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Monday, 1 December 2008
Page: 11882

Ms RISHWORTH (2:49 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister outline to the House the importance of the health reforms agreed to by COAG at the weekend?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Kingston for her question. As we know, she maintains a keen interest in all things related to health, and so she might after such an important agreement being reached over the weekend. The Prime Minister and the premiers and chief ministers, as the Treasurer has already mentioned, negotiated a healthcare agreement investing enormous amounts of extra funding into our health system. This importantly started the task of rebuilding after years and years of neglect under the previous government and, as well as investing much needed money into the health system, has resulted in a range of very important reforms—the building blocks that are needed to bring the health system into the 21st century, the building blocks that are needed to invest in the workforce, to invest in prevention and to invest in Indigenous health, where we know that health outcomes are falling so far behind the rest of the country.

The Prime Minister has mentioned that we are investing $64.4 billion over the next five years. This is an increase of more than $20 billion or, in other terms, 50 per cent over the last agreement, a very important change when you consider the money that was pulled out of the health system by the previous government when the last agreement was negotiated. But the funding is not in the form of a blank cheque either. It is directly targeted at key pressure points in our system: for example, $750 million going directly into emergency departments across the country. I do not think there would be a member in this House who would say that emergency departments in their hospitals in their electorates will not be able to use that money effectively. It will fund nearly two million extra emergency department services and is very welcome, I know. It includes $1.1 billion to train more doctors, nurses and other health professionals.

I want to take the time to explain to the House what, even in 2009, this massive new investment will mean. It means for the first time the Commonwealth will be providing a direct subsidy towards training for 63,000 students just in 2009: 33,000 nursing students, 13,000 medical students and 17,500 allied health students. That is just in 2009. So the magnitude of this investment into our workforce is critical and will build capacity for the future.

But this is not just about more money, as much as more money is needed. This agreement is also historic because of significant reforms that we are investing in. For the first time, this agreement is going to include very stringent reporting indicators. The states and territories will report hospital by hospital on key problem areas, such as infection rates, which will help drive improvements in quality. For the first time, this agreement focuses not only on hospitals but also, as the Prime Minister has mentioned, on preventative care, because we know we need to act now, invest now and plan for the future, something those opposite never did in health in their 11 or 12 years in government.

Importantly—and I know the Minister for Families, Housing, Community Services and Indigenous Affairs is particularly pleased about this, as are we all on this side of the House—this agreement invests a $1.6 billion combined contribution from the Commonwealth and the states into Indigenous health, an area that has been neglected for too long and that desperately needs this money. It is going to make sure that we can change long-term health outcomes for Indigenous people.

I did notice that the member for Dickson was out yesterday trying to get his name in the newspaper claiming that we were simply throwing good money after bad. So it seems that the coalition’s approach to hospitals, which is to cut money and keep cutting it, has not changed. The member for Dickson seems to be arguing for that again. He did seem a little confused and distracted and I wondered if that is just what happens when you are after someone else’s job and are not interested in the one that you are meant to be doing. COAG was a significant step forward in repairing the damage that was caused by those opposite and in preparing the health system for the challenges of the future.