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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8539

Senator SIEWERT (2:31 PM) —My question is to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery. My question concerns the recent announcement that the Commonwealth will make a transportable dialysis facility available in Alice Springs to address the current crisis in renal services. Will new interstate patients such as Patrick Tjungurrayi be able to access this Commonwealth dialysis facility or will they be prevented from doing so? Was the provision of this facility by the Commonwealth made contingent on the Northern Territory agreeing to lift the ban on new interstate renal patients? If not, why not?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Siewert for the question. I know Senator Siewert has a longstanding interest in Northern Territory Indigenous health issues. I am aware that, on 6 November 2009, Minister Snowden offered the Northern Territory government the temporary use of a relocatable two-chair dialysis facility for placement in Flynn Drive in Alice Springs. This facility will be used as an interim measure to ease some of the pressures on Northern Territory dialysis facilities whilst the new 12-port facility is being constructed.

I understand that the Australian government is also working with the Northern Territory government, but the Australian government acknowledges that access to renal dialysis in Central Australia is, and continues to be, a major issue. Dialysis services are predominantly administered by state and territory governments, but I am aware that the Northern Territory government has implemented protocols to refer new patients presenting for treatment in Alice Springs who are nonresidents of the Northern Territory to their state of residence for treatment. The Northern Territory Department of Health and Families has advised that this decision was necessary due to delays in establishing a new 12-port renal facility in Alice Springs and to a substantial increase in patient numbers in Central Australia.

Given the high demand for dialysis services in Alice Springs, the Australian government, as I have indicated, has recently agreed to make available to the Northern Territory a two-port relocatable dialysis facility. It is only for temporary use while we await the 12-port facility, which will ensure that Central Australia is serviced with dialysis facilities, to come online. The Northern Territory government is— (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I will take it that the answer to my question is ‘No’—that the Commonwealth did not make it contingent on the Northern Territory dealing with new interstate patients. Could the minister tell me how much of the $5.3 million of funding the Commonwealth is contributing to dialysis services in the Northern Territory will be available to new interstate patients from the Western Desert in Western Australia and from the APY Lands in South Australia? Will any of those people have access to any of the $5.3 million that the Commonwealth is making available to the Northern Territory?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —What I can say about the $5.3 million which was committed at the election to provide additional renal dialysis services in the Northern Territory is that, with this funding, in the first quarter of 2010 a mobile dialysis service will be piloted in Central Australia. This will help improve access for people in remote communities without their having to travel to major centres for treatment. In addition, renal-ready rooms, to be co-located at community health centres, are also proposed for the communities around Maningrida, Lake Nash and—

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, on a point or order: this is valuable information that the minister is giving, but it does not answer the very clear question, which was whether people outside the Northern Territory would be able to have access to the Commonwealth funded dialysis facilities.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ludwig you have 19 seconds remaining to answer the question. I draw your attention to the question.

Senator LUDWIG —I thank Senator Bob Brown for his assistance. There will also be drop-in, self-care dialysis—one facility in Darwin and one in Alice Springs—which will be established in 2010. I will take the other part of the question on notice to allow me to check with the health minister to see what additional information I can provide. (Time expired)

Senator SIEWERT —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Does the minister believe that it is appropriate that new interstate patients are right now being denied access to Commonwealth funded services?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —This is in addition to the $2.19 million over 2006-07 to 2009-10 for a joint project with the Northern Territory government to support renal—

Senator Siewert —Mr President, on a point of order: I am sorry if I was not extremely direct. I asked a clear question. The minister is not answering the point of my question. His comments are not relevant. My question is clearly about access to dialysis services by new interstate patients right now. I would like that question answered, please.

The PRESIDENT —I cannot instruct the minister how to answer the question. I draw the minister’s attention to the fact that there are 46 seconds remaining to answer the question that has been asked by Senator Siewert.

Senator LUDWIG —In fact, I am answering the question, and I will go on to say that the Northern Territory government has implemented protocols to refer new patients presenting for treatment at Alice Springs who are non-residents of the Northern Territory to their state of residence for treatment, which I indicated in the earlier part of my answer. In addition, the Commonwealth government would like to see, and will encourage, the three state and territory governments to come to a speedy resolution of these issues. To resolve the issue, the Northern Territory government is leading discussions with the Western Australian and South Australian governments to develop a plan for the management of renal patients from off-border regions.

Senator Bob Brown —Mr President, I rise on a point of order. The earlier question asked the minister: did the Commonwealth levy a condition on the spending of this money? The minister ought to be able to directly answer the question: are patients from over the border being denied access to that Commonwealth funded facility right now?

The PRESIDENT —Senator Brown, I believe the question is being answered by the minister. The minister has 11 seconds remaining to answer the question. I call the minister to continue his answer.

Senator LUDWIG —The Northern Territory government’s plan dealing with cross-border patients will also look at the expected growth in the number of renal patients, analyse existing infrastructure— (Time expired)