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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1773

Ms RISHWORTH (Kingston) (13:03): I rise to speak on the National Health Amendment (Simplified Price Disclosure) Bill 2013 and the amendments moved by the shadow minister for Health. The bill before the House makes changes to the National Health Act 1953 to streamline the operations of the current price disclosure arrangements within the operation of the PBS. This measure is about ensuring that governments, who set the wholesale price for PBS listed medications, are able to factor in discounts given to pharmacies from pharmaceutical companies and, therefore, are able to adjust this wholesale price to reflect the true aggregate market price in a more timely fashion. In particular, the bill reduces the length of time of price disclosure to government by pharmaceutical companies from 18 to 12 months, allowing the government to change the wholesale price it sets to reflect the market price more quickly. The bill also ensure that there is only one ongoing price disclosure cycle, as opposed to the current arrangement of having three cycles per year. In addition, the bill also decreases the number of price reduction days from three to two and retains the current arrangements which prevent the government reducing the price of a medication on the PBS unless the weighted average price is at least 10 per cent lower than the PBS price. This measure is important, and it does provide value for consumers, for taxpayers and, indeed, for government.

This bill implements a change that the former Labor government announced in August this year. I must say that, at the time when Labor announced this policy, we heard veiled criticism from the opposition about this measure. In particular, there were comments made suggesting that this change was being made too quickly and that it should not be implemented because it changed the formal community pharmacy agreement. However, now they are in government, the coalition have quickly changed their tune, wasting no time implementing Labor's announcement though this legislation. Indeed, we are in the third sitting week of the new parliament, and it seems now that the coalition government is very keen to adopt Labor's policy as quickly as possible.

I do recognise that some stakeholders, in particular community pharmacies, are concerned by this measure. I would like to put on the record the great job that community pharmacies do around the country and, indeed, in my electorate. But this is an important saving measure for government. It provides over $830 million over four years, not to mention savings for consumers as well. It is Labor's view that these saving are important and that this provides an incredibly good opportunity to reinvest them back into the health care system. That is why we have moved the amendment that savings made through the PBS system go back into health. This amendment will ensure that the tradition started under the previous Labor government whereby savings made as a result of price disclosure are reinvested back into health will continue. Indeed, the previous Labor government invested $1.9 billion of savings from price disclosure to make investments in a range of important infrastructure initiatives in the health area, including the integrated cancer centres.

We are also moving this amendment to protect the Commonwealth's investment in health, because it is currently under threat from the new government. The Minister for Health has not really been able to articulate any coherent vision for his portfolio, other than to find savings for the Prime Minister and to sneak through cuts to health services and programs.

Every Australian should be concerned about what the government intends to do in the health area. As we know, despite promising not to touch money in the health area, it has already axed a number of key projects and programs and flagged more cuts. This is another example—one of many examples we are now seeing—where this government says one thing before an election and does something else after the election.

We know they have ripped $100 million out of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital, which provides over 90 per cent of the state's specialist eye surgery. It is a cruel blow to patients and the hospital, which has been providing services to Victorians for over 150 years.

The government has abolished the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council, a body that has existed for almost 50 years and has been giving advice to governments since the Menzies government. It has abolished the expert panel on the marketing of infant formula because this government seems uninterested in getting accurate information about significant health policy. It has indicated $35 million of cuts for the Diabetes Research Foundation and now is providing clear evidence that it will backflip and cut Medicare Locals.

I am particularly concerned about the agenda to cut Medicare Locals. This would be a significant backwards step—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): Member for Kingston, the member for Aston is seeking the call.

Ms RISHWORTH: They obviously do not want to hear about their cuts.

Mr Tudge: Deputy Speaker, I am just wondering if the shadow parliamentary secretary for health would be able to comment on why they cut $107 million from the Victorian health budget retrospectively in 2012.

Ms RISHWORTH: I am not willing to take that question. I am talking about the cuts that your government is currently making. Do not try and make this into some ridiculous thing. We invested money into health. Let me continue talking about the cuts that you have made and particularly my concern about Medicare Locals.

I was very pleased to attend the recent AGM of the Southern Adelaide-Fleurieu-Kangaroo Island Medicare Local. It is a great example of what Medicare Locals are achieving round the country. The Southern Adelaide-Fleurieu-Kangaroo Island Medicare Local has offered more than 20,000 clinical services in the last year. I would just like to run through some of these figures—and I am very pleased that the Minister for Health is in the chamber now, because he can pay attention to the great job that the Southern Adelaide-Fleurieu-Kangaroo Island Medicare Local is doing. Of those 20,000 clinical services, 7,829 occasions of service were in mental health and 893 individuals were assessed through the headspace program. Child immunisation rates have been maintained at 90 per cent in the region, thanks to the work of the Medicare Local office. The Medicare Local has supported 40 general practitioners to achieve accreditation, increasing the availability of health services to people in southern Adelaide. It has provided 551 services under the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health program.

Over 800 patients were attended to in one year in nursing homes, ensuring that people were prevented from going into hospital. This is a particularly important element of the Medicare Locals which should not be ignored: the role that they play in ensuring that patients do not end up in hospital. This is good for individual patients, and it is also incredibly important for the costs of the hospital system. This is important primary health care.

I am also pleased that the Minister for Health is in the chamber now, because, hopefully, he can answer my question. I have written to him about whether or not he will honour the $15 million to the neonatal unit at the Flinders Medical Centre. I wrote to him close to two months ago. I have not had a response from the Minister for Health yet about whether or not that $15 million will be honoured. The neonatal unit is an incredibly important unit in the Flinders Medical Centre. It provides services for not just the local area but right across South Australia. Indeed, when I visited the hospital, it was providing services to country Victorians as well. It is a really important service that allows people who have unfortunately had a premature baby to spend time with their baby and get the best possible medical attention, and there is also space for families to ensure that that connection continues. So it is really, really concerning that I have not had an answer yet from the Minister for Health, and I really hope that this funding does not end up being ripped away in the same way that the government has ripped away the $100 million from the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital.

But, of course, it is not just the things that they have already cut; the government have flagged that they will cut or abolish many, many things. Their 'commission of cuts' is already affecting agencies and their abilities to deliver vital programs. Who would have thought that the government's commission of cuts would look at targeting funding to promote organ and tissue donation? But hundreds of community groups are now being left in the dark about whether their funding applications will be honoured—especially with DonateLife Week coming up in February. It is concerning that this funding has been frozen, and there seems to be absolutely no answer about what will happen and when this money will be released.

Money in Health Workforce Australia has also been frozen. This will affect students because the money, especially as part of the clinical placements program, goes towards supporting universities and health services to provide clinical placements for students. There is no doubt that we need to make sure we are providing that opportunity for placements for students to get the experience so that they can enter our workforce. Developing our health workforce is one of the critical challenges into the future. The doctors, the nurses and the allied health workers are all critically important. Freezing money for clinical placements is very concerning as we approach the new academic year. How will we be able to do this?

As I stated earlier, there are real concerns about cuts in the Health portfolio. Only the Labor Party has a good track record in investing in and reforming our healthcare sector. That is why we continued to invest in health care. That is why the amendment that the opposition has put forward is so critically important. It ensures that the money that is part of this saving cannot be cut and put somewhere else or be stashed in the government coffers. It says that it is important that it is reinvested into health and ensures that we can slow the cuts that continue to come from this government. Hopefully the reinvestment of this money, through the opposition's amendment, will ensure that the government will continue to spend in Health. I commend the opposition's amendment to the House and hope that the House adopts it.