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Wednesday, 24 November 2010
Page: 3673


Mr HUSIC (6:11 PM) —Can I at the outset, on indulgence, just place on the record my condolences to the families of the Pike River miners. I think that people all across the chamber, along with others across the country, are deeply saddened by the news we have learned this afternoon. I just want to place on the record my heartfelt condolences for those families who will be going through an enormous amount of pain as we speak.

Turning to the matter that brings us here now, it gives me great pleasure to speak about the Federal Financial Relations Amendment (National Health and Hospitals Network) Bill 2010 because certainly in our neck of the woods, out in Western Sydney, health care is a major issue. It is certainly of great concern to me as a new member representing the electorate of Chifley, covering such suburbs as Blacktown, Doonside, Rooty Hill and Mount Druitt, to name but a few. What is exceptionally pleasing about this bill is that it is more evidence of the progression of reform to attempt to improve Commonwealth-state relations, making our federation, if I can put it this way, work smarter for the benefit of our citizens. It is not the only bill during the remaining time that we have in 2010 in this place that will demonstrate that we can make federation work smarter, putting aside the way we used to work to effectively work better and smarter. This bill is one example of that.

The changes, as the Deputy Prime Minister noted in late October in his second reading speech when he introduced the bill, recast healthcare funding ahead of what are phenomenal pressures, particularly the demographic wave that looms before us and the costs of technology for health care, which are well documented. I must say that, reflecting on the contribution of the Deputy Prime Minister, I was taken by the statistic that, on the basis of current trends, health and hospital spending would consume tax revenues collected directly by state governments by 2045-46. Clearly there is a demand on us as a government, particularly in communities with people getting older, with their demands increasing and with costs increasing as a consequence of improvements in technology, that we do something about this now rather than cobbling together a response at a time when we are not necessarily blessed with options. That is why this will become a landmark piece of legislation that will be celebrated not necessarily in the way we would traditionally expect but by families who will be relieved that the health care they need will be there at the time that they most need it.

The way that this legislation reflects government intention to dedicate one-third of GST revenue to health and hospital services will guarantee in effect growth funding to the states of over $15 billion over the period 2014-15 to 2019-20. In particular I note the three arms of the reforms: firstly, the funding responsibility and the sustainability combined with a focus on performance transparency and accountability, which is exceptionally important given the commitment of government funding in this area; secondly, the better access to high-quality integrated care that will guide attention towards patient need, especially around patient care need and an eye on prevention, early intervention and community care, which are aspects I would like to reflect on later in my contribution; and, finally, a massive shot in the arm for healthcare investment—$7.3 billion in immediate health and hospital improvements.

On those last two points I would like to focus on how this benefits the Chifley electorate. I have had the pleasure to get to know and work with some outstanding local professionals such as Peter Zelas, Graham Reece and Dominic Dawson, amongst others, learning about the great advancements in health care within the Blacktown and Mount Druitt areas. In particular, across Blacktown through to Mount Druitt and the two hospitals that operate there we are injecting nearly $45 million in new investment, with extra beds and in emergency rooms additional beds and extra equipment. For example, through the course of the election we were proud to announce the provision of new CT equipment and paediatric equipment for Mount Druitt Hospital. Other exciting developments include the construction of a clinician school at Blacktown Hospital and the GP superclinic which will help reduce the pressure on the emergency departments in both Mount Druitt and Blacktown, in an area, I might add, that is experiencing and is set to continue to experience phenomenal growth in residential numbers with the development that is occurring across Western Sydney.

The other thing I wanted to focus on, as I mentioned earlier, is preventive health care. Some of the things that have been raised with me as a new member and through the course of the campaign and the comments by GPs and by other professionals who work in the community in Chifley have helped me focus on those issues of prevention, issues such as early childhood speech pathology, diet and wellbeing, and the need for encouraging youth in particular to embrace exercise to improve their health now and well into the future. In addition to that I have GPs giving me information in forums that I have, including discussions with GPs such as Dr Hani Bittar, who has informed me that he and his colleagues have great concerns about the number of patients who present with healthcare problems as a result of obesity. Some other healthcare outfits in the area such as the Kildare Road medical centre in Blacktown recently undertook healthcare booths at a local shopping centre where they had people presenting who, even though they are taking blood pressure medication, still have inappropriately or in some cases dangerously high levels of blood pressure and are unaware of those conditions. Others dealing with diabetes are not aware that they have diabetes themselves. It is phenomenal when you talk to healthcare professionals about this, and we do need to find a way to detect but, importantly, prevent the impact of those conditions on people.

On the issue of speech pathology which I flagged in my inaugural speech, I have teachers indicating to me, particularly in some of the suburbs north of Mount Druitt, that there are children who are unable to quickly access assistance through the public system and the only way they could rely on that type of assistance is to approach people for private support which is well beyond financial means. If we were able to provide support at an early age for speech pathology, we would be able to benefit children in their early days in school, ensure that they are able to engage better, ensure that they are able to fulfil their promise through the education system, ensure that they are not frustrated by education because of an inability for us to provide speech pathology early on. If we are able to address these issues early on, we will in effect enable young children to become great students within the system and then they will be able to secure jobs and assist their own families in later life. If we are able to dedicate these resources earlier instead of trying to mop up later, imagine the huge transformative effect that can have on people’s potential.

It is something of great pride that we are talking more about prevention these days. It is something that was in effect neglected many years ago. That is not a political point, because I think, with respect, that on all sides it was not necessarily something that was factored in to thinking on health care, it was more about dealing with problems as they presented in emergency departments. But we simply cannot afford the social and economic cost that arises by us being unable to dedicate ourselves to prevention through better living, better diet and providing resources early on such as what I have indicated with respect to speech pathology to ensure that our citizens, our members of the community, do not have their potential limited by an inability to have healthcare resources when they need them. Certainly that is one area that I am keen to explore in terms of how we are able to better mobilise.

The government is doing this through its initiatives in primary health care and its willingness to embrace and consider other opportunities developed at the grassroots level to improve health outcomes. We cannot do these things without the ability to fund the system appropriately, which brings me back to this bill. This bill tries to think ahead in terms of funding and gearing the system to immediate needs and then ensuring a quality healthcare system when resources are needed at the tail end as the demographic wave hits ahead of the impact of the rising costs of technology.

We often debate in this place. We debate processes rather than objectives. It is important for us to focus across both sides of the chamber on the objectives that we are working towards. These are to improve the health care of the people of this nation, particularly with what is circling underneath it all in a demographic sense—that is, an ageing population. Certainly in my electorate there is a high proportion of young people and we need to meet their needs as well.

I am tremendously supportive of this bill. I express concern, as a lot of my colleagues have, that there is a proposal to set aside any action on this front. I believe that we cannot afford inaction in not only the injection of funds into the system now but also getting the system set for future growth and the future impact of the demographic changes I have mentioned. I would hope we are able to ensure this bill gets through so the people of the communities we represent will get the health care that they rightly deserve, free of the way in which federalism once failed to deliver for their needs and their wants. I hope that we can, as indicated in the bill, recast the way we finance health care in this country for the good of the people of Australia.