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Tuesday, 16 August 2011
Page: 8184

Mr LYONS (Bass) (17:28): I rise in the House today to add my comments on the National Health Reform Amendment (National Health Performance Authority) Bill 2011. This piece of legislation is very important. As the minister said in the second reading speech on this bill, it will form the backbone of a modern, integrated, high-performing health system. It is as a result of the government's historic agreement with all states and territories to undertake fundamental reform of our health and hospital systems. The Gillard Labor government is committed to improving Australia's healthcare system so that all Australians can access high-quality services that meet their needs and the needs of their family. This legislation will create a National Health Performance Authority, a new watchdog for Australia's health system. It will tie in with our Medicare Locals and local health networks to ensure we deliver positive outcomes for Australians. The Commonwealth government is building on the national health reforms through changes to primary health care which will see key improvements, with a particular focus on specific needs of local communities. The performance authority will work to open up the performance of the health and hospital system to new levels of national transparency and accountability. It will allow for the identification of high-performing parts of the health system so those successes can be transferred to other areas. It will identify areas of the health system that require improvement so that action can be taken, and improve the health choices of Australians making key decisions about their own healthcare needs.

The reform of Australia's health system is one of the most important public policy challenges of this generation. It is much needed. In many ways Australia has one of the most impressive public health systems in the world. Our doctors and nurses are world class. Our public system provides accessible hospital care for all and it delivers outcomes such as low infant mortality and long life expectancy. Australia's life expectancy increased substantially over the last 20 years. It is now one of the highest in the world behind Japan and Switzerland, with 84 years for females and 79 for males. However, from working in hospitals for many years in Tasmania, including the Beaconsfield District Hospital and the Launceston General Hospital, I understand the issues that are facing our health system. We are faced with a health system that is costly, under-resourced and under pressure to deliver for patients with complex needs. We have an ageing population and also an increasing burden of chronic illness and obesity, as well as skills shortages.

The Labor government has delivered on our election commitment to end the blame game and end the cost shifting and blame shifting that have plagued our health system for decades. The Gillard Labor government inherited a health system in crisis from the Liberal-National coalition. The current opposition leader has a lot to answer for when it comes to this very important area. In 2003 the current Leader of the Opposition cut $108 million from public hospitals. In 2004 the member for Warringah cut $172 million from health and then in 2005 he cut $264 million—and it does not stop there. In 2006 he cut a further $372 million, and more again in 2007, his final year as Minister for Health and Ageing. That is more than $1 billion cut from hospitals by the Liberals in just five years. Despite the huge shortage of GPs in Australia, as health minister in the Howard government the current Leader of the Opposition capped federal funding of GP training places and left the nation short of 6,000 nurses. No wonder they are now on the other side of this chamber!

We cannot trust the Liberals on health. In 2006 the current opposition leader, the member for Warringah, indicated that he wanted to manage health by queues—and I quote from the Australian Financial Review of 1 June 2006:

Cost and queues is what ensures that services aren't overused … So [hospital] waiting lists and gap payments are a necessary part of the system …

The Leader of the Opposition has admitted that, if he becomes Prime Minister, he will make further cuts to health, carbon pricing, education, the environment, business, consultation, infrastructure, broadband and other services. This shows a lack of vision and is not in the best interests of this country. But it does show that the opposition are consistent. That is what we have come to expect from those opposite.

We, the Gillard Labor government, have a solid plan to fix the health system in Australia. We are implementing the biggest health reforms since Medicare—which I think has been the best thing for health in my lifetime—to ensure our hospitals are properly funded and to improve our local GP services and make them accessible to all Australians. The Australian health system has evolved and expanded greatly since the nation was formed at Federation in 1901, as the needs and expectations of the Australian people have changed. Despite the extent of this evolution in health service provision and medical knowledge and technology, there have been only a few occasions on which major changes have been made to the whole system. The Whitlam Labor government Medibank system was the major change in my lifetime. A key component of our health reforms is ensuring that communities have the health and aged care services that they need through more locally responsive planning and management. I should say that I worked in the courts when Medicare came in, and two-thirds of all our summonses were medically related. We had hospitals suing patients who were half dead and were never going to come out of hospital. It was a terrible system, and the Whitlam Labor government brought in Medibank, which was the saviour of our systems at that time.

The government's national health reform will deliver new services designed specifically to meet the real needs of communities through a model that enables a strong engagement with local health services and local communities. In regional Australia this will be achieved by Medicare Locals and local hospital networks. They will be made up of local community members and will work for their communities locally. Health, like most things, is best managed at the lowest possible level, where people have full information.

The National Health Performance Authority is an important part of our plan to improve health services in Australia. The National Health Performance Authority will exist to improve quality, increase transparency and drive value for money in the health system. This is badly needed. It will drive transparency in the health system by improving Australians' access to vital health information. Australians will have more access to information on their local hospitals, health services, primary health care and community health services. It will be a model that will benefit all Australians. This will be a powerful independent watchdog body that, by using the power of accurate information, will push our hospitals to deliver better services and push our primary healthcare sector to develop and improve.

In reaching agreement with the Australian states and territories on 13 February 2011, the Australian Labor government showed its commitment to meet the healthcare needs of Australians and to work with the states and territories to deliver a better deal for patients. The agreement includes $19.8 billion in extra funding for public hospitals that will deliver more beds, more local control and more transparency. It also means less bureaucracy and less waste. These national health reform measures are critical for creating a health system that delivers the services Australians deserve and expect. The Gillard Labor government is improving quality, safety, performance and accountability in our health system.

The Australian Labor government has a vision for social inclusion to ensure every Australian has the opportunity and support they need to fully participate in the nation's economic and community life. Ill health and disability can reduce a person's capacity to work and participate in education or social activities through both physical and mental health conditions as well as time spent receiving health care or caring for others, and all of these can exacerbate the financial strain of households.

Every family in Australia depends on our health system. That is why we must get it right for the future. Everyone, no matter where they live, deserves access to first-class health care. That is why we have ended the blame game through a national agreement to boost hospital funding, increase local control and expand primary and aged-care services Australia-wide. It means more money, more beds and less waste in public hospitals. Hospitals become more accountable and doctors and the community get more say. Plus there is extra support for GPs and aged-care providers.

Labor is the only party that cares about public hospitals and better health care. We are fixing a decade of waste and neglect left to us by the Liberal Party and we are delivering the hospitals and community care that Australians deserve. Patients are already seeing the results of the Gillard Labor government's investments in health with extra beds being delivered, an after-hours GP helpline established and new doctor training places beginning this year.

I look forward to locally responsive health services through the establishment of Local Hospital Networks and public hospitals using activity based funding, which will fund hospitals for the service they provide—not a bucket, which has been the tradition. This will drive efficiency, reduce waste and deliver greater transparency.

This bill is an important part of our healthcare agenda. I am proud to be part of a government that is addressing the problems in our health sector and preparing Australia for the future. This is a vital piece of legislation and I urge those on the opposite benches to join with us and all the state and territory leaders that support our Australian health reform.