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Tuesday, 31 May 2011
Page: 5396


Ms BURKE (Chisholm) (17:11): I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2011-2012. I differ from the previous speaker in that I think that, whilst this is a fairly nondescript budget, it was time for a non-descript budget. At least we gave a budget speech at the time, unlike the opposition who provided no alternative, no vision, no insight, and no cost savings—nothing. Indeed, the Leader of the Opposition said it was not his role to do that and gave an election campaign speech instead.

This is my 13th year in this parliament and my 13th year of speaking on appropriation bills, and the tick-tack on both sides never ceases to amaze me. Very rarely have we said of previous budgets that there have been some good things in them. In fact, I think that during my years in opposition I actually commented when the Howard government did some good things, and I think that we as political parties should rise above partisanship sometimes and look at the good that is being done within budgets. Despite many natural disasters and the downturn in the global economy, Australia's economy is well placed—it is actually doing exceptionally well. Overall employment is at record levels, which is the envy of the Western world, yet somehow this does not translate into anyone's thinking. I have never worked that kind of thinking out, and I doubt I ever will.

The 2011-12 budget strengthens Australia's economic outlook and creates new opportunities. The federal budget has delivered in many ways in my electorate of Chisholm, most notably in the diagnostic imaging reform package. I welcome the reform package and the $717 million which has been provided to expand access to diagnostic imaging services. Some of this funding will benefit Monash Medical Centre, a vital health provider within my electorate. Monash Medical Centre is probably one of the largest hospitals in the Southern Hemisphere—it is huge. This funding will provide new Medicare licenses for the two existing MRI machines at Monash Medical. Monash Medical has three MRI machines, but they were not licensed under the Howard government. Under the deal—the 'scan scam'—introduced by the previous member for my electorate, Dr Michael Wooldridge, when he was health minister, we had this invidious situation where machines were sitting in a very large public hospital yet were unlicensed to perform Medicare refunded treatment. It was absurd. These machines were given 100-year licences. Some of the things that the previous government did have been almost impossible to unscramble, so I am very appreciative—as indeed is everyone at Southern Health, which Monash forms part of—that the budget has ensured that there will be greater service at a greatly reduced cost for patients accessing services requiring the use of an MRI machine.

Importantly also, GPs will now be able to refer patients under 16 years of age for specific conditions without the patient's first needing to see a specialist. Again, this was a hurdle that was in place previously—you went and saw your GP, and, even though the child was obviously in need of an MRI, you then had to go and see a specialist. I do not know if any of you have had to go down this path, but what happened after that was that you had to wait to go to see the specialist and then, finally, to wait to get to the MRI. This reform allowing GPs to refer patients under 16 will take away the anxiety and distress that the old system caused. Having undergone an MRI I can tell you that it is not the most pleasant experience. The noise is deafening and I should imagine that children would find the confinement and the noise quite frightening. But the anxiety would be greatly exacerbated for the child and the parent if the MRI had to be put off. So this is a terrific thing that has been welcomed across the board. This initiative will also reduce the cost as the budget has committed to increasing the bulk-billing incentive for MRI scans to 100 per cent of the scheduled fee. The initiative therefore means not only better access but more affordable access to MRI services in my electorate.

Many of my constituents have expressed concern—as has everyone who has spoken about it—about the importance of mental health reform and the need to ensure that this critical area of health is adequately funded. I recently was asked by Claire Whittle, a constituent of mine, if she could come and talk to me about her experiences of mental health services. I really want to say to Claire, 'Thank you for the courage and the foresight of coming to see me.'

More importantly, she then put on Facebook that she had had the courage to come and talk to me about her own fairly traumatic experience. A healthy, active, happy 20-year-old suddenly went into the depths of absolute despair and depression. And after three years around the health system and the mental health system she has finally fallen upon a doctor and a service and medication that will see her through. But before that her experience was horrendous. She should never have had to endure what she endured. Nor should her family have had to endure on her behalf.

I want to say thank you to Claire because she really did highlight this insidious situation, particularly for younger people. She went to a GP and said, 'I'm depressed.' The GP, without actually looking at things, immediately put her on an anti-depressant, which made her even more depressed and almost suicidal. I am not condemning GPs; they are overworked. But Claire's situation was insidious and I am hoping that greater access to headspace centres will ensure that Claire's situation never has to be repeated.

I am very pleased to be able to go back to my electorate now and say that the federal government has delivered for them by providing $2.2 billion over five years for national mental health reform. This package is the most extensive commitment to mental health services in Australian history, including $1.5 billion in new investments in this federal budget.

This reform will assist in detecting and treating mental illnesses in the early years of life, assisting young people who struggle with it in their teens, and providing incentives and support to help those with severe and persistent mental illness. All studies show that the earlier you diagnose and the earlier you treat the better the outcome for the individual. But living with an undiagnosed and untreated mental illness can have devastating consequences for everybody concerned.

Another issue of great concern for my electorate, home to two very large universities—Monash University and Deakin University—was the speculation, pre-budget, about decreasing funding in the NHMRC space in research into medical areas. I was inundated—as you would appreciate, I have an electorate that has more PhDs per square metre than is probably healthy for it!—by individuals concerned about NHMRC funding. I was happy to report that it was scaremongering and that the government has ensured commitment to this wonderful space. We will see ongoing commitment to research funding.

I will read a bit of one of the emails I got. It indicates the level of interest in my area. The writer said:

I am a final year PhD student studying at Monash University and my project involved investigating the interactions between Helicobacter pylori and human stomach cells. H. Pylori infects the stomachs of half the worlds population and many of these people suffer from indigestion, peptic ulcers, or even worse, stomach cancer. Studies that allow for the continued understanding of how this organism causes inflammation are critical for the identification and management of those individuals most at risk to develop severe disease.

I am writing to express my concern that the Federal Government may reduce funding for health and medical research in the upcoming May budget. For me, at the end stages of my PhD, this is particularly worrying, as already it is difficult and highly competitive to obtain ... funding opportunities ...

And on and on she goes. I was very happy to write back to Melanie Hutton and say, 'It was a rumour. We are not discontinuing this funding space.' It is too important for the health of our nation. We can continue to fund more and more beds but if we do not fund research we are only going to continue to funnel people into beds—all we are ever going to do is talk about acute health as opposed the preventative health. And on World No Tobacco Day I think we should be looking at preventative health, going into that space and doing all we can to encourage phenomenal people like Melanie to continue with their studies and, hopefully, to find cures and causes for these diseases. The budget provides proof that the government is on the right tack regarding education. As I have said, higher education is vitally important to my seat, with Monash University, Deakin University and Box Hill TAFE—very large institutions. The government's commitment of a further $1.2 billion to meet the demands of growth in university enrolments will assist in further enhancing the reputation and excellence of universities like Monash and Deakin.

I have often said in this place that many of the people who live within my electorate cannot afford to actually get to university, that the constituents in Clayton who live right on top of Monash Uni are most under-represented at the university. It is the socio-demographic. This money to encourage more people from lower socio-demographic areas will greatly assist some people within my electorate. There are obviously pockets of my electorate where there is quite significant wealth, but across the board this is a terrific initiative that we should be encouraging more people to take up higher education—and not just within the university but within the TAFE sector. Box Hill TAFE provides an amazing opportunity for students, but they need the assistance to be able to go there.

Many schools in my electorate already have high-performing teachers, but $425 million to reward top-performing teachers will provide further encouragement to teachers to excel. I am particularly pleased that students with a disability will also be supported with $200 million which, will not only assist students with a disability but also be of substantial benefit and assistance to their teachers. As an aunt of a child with Down Syndrome who is now nine years of age, I have seen the struggle that my brother and his wife have had to ensure that the necessary things are there for Chris to be able to access and have a great education. I know those skills and supports to ensure he gets the best he can will be welcomed by them and numerous other people within my electorate.

Again, many people wrote to me during the election campaign about the national chaplaincy program. I am pleased to say that we will not be axing funding from this program but will be putting additional funding of $220 million which will mean that this program will be extended and more people will have the benefit of utilising this excellent program. Many of the schools in my electorate have chosen to go down the school chaplaincy program route, and I have been impressed by the work that those school chaplains are doing.

One of the other areas of great concern to my electorate is increasing our commitment to overseas aid and development assistance. I have received numerous emails from individuals in my electorate, such as this one from Jessica of Box Hill North:

As someone in your electorate I just wanted to write and say thank you for keeping your commitment to the world's poor in last Tuesday's budget. The way Australia spends our foreign aid is really important to me. I believe that we both have a duty to assist people in less well-off countries and that Australia benefits from giving foreign aid through increased trade and regional stability. I am proud that you as my local member have shown leadership on this issue and will continue to support you on this.

I want to say thank you and I do support the great work that our aid budget is doing. Within my electorate there are some phenomenal institutions such as the Christian Blind Mission, which is one that most people do not know but has been around for 100 years, which are recipients of these aid dollars. Christian Blind Mission is doing phenomenal work throughout our region and in the world assisting people with blindness. Not only do they deal within the aid space but also they deal with the poorest of the poor—the disabled in our community. The Christian Blind Mission—I had the privilege of spending some time there recently, and again had lunch and a discussion—are passionate in ensuring they can provide opportunities for individuals.

Blindness can be cured in many people. It is an insidious disease in impoverished countries. We think of it as an end but it is reversible. The Christian Blind Mission returns to people their way and quality of life and their quality of life. It also returns their children's quality of life. This is a wonderful thing, as many children have to leave school to support their blind parents or grand parents.

My new boundaries also incorporate Vision Australia, who all of us know, whose head office is in Burwood. The wonderful work they are doing in this aid space ensures that they continue to do that. Over the past 30 years we have witnessed unprecedented progress in reducing poverty and improving the health and livelihoods of people around the world. However, over one billion people still live in extreme poverty. Every day 22,000 children under the age of five die from preventable or treatable conditions that have been largely overcome in Australia, and almost 1,000 women and girls die in pregnancy and childbirth. Today some 67 million children do not have the opportunity to attend primary school and these statistics are unacceptable. They are unacceptable to the majority of my electorate. Reducing poverty is also in our national security and economic interest. Two-thirds of the world's poor live in Australia's region. Of our 20 nearest neighbours, 18 are developing countries. Many of these countries are also significant trading partners. Because of these humanitarian, national security and economic reasons the government has committed in the budget to increase aid to 0.35 per cent of gross national income or $4.83 billion, up from $4.362 billion. This is a great outcome and I really welcome it and I say thank you on behalf of my electorate.

There is one little thing in the budget that was overlooked and it is an interesting thing that I am going to be pursuing particularly in my electorate. In the budget speech the Treasurer said, 'We will begin with $232 million in new strategic investments, including $100 million for suburban employment hubs and $61 million for smarter motorways.' My electorate is 20 kilometres out of Melbourne, and that does not sound far until you have to sit on the Monash Freeway or the Eastern Freeway. I leave home two hours earlier than a plane ride at 7.20 on a Monday morning to ensure that I get the plane—not because it is very far but because the traffic is that bad. We need to ensure that people have jobs closer to home and are not spending their lives commuting and we are not ruining our environment. I look forward to exploring this initiative in the budget. (Time expired)