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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 1890

Ms O'NEIL (Hotham) (11:41): I thank the House for this opportunity to make a contribution to this debate on behalf of my constituents in Hotham. I was truly disappointed to learn during Senate estimates that the Abbott government is considering taking the Abbott axe to Health Workforce Australia, such an important organisation and one that deals with one of the most significant emerging challenges that we face in this country. We live in a great country, but we face some significant challenges. One challenge that we face is the provision of health care. COAG recognised some of the important issues and that recognition led to the establishment of Health Workforce Australia.

As Australia's population ages, our health needs are changing and growing. We know that in the 1970s only about six per cent of our population was aged over 65. In 2001, that had grown to 13 per cent. By 2060, the percentage of our population over the age of 65 is going to be about 25 per cent. As that occurs, one of the biggest implications will be the change in the nature of and demand for health services. That is what is facing our health workforce. We know that older people are going to need more doctors. But they are also going to need more allied health professionals, including people like physiotherapists and podiatrists, who help our older Australians have a good quality of life. At the same time as we are facing the challenge of an ageing population, we are seeing significant increases in demand due to chronic disease. We are also seeing community expectations about what our health workforce should be able to achieve increase.

You would think that after putting all this together—this explosion in demand for health care—this would be just the moment to invest in planning for an appropriate health workforce for the future. But instead this is the time that we seem to be facing cuts. This is going to be a particular problem for rural and regional Australia, because what we also know is that the ageing of our population is going to be particularly pronounced in the bush. Some regional areas around Australia have increasing numbers of retirees going there to enjoy the rural life in their later years. Also, lots of young adults will leave rural and regional areas and come to the city for education and work opportunities. We know also that there are already not enough doctors and allied health professionals in the bush. This will be a very significant and increasing problem in the future. This is just the moment to invest, especially in rural Australia. But this is just the moment that the government decides that it wants to make cuts in this area.

This debate has particular relevance to my constituents in Hotham. We are very proud to have one of the Holmesglen TAFE campuses in my electorate. Holmesglen is a terrific institution: it has some great ambitions for educating our local population and it has a particular focus on health, particularly the training of allied health professionals. Last year we saw the first students begin their bachelor of nursing at Holmesglen TAFE—there are 40 places there. Many of these students are actually the first in their families to go on to enrol in a bachelor degree.

As part of this program Holmesglen has invested in a clinical simulation facility, which was funded through Health Workforce Australia. It is a fantastic facility comprising four large teaching wards, microbiology and bioscience labs, two simulation suites, a community apartment, an allied health lab, lecture theatres, general teaching space, a cooperative learning centre, computer labs and teaching offices.

The combination of that facility and the funded health training places has opened a lot of doors for Holmesglen and Holmesglen is now in the process of opening a 150-bed private hospital on its Moorabbin campus, complete with an emergency department. So what we see with this Holmesglen example is a real success story of what Health Workforce Australia can achieve with an institution that wants to innovate in this space. The work that these students are being trained to undertake is enormously significant. We want to see more stories like this all around Australia, not fewer. That is why it is critical that funds for clinical training are not frozen but are invested in supporting our health workers, our health system and our communities.

It is a very important subject that we are discussing today and I think it is an important moment to have this conversation, given all the challenges that I have talked about. But we are starting to get to know this government quite well, and what we see is that they throw out a bit of a line, some early criticisms, and then we will hear something in Senate estimates about funds potentially being frozen—then they wait for the reaction and the funding is eventually cut. So today we are seeing a reaction from this side of the House—many speakers on our side who are going to fight this change because we want to preserve the important work that is being done by this important organisation.