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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3611

Mr CRAIG THOMSON (1:37 PM) —I rise to support the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010. I had the pleasure of sitting through the contribution by the member for Bowman. Obviously the 13th year of government for the coalition would have been a big one. The member for Bowman was very able to identify a range of problems in the health system—some of which, I totally agree, are challenges and problems we need to address—but he failed to recognise that, for the 12 years the coalition were in government, their record on health was atrocious. It is all very well to say that this is the plan and this is what we should do, but the actions of the coalition during their 12 years in government were simply to let the problems—many of which were identified by the member for Bowman—continue, to become worse. Only this government has taken this issue seriously and decided that proper, substantive and major health reform is something we need to effect in this country. Quite simply, we cannot let the health system carry on the way it did when the member for Bowman’s party was in government. We cannot continue with that pattern of reducing the contributions to health funding relative to GDP that happened under the former government. We need to make long-lasting and substantial reforms to the health system and this bill is part of that.

The member for Bowman had the hide to talk about wages for aged care workers. Look at the record of the previous government in relation to aged care and aged care workers. It was the previous government which uncovered the dedicated funding that went to wages for aged care workers. They changed the way it happens so that there was not this dedicated stream to make sure that aged care workers were paid properly and were able to move ahead. Instead, we saw in the aged care sector in particular that wages were stagnating. There is little wonder we have problems today in relation to attraction, retention and ensuring there are enough skills in the aged care sector. Again, it falls to this government to fix that up. More generally in relation to wages in the work force we had Work Choices and the difficulties that individual contracts put on people working in sensitive and vulnerable areas—in the health industry, in aged care, in the community sector. It is staggering for the member for Bowman to come into this chamber today and say that this is a problem which needs to be addressed. When the coalition were in government, they directly contributed to that particular problem and made sure that that was an issue not just in the health and aged care area but more generally right across the Australian work force.

Once again, when it comes to real reforms in the economy or in health, in education or in any area of administration, we find a stark contrast. Those on the other side are happy to do nothing, to let things ride along to the detriment of the Australian community. On this side of the chamber, we are not happy to do that. We are about making sure that, where we can fix things up, where we can make reforms, we get in and do it. There is no more important area of reform than the health industry. This bill is a major step but it is not a step taken in isolation. There are a series of health reforms which have gone through this parliament already and will be rolled out over the next few years. One of the major reforms in hospital and health funding is the introduction of the local hospital networks. No area in Australia has welcomed this government initiative more than the Central Coast of New South Wales.

The Central Coast of New South Wales had an area health service which took in northern Sydney as well as the Central Coast. For years, I have been campaigning to make sure that the Central Coast has its own area health service, its own local network, so that issues about funding and resources in health care for the betterment of the people on the Central Coast can be looked after and administered by the people of the Central Coast. It is little wonder that the reform put in place by this government has been so universally supported. Even the Liberal Party have been supportive of it. Chris Hartcher, the member for Terrigal and a well-known state Liberal MP, has welcomed with open arms the announcement of the local health reform network and the regional focus that is going to happen on the Central Coast. Mr Hartcher has said it should have happened some time ago. The reason it did not happen is that we were not in government some time ago. Those opposite were in government and we know that those opposite have no interest whatsoever in making sure that there are proper reforms to our health system. Instead, they are about leaving the health system alone because they have a very different attitude to health. They believe those who can afford to can take out health insurance and those who cannot afford it can be looked after by a second tier of health care.

On this side of the House, we have always been about making sure that we have a fair and equitable health system which all Australians can access. Today we are talking about a broad sweep of reforms which are going to change absolutely the way health care is delivered in this country.

Debate interrupted.