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Monday, 26 November 2012
Page: 13198

Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (18:00): I rise to support the Health and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2012. Prior to my main contribution to this debate I would like to pick up on a couple of things that the previous speaker said. To me it underlines the fact that he does not really understand what a Medicare Local is. He said in his contribution to this debate that he does not know why the Medicare Locals could not remain as the urban divisions of general practice. Now, the urban divisions did a wonderful job. I have had two very strong urban divisions within the area I live—the Hunter and the Central Coast. They did wonderful jobs, but a Medicare Local is not an urban division of general practice. A Medicare Local involves a number of health professionals. A Medicare Local works as a bridge between the primary care in the community and the public sector. So the first point I would like to make in this debate is that a Medicare Local is not an urban division of general practice. I am sure the previous speaker will take that on board.

This legislation has four major parts to it. It looks at the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act 1991 to correct referencing inconsistencies within the act. These are fairly minor inconsistencies. They arose when the act was last amended in 2010. At the time, certain paragraphs were repealed and substituted with new subparagraphs. But the reference to the repealed paragraphs were not consequently adjusted to reflect the changes—removing references to changes under subparagraphs 146(6)(b)(i) and 146(6)(b)(ii) and replacing them with references in 146 and removing references to changes being picked up under 146. So those are quite minor amendments to items that needed to be corrected.

This legislation also recognises the ability for specialist trainees at any recognised medical college to perform certain procedures under direct supervision in the private setting, with the procedures being deemed to have been performed by the supervising specialist and with the supervising specialist retaining the right to any bulk billed Medicare fees. This is a very important change. It expands the training capacity and will now allow trainee specialists to perform procedures in the private sector. This widens the scope. Previously it was only surgeons who were able to act in such a way. These changes will allow other specialists such as in orthopaedics, ophthalmology, and obstetrics and gynaecology to work in the same way as the surgeons can. This is very fair and it needs to happen.

We have all heard how the state system has not been able to provide enough places, particularly in New South Wales where the O'Farrell government tends to want to cut public services and health. There have been enormous cutbacks in health by that government whilst the federal government is giving money to health and investing in the training of doctors. The state government is ripping money out of health.

Mr Dutton: You're ripping $1.6 billion out.

Ms HALL: I know it must really upset the shadow minister for health. I only have to refer to some of the research that has been done, including research that has been done by this parliament, when we put together the Beyond the blame game report. Many of the recommendations in that report were accepted by the government.

It is good to see that the shadow minister for health is in the chamber. He opposed the changes in relation to dental care that were a direct result of the report by the Standing Committee on Health and Ageing in 2006, which was a unanimous report. It was supported by all members of the committee including those from the other side of the chamber. To me it seems that we have such a negative opposition—an opposition that will object to anything at any time without putting in place sound reasons for their objections.

This is one of those pieces of legislation that will, yet again, focus the opposition on negativity—saying no and being obstructionist. There is only one opposition that I have ever known that has performed in this way. I know that when we were in opposition we tried to work things through and be positive so that we could deliver to the Australian people. Unlike us, the current opposition are just negative, negative, negative. And who suffers? The Australian people suffer. They do not get the health care that they need. To be so pedantic about the legislation that we have before us today beggars belief. I was really surprised to see the shadow minister speak as long as he did in relation to this because his contributions are usually fairly short and sharp. Obviously, when he can be negative about something, he gets in there for all he is worth.

The previous speaker was referring to the change in relation to human services. Currently under section 41C of the Human Services (Medicare) Act 1973 it is an offence for any person other than the Commonwealth to use the name 'Medicare' or 'Medicare Australia' in connection with business, including in any trading name or any activity, implying it is in any way connected to the Commonwealth. The opposition have decided that this is one little area that they can be negative about. They are objecting to the fact that we have Medicare Locals, which are connected to Medicare and provide a very important adjunct to Medicare. The Medicare locals really—

Mr Dutton: It's nothing to do with Medicare.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER ( Mr KJ Thomson ): Order! The shadow minister was heard in silence and will extend a similar courtesy to the member for Shorten.

Ms HALL: Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, but I am used to the shadow minister for health. I know that he finds it very difficult to get all his comments into a debate and likes to call across the chamber very negative comments whenever he can. So I accept the fact that he is going to interject during my contribution to the debate. He has to make up for the lack of strength in his arguments by interjecting across the chamber.

As I was saying about Medicare Locals, Medicare Locals are very good, sound bodies. They are not urban divisions of general practice, as the previous speaker tried to indicate. They are a very important part of our health system and represent a reform that is bringing about change in the health system. Currently, though, the act is administered by the Department of Human Services, and any procedure under 41C—which refers to the use of 'Medicare', as I referred to earlier—must be initiated by the department and requires the written consent of the Attorney-General at the time of publication. No prosecutions have been brought under his section, and the government wants to ensure that there are no such prosecutions.

The proposed amendments will authorise Medicare Locals and certain other bodies seeking to do so to use the term 'Medicare'—I emphasise 'authorise'. I think Medicare Locals are fine bodies to be granted that authorisation. When they are granted that authorisation they will not be breaching the act. The amendment also removes the requirement that the Attorney-General's consent must be obtained before offence proceedings can be brought under 41C. This will simplify the operation of the provision.

As I said previously, the members on the other side of this House always take the low road. They are always negative. They never look at being constructive and they never try and facilitate change. I believe that this is a very important change. It means that the Commonwealth will not be caught up in legal proceedings. It means that Medicare Locals can operate and do the job that they have been given to do, and that is to ensure that Australians have the best possible health services available to them. Medicare Locals are coordinating health services within local communities. They are not urban divisions of GPs. I emphasise again they are not divisions of GPs. They do not do the work of urban divisions of GPs. To categorise Medicare Locals as such shows a total lack of understanding of the role of Medicare Locals within our communities and within the health system.

There is another section of this legislation that I should briefly mention. That is the Industrial Chemicals (Notification and Assessment) Act 1989. There is an amendment to that. Under the ICNA Act, certain industrial chemicals that represent a low risk are exempt from notification and assessment provisions, in keeping with the best practice principle that the regulator impost to industry should be in accordance with the risk posed. That is very sensible, very straightforward and something that this House should support. One such exemption relates to chemicals kept under the control of Customs during transhipment where those chemicals are exported within 13 days of import. The current act limits the transhipment provision to chemicals under the control of Customs at the point of introduction. Once again, this is streamlining and making the act much more effective. The bill therefore makes a technical amendment to the act to correct the inaccurate description of how new industrial chemicals are kept under the control of Customs.

This is important legislation. This legislation will lead to better provision of health services within our Australian community. The extension of the ability of medical colleges to provide specialty trainees with the opportunity to perform certain procedures under direct supervision in private settings is important. That opportunity should not be restricted to the College of Surgeons. It means that, obstetrics, gynaecology and other areas can enjoy the same situations enjoyed by the College of Surgeons. Once again, that will benefit the Australian people. That is what we are in this parliament for: to enact legislation that is going to benefit the Australian people.

The changes to the Food Standards Australia New Zealand Act are very minor. Once again, we will see that the act operates effectively and efficiently. The changes in relation to Medicare, which those on the other side seem to be so excited about, I believe are very, very important. Medicare Locals are important bodies. They are not urban divisions of GPs. They support the Medicare service. Once again, changes to the industrial chemicals act of 1989 should be supported by this House. I encourage members on the other side of this parliament to think for themselves, to remember just how important Medicare is, to note the important services that Medicare Locals provide in our communities and to accept the fact that these changes are needed and that we are here to support our communities and not to play political games and be totally negative on every aspect that comes before the parliament.