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Wednesday, 26 May 2010
Page: 4334


Ms NEAL (5:41 PM) —I rise to support Appropriation Bill (No.1) and related bills. I must confess, having listened just now and throughout the day and on previous days to members of the opposition, when they suggest that doom and gloom is about to befall us, or is in fact befalling us right at the moment, I start to wonder whether they are existing in a parallel universe. When you look around the world and you see that Australia is actually the best-performing developed economy in the world, it is somewhat out of accord with the view put forward by the opposition.

There are a number of aspects of this budget that I think we can be very proud of. Even if you have a very close overview of some of the headline items, you have to say that the world that this budget creates is really a better world than existed in Australia before this budget was brought down. I am extremely proud to be part of this government. This budget is the core of good government. This year the government has delivered more than could have been achieved by either those opposite, who see themselves as the alternative government of Australia, or the government of any other advanced economy in the world. This budget returns Australia’s budget position to surplus in just three years, something we were told by the opposition was impossible. The government has done this while achieving economic growth last year of two per cent, generating 225,000 jobs.

Australia is in a position, since the global economic crisis, of returning the budget to surplus in just three years, 2012-13—three years ahead of the date anticipated just one year ago. Eliminating the national debt is beneficial for the economy and the community. It keeps interest rates lower than they otherwise would be and frees savings to build infrastructure, therefore boosting productivity and real income. In the 10 years preceding this government, the opposition failed in major areas. They failed to invest in infrastructure, and productivity in Australia subsequently went down—something that could have had dire consequences except for the election of the Labor government.

What has been achieved in this budget confirms the government’s credentials as an economically responsible government, with the commitment to utilising government funds to stimulate the economy in difficult times but the discipline to cut spending and return to surplus when the economy improves. This budget is economically responsible, socially enlightened and an integral part of this government’s reform agenda. In the time allocated to me I will concentrate on the policy areas that have the most impact on the growth of equity in the Australian community and the particular needs of my electorate on the Central Coast of New South Wales that are met by this budget.

One of the biggest achievements of the budget is delivering on our commitment to national health reform. Long overdue restructuring of the national health system is being addressed, with $7.3 billion in additional funding for the National Health And Hospitals Network over the next five years. That will be funded nationally and run locally. This budget delivers an additional $2.2 billion over four years. This provides for: better access to doctors, focusing on GPs; an unparalleled level of support and training for our nurses; and the introduction of electronic health records, controlled by each Australian individually. The budget is the culmination of the Rudd government’s first-term health reform agenda, with a focus on better hospitals, improved primary care and preventative health care. This is an agenda that I am extremely proud of and which I am sure will lead to better health outcomes for all Australians and a more effective health system.

The total health package provides $7.3 billion over five years—an additional investment to deliver more doctors, more nurses, more hospital beds and shorter waiting times for all Australians. This health and hospitals initiative, secured by the budget, will have a future funding base, with the Commonwealth government taking up the dominant funding position. The Commonwealth will also take full funding and policy responsibility for GP and primary care and aged-care services.

This budget will establish a $290.5 million network of Medicare locals across Australia and provide a further $126 million to deliver national after-hours care 24 hours a day, seven days a week. A national after-hours access service will mean everyone who needs to see a GP outside hours will first call their local general practitioner and, if their practice is not open, the call will be redirected to the National Health Call Centre Network. The patient will then speak to a nurse or GP about their illness and be referred to a local after-hours GP service if this is needed. These appointments will be coordinated by Medicare locals. The patient can then get the appropriate treatment they need in their local area and help take pressure off our overstretched emergency departments. Wouldn’t you prefer to be able to see a doctor as soon as you are in need of one rather than having to wait until your illness becomes worse and you have to attend an emergency department and wait for many hours? Medicare locals will do the important work of organising after-hours services as well as better coordinated acute care in local hospitals and primary care provided by GPs, allied health professionals, aged-care, mental health and Indigenous health services in local communities.

This budget will also provide a further $255 million investment in more GP superclinics and expanded GP clinics. This investment will deliver improved and expanded facilities in around 425 existing GP clinics and deliver around 23 new GP superclinics. These clinics will provide patients with easier access to allied health care providers, such as physiotherapists, nutritionists and podiatrists. Locating health professionals together in GP superclinics provides a greater focus on prevention and management of disease. This will keep more patients healthier and out of acute care.

A well-trained and supported workforce of health professionals is an essential element of an effective health system. This can only be achieved by investments in training and retraining doctors, nurses and allied health professionals. This budget provides $1.2 billion to invest in our health workforce. The majority is provided for our nurses, with $493 million for more support for nurses, with aged-care nurses—a group that has often been ignored in the past—to receive $103 million extra for their training. There is also $40.6 million to support nurses and allied health professionals who work in rural areas. The $103 million extra will be provided to recognise and support essential aged-care nurses. This funding will help more people train to join the sector and help those who are already there to upgrade their qualifications and stay in the industry.

Nurses are the backbone of the health system and this budget recognises the importance of their skills and the fact that they need to upgrade their skills to remain engaged and also to provide a better quality of care. Also, $639 million is provided to deliver increased GP training places and more opportunities for young doctors to train as specialists.

The Rudd government will invest $390 million to support around 4,600 full-time practice nurses in GP clinics. Practice nurses can reduce the level of stress on GPs, providing immunisation, writing repeat scripts, doing wound care and ensuring that those with chronic diseases properly care for their illnesses so that they do not need to receive acute care in hospital. The Rudd government is providing in particular $449 million for the better management of patients with diabetes, a rapidly growing group in our community.

One area that I am particularly pleased to see is the investment of $466 million to establish personally controlled electronic health records, something I have raised in both the Senate and this House for some 10 years now. This will ensure that patients who go from one health care provider to another health service provider can have their treatment based on accurate information that reflects their true health history and treatment. How many times have you tried to recall what illness you had, when it was, what treatment you received and what medication? A number of times you can speak with elderly people who take a whole array of medicines and they have no understanding of how the medicines interact or if they are really still required to take them. This will ensure that the health professional who is treating the patient knows the sort of treatment and medication they have received to date, to ensure the best possible treatment for them and ensure that there is no waste of resources, which happens so often with our health system. As a result of this budget, secure personal electronic health records will be progressively introduced from July 2012. For the first time, Australians will be able to check their medical history and they will be able to do it from the internet. So not only can you check your health records while you are seeing a health professional but you can also go to the internet from home and ensure that you are fully aware of your own health situation.

This government will invest more than $30 billion over four years from 1 July 2010 to deal with areas of stress within our public hospitals. The funds will provide better access to hospital service and better quality care. $750 million will be allocated to cap emergency department waiting times at four hours and expand our emergency departments. This will reduce a lot of stress and frustration suffered by patients seeking treatment at emergency departments. It is not unusual these days for people to spend some eight hours waiting for emergency care. I am sure it does not improve their health status to be waiting around in emergency departments for that period of time. A further $800 million will fund added elective surgery procedures and expand the capacity of hospitals to provide that surgery.

A further $1.63 billion will provide approximately 1,300 new subacute beds for the year 2013-14. It will support rehabilitation, palliative care and mental health. Certainly in my local area we are looking forward to receiving our share of those beds. This will improve local health care and improve people’s health to prevent them reaching the stage of requiring acute care in hospital. In particular the budget starts the reform process in relation to health with an additional $175 million targeted at our young people. About 20,000 young people receive assistance, largely through headspace, a fantastic program that I am lucky to have in my local area. It ensures that young people who are at risk of developing more severe mental health issues have treatment early and ensure they are guided down the path to remain free of mental illness if possible and to continue to engage in both education and work.

The Rudd government has negotiated the fifth Community Pharmacy Agreement and further reforms to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. This is important because it ensures that money that is collected through the community through taxation is not wasted and ensures that our health expenditure is properly directed.

The need for healthcare services on the Central Coast is becoming greater by the day. I have had extensive contact with doctors in my electorate and they emphasise time and time again the urgent need to attract more GPs to the Central Coast to alleviate the pressure on local services that are working at capacity or, in reality, in excess of capacity. Dr Paul Duff, director of the Woy Woy After Hours Medical Service, tells me that, as at the 2001 census, the Woy Woy peninsula was home to 55 GPs caring for 24,000 people. By 2010 the picture had drastically changed, with only 35 GPs looking after 44,000 people. To make matters worse, the average age of the community has increased, as has the average age of our GPs. The greater demand now falls on the shoulders of an older workforce of hardworking and dedicated doctors. This increased demand is being carried by our doctors, nurses, aged-care workers and carers.

The strain on these services is being felt by the community as a whole. Being unable to access a local GP when you need one is not satisfactory, and having to wait for eight hours in an emergency department waiting room is just not good enough. That is why this government has doubled the number of GP training places and provided $750 million to cut emergency waiting times in hospitals to four hours. That is why this government has also allocated $126 million to create national after-hours care access services. That is why this government has established a standard national pricing and quality framework for health services to build the foundation of a system that is funded nationally but controlled locally. The government has also recognised the need to boost aged-care services, an issue of some importance for my Central Coast electorate. A $532 million aged-care package has been provided to build a nationally consistent aged-care system. It will provide more beds, extra packages of care, more GPs and primary care services in aged-care facilities. This will mean better access to aged care for older Australians and a better standard of care once they are admitted to a facility.

The needs of an ageing population are felt nowhere more acutely than on the Central Coast, which is home to 25,000 of my constituents aged over the age of 65. This includes 4,212 pensioners on veterans allowances, 1,800 age pensioners and a great concentration of retirees, making up almost 19 per cent of the local community. The Rudd government will deliver $530 million to build a nationally consistent aged-care system and this will certainly assist all those over the age of 65 who reside on the Central Coast, and of course some people under 65 who are unfortunate enough to need aged care. I will continue to push for a dedicated local area health network that can focus on meeting the increased need for quality health care on the Central Coast. Going by his reply to the budget, the Leader of the Opposition would clearly like to claim that finding funds for reform for these good ideas is really just too difficult. But I am glad to see that this government has embraced the issue of health reform. The government has delivered on health for the Australian community and will continue to deliver, and this budget is an important part of that.

Youth unemployment and training is also a large issue on the Central Coast. I continue to point out the real concern of youth unemployment on the Central Coast and the need for a commitment to meet those difficulties. I have no doubt that projects such as the trade training centre located at Brisbane Waters secondary school in my electorate would not have been completed if the coalition had been in government. I am absolutely horrified by Tony Abbott’s announcement that he would no longer fund trades training in our schools. I am sure there will be a strong response from our community when they become aware of the opposition’s intention to remove funding for trade training.

Fortunately for the Central Coast community, and no doubt to the great delight of the 5,000 small businesses in my electorate, this budget provides support for around 22,500 new apprenticeships. This will be funded through a $79 million extension of the successful Apprentice Kickstart program, which is aimed at medium and small businesses. Additionally, the government has made a $250 million investment in new critical skills to create 39,000 additional training places in sectors facing high skill demand. For the Central Coast, which is facing a challenge to create local jobs for young people in areas where skills demands are placing capacity constraints on the economy, these measures are essential to the future prosperity of our region and its people.

I am particularly pleased to see contained within the budget the provision for the funding of renewable energy. Sustainability of our use of natural resources is a concern for the people of the Central Coast, and they certainly welcome the $652 million investment in the Renewable Energy Future Fund. The fund will provide additional support for the development and deployment of large- and small-scale renewable energy projects. The fund will also enhance take-up of industrial, commercial and residential energy efficiency, helping Australian businesses and households reduce their energy consumption. The projects that will be supported by the fund will greatly contribute towards achieving the government’s renewable energy target of 20 per cent by 2020.

The budget puts the government on track to return to surplus by 2013 while also addressing the critical issues in health, skills shortages, training and renewable energy. This is a budget of which all Australians can be very proud, and I am certainly proud of being part of a government that has delivered so well for my community and the whole of Australia. This is a responsible budget that returns us to surplus while delivering a fairer and more equitable community focusing on health, training and infrastructure, something I hope to see continued in future budgets. I commend these bills to the House.