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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 1771


Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (12:48): I commend the member for Charlton on his fine contribution to this debate on the National Health Amendment (Simplified Price Disclosure) Bill 2013 and for highlighting all the important issues in health—particularly the important issues in the Hunter region, part of which is in my electorate of Shortland. We share similar concerns about health in our area and are making sure that the people of our region get the health services they deserve.

I will start by acknowledging the achievements of the last government in the area of health. In government, Labor changed the face of health by implementing the National Health Reform Agreement, which was designed to put $20 billion into hospitals over 10 years. Labor has a proud record in health. We trained more doctors and nurses. We introduced the Dental Health Reform Package. I mention here that the minister opposed the ending of the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. I am wondering whether, now that he is government, he wants to re-introduce that scheme. I am asking him to make a commitment to the Dental Health Reform Package, because it is a package that is set to give Australians a level of certainty about the delivery of dental health services that we never had under the Howard government.

We have established Medicare Locals and they have done phenomenal work. In my area, I am covered by two Medicare Locals—the Central Coast Medicare Local and the Hunter Medicare Local. They are at the forefront of everything that happens in the health area in their respective regions. During the recent bushfires in my electorate, the Medicare Local was at the forefront of providing support and help to people who had been isolated and could not return to their homes.

Under Labor, we had a record bulk-billing rate. It was up over 80 per cent. During the Howard years, under 60 per cent of services in the Shortland electorate—an older electorate, an electorate with a fairly low income base—were being bulk billed. As well as the dental reform package I mentioned, Labor introduced the Grow Up Smiling program, a fantastic program. It means that young kids will have their dental health looked after from the time they are two until they are teenagers. Once again, I call on the minister to give us a promise that he will not walk away from that program.

As I mentioned, there are now more GPs and nurses in training than there were under the Howard government. The superclinics, which my colleague the member for Charlton mentioned, have been really well accepted in many areas. Those on the other side like to pull out the odd example of where they are not up and running, but in most areas they are up and running and are greatly appreciated by the local community. We had a package of $3.7 billion for aged care services, and now we do not even have a minister for aged care. And the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing has had ageing taken out of it, so now it is only the health committee. To me, that shows that this government has no real long-term commitment to some very important health areas.

When Labor came to power in 2007 we were faced with a health system that was in crisis. That was highlighted in The blame game—a report of the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Health and Ageing, which made 29 recommendations and was the blueprint for Labor's reform agenda. I will not go through all the recommendations, but the essence of them was that Australia needed to develop a national health agenda.

Mr Tudge: Madam Deputy Speaker, I seek to intervene so I can ask the member a question.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mrs Griggs ): Does the honourable member accept the intervention?

Ms HALL: I am tempted to, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I need to get through a lot of information. I would be comfortable accepting his question but in this case I would prefer to continue with my contribution to the debate. The first recommendation of The blame game was to develop and adopt a national health agenda and identify policies, planning principles and initiatives. There were 29 recommendations in this report, and most of them have been implemented. But this government should remember that first recommendation, in particular. What is their policy in the area of health? What is their agenda? What do they intend to do? So far, all I have seen have been cuts, cuts and more cuts. I think that may be the health agenda of this Abbott government. I know that at an earlier time the Prime Minister was health minister, and I had always questioned his commitment to health. Now we have a health minister that is only about cuts. He says one thing before the election, particularly in relation to the legislation now before the House, and another thing after the election.

There was an enormous investment in health in the Shortland electorate under the previous government. Through the Primary Care Infrastructure Grants program we invested $500,000 in the Jewells Medical Centre, $150,000 in the Charlestown Family Medical Service, $50,000 in the Lake Macquarie Medical Centre in Belmont, $265,050 in the Wallarah Bay Medical Centre and $150,000 in Aardmann Medical Services, Windale. These grants assisted many health care centres, which in turn have provided great support to local communities. I mentioned earlier the Hunter Medicare Local. It employs 125 front-line healthcare staff and has spent $12.94 million in establishment and operational funding and $11.5 million to support the provision of local face-to-face after-hours primary healthcare services—and that is the GP Access that the member for Charlton talked about. That service has been well utilised by families throughout the Hunter for many years. It is a fantastic service. The Hunter Urban Division of General Practice introduced it, and that was groundbreaking. It is a service that I think is the envy of every area health service in Australia.

There has been money to raise awareness through eHealth, and there has been a great deal of investment in Medicare Locals both in the Hunter and on the Central Coast. Under the Australian General Practice Training Program there have been eight new GP places based at the Glover Street Medical Service in Belmont, the After Hours Medical Service in Charlestown, Aardmann Medical Services in Windale, the Charlestown Family Medical Service and the Smith Street Medical Service. At Belmont hospital, $18.95 million has been invested in hospital services, with subacute beds funding providing 16 rehab beds, and another $380,000 has gone towards providing support for elective surgery services. These are fantastic investments in health in my local area—investments that the Howard government did not make. They ignored areas like Shortland. We had a chronic shortage of GPs, we had very low bulk-billing rates and we had people having to decide whether or not they could afford to get the medicines they were prescribed, even with the strong PBS system that we have in place.

What is the vision for health of the current Minister for Health and the government? I cannot see their vision. I see a government that is keen to cut, is keen to save money; a government that has ripped $100 million out of the Royal Victorian Eye and Ear Hospital and abolished the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council. As my colleague has already mentioned, Dr Mal Washer, a former member of this House, is absolutely horrified that the government has so little insight that it does not understand the important role that this council played in the delivery of health services and ensuring good health care for Australians. What is happening with the wonderful Medicare Locals that I mentioned? They were going, and then the government were keeping them, and now they cannot quite make up their mind whether or not the Medicare Locals will stay. In regard to the abolition of the expert panel on the marketing of infant formula, I refer back to another report of the then Standing Committee on Health and Ageing that we undertook in the 41st Parliament. As a result of that report, Breast is best, it was recommended that we really had to make sure that we had an expert panel to look at the marketing of infant formula. They are turning back the clock.

When we come to this particular piece of legislation, first I will say that the PBS has served Australia well since 1948. It is the envy of the world. It is a great system. It delivers subsidised medicines to all Australians. If a medicine is to be listed, then the drug companies have to justify the listing of that medication. When it finally goes onto the market, all Australians know that it is a safe medicine and that it is being delivered to them at a cheap price. This particular piece of legislation will reduce the amount of time taken by the government to pay reduced prices for certain drugs. The price disclosure arrangements ensure that the amount the government pays to subsidise drugs reflects the market price of the drugs, and there are several price disclosure cycles within one year.

I have met with community pharmacies within my electorate. I acknowledge the concerns that they have expressed, and I intend to work very closely with them. I also acknowledge the fact that before the election the minister ran a scare campaign on this particular issue. He was arguing that this should not take place. After the election, it is one of the first pieces of legislation that we are considering within the parliament. It is expected to save $835 million over three years. Once again, we are hearing about the savings, we are hearing about the cuts, but we are not hearing about any positive initiatives that this government has in the area of health. I think the minister promised $35 million for research into type I diabetes, but there is nothing on the table after the election. In the summing up on this legislation, I would like the minister to give an absolute guarantee to this House that the savings that this legislation will deliver to the government will be reinvested back into the Health portfolio. Australians demand nothing less. This is about health care, this is about ensuring that Australians can get cheaper drugs, and it is about maintaining our wonderful health care system rather than just cut, cut, cut as this government seems intent on doing.