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Tuesday, 24 June 2003
Page: 17288

Mr PYNE (2:51 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Ageing, representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister update the House on the progress of the Howard government's successful More Doctors for Outer Metropolitan Areas program? Would the minister also update the House on a recent announcement related to this program? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the member for Sturt for his question and his interest in the subject of doctors in the work force in outer metropolitan areas. I say to the House that the Howard government is committed to improving access to doctors right across Australia. In relation to the rural and remote areas of Australia, between 1997-98 and 2000-01 there was an increase from 5,700 doctors to 6,363—an 11.5 per cent increase. That program, which is being successful in rural and remote areas of Australia, is also being successful now with the $80 million More Doctors for Outer Metropolitan Areas measure, which was announced in the 2002-03 budget.

An essential component of this program is the relocation incentive grants to help health professionals to move to the outer metropolitan areas of Australia's major cities. Under this relocation incentive, doctors in inner metropolitan areas can apply for grants of up to $20,000 to move to existing practices in outer metropolitan areas or $30,000 if they are going to establish new practices in outer metropolitan areas. The program is also available for general practice registrars in the general training pathway who have finished their training and are eligible for the incentive payments.

The government, under this component of the program, set a target of 150 doctors over a four-year period under the overall program. I can indicate to the House and to the member for Sturt today that, since the announcement in March of this year, in just on three months 75 doctors have taken up placements or agreed to permanently relocate to the outer metropolitan suburbs. So, having set ourselves a target of 150 over four years, we have actually delivered, or are in the process of delivering, 75—half the target within the first three months of the program. Of these 75 health professionals, 52 are doctors, 22 are general practice registrars and one is a specialist trainee. The $30,000 incentive for inner city doctors to relocate has, therefore, been extended by the government to 31 December, which will give more urban doctors the opportunity to take up the initiative. This will be complemented by the measures in the A Fairer Medicare package, which aims to boost the work force of doctors, particularly in the hinterlands of the six major capital cities of Australia.

I was asked whether or not there were any alternative policies. Of course, what we were left when we came to government was a huge maldistribution of doctors: too few in regional and rural Australia and too few in the outer metropolitan areas of Australia. The ALP's response is to continue to ignore the outer metropolitan areas of Australia. It has made no commitment to keep these work force initiatives of this government. In fact, its wasteful Medicare proposals would do nothing about doctors in outer metropolitan areas. The ALP has no plans to send doctors where they are most needed—no plans whatsoever. It has no outer metropolitan medical work force scheme and it has no commitment to keep such a program. One thing is sure, and that is that under the coalition government there will always be more doctors in outer metropolitan Australia.