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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13210


Mr ZAPPIA (Makin) (18:59): From the outset I can say that my view is that this legislation makes some common-sense changes to a number of existing acts—those acts being the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991, the Health Insurance Act 1973, the Human Services (Medicare) Act of 1973 as well and the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 was last amended in 2010, and other speakers have referred to this having been the case. The changes in this legislation corrected some typographical errors and deleted some obsolete references. From time to time it is appropriate to go through acts and delete what is no longer relevant or pick up on any typographical errors that have been encountered in the course of the administration of the act in question.

The Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991, as its name implies, essentially sets out the standards under which food is to be sold and marketed here in Australia. The act is administered by a combination of all the states and territories as well as by the federal government of Australia and the New Zealand government. Whilst there are clearly some benefits in having all these parties working together on food standards for Australia, the reality is that, when changes are needed to the act, it quite often takes an incredible amount of time to make them. When this government came to office in 2007, one of the first things it did was carry out an inquiry into food labelling in this country. Food labelling laws, which govern the labels placed on food, were regularly being raised with members on all sides of the House, so the Hon. Neal Blewett, a former member of this place, was engaged to carry out an inquiry on food labelling laws. After he had carried out the inquiry, he reported back to the House. Highlighted in the inquiry was the fact that there was room to make a number of improvements to food labelling across Australia. It was also highlighted how long it takes to put any recommendations into effect because of the fact that any change requires the agreement of so many different parties.

It seems to me that, at a time when we often see changes in society occur very quickly, we need to have in place processes which enable the government to respond very quickly to such changes. I ask whether the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act of 1991 continues to serve us as well today as it did back in 1991 and whether it is a time to have a complete review of the act. The states have finally transferred responsibility for water in this country to the Commonwealth, and that is a good thing. Perhaps this ought to be the case with food labelling also, because I can assure the House that food labelling continues to be raised with me by people in my electorate. They are particularly concerned about country-of-origin labelling.

I will quickly go through some other acts which are being changed, and I want to talk at greatest length about the changes to the act governing Medicare Locals. However, I will discuss first the proposed changes to the Health Insurance Act 1973, which would allow trainee medical specialists to carry out certain procedures in a private setting under the direct supervision of a specialist. Under this change to the existing act, the specialist would not only directly supervise the trainee but also be able to bill for the procedure. I believe that this would be an appropriate change to make. It has been raised with me in the past that there is a problem because the specialists involved in the training of medical graduates simply cannot set aside the time to do the training, which is done at a cost. If the supervising doctor—in this case, the specialist—were able to supervise the training and still bill for the time, I have no doubt that more specialists would be encouraged to train the trainees or that, in turn, we would end up with a much better medical workforce. Such a common-sense change would result in improved medical outcomes for the community once it were implemented.

The proposed changes to the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989 are also of an administrative nature. They would simply allow new industrial chemicals which represented a low risk to be exempt from notification and assessment provisions in the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act. One of the proposed exemptions would allow the exemption, from the provisions, of chemicals which are to be exported within 30 days of import and which are kept under the control of Customs during trans-shipment. Trans-shipment has become a common practice throughout the world—it is not unusual for chemicals to be brought into this country and then transferred to another country. In such cases, it makes sense that the chemicals which are to be transferred not necessarily be subjected to the same kinds of assessments and procedures to which are subjected chemicals to be used in Australia. Such a change to the existing legislation would be the result of merely applying common sense to an existing practice. I note that this change has the support of industry. This is not surprising because, when you create more bureaucracy for industry to negotiate, it is costly. Allowing this common-sense change will save industry money.

The question of Medicare Locals has been raised by other speakers—in some cases, with some criticism. The fact of the matter is that, when this government came to office, it embarked on a process of reforming the national health system. Amongst those reforms were included the establishment of Medicare Locals to replace what was previously known as Divisions of General Practice. The outcome has been that we now have 61 Medicare Locals across Australia, when previously there were 109 Divisions of General Practice. In other words, there were far more of what I would call 'bureaucratic organisations' in place than we now have. What I believe has been established is a much more efficient way of providing health services across Australia.

It is fair to say that Medicare Locals have been in place only for a relatively short time. Time will tell whether they are working as effectively as the government had predicted or whether they are not. But it is certainly too early to criticise them, as some have done.

At the time the Medicare Locals were introduced into my electorate in South Australia, there was some resistance to the notion of a Medicare Local being set up, because it meant the disbandment of Divisions of General Practice. Again, I can well recall some of the arguments being put at the time, and I accept some of the criticism, which I believe was made in good faith. However, the Medicare Local has now been in operation for some time and since its establishment I have not had brought to my attention any specific areas of concern in respect to the work and responsibilities of the Medicare Locals. So I can only assume by that that it is working well. It certainly covers a much larger region that the original Division of General Practice, but, again, I do not see that necessarily as being a bad thing because it enables the Medicare Local to coordinate services across a larger region. That in turn fits in better with the state government's provision of services in South Australia, where it too has established what I would call a regional basis for the provision of health services in the area.

What we do know is that the Medicare Locals will be responsible for ensuring that primary healthcare services are tailored to best meet the needs of each local community. And if we can do that, the patients will clearly benefit. We know that if we can link patients not only to their GPs but also to the range of allied health services they may require after having seen their GP, that will also make life for people in the community much easier. If you have a medical problem, the last thing you want to do is be confronted with one problem after another, because as you get referred from one service to another you either do not know where to go or it is a service that is not easy for you to access. By having Medicare Locals, my view is that we will be able to better provide the whole range of services that someone might be in need of after having seen their GP, all within close proximity or easy to access proximity for the person. That in itself must be a huge relief for a person who has a medical problem to begin with.

I also note that since July of this year Medicare Locals have been provided with the flexibility to spend funds allocated to them in a way that they believe best suits the needs of their local community. Again, that is not only a good thing, but it is a smart thing, because nobody knows better than the professionals in a local region what the priorities should be and where money should be spent. With respect to that I believe that the Medicare Locals also will serve the very important service of identifying where there are health gaps within the system, what those gaps are and how they can best be fulfilled.

The issue of Medicare Locals works in and links in very closely with one of the initiatives in my electorate of Makin, and that is the establishment of a GP Plus Super Clinic. This was a Super Clinic commitment that was made by the government back in 2007. In conjunction with the state government, who also made a similar commitment to the local region, $25 million was set aside for the establishment of the Modbury GP Plus Super Clinic. Health Minister Tanya Plibersek officially opened the GP Plus Super Clinic only a couple of weeks ago, on 8 November. We went through the facility on the day and I can say that it lives up to every expectation that we had of what the GP Plus Super Clinics would provide by way of health services, once it was completed. In fact, it is one of two facilities that come under the umbrella of the GP Plus Super Clinic, the other being at a place a few kilometres away, where it provides what we call an outreach service.

But, in essence, this is a facility that provides not only general practice but also nursing services, dentistry, medical specialist services and allied health services, including physiotherapy, occupational therapy, dietetic, diabetes nurse education and mental health services. The new clinic will also have a strong emphasis on education and training of health professionals and will have a focus on clinical services, including chronic disease management, health promotion and early intervention services. Importantly, the clinic will complement services provided at the Modbury hospital, located almost adjacent to the new clinic. That was one of the primary reasons it was committed to back in 2007. Because we knew that the Modbury hospital was having to provide services, particularly in the outpatients department of the hospital, that could have otherwise been provided at a local GP service, had one been available. The number of people who were going to the outpatients of Modbury hospital at the time was causing an over-demand for services in outpatients, and that in turn was making people wait longer than they should have, particularly those people who were there for legitimate hospital services.

As I said from the outset, this legislation simply makes a number of common-sense changes to some of the existing health acts. I commend the legislation to the House.

Debate adjourned.