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Tuesday, 16 March 2010
Page: 1876

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (1:01 PM) —It seems that everyone has provided their contribution on the Health Legislation Amendment (Midwives and Nurse Practitioners) Bill 2009 and related bills. I thank the senators and I table a replacement explanatory memorandum relating to the Midwife Professional Indemnity (Commonwealth Contribution) Scheme Bill 2009 and the Midwife Professional Indemnity (Run-off Cover Support Payment) Bill 2009. I am pleased today to have the opportunity to sum up debate on these bills because they do introduce landmark changes for Australian nurses and midwives.

Since the election the government has been working to boost our workforce piece by piece. This legislation is a key part of the puzzle which has already seen funding for over 1,000 additional undergraduate nursing and midwifery university places a year and funding to provide new nurse practitioner and midwifery scholarships to build the workforce for the future. And just yesterday the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health and Ageing announced a major investment to tackle the doctor shortage.

These bills deliver access to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, the MBS, and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Schedule, the PBS, for midwives and nurse practitioners for the first time in Australia. These bills will also provide Commonwealth support for indemnity insurance for midwives who, as we are aware, have been unable to access insurance since 2002. This opens the way forward for improving access to maternity services, improved choice for women in maternity services and improved access to services provided by nurse practitioners. Put simply, this recognises the skill and expertise of nurse practitioners and midwives, which is long overdue recognition, and provides better services to the community.

The government has always been clear about the fact that these arrangements will need to be provided collaboratively with other health professionals. The Minister for Health and Ageing circulated amendments that reflect this intention, and I can confirm that we will not be proceeding with the amendment on the insurance bill and I will formally withdraw that at the appropriate time. The arrangements that these bills bring in do not cover homebirths. However, they do not take away any current right and they do not make homebirths unlawful. Privately practising midwives who are unable to obtain professional indemnity insurance for attending a homebirth will benefit from an exemption from the requirement under the new national registration and accreditation scheme to hold indemnity insurance for a two-year period, until June 2012. The framework for accessing the exemption is being developed by the Victorian government and has just been the subject of consultation.

The government recognises the importance of these arrangements to midwives, women and their families around the country. It also recognises the significant time and effort put in by their representative stakeholders. The government is looking forward to continuing to develop the details of the collaborative arrangements with stakeholders and to implementing this exciting reform in the coming months. It is vital to emphasise a point which I think the opposition has now acknowledged: that to vote against this package of bills would prevent a major expansion of services to many hundreds of thousands of women and prevent the establishment of any type of indemnity insurance for midwives. The government is committed to supporting Australia’s nurses and midwives who, quite frankly, are the backbone of our health workforce. The changes in these bills are significant and are a practical step in improving access and choice for Australians. We remain extremely proud that we are providing new and innovative options for thousands of women across the country.

In addition, I can provide some response to the second reading amendment moved by the Greens. The government do not accept that amendment. We have been clear about the coverage of these arrangements, as I have said in the summing-up, and we have been instrumental in gaining agreement to a transitional arrangement in the national registration and accreditation arrangements. This means that homebirth will not be outlawed or driven underground. We will continue to work with all stakeholders on these significant maternity services reforms and closely monitor the effectiveness of the new arrangements. With these closing remarks can I again thank all the senators for their contributions to the second reading debate. I commend the bills to the Senate.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Hurley)—The question is that the second reading amendment moved by Senator Siewert be agreed to.

Question negatived.

Original question agreed to.

Bills read a second time.