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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 7681

Senator FORSHAW (2:16 PM) —My question is directed to Senator Ludwig, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. I note that more than $100 billion worth of new funding deals was agreed to by the Commonwealth, states and territories at the weekend meeting of the Council of Australian Governments. Can the minister inform the Senate how a $64.4 billion investment to boost health and hospital funding demonstrates the Rudd government’s determination to work with the states and territories to end the blame game and help rebuild our public hospitals?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank Senator Forshaw for his question. I know he has a longstanding interest in health issues. In relation to the funds delivered to the area of health during a historic Council of Australian Governments meeting at the weekend—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —It is a shame that the opposition do not want to hear the good news. The Rudd government is delivering $64.4 billion to boost health and hospital funding and drive reform, including through a historic new national healthcare agreement—one that the opposition have not been able to do. This is an increase of more than $20 billion, or 50 per cent, over the funding provided by the Howard government in the last agreement.

In 2003, $1 billion was cut from the public hospital system by the Howard government. After 12 years of neglect, we are giving hospitals money to tackle key pressure points and improve the health system for all Australians. The $64.4 billion investment consists of an extra $4.8 billion for public hospitals; $1.1 billion to train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals; $750 million to take the pressure off emergency departments and $500 million in measures to provide additional subacute care; $450 million in the Preventative Health National Partnership and $800 million in the Indigenous Health National Partnership.

The additional $4.8 billion for public hospitals comprises an increase to base funding of $500 million and an annual indexation rate of 7.3 per cent into the future. This growth rate will help the Commonwealth funding contribution on a sustainable long-term basis, unlike the miserly indexation of 5.3 per cent provided under the last agreement by those opposite. Looking at how the additional funding will relate to people on the ground in health, it will be 350,000 additional emergency department presentations— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Thank you, Minister, for acknowledging my longstanding interest. I am sure that you have read the many reports of committees that I have served on, such as those on mental health, Medicare, aged care and—I have a particular interest at the moment—obesity. Minister, of the $64.4 billion funding in health, how will the $1.1 billion investment to train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals be reflected in increased services for patients Australia wide?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —I thank the senator for his question. This $1.1 billion injection is the single biggest investment in the health workforce ever made by an Australian government. The Rudd government understands the community need for more money to be put into the health system and will be demanding better health outcomes as a result. This funding—

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —It is a shame that those opposite mock the proposal. The Rudd government is doing what those opposite never did in government, which is to make a huge investment in the health system. This funding will support a massive expansion in undergraduate clinical-training places in public hospitals and other health settings. With student numbers rising and hospitals under pressure after years of underfunding by those opposite when they were in government, there have not been enough training places. Without this funding, many doctors would emerge from university with no training places to go to. The Rudd government— (Time expired)

Senator FORSHAW —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question on this extremely important area of health funding—something I know that opposition senators would like to hear about. Can the minister confirm to the Senate that the government’s $64.4 billion boost to health funding will provide investment to help close the gap in life expectancy between Indigenous and non-Indigenous people?

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) —The Australian government has set a target to close the life expectancy gap between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and other Australians within a generation. Achieving this goal will of course not be easy. That is why the government is investing $800 million over the next five years as part of a $1.6 billion national partnership on Indigenous health. This funding will deliver more health professionals to Indigenous communities, expand health services and help tackle key risk factors like chronic disease and smoking. Chronic disease is the largest contributor to the current life expectancy gap. About $470 million will be provided to improve chronic disease management. That includes incentives and support for general practice to manage the coordination of care of Indigenous patients, additional support for Indigenous patients with chronic diseases who access specialist and allied healthcare services and the expansion of the Medical Specialist Outreach Assistance Program. (Time expired)