House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Questions without Notice


3:18 pm

Photo of Peter DuttonPeter Dutton (Dickson, Liberal Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer the Prime Minister to the Treasury secretary’s concerns over Australia’s revised population increase. Minister, how many additional public hospital beds will be required to cope with a population increase of over 12 million people, as publicly supported by the Prime Minister? Will the federal government build those beds?

Photo of Kevin RuddKevin Rudd (Griffith, Australian Labor Party, Prime Minister) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Dickson for his question. Firstly, he is right to point to a recent statement by the Secretary of the Treasury concerning robust population projections for Australia’s future. Our population is now about 22 million. The Treasury secretary projects a rise to 35 million, approximately, by mid-century. That is a very significant increase. Therefore, the impact on all categories of infrastructure will be great. That is in part why the government has been determined to engage in a debate about the future provision of infrastructure nationally, not to simply to pass the buck to the states on all categories of infrastructure. I will come to the question of hospitals in a minute.

The infrastructure minister referred earlier to the contribution which the Commonwealth is making in relation to roads. Can I also refer to the investments we are now making in urban transport and urban rail. We are also making investments—for the first time, significantly—in the port infrastructure of the country. But beyond those categories of infrastructure there are of course the emerging needs for social infrastructure. One such area is education and making sure that we have the proper classrooms to accommodate our kids for the future, given this population growth, and that they are appropriately modernised.

To go directly to the point which was raised by the honourable member: hospital infrastructure is an emerging need as well. He is right to point out the need in terms of population increase. Something he did not mention but I am sure he would readily concede is that the ageing of the population means there is going to be a huge burden on the hospital infrastructure of Australia. As part of the consultations that I am currently in with the minister for health, I visited the electorate of the member for Lyne and Port Macquarie Base Hospital. That was one clear case study of the sort of trend which the honourable member for Dickson points to—namely, hospitals are built with a given population assumption in mind and then there is a rapid increase in population. In this case it is an aged population, as people retire from Sydney to Port Macquarie and that region. Consequently, the issue is the sheer physicality of the infrastructure which is therefore needed to provide health services to that community. There is a gap already between design on the one hand, and the population and demographic assumptions behind that, and then, barely 15 years later—if I recall correctly—the current population pressures in the member for Lyne’s part of New South Wales. They are plainly misaligned.

The honourable member for Dickson then went to the question of how we manage this for the long-term future. That is why we are currently engaged in an extensive national consultation on the three strategic options which were put out there in the Bennett health reform commission report. The first concerns a partial takeover of funding responsibility for the nation’s health system. The second is to take over in a staged way full funding responsibility for the health and hospital system. The third option is for that to be done simultaneously—a recommendation which is not embraced by the health reform commission itself.

What we intend to do is complete our round of consultations on this. The Minister for Health and Ageing and I, so far, together have visited some 65 hospital and health communities around the country. Personally, I have visited some 15. The minister, together with the minister responsible for rural health and Indigenous health as well as the relevant parliamentary secretaries, has been attending these consultations, as have many government backbenchers. For the information of the House, we spent several hours discussing this in the caucus room today, as each of the caucus members reflected on the contributions from their individual areas and their consultations with GPs and with local hospitals—right across the country—and their responses particularly to the road-testing of the recommendations contained in the report.

This is a major area of long-term social infrastructure need; therefore, the options are there contained in the report. The government’s process is to road-test those options with those who actually deliver these services in regional areas, as we undertook in the Port Macquarie consultation that I referred to before, and we will then take proposals for the future to the states and territories on what options the government will then embrace. This is a major pressure on the country for the future, as is water infrastructure, as is school infrastructure and as is the proper planning of our cities. This government intends to be comprehensively in the business of nation building rather than abandoning the field, as our predecessors did for a decade.