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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3835


Mr DUTTON (DicksonMinister for Health and Minister for Sport) (09:17): I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

Today I introduce the Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014. This bill will streamline the delivery of programs to build our health workforce and remove an unnecessary layer of administration and bureaucracy.

This government is committed to reducing red tape. In health, there has been too much officialdom, too much duplication. We need to refocus our attention away from the bureaucrats and back onto patients. We need to focus on the needs of all Australians accessing our healthcare system. It is the government's determination to strengthen and modernise Medicare and improve the health outcomes for all Australians.

We know that without our health workforce, we would have no healthcare system. We need to support and build our health workforce; these are the doctors, nurses and allied health professionals delivering front line health services to Australians. However, setting up a health workforce agency has created another layer of bureaucracy in our healthcare system, and this is taking valuable resources away from front-line health services.

The Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014 will close Health Workforce Australia. The programs and functions of HWA will transfer to the Department of Health. The government will continue to support the health workforce and the programs that are helping to build a sustainable, well-distributed health workforce. The government is delivering on its commitment to reduce red tape and streamline programs so that they are effective and efficient. The programs currently managed by HWA will continue, but aligning these with those already delivered through the Department of Health will allow us to save valuable resources by reducing duplication in both service delivery and in the significant overheads required to run an agency.

Health Workforce Australia was established by the Rudd government through the Council of Australian Governments under the National Partnership Agreement on Hospital and Health Workforce Reform. This was a four-year agreement that expired in June 2013. Under the NPA, Health Workforce Australia was to act as a national body working to health ministers to streamline clinical training arrangements and support workforce reform initiatives. The NPA also set out the expectations of the Commonwealth, states and territories to jointly fund Health Workforce Australia. The states and territories were expected to provide almost $540 million over four years, but again, it did not occur. It was another failure of the Rudd government. The coalition government is the sole funder of the HWA and therefore is taking the decision to deliver its funding in the most efficient way.

Having both Health Workforce Australia and the Department of Health managing health workforce programs has created duplication and confusion. The previous government's review of health workforce programs, which reported in 2013, identified legitimate stakeholder concerns about the lack of clarity defining the respective roles of HWA and the department. It also identified inconsistencies between the two agencies in delivery of funding. By bringing HWA's programs into the Department of Health, we are addressing those issues; there will be more clarity for stakeholders, consistent funding arrangements and the opportunity to align programs with key government priorities.

Perhaps HWA's most notable achievement is the publication of national health workforce modelling, giving long-term projections of supply and demand for the Australian health workforce. This work will continue. All priority activities will continue to be delivered and organisations currently funded by HWA can be assured that all current funding agreements will be met.

The government recognises the role of the states and territories when considering our health workforce. While the Commonwealth government will continue to work to provide national leadership for health workforce reform; as the largest employers of the health workforce, the states and territories have an enormous role to play. The ability to achieve maximum productivity, boost employee retention and achieve effective delivery and deployment of the health workforce varies significantly across jurisdictions and employers. The Commonwealth government remains committed to working with states and territories towards national workforce planning and reform and to making sure that the significant interest of the private sector in this planning and reform work is recognised. Our private health employers have a lot of experience in driving innovation and productivity, and we need to be able to bring this into our national conversation on workforce reform. The Department of Health already works closely with its state and territory counterparts, and the private sector. We do not require a separate agency to do that.

The closure of Health Workforce Australia is not a withdrawal of support or resources for the health workforce. By creating efficiencies, by streamlining programs, by reducing bureaucracy, we are ensuring that we will get better value from the investment in programs to build the health workforce of Australia for tomorrow.

Debate adjourned.

Ordered that the second reading be made an order of the day for the next sitting.