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Thursday, 25 June 2009
Page: 4332

Senator NASH (2:40 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. I refer to the Prime Minister’s promise to fix our public hospitals by mid-2009 and his promise on 21 October 2007 that when it came to the state of the nation’s health system the buck stops with him. What has the Prime Minister done to address the dire shortage of medical specialists in western New South Wales, amongst others, particularly in the regional centre of Dubbo? What has the minister done to fix the Wagga Wagga Base Hospital and what has the minister done to address the already desperately overstretched Port Macquarie hospital?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Nash for the excellent question. It does give me an opportunity to say that we have injected $600 million into the system to help reduce elective surgery waiting times because it is important for those people in rural Australia to ensure that, where they do need elective surgery, they have the availability of services to do it.

Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator LUDWIG —I know those opposite do not want to hear this. They do not want to hear the good work that this government is doing in the public hospital system because of the money we have put in and the agreement we have managed to reach with the states and territories through the COAG process, unlike those opposite over the last 12 years. They were completely unable to then progress this debate any further than a blame game. We have provided $64 billion over the five years and it is ensuring that we are getting on with the job—unlike those opposite, who do not want to recognise the fact that this government is actually putting the money into the public hospital system.

Of course, none of those initiatives and improvements would have occurred if those opposite had anything to do with it. The member for North Sydney said as much in February—

Senator Nash —Mr President, I rise on a point of order on relevance. I specifically asked the minister about the Dubbo, Wagga Wagga and Port Macquarie hospitals. He has not addressed that at all and I ask you to direct him to the question.

Senator Conroy —Mr President, on the point of order: unfortunately, I think a very selective memory was just exercised by Senator Nash. Her question covered a range of issues, not just what she is now attempting to define as the question. Perhaps if she paid attention to the suggestion that you made yesterday about not putting preamble in front of questions and sticking specifically to them she might actually have a point of order. But the problem with the question—and Hansard will bear this out—is it was quite a lengthy question, and this was only one small part that she is now claiming was the entire question. I ask you to rule that there is absolutely no point of order.

The PRESIDENT —Senator Ludwig, you have 44 seconds to address the question that has been raised in the chamber.

Senator LUDWIG —In terms of general practice rural incentive programs to help those people in regional Australia, there is $64.3 million over four years existing and $189.6 million over the four years, which is a total of $253.9 million. But there is also scaling of rural workforce programs, and these will help those people in those communities that you represent. And, of course, they will also help those opposite because, quite frankly, they are too embarrassed to ask questions on the health and hospital reform agenda that this government is putting forward because they do not want to start to admit that they ripped out the $1 billion from it.

We are also providing the national rural locum scheme, which is the new funding of— (Time expired)

Senator NASH —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. I note that the minister was completely unable to answer the question. I ask the minister: given that we are only five days away from the mid-2009 deadline, is the Prime Minister willing to accept the responsibility for the critical state of health services in western New South Wales?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —Not only are we ensuring that we provide the overall plan but also the Rudd government are currently awaiting the final report of the Health and Hospital Reform Commission. We remain committed to making an assessment mid-year. That is what we said we would do. We will do the assessment when we have the report before us. More importantly, the Liberal Party expects the Rudd government to wave a magic wand. I am sure that those opposite think we have a magic wand, but we do not. What we have tried to do in 18 months is fix the 12 years of neglect. We have started to clean up the job that the member for Dickson was not able to do. We have ensured that we have provided a lot more in 18 months than what those on the other side provided in the 12 years they were in government. (Time expired)

Senator NASH —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given the Rudd government has failed to meet its pre-election commitment to fix public hospitals in New South Wales by mid-2009, will the government now meet its promise to take over the New South Wales public hospital system within the next five days?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —Those on the other side are at it again: straw-man reasoning, where they put up a proposition and then try to knock it down. What the opposition fail to recognise is that the government are serious about fixing the hospital and health system in Australia. Those opposite only want to play politics with it. The Rudd government are waiting for the final report. Why doesn’t the shadow minister for health provide his plan of how he is going to fix the health and hospital system? I would be keen to read that plan of how he is going to progress it. We said that we will put the money into the health and hospital system in Australia. We said we would make an agreement, which we have done, with COAG. We are meeting our election commitments, while those opposite flip-flop around without a plan, without any direction, completely at sea with all of this. What those opposite do not have is a plan to deal with the health and hospital system. (Time expired)