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Monday, 18 June 2001
Page: 27827


Mr PROSSER (8:29 PM) —I rise to speak on Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002, Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 2001-2002 and Appropriation (Parliamentary Departments) Bill (No. 1) 2001-2002. It does not seem all that long ago since I stood in the Main Committee to discuss the benefits that the 2000-01 appropriation bills would have on my electorate of Forrest and the communities of the south-west. The 2000-01 budget contained major reforms on rural and regional health as part of the $562 million More Doctors Better Services package. This is already having a major impact on many communities in the south-west. Walpole and Silver Chain received a $750,000 commitment to increase health services out of the package. This has meant increased GP services from one day to three days per week; increased access to mental health services, podiatry care and physiotherapy services; increased access to occupational therapists; first-aid and ambulance training for willing community volunteers; increased home nursing and support for the elderly; and better access to aged care support to allow the elderly to stay in their homes longer.

The federal government also announced as part of its 2000-01 budget new medical scholarships—the Rural Australian Medical Undergraduate Scheme, the Medical Rural Bonded Scholarship and the John Flynn scholarship—to help attract continuing or recently graduated medical students to rural areas. South-west students have already benefited from these scholarships. The best way to get professionals back into rural and regional Australia is by training those that grew up there and were basically living in the area, giving them opportunities to go back to work in the communities that they came from.

The 2001-02 budget has continued to build on the solid gains made in health in the last budget and over the preceding years. The further strengthening of Medicare and the health system by committing an additional $900 million shows that the federal government does more than care about the health and wellbeing of people living in communities in the south-west and across Australia, and shows that the federal government acts on that commitment in a way which benefits all Australians.

Little attention has been paid to the record funding that Medicare received in this year's budget—an additional $750 million—which will help make Medicare stronger than ever by improving access to primary care services, boosting targeted funding for quality primary care and making medicines safer. The budget provides for an increase in patient rebates for GP services of $300 million over four years. By providing increased rebates for longer consultations, this measure particularly benefits patients with complex or chronic conditions who may need to spend more time with their doctor.

The budget allocates $48.4 million over four years to assist GPs to better assist those with moderate to severe asthma. One in four primary school kids in my electorate of Forrest, many of whom I met during the Centenary of Federation celebrations, has asthma. I want each and every one of them to have treatment from their GP that is considered best practice. The `asthma plus three' plan that this funding provides for aims to do just that.

I have great interest in mental health and I am the patron of Pathways, a mental health services group based in Bunbury that does an outstanding job. I am delighted that mental health is the priority in this budget that it deserves to be with an extra $120.4 million in funding over the next four years to assist GPs to develop their skills in mental health diagnosis, care and treatment. A new Medicare benefits schedule item will be introduced for trained GPs to provide a range of non-medication based therapies. The government will also be supporting doctors to form links with other mental health professionals. Once again, the mental health package builds upon previous initiatives—including Beyond Blue, and the National Depression and National Primary Mental Health Care initiatives—which provide a range of care options for those 2.4 million Australians experiencing a mental health problem each year.

Some 450,000 Australians have diabetes but do not know it, and an estimated 900,000 have this debilitating disease. I doubt there would be a member of this House who would not know someone or who would not have a member of their own family who is affected by diabetes. In recognition of this, an amount of $49.8 million over four years has been allocated to improve prevention and to provide incentives for GPs for earlier diagnosis of the disease. After-hours emergency care funding of $43.4 million, $71.9 million for increased funding for cervical cancer and $18.1 million for safer use of medicines is proof positive of this government's genuine commitment to the health and wellbeing of all Australians no matter where they live.

This budget provides $238 million for government schools, which is 87 per cent of the funding for specific schools initiatives contained in this year's budget. There is no doubt that investing in our children and their education, health and wellbeing is one of the best investments we can make. I have been to many school assemblies recently and met with many students during the Centenary of Federation celebrations, on Anzac Day and as part of my normal role in attending school assemblies and presenting honour certificates on school prize nights and the like. There is really a friendly and positive atmosphere at schools that was not there in my day. All the children I have met have been fantastic, the teachers are committed to providing supportive but challenging learning environments and each school has a strong community network and great resources.

Key initiatives funded in this year's budget include $143.5 million to strengthen government schools by returning funding under the EBA to develop students' scientific, mathematical and technological skills as well as developing and building schools based innovation and supportive learning environments. Literacy and numeracy funding of $36.9 million over the years 2001 to 2003 will support the government's keen focus on literacy and numeracy and the national literacy and numeracy plan. This plan has already seen a 13 per cent improvement in the reading ability of year 3 students across the country. Provision for additional resourcing of $99.5 million over 2003-04 and 2004-05 has been made. Schools do much for children but the most basic building block kids will need to get through life is to be able to read and to numerate. We take for granted the ability to read a good book, read signs, read mail and the labels on food on the grocery shelving. Yet there are many that cannot do these things. It is beholden on governments to resource schools so that they can focus on the basics—the three Rs.

Online curriculum development has been given a boost with $34.1 million to support online curriculum development. This should allow schools to share world-class curriculum material. An amount of $46.7 million has been allocated to assist 70,000 young people per year moving from schools to further education, training and work. This funding maintains the Jobs Pathways program, and I am pleased that those young people who need extra support in moving on from school will receive it.

I also want to comment briefly on the $34.8 million for new places at regional campuses, with 670 new places on top of the existing allocations commencing next year. Last year both universities which have regional campuses in my electorate—namely, Edith Cowan University, which has a campus in Bunbury, and UWA, which has a campus in Albany—came to see me about research funding specific to regional universities, which excludes Western Australia as WA only has regional campuses. I took this up with the minister at the time and I am pleased to note that regional campuses have been recognised with this allocation of new regional places. There is no better way to keep our young people in regional communities than to educate them and to offer them opportunities in regional centres. It is a forward thinking government that recognises this. According to the Department of Employment, Training and Youth Affairs, although comprising one-third of all school students, students from remote and regional areas constitute only 17 per cent of tertiary students in Australia. I hope that ECU and UWA gain new places so they can offer more opportunities for young people in the south-west to learn and live in their own communities.

Margaret River Senior High School, which I have discussed in this House before, has been an outstanding school. Margaret River has a retention rate for kids completing year 12—in WA that is the final year of schooling—which runs to upward of 92 per cent and an acceptance rate for university of 89.4 per cent. This is an excellent result and, for a regional school, truly extraordinary. The community is very closely involved in the school and they tell me that, when that year 12 generation of kids leaves to go to uni in Perth, a part of their community is missing and they do not feel complete. Not surprisingly after this level of support, when these Margaret River young people are by themselves at uni without the family and peer support that they had at high school, many struggle, despite being as bright and committed as their metropolitan counterparts. Consequently, many return home without completing their studies. This is not good enough. Universities need to examine their peer support structures, and I think the government needs to look at doing more in respect of youth allowance for young people from regional and rural areas studying at university. I am committed to ensuring that young people in the south-west have the very best opportunities and, more importantly, that those young people are in a position to take advantage of those opportunities. Their futures are our futures, and our south-west communities will need these young people to remain vibrant.

Finally, I want to briefly touch on the boost in funding for our quarantine system. Coming from a regional area that relies on its clean and green image to trade on world markets, an image that gives the south-west and indeed Australia a competitive advantage when trading our produce, I know that to lose that would be disastrous. Whether it be the apple growers in Donnybrook, the home of the famous Pink Lady, concerned about fire blight, the table grape growers and the vineyards concerned about Pierce's disease and the glassy-winged sharpshooter, or the many beef and dairy producers in my electorate concerned about BSE and foot-and-mouth disease, our entire community has a stake in protecting our borders from disease. Not only would an incursion of any one of these three diseases result in growers and producers suffering severe hardship because their produce has been affected; it would ruin our clean and green image, and you cannot put a value on that—it is just priceless.

Australia remains one of the few countries in the world free of fire blight and BSE, and it is important that we remain that way. This year's budget provides an additional $596 million in funding for quarantine. It includes $5.7 million for AQIS up until 30 June 2001 to support extra measures introduced to counter the UK and European outbreaks of foot-and-mouth disease; $281.4 million from 2001-2002 through to 2004-2005 to boost quarantine enforcement by AQIS; and $238.8 million over the same period for Customs to provide quarantine support services. This will have the effect of dramatically strengthening our borders and protecting our agricultural industry from exotic pests and diseases. A sum of $68.8 million has been identified to alter infrastructure at international airports and international mail centres as well as to cover ongoing surveillance costs at Australia Post.

Risk management and preparedness arrangements for BSE and foot-and-mouth disease are being coordinated by a high level industry and government management group and have received resources of $1.2 million. Finally, half a million dollars has been allocated to purchase reagents which allow rapid testing of suspected foot-and-mouth cases as part of the surveillance program. These resources will mean the great majority of passengers will undergo physical inspection or X-rays, and this will be combined with an enhanced detector dog support unit. All aircraft containers will be inspected and cargo of quarantine concern will also be inspected. On top of this, all ships will be inspected with increased general surveillance. Sea cargo containers will continue to be externally inspected, and matters of quarantine concern will also be internally examined at mail exchanges by X-ray and detector dogs. Greater public awareness to better inform travellers will take place in both English speaking and non-English speaking countries.

As an island nation, we are lucky that we have one of the greatest physical barriers to diseases, and so far we have been able to keep out many exotic pests and diseases. Our customs and quarantine officers and their detector dogs do a great job in protecting us from external threat. We all have a stake in quarantine matters, and it is important that customs and quarantine officers be resourced properly so they can continue to protect us and our clean and green image. I commend the bill to the House.