregnancy and wanting advice and support and who have recently had children and might want advice about the early weeks and months of a baby’s life. The independent charitable organisation the Royal District Nursing Service is going to be running this service, offering information and counselling on a wide spectrum of topics relating to pregnancy, birthing and the life of the new baby, including issues such as nutrition for mothers and babies, breastfeeding, relationship support and healthcare options.

One of the things that we get asked in the community all the time is: what are the things that you are proud of as a government? What is making a difference to what you are doing as a government? I can say today that I am very proud that, for any young couple around the country who might be deciding today that they want to start a family, the range of supports available because of the actions of this government are far more extensive than those that were available when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister in the previous government. This expanded helpline, which will provide real advice, real counselling and referral through to services with particular expertise, was something that was not available when the Leader of the Opposition was the previous health minister. If a young couple are deciding to start a family they will be able to talk about the choice of care they want during the pregnancy. Whether they want to see a midwife in the community and get a Medicare rebatable payment for that or whether they want to see their GP, an obstetrician or perhaps a combination of all of those, that is now going to be available under our changes—something that was not available when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister.

My colleague Minister Macklin has already mentioned paid parental leave. Anyone who is getting pregnant and starting a family now will know that by the time they are having their baby they will have an option to receive paid parental leave to support them financially during the early days of a new baby’s life.

We can also be confident that people who are discussing whether they want to have children in the future will know that they will be protected if their new status as a parent requires them on occasion to be late to work or to have flexibility in their hours. Instead of having the fearful situation they had under Work Choices, where they could be threatened with dismissal for not being able to turn up, this is something that will be protected by the changes that were introduced by the Deputy Prime Minister.

On top of this we now have 24-hour support for breastfeeding services—something that was not available under the previous government. A non-government organisation that was struggling to make ends meet, with women who provided the service having to pay for the calls themselves to ring someone back who needed support, is now funded by this government—something that the Leader of the Opposition did not support when he was the health minister.

We have also introduced a perinatal depression support service. We know that a great number of women are affected by depression during their pregnancy and in the early years of the child’s life. It is a serious problem and one that needed a coordinated and serious response, and we are very proud that that service is now up and running.

Of course, we could go through the years of the child’s life and look at the increase to the childcare rebate or at the 15 hours of preschool care. All of these things were not available when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister and a senior member of the government—because the Leader of the Opposition did not believe in providing this sort of support to working families at times when they were making a decision whether or not they would have children. We are very proud of this record. Unfortunately, because the Leader of the Opposition let his personal views get in the way of good policy, that was something that he never supported.

Opposition members interjecting—


Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.


The SPEAKER —Order! First of all, has the minister for health concluded? The minister has concluded. The member for Menzies.


Mr Andrews —Mr Speaker, there should be no place for this foul sectarian attack we get from this minister in this place.

Honourable members interjecting—


The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Menzies will resume his seat. That is not the way to handle it.