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Wednesday, 22 March 2023
Page: 2099

Dr ANANDA-RAJAH (Higgins) (15:57): The other day I bumped into a medical colleague of mine. He disclosed that he had met a nurse. That in itself is not remarkable. However, this nurse was actually driving a tram. This nurse was no ordinary nurse—she was an ex-intensive care nurse. It speaks volumes that we now have a situation where the health system is haemorrhaging human capital, human capital that is not going to be able to be replaced overnight. This problem obviously has been going on for some time now, and it was made worse during the pandemic. The pressures of the pandemic undoubtedly exacerbated the problems for the workforce.

It's no coincidence that it has exacerbated the problems of a workforce that is feminised. The health workforce is feminised, as is the aged care workforce, as are teachers and child care. These workforces are haemorrhaging because they are also feminised workforces. Women are that sandwich generation. We're caught between the pressures of home duties as well as dealing with ageing parents. In addition to that we belong to these caring professions. There's no doubt that all of this has led to a situation of mental and physical exhaustion, to be honest. Here in this House we are well aware of that. I think it speaks volumes that in this parliament we have got probably the highest number of healthcare professionals, people with lived experience, like my colleague Emma McBride, and the member for Indi. I thank her excellent representation of her community. She is a former midwife and researcher who has lived experience and understands the pressures on the health system.

Coming from that position now, we have to craft policy. We have to craft policy to course-correct and invest in human capital. I have this list of amazing initiatives that the Albanese government is delivering, and I can't see a single hospital being built on this. I am actually kind of happy about that. There's no point building hospitals if you can't staff them. Actually, the bulk of our initiatives are focused on training and workforce. There was one particular initiative I spoke on not long ago, which I particularly like, which speaks to the maldistribution of the healthcare workforce currently, with oversupply in the cities and metropolitan areas and an absolute scarcity in our rural and regional areas.

There is an amendment to the Higher Education Support Act which will look to waive HELP fees for those rural doctors and nurse practitioners who choose to work in either regional or remote communities. Essentially, the further out you go, the more debt is waived and forgiven. That's not trivial because it can amount to something like $8,000 for a nurse practitioner and up to $10,000 for a doctor. That is not a trivial amount of money, particularly during the cost-of-living crunch that we have now. I sincerely hope that that encourages more of our trainees to go into the regions. As you know I worked at the Alfred, and, for the13 years I was there, I could count on one hand how many medical students planned on becoming general practitioners. There were probably two in 13 years.

The problem is that they enter the public hospital system, which is generally in big metropolitan cities—these are the doctor and nurse factories—and they get seduced. They are seduced ,and they decide that they want to become a trauma surgeon instead of working as a general practitioner in the regions. The irony of all that is, from my own lived experience, the most fulfilling rotations I had were actually in the regions, in places like Lismore, Orange, Bunbury, Rockingham and Gladstone. I've worked all over this country, and I've got to say working in the regions is just the most fulfilling experience because the communities are so grateful that you are there. So I would strongly urge our prospective trainees to consider the regions and to be deliberate about their choices. I urge them to understand that, as a government, we are doing everything we can on this side of the House to invest in our regions. In addition to training programs, mentorship programs are obviously just as important. We need those health practitioners with the grey hairs—I have quite a few, actually!—to mentor the next generation coming through.