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Tuesday, 26 May 2009
Page: 4395

Ms McKEW (Parliamentary Secretary for Early Childhood Education and Childcare) (6:47 PM) —I would like to thank all members who have participated in this debate on the Health Workforce Australia Bill 2009. I thank the member for Blair in particular, who brought together all the important strands that this bill is seeking to achieve. I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to sum up the debate on the bill on behalf of the Minister for Health and Ageing, who has been called away to an urgent teleconference with her state and territory colleagues about the swine influenza situation.

As has been acknowledged during the debate, there are existing workforce shortages and factors such as population ageing and increasing levels of chronic disease that will exacerbate pressures on Australia’s health system and its workforce in the near future. I note the contribution of the member for Dickson, who seems to have some concern about the need for and the role of this health workforce agency. What the community is concerned about, I would say, is the lack of planning by the former government for the needs of the health workforce. This has left many communities around the country with shortages of doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. We know that improvements to clinical training arrangements are needed, along with strategies for maximising productivity and improving the efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the health workforce to ensure that the health needs of Australia can be met into the future.

The $1.6 billion health workforce package of the Council of Australian Governments—the single largest investment in the health workforce ever made by Australian governments—was developed in recognition of these issues. A linchpin of the COAG package is the development of Health Workforce Australia, HWA, a national health workforce authority that will work with and across jurisdictions and the education and health sectors to produce more effective, streamlined and integrated clinical training arrangements and to support workforce planning and policy development.

Among other critically important functions, HWA will fund, plan and coordinate pre-professional entry clinical training across the major health disciplines from 2010. It is not intended that this agency usurp the functions of accreditation agencies or universities in relation to clinical training accreditation. These bodies will remain responsible for accreditation, although it is important to note that the clinical training subsidy is likely to assist training organisations with the quality of their placements.

The agency will finally allow for proper workforce planning so that we can fix the longer term issues on the health workforce right across Australian governments. The governance arrangements for HWA reflect the shared funding and policy interests of all jurisdictions and provide for directions from and reporting to Australia’s health ministers.

Passage of the bill is required to establish HWA and to ensure that it is operational within the time frames agreed to in the COAG health workforce agreement. Essentially, passage of the bill will instigate the immediate activities needed to improve the health workforce and therefore the health system for the Australian population.

I would like to thank once again all those who directly or indirectly have been involved in the development of this package and this important legislation. I have been delighted by the strong support of all governments and the health and education sectors, all of whom have recognised the significance of this package and the need to get on with the job of improving Australia’s health workforce.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Ordered that the bill be reported to the House without amendment.