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Thursday, 26 November 2009
Page: 13194

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (4:34 PM) —in reply—I have a few brief comments to make in summing up on the presentations from a large number of members of this House speaking on the Health Insurance Amendment (New Zealand Overseas Trained Doctors) Bill 2009. I would particularly like to take the opportunity to thank the more than 20 members of the government who have spoken on this bill in some detail. It has provided an opportunity for a fairly wide-ranging discussion about the difficulty in getting access to GPs, particularly in rural and regional Australia but also in outer metropolitan areas of the country, with the significant shortage of GPs, and about the very heavy reliance in rural and remote Australia on overseas trained doctors and the appreciation that many members feel for the services that are provided by those doctors. There is also a desire to be able to get the balance right of the number of graduates that we can train ourselves and the incentives that we can provide to ensure that there is a better distribution of doctors across the country than we have had previously, which are very significant legacies left to us by the previous government. As I have said, these contributions are making a clear statement about the importance of an overseas trained medical workforce in communities around the country and highlight the critical lack of planning for the health workforce needs of Australia and the decisions on planning that were not undertaken in the previous decade.

I indicated this in my second reading speech, as did many of those who spoke on the details of the bill, but I just want to reiterate that this bill removes the 10-year moratorium restriction for New Zealand citizens and permanent resident doctors who obtained their primary medical degree from an Australian or New Zealand medical school. It is important to note that New Zealand resident and citizen doctors will still be subject to the requirement that they have appropriate recognition of their qualifications in order to access the Medicare benefits system. As the member for Lyons mentioned in his speech, the bill also does a number of other things in rectifying anomalies and making sure that there are time limits for reviewing an exemption decision.

The 10-year moratorium will continue, along with the reforms to be implemented under the rural health workforce strategy, as part of the government’s commitment to recruit and retain GPs in rural and remote Australia. However, these measures make sure that the system is a fairer system that recognises the service to districts of workforce shortage and makes sure that doctors with New Zealand and Australian training are able to be treated appropriately. I think this is a positive change. I am very aware, as the Minister for Health and Ageing, that there are many other issues confronting our local communities to ensure that we do have health services that can be appropriately provided to those communities and I obviously intend to remain committed to pursuing those issues as well, and I thank the many members for taking the opportunity to raise the issues that are of concern to them.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.