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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 907


Ms BURKE (2:48 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Will the Prime Minister inform the House of the importance of primary care and proper funding of our health system?


Ms GILLARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the member for Chisholm for her question. I know she is deeply concerned about health services in her electorate. She covers two very important hospitals, Box Hill and Monash, and I have had cause to visit those hospitals with her as well as to talk to her about health care in her community generally. What the member for Chisholm could say to the House of Representatives is that, over the years that she has represented her electorate in this parliament, the health care for her community was suffering under the Howard government and suffering during the days that the Leader of the Opposition was Minister for Health and Ageing. Those hospitals, just like hospitals around Australia, were showing the strains that were coming from the percentage of funding coming from the federal government going down and down and down.

Indeed, in the days that the Leader of the Opposition was minister for health, the Commonwealth share of public funding fell from 45 per cent to 35 per cent. The Howard government and the Leader of the Opposition were warned four times by the AMA about the chronic underfunding of the system. Then, to add insult to injury, $1 billion was taken out of the public hospital system. This created a pressure for our public hospitals—


Mr Pyne interjecting


The SPEAKER —Order! The Prime Minister will resume her seat. The member for Sturt will withdraw!


Mr Pyne —I do withdraw, Mr Speaker, but I would ask you—


The SPEAKER —The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The member for Sturt knows that there are other avenues of this place that can be used, but to use an unparliamentary expression is not the way to go about it.


Mr Albanese interjecting


The SPEAKER —The Leader of the House might withdraw that.


Mr Albanese —I withdraw, Mr Speaker.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister has the call.


Ms GILLARD —Thank you very much, Mr Speaker. I can understand the sensitivity, but there is not enough white-out on the planet to correct the records about the Leader of the Opposition’s time as minister for health.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will get to the question.


Ms GILLARD —The list of failures goes on. It was not just about funding. There was also the shortage of doctors, nurses and specialists. The Leader of the Opposition and the then Howard government were warned seven times on the shortage of doctors, nine times on the shortage of nurses and three times on the shortage of specialists.

What did the Leader of the Opposition do in the face of all of this information? On 16 March 2010 what he finally said was:

… we were about to start tackling the public hospital system when we lost office.

This is after five years as Minister for Health and Ageing. He is a man in a hurry—five years and he had finally woken up to the fact that his own conduct had caused a crisis in health. This government is acting to fix the crisis caused by the Leader of the Opposition and that is what our reform agenda is about. Our reform agenda for hospitals is clear and we also have a reform agenda for primary care, because we understand that if you truly want to take pressure off our public hospital system, if you truly want to offer Australians the best possible health care, we need to strengthen primary care, need to strengthen the system that most Australians use, need to strengthen the system that keeps Australians well and out of hospital.

That is why today the Minister for Health and Ageing and I have announced that applications are open for the creation of the first 15 Medicare locals, a new system to strengthen primary care. That is why I have determined that there will be more Medicare locals and they will be made available more quickly, that access to after-hours care will be brought forward by two years and be available to people sooner. This is on top of the telephone line to assist people when they have health problems after hours. These are appropriate investments to make a difference for the community. We are still waiting for the answer from the Leader of the Opposition—will he try and block all of this too when it comes to the parliament in legislation? Time for playing politics should be over; let us get on with improving the health care of Australians and delivering our plan.