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Thursday, 4 February 2010
Page: 474

Senator STEPHENS (Parliamentary Secretary for Social Inclusion and Parliamentary Secretary for the Voluntary Sector) (12:51 PM) —In summing up the debate on the Health Insurance Amendment (New Zealand Overseas Trained Doctors) Bill 2009, I thank Senator Fierravanti-Wells and other speakers in the debate. I want to make some short points about this particular piece of legislation to remind those listening to the debate of what we are actually doing here under this bill. It does, as Senator Fierravanti-Wells so rightly said, actually have an impact on and give effect to some changes to the 10-year moratorium. The reasons for that are very clear. Ours is a government that is determined to ensure that we develop a more transparent and fairer and consistent health system. That includes all of those considerations that are given to our rural health workforce. Those who were affected by the 10-year moratorium, which was put in place in 1997, and have been restricted from providing professional services that attract Medicare benefits for that period of 10 years are now coming out of that cycle and so the government is considering how we can continue to manage this issue. That is what this bill is all about.

I do want to say, though, that the way in which the 10-year moratorium is currently counted actually excludes years of tenure as a temporary resident, so overseas trained doctors may be prevented from providing professional services which attract Medicare benefits for longer than 10 years, which hardly seems fair. So the amendments propose that the 10-year restriction will commence from the time that a medical practitioner is first registered as a medical practitioner in Australia and will cease after that 10 years, providing that the medical practitioner has gained Australian permanent residency or citizenship during that period. The 10-year moratorium will continue to be used, along with the other reforms that are being implemented under the Rural Health Workforce Strategy, to recruit GPs for and retain GPs in rural and remote Australia. But, as I said, the measures make sure that the system is much fairer and recognises the services to districts of workforce shortage. So, as part of our $134 million rural package in the 2009 budget, the 10-year moratorium will also be scaled so that the more remote you go the shorter the moratorium. From 1 July 2010 more than 3,600 overseas trained doctors who have restrictions on where they can practise now will be able to discharge their obligation sooner according to the remoteness of the locations in which they choose to work. This is the way in which we want to incentivise overseas trained doctors to actually come into some of the harder to service areas of our country. The 10-year moratorium therefore will not be as stringent as it has been since its introduction under the previous government in 1997.

The package of reforms to this section of the act completes the significant workforce reforms already underway, as I have said, and to date it has delivered the biggest investment in our workforce through a $1.6 billion Council of Australian Governments partnership that will help to deliver training for the huge increase in Australian-trained graduates, which will actually increase from 12,700 this year to 14,700 in 2013. That funding will also help support undergraduate clinical training for 13,800 medical students and, importantly, 38½ thousand nursing students and 18,000 allied health students in 2010. We are also providing $28 million to help train around 18,000 nurse supervisors, 5,000 allied health and VET supervisors and 7,000 medical supervisors. Along with this we are increasing the availability of specialist workforce places by boosting the total number of GP training places to more than 800 from 2011 onwards, a 33 per cent increase on the cap of 600 places imposed by the former government, and we are providing specialist training places outside of the traditional public hospital settings.

This year’s budget delivers more than $200 million to help tackle the shortage of doctors and health workers in rural and remote Australia and to improve the access to health and medical services of the seven million Australians who live in regional and remote Australia. At the same time we are streamlining the multiplicity of rural health programs to make it easier for doctors and, much more importantly, easier for communities to understand and access the initiatives that will help to build the rural health workforce of the future. New access to choices as to maternity services and nurse practitioner services will also be enabled through bills which are currently before the Senate. The commencement date for the provisions is 1 April 2010 or on royal assent, whichever is the later date. It is very pleasing to have this particular bill before the Senate today. It complements, as I have said, significant workforce reforms and commitments by this government. I commend the bill to the Senate.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.