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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3604

Ms HALL (1:06 PM) —I rise to support the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010, which implements the federal government’s financial relations aspect of the National Health and Hospitals Network Agreement, as agreed to by the Council of Australian Governments, other than Western Australia, on 10 April 2010—a day I well remember, as I welcomed the outcome of that COAG meeting because it delivers great benefits to the Australian people. At the same time I felt very sorry for the people of Western Australia, who stand to miss out on the benefits that will be coming to Australians throughout the rest of the country.

Under this legislation the Commonwealth is retaining and dedicating a portion of the GST to fund health and hospitals and is establishing a National Health and Hospitals Network Fund. It introduces a new process, which the minister must complete before seeking to reduce specific purpose payments for health care, including to Western Australia. The Commonwealth commits to providing no less than $15.6 billion in additional top-up funding over the period 2014-15 to 2019-20. The bill provides flexibility in the provision of this amount of money.

Reform of the health system became apparent to all members of this House not in the last parliament but in the parliament before that when the then Minister for Health and Ageing, the current Leader of the Opposition, referred terms of reference to the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing to conduct an inquiry into health funding. He referred this matter to the committee because he was concerned that the health system was not operating effectively, that it could be more efficient. He recognised the need for change given that Australia had to have a health system that would be appropriate for the 21st century and beyond. The health and ageing committee brought down a wonderful report called The blame game - report on the inquiry into health funding.

The first recommendation of that report was that the Australian government, in conjunction with the states and territories, develop and adopt a national health agenda. It goes on to say that it should look at the roles and responsibilities of the different levels of government and at long-term sustainability of the health system, that it should support the best and most appropriate clinical care and that it should support affordable access to best practice, that it should look at structural reforms and inefficiencies, that it should give greater articulation to standards of service, that it should be responsive to the needs of the community and that it should redress inequities. That is just the first recommendation.

This report was tabled in the House in November 2006. By the time of the election, when the parliament rose in 2007, the then government had not responded. The then health minister had not shared with the parliament what his thoughts were on the report that he asked the member for Fairfax, the chair of the committee, to conduct. It was a very long, involved inquiry. If I might say so, the report was very detailed; it looked at all aspects of the health system. It identified that the current funding arrangements were not working. At the time that the terms of reference were given to the health and ageing committee, the then minister for health, the Leader of the Opposition, was keen to say that the states were shifting to the Commonwealth. The committee found that there was cost shifting both ways—the states to the Commonwealth and the Commonwealth to the states. In the long run it was the consumers, the Australian people, that were missing out. The report identified that very, very clearly. It also identified very, very clearly that there were issues of workforce shortage that needed to be addressed, and I am really sad to report to the House today that the then minister for health, the Leader of the Opposition, did nothing.

But I must say the Rudd government and the Gillard government have embraced the need for health reform. That health reform recognises the fine work done by the then health and ageing committee and recognises the changes that need to be made to ensure that all Australians can have quality health care and access to health services going into the 21st century and beyond.

The aspect of the National Health and Hospitals Network that we are looking at is how the GST is going to be used to fund health services and put money into public hospitals going forward into the 21st century. Seven separate health systems will be replaced by a single national hospitals network, remembering that one state is not part of this reform. It combines all public hospitals and all GP and related services. The Commonwealth is picking up 60 per cent of the funding of public hospitals. When the Leader of the Opposition was health minister he ripped a billion dollars out of our public hospital system. The Gillard government is agreeing to undertake 60 per cent of the funding for public hospitals—something that can only benefit all Australians.

This has needed to happen for a very long time, as was identified in the report The blame game - report on the inquiry into health funding. Health reform should have been undertaken many years before now. It really disappoints me, to say the least, that the opposition is continuing to be obstructionist in its response to the health and hospital reforms. It is refusing to support the legislation that we have before us today, legislation that addresses the issue of cost-shifting—which the then health minister was interested in at that time—and is putting in place a system that will benefit all Australians, with the Commonwealth taking full responsibility for all primary care and taking on the responsibility of 60 per cent funding for public hospitals.

It is setting up local hospital networks. In the area that I represent, there will be two local hospital networks. There is the Hunter New England local hospital network, which remains the same as it is at the moment, but it also sets up a Central Coast local hospital network. That is something that the people on the Central Coast have been calling for for a very long time. They wanted to have their own hospital network. They wanted to have a Central Coast focus on the delivery of health services. These reforms deliver that to the people of the Central Coast, and the feedback that I have had from my constituents is very, very positive.

Mr Laming —You’re listening to the wrong people!

Ms HALL —The member for Bowman says I am listening to the wrong people. The people I listen to are the constituents in Shortland electorate, the people who have been unable for a very long time to access the health services they want to access, the people who have been unable to visit their local GPs because of the shortage of GPs in the area. And that is a shortage that developed because of the action of the Howard government when they capped the number of training places for GPs, when they reduced the number of doctors that were being trained and when they constantly ignored the pleas of people like me in this parliament who were saying, ‘It’s not good enough that 8,000 constituents whom I represent in this House do not have one doctor.’ Time and time again I raised the issue of the doctor shortage within my electorate, and time and time again it was ignored. It was not one health minister who ignored it but three coalition health ministers who ignored it.

But the Rudd and Gillard governments have recognised the fact that all Australians, not only those living in inner Brisbane, inner Adelaide, inner Sydney or inner Melbourne, deserve to have quality health services. Those were not the only ones who deserved to go and see a doctor; it was all Australians. The reforms that have taken place under the Rudd and Gillard governments have meant that there has been a $64 billion agreement for health and hospital funds and $600 million for an elective surgery waiting list reduction plan. This has already kicked in in my electorate, with Belmont Hospital being earmarked to benefit from that and Belmont Hospital also receiving money for an upgrade of their accident and emergency department so that they can meet the guidelines that have been put in place. That is something that the previous government, the Howard government, chose to ignore. There has been an $872 million investment in preventative health. If you invest in preventative health, you are addressing the issues of health before people develop chronic disease, something that the previous coalition government chose to ignore. There has been investment in the rural and remote workforce as well as investment in the workforce in areas like the area I represent. With more doctors being trained, more nurses being trained and more allied health professionals being trained it really is a win for the Australian people.

We do have an ageing population. Shortland electorate has one of the oldest populations in the country. I stand in this place to argue for equity for the people of Shortland electorate. I have done that over a very long time. The people of Shortland electorate deserve to have quality health and hospital services. The legislation we have before us today and the reform of healthcare funding arrangements are required to deliver this to the people of Shortland and the people of Australia. This will put in place a framework that will ensure that health is adequately funded. That can only be done by putting in place the framework we have before us today to put legs on the National Health and Hospitals Network. This is vitally important legislation, and it will allow the Commonwealth to retain the proportion of GST to bring to fruition the 60 per cent commitment that has been made to the states. (Time expired)