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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13182

Ms JACKSON (3:43 PM) —Can I at the outset commend the member for Petrie for her fine contribution in respect of this legislation and on health generally—

Mr Hartsuyker interjecting

Ms JACKSON —and perhaps commiserate with the member for Cowper as the only member of the opposition who seems to have been able to find his way into the chamber at this point in time in the debate. I say to members of the public gallery that the activities in the corridors, I suspect, rather than in the chamber, are taking precedence.

I, like many others, rather than debating the Health Insurance Amendment (New Zealand Overseas Trained Doctors) Bill 2009, would prefer to be debating bills regarding the health of our environment and giving effect to the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme and genuinely taking action on climate change. Nevertheless, the matter before the House is the Health Insurance Amendment (New Zealand Overseas Trained Doctors) Bill.

As we have heard from many previous speakers, this bill seeks to amend the Health Insurance Act 1973. That act currently provides that Medicare benefits are not payable in respect of professional services provided by an overseas trained doctor or a former overseas medical student except in certain circumstances. This bill seeks to streamline the operations of the act and this provision, consistent with government policy and complementing workforce reforms the government has implemented, especially in relation to the rural medical workforce. In particular, this bill amends the class of persons subject to the restrictions in section 19AB of the act and amends the start date for the 10-year moratorium period. The bill proposes to remove New Zealand permanent residents and citizens who have obtained their medical qualifications from an accredited medical school in Australia or New Zealand from the classification of ‘overseas trained doctor’. Consequently, such doctors will no longer be restricted by the 10-year moratorium imposed by the act. They will still be subject to the requirement that they have obtained appropriate recognition of their medical qualifications in order to access the Medicare Benefits Scheme.

The bill also redefines the classification of ‘former overseas medical student’ to ‘foreign graduate of an accredited medical school’. This is a better reflection of the actual definition of this class of person, meaning ‘students of Australian medical schools who were not an Australian citizen or permanent resident when they enrolled in their primary medical degree at an Australian medical school’. Another important provision is the removal of the requirement for overseas trained doctors and foreign graduates of an accredited medical school to have both Australian permanent residency or citizenship and medical registration in order for the 10-year moratorium to commence. The 10-year moratorium has been an effective mechanism in ensuring that overseas trained doctors provide services to those communities with the greatest need for medical practitioners. These communities are most often in rural and remote areas. As the Minister for Health and Ageing identified in her second reading speech, some 41 per cent of all doctors in Australia in rural and remote areas have trained overseas. However, in my own outer metropolitan electorate of Hasluck we have areas of significant unmet need. We are fortunate to have two very effective Divisions of General Practice in the Canning and Swan regions, and I am especially appreciative of the work of the Perth Primary Care Network. The division promotes a primary healthcare model that encourages partnered and collaborative approaches to health care. This has been the basis of the current after hours GP clinic at the Swan Health Campus that fills a vital need in our local community—the Swan and Midland regions, in particular—having been identified as an area that has a shortage of general practitioners. I am very fortunate to enjoy a good working relationship with the Perth Primary Care Network and I am very aware of the good work they do in providing quality and affordable health care to the Hasluck community.

The final reform that I want to address in the bill is the amendment to rectify the situation where the 10-year moratorium starts when the overseas trained doctor achieves permanent residency or citizenship in Australia. Many overseas trained doctors have entered Australia through temporary skilled visa categories or the business long stay visa class for initial periods of up to four years. The way the 10-year moratorium currently works excludes this service, as the doctors are temporary residents. This is not fair and this anomaly is corrected by the bill. The moratorium will also be scaled to give greater weight to periods of service in more remote communities so, to quote the minister, the more remote you go the shorter the moratorium. As I said at the outset, these amendments complement the medical workforce reforms being driven by the minister. I congratulate her on her work and for the changes she is bringing to the Australian healthcare system. Indeed, we had a very good exposition of those from the member for Petrie.

There are a range of Australian government initiatives aimed at recruiting and retaining GPs in rural and remote Australia. The Rudd government is investing more than $700 million to better target workforce incentives in rural communities. The government is making the necessary reforms to rural health policy in order to ensure that incentives respond to current population trends and provide the most support to the communities in the greatest need. The 2009-10 federal budget measure known as the rural health workforce strategy encompasses a number of initiatives that aim to better target workforce incentives to the communities in greatest need. This is a significant package of $134.4 million to respond to medical workforce shortages in rural and remote communities.

I cannot speak on a government health bill without referring to this year’s budget boost in my own electorate for the proposed Midland Health Campus. I welcome the Rudd government’s funding commitment of $180.1 million for the construction of the Midland Health Campus, an important hospital that services not only the outer metropolitan region of Perth but also the nearby rural and wheat belt towns and regions of Western Australia. This funding ensures that there is no need to delay the construction of the new hospital. I had been very concerned at recent media comments from the state government minister implying that the project would be put on the backburner and preference given to hospitals in the inner city and the western suburbs.

The redevelopment of the Midland Health Campus is vital to the people in the Swan region and surrounding country areas. Swan Districts Hospital Campus is no longer able to effectively meet the needs of the communities it serves and requires a replacement facility to be built in Midland. State health minister Kim Hames has said that the hospital would be delayed due to a lack of funding—a shortfall of $100 million. The substantial funding injection from the Rudd government ensures there is no reason why the hospital cannot be completed by 2013, as was first envisaged. Indeed, this funding should enable the state government to also overcome the rail and traffic issues surrounding Lloyd Street rail crossing that are concerning many local residents.

The Reid report, which is a very detailed study of our health and hospital needs in Western Australia, emphasised the importance of building hospitals and health infrastructure within the communities they serve. This new 300-bed hospital will offer state-of-the-art health care and services to the people of the east metropolitan corridor. This project is supported under the Rudd government’s nation building Health and Hospitals Fund, which is building health infrastructure for the 21st century while also creating and supporting employment opportunities in our local community.

However, moving back to the original piece of legislation before the House, this bill is a small but important part of the overall health reform agenda of the Rudd government. It makes some sensible and practical amendments to the Health Insurance Act 1973 which should ensure a smoother and more beneficial operation, especially for overseas trained doctors. I commend the bill to the House.