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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 994


Senator McKENZIE (VictoriaNationals Whip in the Senate) (15:17): Here we go again with Senator McLucas on the shadow front bench asking questions of Senator Nash about the government's perspective on rural health. Our government will be committed to a strong health workforce, particularly in regional Australia. What the opposition does not actually realise is the election has been held; the questions have been asked and they have been answered by the Australian people. They did not choose the response of those opposite to the issues and challenges that our nation faces over coming years.

The other trick we have to remember is the word 'review' does not equate to cuts. If we are going to govern for all and govern in a way that is appropriate, then we need to ensure that the taxpayers' dollar is spent in a strategic manner. We have also promised to review Medicare Locals, to reconstitute the Australian Building and Construction Commission, and to repeal the carbon tax and the minerals resource rent tax to deal with the escalating net debt position that would see us exceed $300 billion come December—from a position, I might say, of $50 billion in the bank when the opposition came to power only six short years ago.

Just because you do not like it does not mean you should not be supporting it. Those opposite are like teenagers who were throwing a party for a few mates and, thanks to Facebook, it got a little out of control and they ended up trashing the joint. The ALP stands up to face the Australian public day after day, not apologising that they got it wrong, not even saying to the Australian people that they recognise you wanted a different approach, that they did not mean it and that they did not mean for it to get so out of control. The ALP does not even offer to help clean it up. Those opposite need to accept the reality that the situation we are in needs to be rectified. It is not going to be easy. The people have voted and they want someone to clean up the mess.

Our commitment to a strong health workforce is actually going to be supported by a series of programs ensuring the recruitment of medical students from rural areas because research shows that if you are from a rural area then you are more likely to practise your particular specialisation in a rural area. Providing supporting scholarships will deal with the fact that those on the lowest median income do come from regional Australia and so do need additional financial assistance to move to where those medical schools are, mainly in capital cities. Delivering clinical training within rural clinical schools will ensure that all young medical professionals experience the great spectrum of medical training that is available by practising in the regions. You do not just have a narrow curriculum or a narrow section of patients. Being a rural GP or a rural specialist, you get to do everything in a day from setting a leg and prescribing painkillers to dealing with mental health issues, adolescent health issues and working with the aged. It is a quite diverse and exciting place in which to practise your medical specialties.

All governments, universities and hospitals contribute to the costs of supporting clinical training of health students. The Commonwealth provides funding for training through support of universities, public hospitals, the rural clinical schools and other workforce programs, so it is an absolute misrepresentation for Labor to stand there in opposition, not accepting the reality of the election, and claim that the government is not committed to ensuring a satisfactory workforce, particularly in regional areas, when it comes to rural health provision. We are actually interested in outcomes. If we can see an inefficient program, through a review, that is not delivering health outcomes on the ground in regional Australia, then would not the smart thing—the prudent thing, the right thing to do—be to say let us take that money and put it where it will make a difference to the health outcomes for regional Australians? That is what we are interested in: actual outcome.

The government is carefully considering proposals before committing additional funding in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. This is especially important given that the former Labor government left behind a massive debt—the debt they do not want to talk about. We will continue to invest in a range of programs to meet the very real health service provision needs of regional Australia. If you do not want to help clean up the mess, that is fine—don’t. Just get out of the way so we can.