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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3582


Mr HAYES (11:32 AM) —There is one thing that can be said about the electorate’s attitude to health and hospitals, and that is that it does need to be improved. Regardless of the position of the member for Canning, whom I have a lot of respect for in this House, I have to say he gilded the lily when he tried to advance the argument that everything is well in health and hospitals in his own state. Perhaps he should start looking at the statistics.

Since the Labor government announced its plans for a health and hospital network, I have had the opportunity to be out there campaigning, doing what most local members do, such as holding street meetings. One of the hottest topics at street meetings, when people come up to mobile offices, is health and hospitals. It is not surprising. I live in an area with plenty of families. If you ask any parent what is important to them, it is the health system. My constituents want me to know that they are not content with the current arrangements. Going to emergency services in the local hospital at either Liverpool or Fairfield to find you are waiting for hours, not having after-hours healthcare facilities when they need it—these are the things that mums and dads talk about. And it is not just me. Let’s face it: everyone who goes out and consults with their constituents knows that that is the truth.

The fact is that people are generally happy that, for the first time, a government has come out and said: ‘We are going to make a major investment in the health and hospital system. We are going to invest in training more doctors.’ You know what the record of those opposite was when it came to doctor training. They actually slashed it in half when they had a chance to do something about it. We are doing something about disproportionately advancing the number of trained nurses in this country and ensuring that our local experts have a greater say in the way hospitals are run. This is not about setting up some situation of quasi-local boards and all the rest of it; this is about making sure that our medical professionals and practitioners in the field have a say in the way medical resources are distributed within their sphere of influence.

I would have thought that was something the other side would want to take some pride in as well. Do not forget that it was not all that long ago that the current Leader of the Opposition was the health minister. He actually championed this position in this place. He went out on a limb to say that the federal government should take over hospital funding. They wanted greater control of that. It is a pity he could not control that in his party room, but that is not surprising, I suppose. The thing is that this was an initiative that Tony Abbott at one stage wanted to take credit for within his own party. I have to say, they have done many spellbinding backflips over on that side of the House, but this is really one that must be looked at in the cold light of day. People just cannot come into this place, have a position and then completely turn 180 degrees from it—unless you want to believe that we are all a bunch of politicians and it is all about garnering a vote. I would not want to say that that is the spirit of everyone in this place. I know winning elections is important, but maybe following your beliefs should trump that notion.

The Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010 implements the financial details needed to ensure that the government can get on with the necessary business of improving health and delivering the government’s health reform program. I will go into some detail about that, but firstly I would like to take a little bit of time to talk about something that is pretty special in my electorate at the moment because the government has just called for tenders for the new $15 million GP superclinic at Liverpool. Liverpool Hospital is certainly a fantastic resource that we have. It is currently being expanded at a rate of knots. I have one of my sons working on that, so I get to see a fair bit and hear about the construction on that site. When completed it will be the biggest hospital in the Southern Hemisphere. But—and wouldn’t you know it?—one of the bottlenecks at that hospital is the issue of access to its emergency clinics. One of the reasons why I personally lobbied for a GP superclinic in this area, notwithstanding the fact that we have this huge hospital being extended, is to do with the fact that in the south-west of Sydney we need to take the pressure off hospitals, such as Liverpool and Fairfield, and this is one way of doing it.

According to the latest statistics from the Primary Health Care Research and Information Service, the Liverpool and Fairfield area has 198 GP practices. It is estimated there are about 400 doctors serving a population of 397,000 people, so that is about one doctor for 980 people. Those surgeries do not operate all hours and, as a consequence, when kids are ill their mums and dads front up with them at either of the two hospitals, Liverpool and Fairfield. With the population of south-west Sydney due to grow by 100 per cent over the next 30 years, it is absolutely time that we made a significant investment in health care, just as we need to do more about training and maintaining doctors in the area. But we must provide services and one of those which I think will be greatly valued in my area is the establishment of the GP superclinic. Without the government’s commitment to it—and it is a pretty ambitious project and is certainly a very well needed piece of infrastructure—we would not be able to have more flexible and deliverable health services for the people of Fowler.

A colleague out there is Dr Andrew McDonald, the state member for Macquarie Fields and the Parliamentary Secretary Assisting the Minister for Health. He has rightly flagged the potential of this superclinic to be used for the training of medical students, particularly those from the University of Western Sydney. Andrew should know about that as, apart from being a state member of parliament, he is a paediatrician. This bloke goes out and works pro bono one day a week, in many of the housing commission suburbs of his electorate, as a doctor. So I actually rate highly what he does and, apart from that, he is also an associate professor of medicine at the medical school of the UWS. I take note when a person like that comes out and speaks. He is not just another politician; he is a person who genuinely cares for his community, and you see that in the way he handles not only his portfolio but his role as a doctor, being someone who cares about the community generally. So that is his view of what the superclinic is capable of delivering in the south-west of Sydney. The superclinic will substantially relieve the patient load in one of our state’s biggest emergency departments, that of Liverpool Hospital. I am happy to report that as the tenders have been called a number of local doctors have been looking at arrangements and consortiums and at how they are going to tender, so we are looking now at advancing that position in the short term.

Another commitment that we have made is to invest more than $51 million to improve health services in my electorate, including $46.9 million to build the Ingham Health Research Institute at Liverpool. Attached to the Liverpool Hospital, this major research centre is called after the Ingham family, our local poultry group and probably the owner of many racehorses. This group was behind the foundation of this research institute—one of the primary research institutes for cancer therapies in the country. I am happy that is being developed to operate in conjunction with Liverpool Hospital. In addition to those investments, we have also committed money to ensure that elective surgery waiting lists can be shortened and to improve after-hours GP services. It is not simply about the GP superclinic; it is also about being able to have doctors look at extending their hours and also putting on casual doctor services to ensure that the needs of my area are being adequately taken care of in that respect. This is all a substantial investment in local health care and it sends a very strong message that this government is not prepared to leave the health system in a business-as-usual situation.

As a parent, I hope that my kids and, happily, their children will have access to world-class healthcare services not on the books but when they need it. That is what we are striving to deliver. I am sure the vast majority of parents would also have the same view. I strongly urge members on the other side of the House to put politics aside and support this bill today. So far I have heard members opposite wanting to criticise the Gillard government’s national health and hospitals plan, and I wonder what fuels that criticism. I mentioned a little earlier the Leader of the Opposition’s foray into this area, particularly when he was the health minister, so those opposite do have form in looking positively at things like this to deliver services to a community. So I am urging them not to turn their back on that. If it was good enough for the Leader of the Opposition, when he was the health minister, to try to champion an argument within his own party room that this was an area in which the federal government should become inextricably involved, then you would have to ask what, other than party politics, is fuelling this criticism that they have? I think that is what it really boils down to. This is rank opportunism and politics.

We are here for one reason, regardless of which side of the House we get to sit. We are here to serve the community. We are here to actually look at what is good for communities here and now or, perhaps, for the next election and we are here to give long-term legacy to communities that we have the honour to represent. I would ask members opposite to start thinking about that as opposed to looking at cheap and rank political positioning when it comes to something as significant as this bill.

In a recent survey that was conducted by New South Wales Health in Liverpool, Liverpool Hospital had one of the lowest patient ratings in respect of people who attended emergency service departments. Regrettably the figures showed that eight per cent of patients rated their experiences as poor and 18 per cent rated them as fair. At Fairfield Hospital, which is another service in my electorate, five per cent of patients rated their experiences at emergency service departments as poor, with 12 per cent rating them as fair.

I do not mention these figures to embarrass or offend the hardworking staff at either of these hospitals. The staff do a fantastic job with the resources they have and with the constraints they work under. However, I do raise them as further proof that the National Health and Hospitals Network is needed. This is not to point the finger at the New South Wales government-run system, as any other government would probably do the same. I want to make the point and keep reiterating it that, when it comes to a matter as important as health and hospitals, we cannot be content with the business-as-usual approach.

This country’s health system is struggling to keep up with an ever-increasing growth in demand, which is fuelled by a growing and ageing population. We all know that. That is why we need to reform our funding arrangements for health care in this country. That is what this bill entails. This bill will reduce pressure on increasing healthcare costs and will help the budgets of our states and territories into the future. Through this bill the government will become the major funder of health and hospital systems in Australia. It will take full funding and policy responsibility for primary health and aged care. It will be responsible for taking health and hospitals into the 21st century.

We are in a situation where we are seeing an extraordinary number of people with disturbing health problems. In my electorate 22,000 people over the age of 15 have been diagnosed with obesity, 11,000 people have type 2 diabetes, 26,000 people suffer from high cholesterol, and 30,000 people suffer from asthma. It is absolutely overwhelming and we must take steps now to relieve that pressure on our health and hospital system. I commend the bill to the House. (Time expired)