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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3653


Mr CRAIG THOMSON (4:42 PM) —As I was saying previously in relation to Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010, the contrast between those on this side of the House and those on the other side could not be more stark in their approach to the health industry. We are about making sure we can put in place real reforms to the health system—reforms which will matter to people, ensuring health is delivered in a better, more localised way, so that people can access public hospitals and there is a proper flow of funds.

What has been on offer from the other side in relation to health is staggering. The coalition had 12 years in government when they did nothing. All they did was to decrease the proportion of Commonwealth funds to the health system. Meanwhile, our hospitals were struggling with increased workloads. What did that government then do? Absolutely nothing. In fact, the Minister for Health and Ageing at the time, who is now the Leader of the Opposition, ripped $1 billion out of the health system. That was the solution. When they first came into government they canned the Commonwealth Dental Scheme. The coalition have never been the friends of people who need health care in this country. When real reform is needed, it is only this side of the House that can implement real reform. That is what this bill is about. We are putting forward changes through a series of reforms to the health industry.

It is not just the sorry past record in health that the coalition stands condemned for. We could be generous and say that maybe they learnt that in 12 years of government they cannot sit around and do nothing. But they have not learnt. It just gets worse. What we saw in the last election was that the highly successful GP superclinics are going to spread even further around this country, changing the way in which primary health care is delivered in many communities. What was the opposition’s solution to this? Did they get on board and say that this was a good idea? Did they come up with a new promise saying, ‘We are going to do more of this’? No. Their solution, as is typical of their history in relation to health, was to cut the program. If they were elected they were going to cut GP superclinics.

I was fortunate enough that in the 2007 election a GP superclinic was promised for Dobell. We have had a temporary GP superclinic up and running for about 18 months. It is overwhelmed by the support it has from the local community. In doorknocking and going around my electorate for the 2010 election the very idea that these sorts of facilities might be cut or not proceeded with horrified the good people of the Central Coast. Luckily, we prevailed in this election and I can report that the Central Coast is getting a second GP superclinic and that is only going to add to the level of care that is delivered on the Central Coast. The Central Coast has both the fourth and fifth busiest emergency departments in New South Wales so these types of solutions are absolutely vital to make sure that we take the load off these very busy emergency departments. We will make sure that there is proper access to doctors and other health professionals so that people do not have to wait for weeks to see a doctor.

On the Central Coast many of the existing GP clinics—not the superclinics—are full. They are not taking any more patients and you cannot get in to see a doctor. I had someone come to my electoral office the other day while on holidays on the Central Coast—a good choice of holiday; one I would recommend to anyone—and they were quite ill. They had been told they could not get in to see a GP and they ended up in the Wyong Hospital emergency department because that was the only option available. We have said we know there is a problem here. We are not going to sit on our hands for 12 years and do nothing. We are going to address these problems. We are about fundamental health reform to make sure that the citizens, not just of the Central Coast but right around Australia, get a much fairer deal in health care. It is not surprising that when asked whether people supported Labor’s reforms of the health system we find that 76 per cent of Australians are right behind the sorts of health reforms that we are doing. That should not come as a surprise to anyone.

When you look at the six major areas that we are reforming in health you can see the breadth and the depth of the changes we need to look at. The six areas are: hospital projects, which is about expanding hospital capacity; investing in our workforce—training more GPs, making more nurses and allied health scholarships available so that we do not have the sort of workforce shortages that I was talking about regarding GPs but also other allied health professionals; making sure that there is primary care infrastructure, as I mentioned through GP superclinics; and e-health—another area that the policies of the opposition were to cut. They do not get this area at all. They do not get that these are the sorts of investments that are needed to save lives and improve the care that is needed for citizens around this country. Another area that we are reforming is prevention, which is in record numbers.

Those are five of the areas, and then there is the area that this bill is concerned with—the establishment of local hospital boards. There is no area that is happier with the proposed local hospital network than the Central Coast. We have been locked in to the Northern Sydney Area Health Service for the last number of years and everyone on the Central Coast has applauded this decision, even the Liberal Party. The state member for Terrigal, Mr Chris Hartcher, welcomed the decision to set up the local hospital network on the boundaries that we have been campaigning for. Even he has seen some good sense in it. The only ones who cannot see any good sense in it are those who are opposite, and they stand condemned for their opposition, for their getting in the way, for their carping about the essential reforms that are needed for the health system. We on this side of the House, on the other hand, are getting on with the job, making sure that we are putting the interests of Australians and their health care first. We are not carping, we are not blocking, we are not trying to wreck. We are getting on and reforming this health system.