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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8181

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (17:16): I rise to speak on the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011. I take up the point of the member for Blair on regional and rural areas and training doctors. As a matter of fact, it was the Howard government that instituted and incorporated the James Cook University School of Medicine and Dentistry, the James Cook University school of allied health and the James Cook University School of Veterinary and Biomedical Sciences. All those things came through under the Howard government. I welcome those things. They were our commitment to the regions.

I also welcome the noise they make on all sorts of issues when it comes to health. The GP superclinics, I think, are a wonderful thing. In 2007, we were promised 16. Townsville was promised one; you can see it diagonally across the intersection from where my office is. It is still vacant. We were promised another one in the 2010 election. That has been walked away from. There is a building being gutted somewhere in Townsville that someone knows something about, but as yet the delivery system would see them deliver the last of the 52 GP superclinics, at their current rate of installation, in approximately 2197—which would be magnificent reform for this government!

I would also like to mention the Australian Institute of Tropical Medicine. We saw you walk away and not commit to that institute's installation at James Cook University. You would rather see the study of tropical medicine go to somewhere in Sydney or Melbourne. You do not worry about the first Australians. You do not worry about the Torres Strait. You do not worry about the cases of Japanese encephalitis and drug-resistant tuberculosis currently in the Thursday Island hospital. The member for Blair has now walked away.

This bill seeks to establish the National Health Performance Authority. This is the second step in the government's plan, and it changes a few names and places. It will also amend a few words and a few acts. That is about all this bill will actually do. These all relate to the National Health Performance Authority. This body is there to report on the performance of the local hospital networks in public and private hospitals, primary healthcare organisations and other bodies. These bodies look after the running of senior management at each of these workplaces. These senior managers look after the middle managers in the health facilities. These middle managers look after the supervisors who look after the individuals or small teams of people who will provide feedback on how this process is going.

What about the healthcare providers? They are the people who are actually out there looking after the patients and their health needs. But that is not a core responsibility of this department. No, for such a vital cog in this machine—for this new level of bureaucracy—what performance indicators would you think were in place? What key performance indicators should be there? What measures are in place to ensure that this $109 million is spent wisely? That would be none. It is $109 million, and there are no KPIs to ensure that they are not wasting money. This is $109 million that could go towards front-line services and actually provide something tangible for the tax dollars we are collecting. What we need is an agency which will ensure they are keeping the back office spend as low as possible and support the front office.

I have a friend who works on the front line in health at a major hospital. She spends on entire day per week on the computer with no patient contact. This is to allow her to complete all the forms required so that the back office can ensure that she is using the time wisely and not killing any patients. She has put a tag on those electronic files which will tell her when they are being accessed by others. This is so she knows that what she has done is being read. To date, not one of her files has been accessed by management for review in over 18 months. Extrapolate that across the front line of health and then stand there and tell me that what we need is another level of reporting. Better still, tell the doctors, nurses and healthcare professionals actually doing the work that they need another level of red tape in their lives. This, I am afraid, is typical of this government: grow the public service at the expense of delivering actual service.

Measures like these lead me to ask whether the minister or anyone in her department has actually spoken to a healthcare worker—someone on the front line. Have they explained to them why this new level of officialdom is needed. If so, what was the response from the nurse who has just finished a double shift? What was the response from the hospital orderly who, in Queensland, still cannot get his pay right? Have they explained to hospital health workers how this new level of red tape will help them achieve more on the floor?

This new authority does not even have the authority to obtain anything more than the states and private providers want to give them. So, for $109 million, what we have is an organisation which will be able to state categorically that the report from Queensland Health that is in front of them is in fact the report from Queensland Health. This government will be pretty happy with that. For one thing, it actually does something. That is better than most of the regulations they have imposed on Australia. This government will no doubt be hailing this as a new level of efficiency not seen since they won the 2007 election—and on that we will agree. This waffling and deflating government, this incompetent minister and department, have never seen a raft of regulations or a ball of red tape they did not like.

I know that there have been representations from various bodies, such as the Australian Private Hospitals Association, Catholic Health Australia, the AMA, the Consumer Health Forum and the Australian Council on Healthcare Standards, among others. But each organisation has stated that, while supporting the establishment of this body, there should be some consultation before the regulation and that it should have KPIs to ensure that it is working and we can all see that it is working. They warn that care must be taken; otherwise, waste will be the order of the day. Gee, where else have we heard that? In everything. All of these things have been said. What will this government hear? They only hear what they want to hear. This government do not actually listen. They stand there and put up their hands and say, 'I've made up my mind; don't confuse me with the facts.' All of this from a government which promised one new regulation in, one old one out, when they came to power in 2007. They are currently sitting at 220 new regulations in for every one out. Like so much of what this government have done it is prefixed with, 'Anything is good enough.'

If they had wanted to show some initiative, they could have got behind the coalition's PET scanner proposal for Townsville. The PET scanner is a major diagnostic tool. There is no need for it to be housed inside a hospital. We had two plans for a PET scanner. One was recently proposed by then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd and it was to be installed at Townsville General Hospital some time towards the end of 2014. We now have a plan where the Townsville hospital will have it put in some time before the end of 2012. We took to the election last year a plan for Queensland X-Ray, in a private-public partnership, to install a scanner off-site from the Townsville General Hospital. The cost for the government's plan, for the machine only and for the floor space, is $9 million. The cost to the taxpayer of the Queensland X-Ray one would have been $2.5 million. Even the Queensland Health people will tell you that they will be capable of doing three scans per day at the Townsville General Hospital. At Queensland X-Ray they can do between 15 and 17 if necessary. No-one would have to fly to Brisbane whilst they are having radiation, whilst they are having chemo, to have another PET scan, because they could have it done in Townsville. It could have been up and running in January this year.

Queensland X-Ray, to their credit, have gone ahead and done it anyway. They have put it in without a cent from the government, and this government are still vacillating. They still will not recognise that they have ever even seen a proposal for a PET scanner for Townsville. What we need to do now is make sure that they have Medicare accreditation so they can bulk bill all from North Queensland.

Mr Lyons: Will they bulk bill?

Mr EWEN JONES: I thank you for what? You have done nothing. You have done nothing but stand in front of us. You have a health minister who has refused to even accept that there is a proposal on the floor. This government could have had a PET scanner up and running in January this year. You say, 'Is that a thank you?' What about the people who have had to fly from Townsville, from North Queensland, to Brisbane to get their PET scans done? You should hang your head in shame. You were in the hospital game. You know what sick people are like. That you can sit there and be flippant about that sort of thing just beggars belief.

Dr Emerson: Mr Deputy Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I think a little bit of civility and adherence to the standing orders would be warranted—that is, that he should not be addressing members across the chamber with the term 'you'.

Ms Gambaro: Mr Deputy Speaker, on the point of order: it is a two-way street. The member opposite could stop interjecting as well.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Hon. BC Scott ): I thank the member for Brisbane and the Minister for Trade for their advice. I remind the member for Herbert that he should not respond to interjections from across the chamber. That equally applies to members on the other side of the House. I also remind the member for Herbert that he should refer his comments through the chair and not to members as 'you', which is a reflection on the chair and, in this case, the speaker.

Mr EWEN JONES: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker. I will behave myself from now on.

Fortunately for the people of Townsville, Queensland X-Ray chose to go it alone, announcing last week that they would deliver Townsville its only PET scanner, without help from this government and long before this government were prepared to do anything. It is a sad day when the government cannot be trusted to provide vital, lifesaving medical equipment and that private enterprise is forced to pick up the slack alone and carry the bill. If this government could not see the economic sense in Queensland X-Ray's proposal then no wonder they think that $109 million is good value for a new level of bureaucracy, which has no power to require any more information from the bodies it is supposed to be watching than the information they are willing to supply. It beggars belief. On behalf of all the taxpayers in Australia, I urge the minister to consult, listen and act on the advice of people actually doing something in this industry. Do not just sit there and take up space.