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Thursday, 13 August 2009
Page: 7863

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) (4:15 PM) —I am always pleased when the member for Dickson gets an MPI and gives us an opportunity to talk about health. I think everybody across the country and probably everybody in the parliament agrees that our health system is at a tipping point and that there are problems that need to be fixed. Of course, I take issue with responsibility for the problems and with the causal links that the member for Dickson has made with some of the problems, but we agree that there are a range of problems in the system.

But after getting over my initial enthusiasm and excitement that the member for Dickson has an MPI on a topic which is very important for the community, I am frustrated that the member has spent 15 minutes listing every single problem and not one single solution—and he mostly does not even stay to hear the debate. Last time he went out to conduct an interview on alcopops. He wanted to hide the fact that he had to execute a very humiliating backflip. I suppose it is no surprise that today, the very day the alcopops matter is finally passed by the Senate, the member did not raise that in his 15-minute speech about health.

Let us get serious about this. We do not pretend it is easy; we do not pretend that the health system can be fixed immediately. We have invested in a range of measures, and we can spend all our time going through the range of investments we have made. But I challenge the member for Dickson to go out to Queanbeyan, in the electorate of the member for Eden-Monaro, where the GP superclinic is now contracted and underway, to ask people whether they want the GP superclinic and whether they think it is a bad idea. I challenge him to speak to the member for Herbert. He has used with glee the example of the Townsville Hospital, which is getting $250 million courtesy of the Rudd Labor government—

Mr Dutton —Not one of them is open; not one has opened.

Ms ROXON —If you would listen, you would know that I am now talking about the Townsville Hospital—and, last time I checked, it was open. There is $250 million going there. I would like the member for Dickson to ask the member for Herbert to come and say whether he would like us to pull that money out. To add to the frustration of having a 15-minute list of problems with not a single solution being put on the table by the Liberal Party, it takes a bit of cheek for the member for Dickson to have this mostly confected outrage about consulting with the community when we have committed to a GP superclinic in his electorate. We consulted in his electorate, but the member could not be bothered to come along to the consultation. The construction work has begun, but he could not be bothered to come to the opening. Obviously he is too embarrassed to turn up in his electorate. He holds the seat with a slender margin and he may not even run in that electorate in the future, so I think it is a bit rich for him to come in here and criticise us.

Let us get this absolutely straight. When the previous government were in power, we criticised them for blaming every problem in the health system on the state governments. Now that they are in opposition, every problem in the public hospitals is instantly our fault. Let us not be so simplistic about this. There are a range of problems in the health system. We can invest money, we can change programs and we can improve accountability—and I will in due course give you a list of some of the things that have improved. The member has the gall to stand here and say that every decision we have made has made public hospitals worse. Let us look at a few of the decisions. How does it make public hospitals worse to invest 50 per cent more money in the delivery of services through our public hospital systems? How does it make public hospitals worse to deliver 41,000 extra elective surgery procedures which would not have been provided if the Commonwealth did not give that money? How does it make public hospitals worse in the electorate of the member for Forde when our $700 million investment in emergency departments is putting $44 million into the emergency department there? How does it make public hospitals worse to continue to invest in elective surgery equipment and new theatres? How does it make matters worse at Calvary Hospital when there is a new elective surgery theatre and more people are now having their elective surgery done?

The member for Dickson is living in some sort of fairyland. He thinks we can wave a wand and everything will be fixed on day one. The truth is that the public understand how complex this debate is. Even when we go to hospitals that are having challenges—hospitals that are having difficulty handling swine flu cases, or hospitals like Royal North Shore Hospital, which has historically had problems—the clinicians, the nurses, the psychiatrists and the GPs who service the local area come to us time and time again and say: ‘We want to be part of this process. These are the things that we think are good in the Health Reform Commission recommendations and these are the things we think should be different. Thank you, Prime Minister, for coming and talking to us about this.’ I think it is just nonsense to pretend that these difficult problems do not merit consultation with the community, consultation with the clinicians, consultation with the nurses and consultation with the specialists who are delivering these services. I do not think people will take the member for Dickson seriously when he just stands up and lists the problems. In a particular instance, he has fundamentally misled the parliament. He said there is a protest in Cootamundra about the Rudd Labor government for a decision made by an area health service run by the New South Wales government.

Mr Dutton —Blame game!

Ms ROXON —The member for Dickson cannot pretend, with his trite interjections about ‘blame game’, that he is not standing up and absolutely misleading the House, confecting and confusing two different issues. We want to work to fix those problems. If the member bothered to visit the primary care centre that was opened in Cootamundra—

Mr Dutton —Madam Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I took offence to the words of the minister, and I ask that you ask her to withdraw them.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms AE Burke)—For the assistance of the House, even though they are not actually unparliamentary, I am going to ask the minister to withdraw them, because we have such little time.

Ms ROXON —I withdraw and say that he tells a fundamental mistruth. The protest in Cootamundra has absolutely nothing to do with the Rudd government. It does not do him any credit—someone who has got some brains but does not like to use them—to stand up in here and constantly criticise but not actually come forward with any ideas.

I am proud of the work that our government is doing. It does not surprise me that the members that we see in the House are those who have benefited already in their electorates from the sorts of investments that we are making. Sure, we would like them to be delivered more quickly. Sure, we would like every patient to be able to have access immediately. But, if we look at the trajectory of what is happening with our population, health expenditure and the extra two million presentations in our emergency departments compared to a decade ago, of course it is going to take time to fix some of these things. But I do not hear the member for Page saying that she does not want the cancer services in Lismore or the breast care nurse—

Ms Saffin —Or the GP superclinic.

Ms ROXON —or the GP superclinic, because these things will improve the situation in her electorate.

The member for Parkes is here, a member who has had significant problems in his local hospital in Dubbo—and we are not apologists for the states; we want those problems to be fixed—and he is lobbying me for a GP superclinic. So do not come in here as the shadow health spokesperson and say that nothing we are doing is delivering. I am sorry that you happened to be here for that, Member for Parkes—we take seriously the request that has been made; it is a very good proposal from Gunnedah—but, if your shadow health spokesperson says that everything we are doing is terrible, at the same time as all the members on the backbench are saying, ‘Can we please have one of these in our electorate; they’re so terrible that we really want one,’ no-one is going to believe him.

I think that is the fundamental problem for the member for Dickson: nobody believes his position on anything anymore. The alcopops debate has really been the peak of that. He was vehemently arguing against it week after week after week—‘We’re never going to support it; we won’t do it’—then had to execute that humiliating backdown and make an announcement that they would support it. He cannot bring himself to come in here now and say that it is a good idea.

He absolutely defends the strength of the seat of Dickson and how much he loves the area, and then the second that it gets to be a hard fight for him locally he starts to indicate that he is looking around to run in another seat. This is the person who, according to media reports, was reduced to tears when he thought that the Labor candidate had beaten him in the election. But there is no doubt that he has never shed a tear for Medicare. He has never shed a tear for anybody who cannot get access to public hospital services when they want them. He has never put his mind at all to what an alternative policy might look like. We see this with the CPRS. We see this with education. This is an opposition that is so obsessed with its internal leadership problems that it cannot put forward any sort of policy proposal. I think that is absolutely pathetic.

What I would like to do in the remaining time available is to talk about some of the communities that are benefiting from our investments—

Mr Dutton —What about your election promise?

Ms ROXON —which were also election promises. I see that the member for Makin is here. A GP superclinic has been announced and signed on to in his electorate, something that he is very pleased is going to be delivered.

Mr Dutton —How many patients has it seen? Not even one patient—not one.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON —The member opposite is having so much fun showing his complete lack of understanding that investments in health take some time and that patients need to be seen. Patients are being seen at a number of sites, as he knows, including Darwin. I do not think he has bothered to go and visit the Palmerston—

Mr Dutton —Is that a superclinic?

Ms ROXON —It is indeed a superclinic.

Mr Dutton interjecting

Ms ROXON —I am not going to even answer these most ridiculous interjections.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —The member for Dickson will desist from interjecting.

Ms ROXON —He is just wrong but he cannot help himself.

What I really want to put to the member today—and maybe some of the other members in the debate might address some of these issues—is that we have to make choices now about how our health system will be sustainable and how we will fund some of the important reforms that the community rightly wants and expects. What we have seen the member opposite do—as he did with alcopops—is oppose any measure that has a health impact if it also has a budgetary impact. He opposed the private health insurance measure, a fair measure to make sure that those on the highest incomes get the least support and those on the lowest incomes get the most support. But they knocked that off, and that is $2 billion that will not be available in the health budget to spend on other worthy reforms. Then there are the safety net reforms, where we are saying we are not going to continue to line the pockets of specialists who are making outrageous sums of money—$2 million, $3 million, $4 million a year—from Medicare and the safety net. Now it looks like the Liberal Party might not keep the shadow Treasurer’s promise to pass all budget measures except the private health insurance measures. They have gone wobbly on that. That is another $450 million.

Just those two items are worth $2½ billion. I would like the Liberal Party to tell me what they are going to cut if they are going to oppose these sensible savings measures. I want the Liberal Party to stand up and say what they want to cut. Do you want us not to proceed with our regional cancer centres across the country? Do you want us not to proceed with the funding of Avastin for bowel cancer? Do you want us not to consider the next life-saving drug that comes out to be put on the PBS for young children? Do you want us not to invest in these important things? Perhaps the member does not want us to invest in the vaccine for swine flu. If you keep opposing savings that are sensible and targeted and require people who have more resources to contribute more, then we will not have the money to pay for these important extra investments.

I think everyone on this side of the House wants our investments to be targeted and wants to see the health system delivering more for people, and it cannot be done if we do not make sure we have the money to do it. We do not have the Liberal Party with any policies. We do not have them with any answers about the difficult choices they could make. We do have the member for Dickson on the record as saying that the one thing he wants to make sure we do not do is repeat in the next decade the mistakes his government made in the last decade. We are absolutely sure we are not going to do that, but to not do that we need to make sure we are investing more, we are requiring more accountability and we are targeting our spending to those who need it most. We do not make any apologies for investing in communities like Western Sydney, for investing in Westmead. I see the member for Parramatta is here. Westmead has another $4.1 million going into its medical assessment unit. We can see something similar for every member of the House. What have you ever done?

Debate interrupted.