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Tuesday, 22 May 2012
Page: 5169


Ms PLIBERSEK (SydneyMinister for Health) (19:34): The member for Cowan's contribution shows exactly what is wrong with the modern Liberal Party. It was an absolute litany of negativity; not a single positive acknowledgement that Australia by world standards today is a miracle economy; not a single acknowledgement that we have unemployment beneath five per cent—and he leaves now because he does not want to hear the good news. Every day in the chamber when unemployment figures come up do we hear a single 'isn't that great' from the opposition; a single 'Hear hear!, Terrific work, having all these Australians in work'?

Never! That litany of negativity, the constant chipping and undermining of confidence in Australians and of Australians' confidence in themselves and in our economy at a time when, if you look around the world, you see how important are confidence and stability, is incredibly unpatriotic. It is incredibly damaging to Australia's sense of itself. I do not expect the opposition to agree with us on a whole range of policy settings. I know they have other priorities: they do not want to help disabled people, they do not want to invest in school education—

Mr Van Manen: Rubbish!

Ms PLIBERSEK: You do not want to support the National Disability Insurance Scheme.

Mr Van Manen: You know that's not true.

Ms PLIBERSEK: You do not want to invest in health, you do not want to invest in education, you do not want to support moving the poorest workers out of the tax system and you do not want to invest in a whole range of things that are priorities for Labor governments. What I do not expect is this talking down of Australia, talking down our success as a nation in keeping people employed during the global financial crisis. They talk down our success: look at our debt as a proportion of our GDP compared with other nations, where in many instances it is 10 times higher.

Mr Van Manen: What is that, Minister?

Ms PLIBERSEK: The member opposite asks: why is that? Why do you want to talk down Australia's chances or why is it that our debt is so much lower than other nations? The answer to both of those is perplexing.

The approach we have taken in the health budget gives a good illustration of the approach that this government have taken in this budget as a whole. We have made sensible, targeted, defensible and clinically appropriate savings so that we can fund the things that are priorities for us as a government and for us as a community. This government will spend $74.5 billion on health and ageing in 2012-13, which is a $20 billion increase on Tony Abbott's last budget as health minister, which was $51.8 billion in 2007-08. In this budget we have made new investments in areas of need, including over $500 million—$515.3 million—in a better dental scheme; $475 million for 76 projects through the Health and Hospitals Fund, investing in communities right around Australia; $49.7 million to expand the National Bowel Cancer Screening Program, initially to five-yearly screening for the target age group, moving eventually to two-yearly screening; $233.7 million to continue the rollout of a secure, national, personally controlled e-health record, which will make such a difference to patients and to clinicians; $713.5 million over 10 years for primary, allied and dental Indigenous health services in the Northern Territory, investing in an area where many Australians know that some of our most disadvantaged Australians live; and $3.7 billion to build a better aged-care system. To do that, of course, we have had to make savings. When we have looked for those savings we have looked at the areas where, with clinical advice, we could make a responsible, targeted cut. We have saved $96.5 million by capping benefits under the extended Medicare safety net to discourage excessive fees and prevent misuse of Medicare to pay for cosmetic surgery, $47 million by requiring practitioners performing diagnostic services such as X-rays to have minimum qualifications and $104.6 million through price reductions to Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme medicines. We are also looking at private health insurance policies that subsidise what are called 'natural therapies' and making sure that government subsidies are only paid where those natural therapies are determined to be effective.

Turning in more detail to dental health, delivering more affordable oral health and improving access to dental services is a major priority for this government. In fact, one of the first things I mentioned in my first press conference as the health minister was that it would be a priority for my term as the health minister. $345.9 million will be spent as part of this package on delivering services for the 400,000 people who are currently on dental waiting lists in the states and territories, making sure that those people who have been waiting for much too long will get the care they need sooner. Of course, other people will join those lists.

We will need to do more in the future and work with the states and territories to continue to invest in this area, including through, for example, our $35.7 million investment to increase the number of placements available on the Voluntary Dental Graduate Year Program from 50 to 100 by 2016; $45.2 million to introduce a similar scheme for oral health therapists, offering 50 places per annum from 2014; $77.7 million over four years for relocation of infrastructure grants, because we know that there are some communities around Australia where even if you have money in your pocket you cannot see a dentist because there simply is not one; and $10½ million over three years allocated for a national oral health promotion campaign. Today, we have once again a rising number of children with caries. Some people will tell you that that is diet; some people will tell you it is soft drink; other people will tell you it is too much bottled water because the kids are not getting fluoride in their water; and others still will tell you that as parents we have simply lost the habit of teaching our children to brush their teeth and spending the time every morning and every evening supervising. I can tell you: it does not happen in our house unless it is supervised. I have one who is a tooth-brushing avoider. Another investment is $450,000 over three years for a pilot program to support pro bono dental services to improve access for disadvantaged Australians. We know that many dentists are doing pro bono work right now. They are working with homeless people, with women and children in shelters who have left home because of domestic violence, and with refugee communities. They need a bit of help organising that and making sure that the bookings are organised and that people are going to turn up. We should reward that initiative and decency by supporting that effort.

I also want to talk a little about bowel cancer screening. Bowel cancer is a terrible cause of death and illness in Australia and it is a very preventable cause of death and illness. Bowel cancer is the cancer that is picked up early. It is very treatable and has a strong recovery rate. From 1 July 2013 people turning 60 will be invited to join the program. From 1 July 2015 people turning 70 will be invited to participate in the program. That means we will have five-yearly screening in the target population group, from the age of 50 to 70. Around five million Australians will be offered free screening over the next four years. In offering the screenings, we also need to make sure that people take up that offer. It is a very simple process. Returning that test can, literally, be life saving. We have noticed that there are some communities that have lower test return rates than others and we will have to work, in particular, with those communities to make sure that people take the test and return the screening kit. That program will be an additional $49.7 million over the next four years. By making this investment, as I said, we will also commit to moving to two-yearly screenings for all of those Australians aged between 50 and 74, which will then meet the National Health and Medical Research Council recommendation on screening.

There is so much great stuff in this budget when it comes to health, but I want to speak for a little while about the rural and regional health facilities and buildings. The government is committing $475 million in this budget for 76 health construction projects around Australia, bringing the total investment in the Health and Hospitals Fund to $5 billion. Much of it has been spent in rural and regional locations. It includes, in this most recent round of 76 projects, fantastic projects like redeveloping and continuing hospital and multipurpose health services in regional areas like Broken Hill, Bundaberg, Griffith, Hillston, Kempsey, Lismore, Peak Hill and Warracknabeal, as well as new and upgraded facilities to support additional dental services in places like Cranbrook, Murray Bridge, Narrogin, the Pilbara and Kimberley regions and Yamba. There is also additional funding for the Royal Flying Doctor Service, an aircraft-patient transfer facility, mobile oral health facilities and staff accommodation.

I was lucky enough to go to Lockhart River in Aurukun with the Royal Flying Doctor Service just last week and to see the absolutely marvellous work the Royal Flying Doctor Service does, to meet with CRANAplus—the remote area nurses and allied health people—and, most particularly, to meet with the marvellous community leaders and health professionals in Aurukun who are doing fantastic work in their own community, as well as people from outside that community. They are visiting and providing services and really doing brilliant work, and not just in the health area. I was so impressed by what they are doing in community policing as well, and what they are doing in the revolution that has happened in the school at Aurukun. They have gone from low attendance rates to great attendance rates and from low literacy rates to vastly improved literacy rates because of the leadership of their elders—their community leaders.

We are also investing in increasing the numbers of doctors, nurses and other health professionals who can be trained in areas like Broken Hill, Ulverston and Katherine by providing those training facilities and by providing accommodation. We know that medical students who train in rural or regional areas are much more likely to go back to those areas when they are practising. That is our long-term commitment to addressing some of the workforce shortage issues that we have in rural and regional areas.

The other area of important investment in this budget is $233 million which will continue the rollout of our national secure personally controlled e-health records to make sure that we provide better treatment and safer and better health services for patients, along with more convenience and the ability of health professionals to communicate better and more securely for the benefit of their patients. From July this year, Australians who want to will be able to register to create a personally controlled e-health record, which will give them a lot more security when it comes to managing their own health care. It will also make sure that, wherever they are in Australia, if they need to get access to their medical records or check the medication they are on they will be able to access that information. It will also help parents keep track of the immunisation records of their children, for example. We have made good progress in the last two years in the development of the e-health system. We are taking a moderate, staged, incremental approach. It is a little different to how some other countries have done it, but we think it is a more sensible approach when it comes to the rollout of an e-health system.

This budget is one that I am profoundly proud of. I would have loved to have time to talk about some of the broader issues, not just in my own electorate but across Australia, but, in conclusion, I just want to say that this is a budget that is full of Labor values. It takes the benefits of the mining boom and makes sure that all Australians—those Australians who have felt like they have not been participating in that prosperity that we share as a nation—can participate in that prosperity. We are investing in services and investing in support for low- and middle-income families—those who need it most.