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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2075

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (13:09): I also commend the member for Murray for raising what is an incredibly important issue which should be important to all Australians, and that is the quality of medical care available to our rural Australians. In my area of Western Sydney we, too, from time to time have had trouble in attracting and keeping the kinds of qualified professionals that we needed. We also found that the opening of the clinical school in Blacktown has had an incredible effect in retaining people in the professions in our area.

But there is something about this motion that I would like to point out, and that is what appears to be an attempt to really airbrush out the fact that there ever has been a Labor government for the last six years. It refers back to what was happening before 2007. I understand that the member for Murray might prefer that the focus be on that, so I would actually like to start there and just point out to the member for Murray that, while there might have been some clinical schools open, there were some very real issues in regional Australia when we came to government in 2007.

It was the case then that for some types of cancer you were twice as likely to die of that cancer if you were diagnosed in a regional centre than if you were diagnosed in a city. For some forms of cancer it was up to four times. So there was an incredible amount of work to do for the Labor government on its election in 2007. I just want to walk through some of the things that the Labor government did in order to improve the quality of health care in regional Australia, and it was quite apparent that it was necessary to do so. In doing this, I do not want to pretend for a minute that the work is done. The deficit for regional Australia was great, and still remains quite substantial.

But there was the $134.4 billion Rural Health Workforce Strategy, designed to encourage doctors to work in some of the most isolated rural and remote communities. As a result, since 1 July 2010 around 11,000 doctors have been assessed as eligible to receive payments each year to move to and/or continue practising in regional areas. As a result of that, there was a 21 per cent increase in the number of GPs providing services in regional and remote areas of Australia between 2007 and 2011.

There was $345 million to deliver 1,300 more general practitioners practising or training by 2013, and 5,500 new GPs or GPs undergoing training in the next decade, with 50 per cent of those positions going to rural and regional Australia.

There was $370.8 million over three years for the Rural Health Multidisciplinary Training Program, which includes the Rural Clinical Training and Support program, referred to in the member's motion; the Dental Training—Expanding Rural Placements Program; the University Departments of Rural Health Program; and the John Flynn Placement Program to support rural clinical placements and training for medical, nursing and allied health students.

There was $6.5 million for 400 more clinical placement scholarships over four years for allied health students in rural and remote areas, bringing the total to 1,000 people over four years. There was $34.1 million for a Nursing and Allied Health Rural Locum Scheme that will fund 3,000 nurse locum placements and 400 allied help locum placements in rural areas over four years. There was $390.3 million to support an expanded and more flexible role for nurses in general practice, particularly in chronic disease management and prevention, with a special loading for those working in rural areas. And there was $12 million over four years for the Rural Health Continuing Education program to provide access to accredited continuing professional development support for medical specialists, allied health professionals, nurses, general practitioners and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workers in rural and remote areas. And of course there was the $77.7 million over four years for the relocation and infrastructure grants to encourage and support dentists to relocate and practice in regional, rural and remote areas.

So, again, while no-one would even begin to assume that the deficit in rural health services has been solved—it still remains; it was substantial when we came to government in 2007 and it has been substantial for many decades—there has been considerable work done in the last six years, and it is a shame that the member for Murray has tried to airbrush out the last six years of the Labor government rather than acknowledge that work was done, in quite a collaborative manner, I should say, with members opposite who now sit on the government bench.