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Wednesday, 24 June 2009
Page: 4109

Senator SHERRY (Assistant Treasurer) (11:19 AM) —Thank you for the contributions to the debate, and thank you also to the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee for its work on the inquiry. I am very pleased today to have the opportunity to sum up the debate on the Health Workforce Australia Bill 2009, although it is somewhat unexpected. There are existing workforce shortages and factors such as population ageing and increasing levels of chronic disease that will exacerbate pressures on Australia’s health system and its workforce in the near future. We know that improvements are needed to clinical training arrangements, along with strategies to maximise productivity and to improve the efficiency, effectiveness and responsiveness of the health workforce to ensure the health needs of Australians can be met in the future.

The Council of Australian Governments’s $1.6 billion health workforce package, which is the single largest investment in the health workforce ever made by an Australian government, was developed in recognition of these issues. A linchpin of the COAG package is the development of Health Workforce Australia, a national health workforce authority that will work with and across jurisdictions and the education and health sectors to produce more effective, streamlined and integrated clinical training arrangements and to support workforce planning and policy development.

Among other critically important functions, HWA will fund, plan and coordinate pre-professional-entry clinical training across the major health disciplines from 2010. It is not intended that this agency usurp the functions of accreditation agencies or universities in relation to clinical training accreditation. These bodies will remain responsible for the accreditation. I note the minority report of the community affairs inquiry recommended an amendment to clarify this in legislation, which we are happy to support.

The agency will finally allow for proper workforce planning so that we can fix the long-term issues of the health workforce across all Australian governments. The governance arrangements for HWA reflect the shared funding and policy interests of all jurisdictions and provide for directions from and reporting to Australia’s health ministers. The effective functioning and development of the agency will require ongoing consultation and involvement with a range of stakeholders. Passage of the bill is required to establish HWA and to ensure it is operational within the time frames agreed to in the COAG health workforce package. Essentially, passage of the bill will instigate the immediate activities needed to improve the health workforce and therefore the health system for the Australian population.

I would like to thank all those who have been involved directly or indirectly in the development of this package and important legislation. I have been delighted by the strong support of all governments and the health and education sectors, all of whom have recognised the significance of this package and the need to get on with the job of improving Australia’s health workforce.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.