House debates

Tuesday, 27 October 2009

Questions without Notice

Preventive Health

3:44 pm

Photo of Mike SymonMike Symon (Deakin, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. What steps is the government taking on preventive health? Are there any impediments to this reform agenda?

Photo of Nicola RoxonNicola Roxon (Gellibrand, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Health and Ageing) Share this | | Hansard source

I thank the member for Deakin for his question. He has always taken a keen interest in health issues and particularly the health reform agenda that the government is undertaking. The Rudd government has been committed, from its first days in office, to tackling Australia’s chronic disease epidemic. It is why we have put so much effort and attention from our early days into our preventative health agenda, and it is why we are attempting to establish Australia’s first National Preventive Health Agency. Just five days ago we had Liberal Party support to do just that; of course, why wouldn’t we—this is a good initiative. I think nearly 20 members of this House spoke in support of the bill, in support of establishing the National Preventive Health Agency. It is all good news about investing more time, energy and focus on keeping people well for longer and out of hospital. In fact, the member for Dickson in this House said:

The objective of preventative health measures to alleviate pressures on the public hospital system is rightly supported by both sides of politics.

However, only five days later we see that the member for Dickson might support this measure in the House but the real health spokesperson, a senator from Western Australia, has now opposed it and directed the Liberal Party in the Senate to oppose this measure.

Interestingly, in this House we heard rumours that the Liberal Party might be opposing this measure in the Senate. My office contacted the shadow minister’s office, or the nominal shadow minister’s office, to inquire about the Liberal Party’s plans to amend the legislation. We were told that they did not know anything about it. When we had a copy of the motion that had been distributed in the Senate we again called the member for Dickson’s office. His office still did not have any of the terms of the motion and did not know anything about it. It defies logic that after this was recommended by the 2020 conference, by the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission’s interim and final reports, by the Prevention Taskforce’s interim and final reports, when it was agreed to by COAG, by the Prime Minister, by all the premiers, including the Western Australian Liberal premier, that it was voted for in this House by the Liberal Party, in fact it was moved as a non-controversial bill to the Main Committee because there was so much agreement across the parliament that this was a good initiative.

So what is actually going on? What has caused this sudden about-face? I have to confess that I smell a rat. That rat is not Senator Cormann sniffing around for Mr Dutton’s job; that rat, I suspect, is the alcohol industry and the tobacco industry calling in their favours yet again. They are concerned about this: tobacco donations still being received by the Liberal Party, the distillers having written the alcopops policy for the Liberal Party for 12 months. Senator Cormann in the other place asked questions just before question time. His specific queries about this bill were, No.1, will the government make tobacco products more expensive; No. 2, will the government change alcohol taxation; and, No. 3, will the government impose restrictions on advertising for alcohol?

These are legitimate questions in a reform debate. However, they are questions for the government; they are not questions for this agency. They will not be the remit of this agency; they are not good reasons for an opposition to suddenly decide to oppose important infrastructure to support preventative health measures across this country. It is time for the Leader of the Opposition and the actual, at least current, health spokesperson to stick with the position they had only five days ago and to command the respect that they should have from the Senate for this measure, and ask that their Liberal colleagues in the Senate pass this bill. It is all good news and it is an important reform. Until today we had absolutely no inkling that the Liberal Party would oppose such a sensible measure. It is about time Senator Cormann got called to account and the tobacco companies stopped writing your policies.

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

Mr Speaker, I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.