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Monday, 25 May 2009
Page: 4226

Mrs VALE (7:42 PM) —I welcome the opportunity to speak on this important motion raised by the member for Oxley. According to the World Health Organisation, chronic diseases are diseases of long duration and generally slow progression. Chronic diseases such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, chronic respiratory diseases and diabetes are by far the leading cause of mortality in the world, representing 60 per cent of all deaths. In Australia chronic conditions such as asthma, diabetes, depression, arthritis and cardiovascular disease are among the main causes of death and disability.

According to the National Health Priority Action Council, the burden of chronic conditions is expected to reach 80 per cent of healthcare expenditure by 2020. This is despite the fact that chronic conditions are also amongst the most preventable health conditions in the world. In November 2005, the Australian Health Ministers Conference endorsed a national strategic policy approach to manage and improve chronic disease prevention and care in the Australian population. The proposed national approach to chronic disease prevention and management comprises three complementary components: (1) national chronic disease strategy, which provides the overarching framework of national direction for improving chronic disease prevention and care across Australia; (2) national service improvement frameworks that cover the national health priority areas of asthma, cancer, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and osteoporosis; and (3) the blueprint for nationwide surveillance of chronic diseases and associated determinants.

I would also like to take this opportunity to recognise the work of the Friendship Foundation, a not-for-profit organisation based in my electorate and dedicated to working with the community to improve quality of life for carers and people disadvantaged by chronic illness or injury and/or long-term social displacement. The foundation has a large focus on carers in the Australian community. We can clearly understand that people suffering from chronic health conditions rely heavily upon the selfless and untiring work of their carers. In support of carers, the Friendship Foundation brought to my attention a report from Deakin University, Carers Australia and Australian Unity entitled The wellbeing of Australians: carer health and wellbeing.

This report tells us that (1) carers face high levels of depression, anxiety and stress; (2) carers develop illness and injuries brought about by caring for others; (3) carers often neglect their own health, fitness and nutrition because they do not have the time or money to take care of themselves as well; and (4) many working carers live in uncertainty and fear that they will lose their jobs if their loved one needs more intensive care.

Earlier this year, I was pleased to support an application by the Friendship Foundation for funding under the Department of Health and Ageing Chronic Disease Self-management/Lifestyle and Risk Modification Grants Program. The foundation sought to build a more interactive self-management care model than is currently in place to support, prevent and self-manage chronic conditions in conjunction with healthcare professionals in my electorate. Unfortunately, the Friendship Foundation were notified today that they were unsuccessful in their application for funding under this program. As I believe there is a real need within our community for the support envisaged by the Friendship Foundation, I will continue to support them in their initiatives to meet this unmet need.

I would also like to pay special attention to part 2(c) of this motion, which mentions the role of the private sector in delivering health and medical services. Unfortunately, 1.7 million Australians will be immediately affected by changes to rebates for private health insurance and will facer either higher premium payments or higher tax payments through the Medicare levy. Those with insurance face higher premiums as others drop out, or they will have to lower their cover. And those relying on the public health system will face longer hospital waiting times and queues. There is an alternative. I ask that the Prime Minister recognise the importance of the private sector and accept the coalition’s suggestion to increase taxes on cigarettes instead of changing the health insurance rebates.

In conclusion, Australia’s healthcare system must be able to respond in an appropriate way to the challenge of chronic disease. Failure to prevent, detect and treat chronic disease at an optimal stage in its course impacts on affected individuals and their families and carers in terms of pain and suffering and involves the whole Australian community in higher healthcare costs. I thank the member for Oxley for bringing this matter to the attention of the chamber.