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Wednesday, 13 February 2013
Page: 1368


Mr ENTSCH (LeichhardtChief Opposition Whip) (18:53): I rise this evening to talk about some serious health issues that have arisen in my electorate and the failure of this government to provide sufficient funding for programs to address them. As anyone who has experienced a serious illness knows, poor health can impact on many areas of your life—some would even say that without your health you have nothing. Yet health in this area has suffered greatly under this government.

Typically, though, the government does not want to take responsibility and instead is trying to shift the blame to the state government. In Queensland in particular, the federal Treasurer, Wayne Swan, only last month claimed the Queensland government was responsible for cuts to public hospital funding despite the cuts appearing in his own budget papers. The most recent figures in the Final Budget Outcome for 2011-12 and in the Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13 clearly showed that the total federal funding for health will fall by $988 million this year. Yet the Queensland government knows that health is a priority and will increase the Queensland health budget by $816 million in this financial year. I would like to highlight a statement made to the Queensland parliament on 28 November 2012, in which Health Minister Springborg said:

The key difference in Health under this government, compared to its predecessor, is that Health dollars matter …

Health dollars buy operations. They buy beds. They pay staff. They are what enables us to improve the health of Queenslanders. The good management of Health dollars enables improved facilities and services. With good management, we extend our reach into remote area health. It enables better access to advanced medicine. It facilitates research and we reap the benefits.

This clearly shows that the LNP is committed to ensuring that Queensland Health is able to provide vital front-line services in the face of challenges left to the department, including a bungled payroll system that has cost taxpayers billions of dollars and a waiting list of patients that has left nearly 200,000 Queenslanders stranded.

Labor's budgetary mismanagement is so bad that, at the time of the change of government, the combined 2011-12 budgets for health districts and corporate head offices were $130 million in the red. While these challenges are immense, Queensland's ability to address these issues has been significantly eroded by the actions of the federal Labor government. Here again, I am quoting Minister Springborg:

The Labor government is gone, but the legacy of Labor’s financial mismanagement remains and the burden it imposes gets worse. Why? Because while the LNP strives to fix these serious problems we are sabotaged by a growing problem with Labor financial mismanagement in Canberra.

He goes on to describe the unheralded midyear budget cuts imposed by the federal Treasurer, who has cut $382 million from the Queensland Health budget over four years. Because economic forecasts are so badly mismanaged by the Treasurer, two years of unforeseen and punitive cuts to Queensland Health will be felt in just seven months. In my electorate, that is $6.5 million from the Cairns and Hinterland Hospital and Health Service and $900,000 from each of the Cape York and Torres Strait-Northern Peninsula services. A total of $103 million will be deducted from Queensland Health by the Commonwealth between December 2012 and June 2013. This equates to some 1,000 jobs state wide, stripping the department of the capacity for 84,000 births, 15,000 hip replacements or 112,000 tonsillectomies.

Why is it not a priority for the federal Treasurer? In my electorate of Leichhardt, these cuts have been felt in the key area of mental health, especially in the provision of mental health services for young people. The Time Out House in Cairns has been a major resource for young people aged between 15 and 25 with mental illnesses, providing critical residential and outreach support services. Over the past three years, it has provided short-term accommodation for 38 people, supported more than 100 young people in an outreach program and made a huge difference to the lives of young people and their families. Yet, with the federal Treasurer's cuts, Queensland Health could no longer afford to fund this service, and the house was due to be shut on 28 February. Staff members were in the process of moving clients to hospitals and homes, selling furniture and looking for new jobs.

I became actively involved with this only last week. I was seriously concerned about the outcomes for two young people who are accommodated in that area. It had taken a couple of years for those families to find them an appropriate level of accommodation. At last, they were somewhere that was age-specific, and it was making a significant difference to the lives of those young people. I am pleased to announce today that, after some very significant lobbying by Ivan Frkovic, State Manager of Queensland Aftercare, the state government has agreed to continue to fund the centre for an extra six months. I congratulate Health Minister Springborg and his office for their efforts and their foresight, compassion and understanding of the seriousness of the situation. This funding extension will allow for the residential care to continue; but, unfortunately, not for the outreach support service. I was able to ring the family of one of the young people who was staying there. They had already removed their young person, and I asked them to take them back last Monday to give them a chance to stay there, which they readily did. It is certainly my intention to fight for a funding commitment for this centre in the upcoming federal election. Mental health has long been a priority for the coalition—and this program's success, I can assure you, cannot be ignored.

Another area of concern that I have been raising consistently in this place is in relation to the spread of drug resistant tuberculosis. It is a major issue that Queensland Health has been forced to deal with on behalf of the federal government. Papua New Guinean nationals, particularly those from the Western Province area, who have tuberculosis have been coming across the border seeking support and treatment in Queensland. Many times, as I said, I have spoken in this House about this issue, so I think most people would be familiar with the fact that the islands of Saibai and Boigu, which are to the very north of my electorate in the Torres Strait, are located within only a few kilometres from the Papua New Guinean coastline.

For a number of years, health clinics on Saibai and Boigu were treating people who had come across that narrow strait seeking better health services than what were available to them or, in some cases were almost non-existent, in their region. Other more seriously ill people made the journey to Cairns, such as 20-year-old Catherina Abraham. She will spend the next 2½ years in an isolation ward at the Cairns Base Hospital, where she is being treated for Extensively Drug Resistant Tuberculosis. The cost of that treatment to Queensland Health will be in excess of $1 million, provided that young lady survives the treatment.

For the 2009-10 and 2010-11 financial years, Queensland Health estimates that the provision of health services to PNG nationals who travel through the Torres Strait Treaty Zone and present to Queensland Health facilities exceeded $32.7 million. After chasing reimbursement from the federal government numerous times, in June last year Queensland Health was forced to sign off on a project agreement to receive $8.1 million or forfeit the entire amount. To this day, Queensland Health has yet to receive the remaining $24.6 million. I ask the question: how can the state government be expected to properly fund programs when it is obviously being hamstrung by the federal government?

When I hear that a 15-year-old girl in my electorate has had to live in an adult psychiatric unit in the Cairns Base Hospital because there is no mental health ward for adolescents and young people in North Queensland and that the closest facilities are in Townsville, Brisbane, it certainly disgusts me. The girl's mother has written to me several times, desperate for assistance and outcomes, saying that her daughter 'will continue indefinitely in this extremely inappropriate living environment while medication experiments and other treatment fumbles continue'. At the same time, she tells me that the Medicare rebate for occupational therapy has been slashed. Instead of 16 visits a year, in 2013 she will be able to access only six sessions, with an additional four if it is an acute situation. She wrote:

I request that you apply your attention to this immediate issue as it will place my family, my child and many other critical and needy families and their young people in a very precarious situation.

I certainly wish that Treasurer Swan would come up to my electorate and spend a few hours in the shoes of this family.

These cuts are in addition to the nearly $4 billion that has been slashed from private health insurance and the $1 billion a year from dental health through the closure of the Medicare Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. The Chronic Disease Dental Scheme shut down on 30 November. That was a grave mistake, because in our regional area and in our Indigenous and remote communities there is an absolutely vital need for this service. The statistics are quite sobering—51 per cent of our Indigenous children under the age of five have been hospitalised for dental treatment compared to 34 per cent of non-Indigenous children; Indigenous people between the age of 17 and 20 are 8.2 times more likely to have decayed teeth; and 49 per cent of Indigenous adults between the age of 35 and 54 avoid certain foods because of their oral health problems compared to 17 per cent of other Australians—so much for closing the gap. It does not matter what your background is as delays in getting better treatment given these conditions mean the particular condition worsens and at the end of the day this means major surgery. Figures for 2009 showed that in the Cairns and Hinterland health district dental conditions were second only to diabetes complications as the most common cause of potentially avoidable hospitalisations. With a rate of 353 hospitalisations per 100,000 people, the Cairns and Hinterland rate is significantly higher than the wider Queensland rate of 267 incidents per 100,000 people. Unfortunately, given that the new child dental scheme does not commence until 1 January 2014, this means that there would be a gap of some 13 months in seeing young people, and I fear for these children who may remain untreated as to what impact that will have on their overall health. In addition, Labor's proposal for adults does not commence until July 2014, which is 19 months after the Medicare scheme closes. Until then more than one million patients who would have been eligible for the chronic disease dental scheme will lose access to timely dental treatment.

Despite these dire needs, this government chooses to cut the funding to this scheme. No doubt these cuts will be used to fund schoolkids bonuses and process asylum seekers or plug some other parts of this government's enormous budget black hole, which is growing every day. I can certainly tell you that where it will not be going, and that is towards the provision of health services to deal with the extremely serious alcohol and drug dependency issues in the remote Indigenous communities in Cape York. I watched the Prime Minister's Closing the Gap statement in parliament last week and was very disappointed with her comments. She talked about how winding back the alcohol management plans would result in rivers of grog and added that the interests of Indigenous children would come before the interests of the alcohol industry. In my electorate there are nine shires with alcohol management plans that are in place plus two communities where alcohol is restricted under the Cape York Welfare Reform trial. Surrounding townships have been negatively impacted by the influx of people with alcohol problems who have been forced to move to new areas because the Gillard government has refused to fund the appropriate medical and social infrastructure and services they need.

If the Prime Minister really cared and if she were really serious about dealing with alcohol problems in remote communities, it would be reflected in her actions. That would start with an investment in medical detox centres in the regional health facilities along with the establishment of healing centres in adjoining community outstations. There is also a need for a significant increase in the placement of alcohol and drug counselling and mental health experts in these remote areas and these regional areas. This is the kind of action that would demonstrate a genuine commitment to this very complex problem. This would certainly contribute to the closing of the gap, not the political rhetoric that we are seeing at the moment.

To close, I can only shake my head in sadness as I look at these four key areas of health that I have mentioned tonight and at the impact that the loss of services is having on the people in my electorate. The legacy of this government will be one of absolute waste of money through pink batts, school halls and immigration blow-outs. Its financial mismanagement is demonstrated by four consecutive record budget deficits and a $120 billion black hole of unfunded promises. We can do much, much better and I look forward to the opportunity of doing so after 14 September.