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Thursday, 24 May 2012
Page: 5513

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (12:35): It is always a great pleasure to follow the shadow health minister, whose only contribution so far to the health debate as far as policy is concerned has been to introduce a private member's bill to exempt 37 dentists from having to meet their responsibility in relation to the chronic dental health program. I am pleased to see that the opposition is going to support the legislation, because it is a very, very rare occurrence that I stand in this parliament and actually speak to a piece of legislation that the opposition says it will support. As I said, the shadow minister's contribution to the health debate was not about providing better dental health services to Australian people but rather looking after 37 dentists who have not met the requirements for their payments under the chronic dental health program. I think all Australians can question whether or not the shadow minister really is across his portfolio and understands health issues. Whenever I speak on any health legislation I refer to the report of an inquiry conducted in November 2006 entitled The blame game: report on the inquiry into health funding. It looked at a number of the issues that are covered by this legislation relating to cost shifting between the Commonwealth and the states. The report was commissioned by the previous government, when the Leader of the Opposition was the Minister for Health and Ageing, and the committee brought down some really good recommendations. It was a unanimous report; it was supported by both sides of the parliament. I am sad to inform the House that the then government did nothing to implement any of the recommendations in that report.

After being elected, the Rudd government, firstly, followed by the Gillard Labor government, decided that health was a priority. They decided it was time to address the waste and mismanagement within the health system that had been rampant under the then Howard government, with, as I mentioned before, the Leader of the Opposition as health minister. So the Rudd and Gillard government embraced health reform.

The final health reform package that was taken to COAG delivers a national deal on health that will actually last. It takes into account the recommendations of The blame game report and that notes that there has been massive cost shifting over a very long period of time. I will give an example of that situation. I used to be a member of a state parliament. I stood in that state parliament and criticised the Commonwealth for cost shifting. I have also been in this place when the state, whose parliament I was previously a member of, was criticised for cost shifting. A situation has been set up where the Commonwealth can blame the states and the states can blame the Commonwealth. At the end of the day, the people that miss out are the Australian people.

That issue is at the heart of the reforms that the Gillard government has progressed. The Gillard government is investing $16.4 billion in the health system and imposing tough national standards to make sure that the money goes where it should. Because of that national deal, every person in Australia will benefit, no matter where they live. The legislation before us today is about putting in place those national standards. It is about making sure that the payments are made and that there is proper oversight of the national health reform agenda. Those reforms are delivering $16.4 billion to health in this country. More subacute beds and local hospital networks have already been set up. Medicare Locals has already been set up. This is about delivering health locally, based on the needs of the local community, and ensuring that all Australians get the health care they need. It is not about putting health money into insurance; rather, it is about putting health money into delivering health services.

Along with this, 6,000 doctors will be trained over the next decade. Within my electorate, under the previous government, something that was really noticeable was the shortage of GPs. It is an outer metropolitan area. In the Newcastle area, there was a chronic shortage of doctors. Try as I did to get the then Howard government, with the Leader of the Opposition as health minister, to address those issues, I could raise no interest.

I am pleased to report to the House that I am noticing a real improvement in the number of doctors available locally for people in Shortland electorate to attend to get the health care they need. This is a direct result of the government's investment in the training of more doctors. This government also realises the need for improvement in emergency departments and in reducing elective surgery. This government realises all these approaches need to be adopted so that the health of Australian people can be cared for.

I always find it hard, when I follow the member for Dickson, not to become too negative about what he has said to the parliament. I found his comments about the scheme and Barry Jones just ludicrous. Talking about it as a money-laundering exercise is, I think, appalling— (Time expired)

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop: Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. The National Health Reform Amendment (Administrator and National Health Funding Body) Bill 2012 is about appointing the administrator in the National Health Funding Body. I think if the member could return at least in part to the subject instead of what she is doing it would be helpful.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. DGH Adams ): The honourable member for Shortland will address the matters of the bill.

Ms HALL: Certainly, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I felt that it was very important that I take the member for Dickson to task for the statement he made about Barry Jones and this being a joint money-laundering exercise. I am really responding to issues that were raised by the previous speaker in this debate. I feel that it is in the interest of good sound debate and of ensuring that the Australian people have the correct information that I respond.

As the member for Mackellar rightly points out, this legislation is about amendments to the national health reform agenda. It makes amendments relating to the administrator's functions and the Hughes provisions and to allow the funding body to assist the administrator in acting in his or her state capacity. The purpose of these amendments is to amend the bill to address concerns from the Victorian and Western Australian governments that the Commonwealth legislation should not confer on the Commonwealth appointed administrator powers to exercise functions that should be exercised only by state appointed administrators, such as making payments from state pool accounts within the National Health Funding Pool. There are four aspects to the amendments. In talking to those amendments, I need to say that these are essentially technical amendments, in that they do not change the operation of the administrator of the National Health Funding Pool; they just allow the function to be conferred on the office. They do not change the role; they allow it to be conferred on the office.

The bill as introduced reflects an agreement by Commonwealth and state officials on how these functions should be conferred in Commonwealth legislation and be mirrored in state legislation. After the bill was finalised the two jurisdictions I have mentioned changed their mind. Rather than having all functions conferred under both Commonwealth and state law, the states asked that state functions be conferred only under state law. So this was a request of the states.

These amendments remove from Commonwealth law the functions of monitoring state payments into the National Health Funding Pool and making payments from that pool. These functions will now be conferred on the administrator under state law. However, the Commonwealth law will still require the administrator to report monthly on payments of Commonwealth and state funding to local health networks, resulting in unparalleled public access to information about how money flows through the public hospital system. I believe that is a very important component of this legislation. It is imperative that those monthly reports be made. It is imperative that this amendment goes through the House, so as to ensure the functioning of the body. I am very pleased that the opposition is supporting it.

The other amendment that is being made to the national reform bill will enable the Commonwealth to make national health reform payments to the states and territories. This will require key changes, including replacing the national healthcare specific purpose payments with payments to public hospital and health services and ensuring that national health reform payments are made in accordance with the National Health Reform Agreement. The bill is being amended to change the date of effect from 1 July 2012 to the date that the act receives royal assent. This amendment is being made to ensure there is greater flexibility to make payments to some or all of the parties ahead of 1 July 2012.

This is fairly technical, but important, legislation. It will ensure that reform of the health system flows in the way the government intends. It puts in place proper accountability measures. I strongly support this legislation and am pleased that the opposition, for once, is not opposing legislation before the parliament and will be supporting the government on this legislation.