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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8177


Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (17:01): I speak in support of the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011. The Minister for Health and Ageing in her speech of 3 March this year said a couple of words which I think are worth repeating because they sum up the challenges that we are facing in this country. She said:

In many ways we are lucky that Australia has one of the most impressive public health systems in the world—our doctors and nurses are world class, our public system provides free hospital care for all and it delivers outcomes such as low infant mortality and long life expectancy.

But we’re faced with a health system that is fragmented, costly, underresourced, unsustainable, overly focused on acute care and with constant pressure to deliver for more patients with more complex needs.

In those few words I think that the minister summed up the challenges that we face in delivering good health services in what she later in her speech called 'the equality of provision' of services across the country.

This particular piece of legislation is important. It establishes the National Health Performance Authority, and it has been a mystery to me why the coalition has constantly campaigned against this particular measure. They have come up with every kind of excuse possible and criticised the proposal. We have had ridiculous comments from those opposite on this topic on many occasions. But this particular authority is part of a COAG process. It is there to monitor and report on the performance of the local health and hospital networks, the public and private hospitals, the Medicare Locals which we have established and other healthcare service holders as well.

So, it is a critical operation and a critical authority in terms of the overall power of the health service to make sure that in the regional and rural areas, as well as in the urban areas of this country, we get equality of provision of health service. We challenge those challenges which the minister talked about in her second reading speech on 3 March this year.

Additionally, the bill provides for the authority; it talks about the membership, the committees, the staffing, the planning and reporting obligations of the authority and disclosure of information by the commission and also by the performance authority.

The functions of the authority can be found in the legislation. The main function, of course, is to monitor and report on the performance of the health and hospital networks and the other organisations and services that I outlined. The Commonwealth will be responsible for appointing the chairperson, and the deputy chair will be appointed in agreement with the states and territories. As I said, it is part of the COAG process.

In my area we have seen some significant changes with regard to health and hospital services, and with the Medicare Locals we have seen some significant changes as well. Indeed, I had the opportunity to speak to the district manager in relation to these changes and to talk about this bill. So it is germane for me to talk about it here today.

I spoke with Pam Lane, who is the District Chief Executive Officer for the West Moreton Health Service District, about these types of reforms and the bill that is here before the House. We have had some changes in our area, and we have seen the Darling Downs Health Service District split from the West Moreton Health Service District. In my area this means that the West Moreton district will include Boonah, Esk, Gatton, Ipswich, Laidley and The Park—the Centre for Mental Health Treatment, Research and Education—as well. Pam looks forward to the challenges there, and I have spoken with doctors and allied health professionals about the health and hospital networks. The authority will oversee all of those.

As well, there are some changes with regard to the Medicare Locals. Fortunately, we have been part of the first 19 that have been appointed throughout the country and ours will be known as the West Moreton-Oxley Medicare Local. It functions from Oxley Creek in south-west Brisbane across to Ipswich, up the Brisbane Valley into the old Boonah shire, taking in Kalbar and Boonah, and out towards Toowoomba through the Lockyer Valley. It hubs around Ipswich, and I look forward to working with Vicki Poxon CEO, with doctors and with a number of allied health professionals in the area. I have already had a number of meetings with the Medicare Local in Brisbane and also in Ipswich to see how they are going to progress this issue.

There are a number of challenges in the provision of health services, and I think that the authority which we are talking about here today with this legislation will have the overarching opportunity to make sure those health and hospital networks and the Medicare Locals carry on and perform as we have entrusted them to do. I know that in the Brisbane Valley in my area there is a need for more primary health care services. I know the Lockyer Valley and the Brisbane Valley are growing quite rapidly, and Ipswich as well, so those regional and rural areas are in dire need of more allied health professionals as well as doctor's surgeries and the kind of equality of health service provision that is necessary. This legislation is really important and that is why I have never been able to quite understand why the coalition have been opposed to this. They have come up with arguments that this is some great overarching bureaucracy, but we think it is important. I cannot understand why members opposite who represent rural and regional seats, like me, have opposed this. I think this is an opportunity for health and hospital networks and Medicare Locals to make sure that the provision of health services in those areas is being carried out effectively and equally. I think that the coalition are really missing an opportunity here, as they have on many occasions. We know they have missed many opportunities. We know the opposition oppose this particular network, the authority and Medicare Locals. We know they oppose, for example, the GP superclinics, which this authority will oversee. The Ipswich GP Super Clinic in my electorate was so helpful to the evacuation centres at the Ipswich Showgrounds and Riverview. Without the GP superclinic, which the coalition propose to close down and not support, the people of Ipswich would have suffered from a lack of health provision.

The coalition can say we are not spending the money wisely and well, but this is a particularly important thing for my electorate. The policy to cut the GP superclinics, to rip out a billion dollars, as the coalition did when the Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Health and Ageing, is the sort of stuff we can expect from those opposite when they have to find $70 billion. We know that the authority that is the subject of this legislation will have an important supervisory and monitoring role in relation to e-health, which those opposite oppose, and the after hours GP online service, which the coalition proposes to get rid of. Those opposite oppose GP superclinics, e-health and the after hours GP hotline, so I really wonder how those opposite from regional and rural seats have the temerity to come in here and talk about health services.

This legislation is important because the performance authority is a key element of our health and hospital agenda. We are negotiating this with the states and territories, Labor and Liberal governments alike. As I said, it will monitor and report on all those organisations—public and private hospitals, Medicare Locals and other healthcare service providers. We have reached an agreement with the states. This authority is part of that agreement, and I suggest to those opposite they should talk with Ted Baillieu, Colin Barnett and Barry O'Farrell because they are in on this. They are supporting what we are doing in health reform. It does not matter which government is in power, they have signed up and supported it. We came to a historic agreement on 13 February this year when one or more of those state governments was held by the Liberal Party. We showed our commitment to the healthcare needs of all Australians and we have worked to get a better deal for patients across the country.

The agreement we came to, what we have carried out and what the Prime Minister has recently announced gives $19.8 billion in extra funding for public hospitals. It will be monitored by the authority that is the subject of this bill. There will be more beds, more local control, more transparency and more accountability. We have made a commitment to pay 50 per cent of the growth in hospital costs. We are going to do that in two stages, from 45 per cent eventually to 50 per cent. This is particularly important for regional and rural areas. I know from discussions such as those I had with Pam Lane how important the extra funding for subacute care is.

I know that we are putting about $8 million into the Ipswich General Hospital redevelopment. It is part of a commitment of over $120 million by the Bligh Labor government in Queensland. According to Pam Lane, that will be good for the Ipswich area up until about 2018 when I look forward to further discussions about the future of Ipswich General Hospital and whether it eventually gets relocated to the showgrounds. This is a question for the state government. We have put money into reducing elective surgery lists in Ipswich as well as emergency care departments. I have welcomed the Minister for Health and Ageing when she has come to Ipswich and looked at what we have done. We have made a major commitment to health in my seat as a result of these health reforms.

The tragedy of all of this is that we had virtually a decade of invisibility when it came to health and hospital funding in my area. I talk to the local doctors and nurses. It is not surprising that people in regional and rural areas are up in arms about the lack of doctors. When Michael Wooldridge was the health minister they took pride in the fact that they were capping GP training places. We will have trained 6,000 more doctors by 2020, including doubling the number of GP training places to about 1,200 a year by 2014. Those opposite pose, parade and posture about standing up for regional and rural areas. In regional and rural areas, increasing the number of doctors trained is so important because many of them end up going to those regional and rural areas and country towns—like Lowood, Kilcoy and Fernvale in my electorate. This is crucial because they are crying out for more doctors in regional and rural areas. That is why I mentioned the equality of health service provision, which is so important. People in the Brisbane Valley and the rural parts of Ipswich know how important it is.

They also know how important elective surgery is. They also know how important it is to have an authority which monitors it, to see how it goes. We have put in more than 70,000 elective surgery procedures which have been delivered in the last two years. We know that the coalition had in excess of 88,000 people on waiting lists in the last year of their tenure of the Treasury bench. We have backed up our commitment with money and we intend to do so again. We have doubled funding for health. We think our proposal with respect to the authority is important because we want to make sure there is proper funding for public hospitals. We want to reduce the waste. We know that the bureaucracy needs to be attended to. We need shorter waiting times, and that is why it is important that we have a target of 90 per cent of patients in emergency departments being treated within four hours. We think it is important that we provide more than 1,300 additional subacute beds. In a recent meeting with Pam Lane, she made the point that she appreciates our additional commitment to subacute beds. We think this is important.

We think these reforms are extremely necessary in all of these areas. We are committed to doing better. We think we can make a system that is more sustainable, transparent, efficient and well resourced. We are putting real money on the table. I am interested in what those opposite want to say about this, because they will cut GP superclinics, e-health and the GP after-hours care. We know that they kept people on waiting lists. We know they ripped $1 billion out of the health system when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister. We know they have no significant commitment to rural cancer infrastructure despite the rural patients having up to three times the waiting times of people who live in the city. We know that. That is why we put in the 22 regional cancer centres that we are undertaking.

I am very interested in what they have to say, and I look forward to the member for Dickson being on their razor gang, trying to come up with savings for the $70 billion black hole they have. I look forward to what they have to say on this stuff, because they will criticise us but we will see whether they will put any real money on the table. They oppose the architecture that we have with this legislation. We know they have opposed the infusion of money into the system. We will see what they have to say. They say they are listening. We know there is a lot of vacuous white noise from those opposite with respect to health and hospital reform. They have not really listened to healthcare professionals. They do not really focus on local care. They do not focus on localism. We have massively increased the pool of funding and we have instigated some unprecedented transparency in this regard. The opposition has simply been an opposition for opposition's sake.

This legislation is a better deal for the country. It is a better deal for my community. I support the legislation.