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Monday, 7 November 2005
Page: 35

Mr WAKELIN (2:47 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House of the new measure to increase the number of allied health professionals in rural and remote areas?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Grey for his question. I point out to him that the GP bulk-billing rate in his area has increased by 13.7 per cent over the last 12 months, thanks to the policies of the Howard government. Today I inform him of more good news from the Howard government. From next year, the government will offer a new rural undergraduate allied health scholarship. This means that students from country areas studying subjects like dentistry, physiotherapy, psychology, occupational therapy, speech pathology and so on will have access to this new scholarship. There will be up to 180 scholarships a year. They will be worth $10,000 a year. Over time, this should certainly help to improve health services in country areas because, if you come from the country, you are more likely to stay in the country and practise in the country. This new scholarship complements the government’s existing allied health postgraduate scholarships, and also supplements the government’s allied health professional measure, announced as part of the Strengthening Medicare policy.

The government have a good record of delivering better health services in country areas, thanks to measures such as the rural incentive payments, the practice nurse incentive payments and the establishment of rural clinical schools. The number of doctors in country areas has increased by 20 per cent since 1996. Measures like this show that, when it comes to health, the Howard government are the best friend that Medicare has ever had, and certainly we are the best friend that rural health services have ever had.

Government members interjecting—Hear, hear!