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Tuesday, 4 June 2013
Page: 5158


Mr OAKESHOTT (Lyne) (20:43): Lyne, Mr Deputy Speaker.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Lyne! Sorry!

Mr OAKESHOTT: You're right; I'm not sure whether it is named after you in the chair, but it is a good name. Named after Sir William Lyne.

An opposition member: Are you offended?

Mr OAKESHOTT: I am not offended.

These issues in respect of the balance between public and private health are always some of the more challenging ones when they come before this chamber. Anyone who believes the nostalgia that there is such a thing as universal public healthcare system I hope, with debates such as these, would be left in no doubt that they are exactly that—that is, nostalgia. There has to be a balance between public health care and private health care in Australia. I hope that is a shared commitment from all members in this chamber. It is very much a judgement call of getting the balance right between the two.

The previous speaker, indeed, assisted me when he made the comment that in his view these were somewhat 'minute changes'. It confirmed some concerns about various aspects in both of these bills that I may personally have. I am very aware that there are some in the private health industry and in households who do believe that they are paying too much for their private health cover. I have also been watching very closely the statistics on private health insurance to see whether or not there is continued growth in the industry and to try and get the best read possible as an observer of the industry on what is happening with dropouts, take-ups and movements within membership packages and whether that does sit alongside the public system in making what I would consider Australia to have—that is, the world's best health system. What we are arguing about tonight when it comes to health care is not anything to do with Third World conditions; we are arguing about a level of excellence in health care that, again, I hope everyone in this chamber acknowledges and celebrates as to the level of care that we have got in both public and private health care.

I am also very conscious that Australia's health economics does remain unsustainable and many difficult decisions have to be made by all governments if we are to have a sustainable health system with an ageing population. I understand that next year, 2014, an intergenerational report is due. My view is that that will say what the others have said: we have a huge ageing bubble coming through and public policy on so many fronts is not treating with urgency many of those challenges faced by the ageing bubble that is coming through. At the front end of those challenges is Australia's healthcare system.

I will be supporting both of these bills, as I do think that we need to do more in regard to the sustainability of health economics in Australia. I do so with a continued eye on the figures that come out in regard to membership and profits in the private health sector and the question of whether there is continued growth in issues like infrastructure and services in regional communities that rely on the balance between public and private health care being right.

The final point I want to make is in that regard. We have an excellent expansion going on of the public hospital in one location I represent, Port Macquarie, where a combination of Commonwealth and state work and money—$96 million from the Commonwealth and $14 million from the state—is seeing a significant expansion of Port Macquarie Base Hospital with what is known as the fourth and the fifth wings currently under construction. Next to that, as well, we have some excellent expansion work with the Joint Health Education Facility, which is bringing together a range of education providers. The University of New South Wales is leading on the project. They say that this is a first for regional Australia, bringing together TAFE and several universities—including the University of Newcastle and the University of New South Wales—to deliver a range of health services and courses with the lead being a Bachelor of Medicine from first through to sixth year at the one location. That is an exciting project that is underway, and we continue to see expansion in a range of services within existing infrastructure.

Right next to the hospital, though, is a block of land that in 2002 was sold by the local council to an individual on, effectively, a promise that a 100-bed private hospital would be built next to the public facility in an exercise of getting the balance right and dealing with the growth in regional community. Four years later that was on-sold at a profit of $1 million. That is now being purchased by the majority private health provider within our community. In many people's views, including mine, it is being bought to sit on to prevent any growth in the number of private beds and the actual delivery of the council facility that they sold the land for and rezoned for, which was the promise of a 100-bed private facility. It is disappointing that, through that journey of 11 years, what started as a horse in a paddock next to a hospital is still a horse in a paddock next to a hospital.

If we are about getting the balance right, I would just urge Minister Plibersek at the table to talk to state colleagues and private providers to actually deliver on the aspirations of a community—that is, for a council which rezoned and sold a block of land to deliver a community a 100-bed hospital to ensure that we actually get it and that a private individual does not make a million bucks and the main private healthcare provider in town does not just buy out the facility to control market share. That is not community building in any way and does not assist community growth and health care in any way.

I would hope that that could be explored by the minister and that we can get a resolution to what should be a really good private facility sitting alongside some very exciting public upgrades at the hospital and university and education upgrades in health degrees happening alongside the hospital. That would make it a fantastic all-round reflection of a growing community, dreaming big and doing what it can to meet its large demands as an exciting regional growing community. But, as far as the substance of these two bills goes, they are supported, they are judgement calls and I hope we can get health economics on a more sustainable footing sometime soon.