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Monday, 29 November 2004
Page: 97

Senator CROSSIN (7:47 PM) —When I was last on my feet and gave the first half of my speech on the address-in-reply I paid due recognition to the people of the Territory, the Electoral Commission and the members and supporters of the Labor Party who had supported the campaign, but I want to spend the time that I have this evening talking about some of the matters we dealt with during the campaign. I will go first to some very dear constituents on Christmas Island and Cocos (Keeling) Islands who I believe deserved much more out of this government during the election campaign than they got. I do not remember seeing any substantive policy from this government about its directions for people who live on Christmas Island and Cocos Islands. I do, though, remember this government having a policy of moving the people on Christmas Island and Cocos Islands and having the administration of those islands come under the control of the Western Australian government. That is a policy which has been made without consultation with the people on the islands. One of the severe criticisms we heard from those people during the last three years was that this government treats them with disdain, makes unilateral decisions about the future governance of the islands, does not consult and is not interested in consulting.

The same goes for the scoping study or the work that is being done on the future of the health services on the islands. This government would say that it is just looking at the best way for future delivery of the health service, when most people on the islands know that that is a covert way of suggesting that this government wants to privatise the health services there. There has now at least been a move to set about developing an economic strategy in consultation with the Administrator and businesses, but only after the member for Lingiari and I raised this constantly in the chambers of this parliament. This government really has no long-term plan for the future of Christmas Island and Cocos Islands other than that it wants to get rid of the administration and wipe its hands of it as quickly as it can by buck-passing its problems in relation to those islands to the Western Australian government. No doubt the government now has people on the islands working for the Department of Transport and Regional Services attempting to plan just that. It is no surprise then that overwhelmingly the people on Christmas Island and Cocos Islands support the Labor Party and wanted to see a Latham Labor government.

I also want to talk about a number of issues that were raised in the seat of Solomon. I particularly want to go to the issue of a Medicare office in Palmerston. My office, along with the Mayor of Palmerston, had done a significant amount of work in raising that issue. It was the one single service that the people in the area of Solomon had identified as a need. We had sent a survey out to people in Palmerston, had gathered 3,500 signatures and had managed to have those signatures tabled here in the Senate. The sitting member for Solomon, who unfortunately was re-elected, had not done a skerrick of work about ascertaining the views of the people in Solomon. He had not even bothered to canvass people in Palmerston about that issue, but, if we had to do that work in order to flush out his views and to get this government to copycat our policies and ideas, well and good. Three days after Julia Gillard arrived in town and announced that we would fund a Medicare office in Palmerston this government and the sitting member for Solomon announced the same thing. Thankfully, the people of Palmerston will actually get their Medicare office now but it is not due to the work that that member did, that is for sure. It has now been almost two months since that announcement was made. We will be making sure that that office is located in Palmerston sooner rather than later. We will be watching for that to happen.

The other issue which I want to raise about health problems in the seat of Solomon is the disgraceful, mischievous and misleading attempts by the member for Solomon to suggest during the preceding six months—and I clearly remember that when the Medicare bills were being put through this chamber I think Senator Patterson on behalf of the minister for health said this—that the RRMA classifications, the rural and remote medical areas classifications, would be reviewed. I think somewhere during the campaign I heard the member for Solomon suggesting that Darwin and Palmerston had been reclassified as a RRMA 3. It is another example of this government saying anything it needs to say in order to get itself re-elected. That is not the case.

Darwin and Palmerston have only been reclassified as an area of special consideration. What does that mean? Technically that means we will still have enormous difficulties in getting doctors from Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane—out of the capital cities—to places like Darwin and Palmerston, because they do not and will not enjoy the incentives they would enjoy in a RRMA 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7 classification—if they were in a RRMA 3 classification, for example, such as Humpty Doo or Alice Springs. What a farce this whole system is. We should have a genuine review of the medical areas and a decent look at the reclassification of those areas. What a farce it is that you can sit in a place like Palmerston and not automatically have special incentives provided to you as a doctor, but 10 kilometres down the road at a place like Humpty Doo you can get all the assistance in the world to computerise your records, to train your nursing staff and to assist you, to attract and keep you in rural and remote Australia.

This government is not serious about attracting doctors to rural and remote Australia. It plays politics with its classification system and has not at all embarked on a genuine review of the reclassification system. So now we have that farcical situation where each and every time an incentive is announced, instead of doctors in Darwin and Palmerston automatically having access, because they are in an area of special consideration they are exempt and have to apply and jump through hoops. They are outside the square, and each and every time they have to apply to get access to those special conditions. My understanding is that almost 50 per cent of the time they are knocked back and do not get access at all.

To mislead the voters of Solomon by getting them to somehow believe that Darwin and Palmerston had been reclassified, that there were additional incentives there in order to attract more doctors to Darwin and Palmerston, was utterly mischievous. We now have only three doctors in the Northern Territory who bulk-bill. By and large, most people in Solomon are still paying around $50 or $60 to go and see a doctor. The health care needs of that electorate have not been addressed under this government and will not be addressed while ever this government are in power and while ever they have got the current sitting member that they have.

Senator Boswell —-It's going to be a long, long time.

Senator CROSSIN —Senator Boswell, you might want to have a look at Warren Snowdon's speech this afternoon about the declining population in Solomon. It may well be that I can emulate Warren Snowdon's sentiments this afternoon and suggest to you that the member for Solomon may well be struggling to keep his seat if the population declines. Why would you want to stay in rural and remote Australia when under this government the needs of the people in those areas are being totally neglected? If you were serious about looking after the health needs of people in Darwin and Palmerston, you would automatically ensure that Darwin and Palmerston were reclassified as a RRMA 3. It is what the AMA and the general practitioners have been calling for for years. While ever it is not, we struggle with not only a lack of doctors but also a lack of doctors who bulk-bill.

I want to talk also about the policies that were announced not during the election but straight after the election. This government might want to think it has a mandate to run on a certain number of policies, but it clearly does not. There was no mention during the election campaign of moving the Office of the Status of Women out of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and into the Department of Family and Community Services—a downgrading of the status of women in this country by pigeonholing that office into Family and Community Services. The peak Office of the Status of Women is now no longer associated with the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet and responsible for a whole-of-government response, responsible for looking at all portfolio areas to make sure that there are checks and balances when it comes to the delivery of government policy in this country. That was never mentioned during the election campaign.

During the election campaign, the incredible welfare reform for Indigenous Australians was never mentioned in the depth that it has been since the election. The policy alludes to some of the changes in improving welfare for Indigenous people, but during the election campaign this government never embarked on fully explaining the draconian measures that it has planned for Indigenous people in this country, such as linking school attendance with health checks and linking welfare payments with ensuring that Indigenous people come up to scratch in the eyes of this government—whatever that means. It fails to fundamentally address that one of the reasons why we have such appalling rates of Indigenous health in this country is the lack of infrastructure. (Time expired)