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Tuesday, 22 February 2011
Page: 909

Mr LAMING (2:54 PM) —My question is for the Minister for Health and Ageing. Isn’t it the case that hundreds of graduate nurses have been turned away from public hospitals over the last two months because of the government’s Australian Health Practitioner Regulation Agency’s failure to register them on time? What are you going to do to address this chronic incompetence and failure to deliver even the most basic of services?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Bowman for his question because it gives me an opportunity not only to set the record straight on a number of issues but also to remind the House that the most—

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON —to remind the House of the severe shortage in the nursing profession across the country that was caused by the failure of the Leader of the Opposition to invest in nursing places.

Mr Pyne —On a point of order, Mr Speaker: the minister was asked a question about her government’s policies and the involvement that she had in the graduate nurses being turned away under their registration scheme. It is not an opportunity for her to talk about the previous government.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Sturt will resume his seat. The minister will directly answer the question.

Ms ROXON —I was simply trying to give a little bit of historical context.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —The minister will direct her response to the question.

Ms ROXON —The reality is that when we were elected to government one of the first decisions made by our government was to increase the number of training places for nurses, so an extra 1,000 nurses are graduating every single year. That has, of course, led to over 3,500 more nurses being in the system than otherwise would have been. The member for Bowman also referred to the new National Regulatory Registration and Accreditation Scheme introduced by our government which replaces 85 different professional and state and territory boards across the country with one. This is a great reform which is streamlining the system. It is making sure that the very committed nurses, doctors and others who want to work in the Northern Territory where there are no health professionals to help fill a gap or who want to move from Tasmania to Queensland can do so.

Of course this was an enormous task, with hundreds of thousands of health professionals moving from individual registration systems for 85 different professions and states and territories into one. If the member had been interested he probably would have seen a statement issued last Thursday by all state and territory health ministers and me as the Commonwealth Minister for Health and Ageing. Having dealt with a range of issues, we invited AHPRA to come to the Health Ministers’ Conference. All health ministers across the country are responsible for this system. It is not a Commonwealth system; it is a national system, and we together have taken steps to ensure that some of the teething problems—which were significant in some states but not in others—have been dealt with. What the member might be interested to know—

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister is responding to the question. The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON —I will pause for a moment because I think this particular statistic might be sobering for those opposite. At the time that this system came in there was some coverage of there being thousands of medical practitioners—I use that as an example—unable to be registered. It was a very large figure: 7,700. Actually, what has been determined is that, because of attrition, retirement and other factors, only 500 of those doctors were seeking to be re-registered. The fact is we never ever knew any of those statistics previously because 85 different state and territory bodies in each and every different—

Mr Laming —I rise on a point of order on relevance, Mr Speaker. With one minute to go, I am sick of hearing how hard the job is. I want to know what she will do. That was the question I asked.

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Bowman will resume his seat. The minister is responding to the question. Since the point of order that the Manager of Opposition Business raised, she has not been entering into argument. She has been outlining what the member for Bowman would acknowledge is a complex matter which does have some questions and she has illustrated this by referring to other medical professionals. I see that still being directly relevant given the circumstances of the matter that is a part of the question. A point of order is not an opportunity for debate, and my concern was that the member for Bowman was entering into debate. The minister has call.

Ms ROXON —Thank you, Mr Speaker. I do not need to just tell the member for Bowman what it is that we will do; I can tell the member for Bowman what it is that we have done. On Thursday at the meeting of health ministers, for an item that I took that needed the approval of every state and territory health minister and got that approval, we have agreed across jurisdictions to provide some additional resources—not additional money but some additional people—to make sure that phone calls are being answered even more quickly during this transition time; to make sure that some additional IT expertise is being provided at this transition time; to make sure that there is good follow-up and call-back, whether it is a nurse, a doctor or an allied health professional who needs extra information; and to make sure that more of that can be done online. Those opposite never took the initiative to make sure that people could move between jurisdictions, and we are allowing that.