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Monday, 9 December 2013
Page: 2077

Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (13:18): I rise to support the motion before us today and in doing so I would like to say that prior to the Labor government being elected in 2007 there was a chronic shortage of health professionals in rural Australia. The Beyond the Blame Game report that was tabled in December 2006 identified the maldistribution of health professionals as a major issue. I remember Terry Clout, who was the head of the Hunter-New England Area Health Service at the time, commenting that the further you were from the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the greater the maldistribution was and the fewer health services you could access. Based on that 2006 blame game report, the Labor government of the day really worked to address that maldistribution of health workers and put in place a lot of programs designed to address that.

I would like to refer to Health Workforce Australia's National Rural and Remote Workforce Innovation and Reform Strategy, released in May 2013. That strategy talks about a plan for improving the health workforce and the distribution of doctors, nurses, midwives and allied health professionals. It examines the specialties in Australia. It makes some key findings, one of which is that there are not enough general practitioners and medical specialists in regional and rural Australia. For years the shortage has been taken up by overseas-trained doctors. Earlier today the member for Kingston was talking about the freezing of funds for clinical placements. This is all part of ensuring we have trained health professionals.

An item on the ABC reported on the fact that $8 million had been committed by the previous government over a four-year period for getting trained doctors for rural and remote areas, and an additional 60 intern places were to be created. Tony Wells, from Rural Health Workforce, said he welcomed students wanting to work in the rural environment being encouraged to do so. What was the response from the then opposition? The Leader of the Nationals, Warren Truss, who I would see as somebody who would be totally committed to getting more doctors and nurses and allied health professionals out in rural and regional Australia, said that he would not commit to matching Labor's pledge. I found that very disappointing because I know just how important it is to have trained health professionals in rural and remote areas. I know that the Rural Doctors Association of Australia has been concerned about this over a long period. This is a very important issue and one that needs to be addressed.