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Tuesday, 16 June 2009
Page: 6209

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (6:14 PM) —I thank the member for Solomon for that question because he is right that those in his community, particularly Darwin, have been very significant winners through this health budget. In particular, one of the significant-sized communities that benefits from using modern classification and demographic data for the rural programs is Darwin—that was previously excluded from the last government’s classification structure. So now, for the first time, there is recognition that recruiting doctors to the capital of the Northern Territory, Darwin, is different from recruiting people to Melbourne or Sydney. That is obvious to anybody sitting here, but unfortunately that was not recognised in the system before. So there is a great new incentive—in particular, maybe, for young doctors, who might see it as an exciting challenge—to go off and work in the Northern Territory, where there is a shortage of doctors. Not only will there be even more generous incentives paid to those in the remoter communities of the Northern Territory, there will, for the first time, be significant incentives paid to those who are relocating to Darwin as well.

The Health and Hospitals Fund made some very significant investments for the Northern Territory, and particularly in the seat of Solomon. One of the most exciting commitments is $27.8 million to build a Northern Territory medical school. This is the first time there has ever been a commitment to a medical school in the Northern Territory—and it will be the first. Of course, when we talk about the difficulty of getting doctors to communities, we know that one of the best ways is to actually provide training on site, in a community—to get people to settle their lives there, meet their partners, know that they can live there and enjoy the life and provide services to this fast-growing community of Darwin. That is going to be a very exciting opportunity. Instead of medical students—young people from the Northern Territory who want to be doctors—having to go off and complete their degrees in Adelaide, Melbourne, Sydney or Perth, they will be able to do a whole degree in the Northern Territory, and that will deliver very significant benefits long into the future.

On top of that, $18.6 million from the Health and Hospitals Fund is going to build an accommodation complex of 50 units in the grounds of Royal Darwin Hospital for patients and carers. Again, I do not think it is hard for people to understand how important this will be in the member for Solomon’s electorate, where so many people need to travel to Darwin—to travel quite long distances, often quite a significant distance away from their families and communities—to have services that can only be provided at the hospital. And building 50 extra units where families can stay to be near their loved ones who need hospital treatment is going to have a very significant impact on the difficulty or ease with which people can access hospital services. We know this is a big issue for our Indigenous communities. But in a vast territory like the Northern Territory I think it is going to be particularly significant.

On top of that again—and although it is outside the member for Solomon’s electorate, it is in the Northern Territory—$13.6 million will go to building a new emergency department on the grounds of the Alice Springs Hospital and relocating the medical imaging department. Again, Alice Springs is really the hub for all of Central Australia’s services. It is a very good hospital. It has very high demands. For the Commonwealth to be able to put some of its infrastructure money into enhancing services there is, I think, going to be very much welcomed by Northern Territorians, and I thank the member for Solomon for raising these issues with me. It has made us very aware of the particular issues in his communities, and we have been able to deliver, through the budget, for him.