Thursday, 11 February 2010
Questions without Notice
Government members interjecting—
I thank the member for Lyons for his question, because he has very high demands from his constituents on health matters—as does the community in Tasmania, where workforce issues are more challenging than in other parts of the country. We know that one of the problems when the Rudd government was elected was that we inherited an extraordinary legacy, following the Leader of the Opposition’s period as the health minister, of workforce shortages that were at crises points. We had nationwide medical workforce shortages stretching across 74 per cent of the country and affecting 60 per cent of the population, capped GP training places at 600 and a nationwide shortage of about 6,000 nurses. These were the good old days that the Leader of the Opposition is pining for.
But try telling that to the outer suburban families who could not get into the see a GP because the GP’s books were closed or the regional communities who had lost their only doctor in town. Under the Leader of the Opposition the good old days were days where the family GP became an endangered species. But we took immediate action to address this chronic problem. Since 2007 we have been training more GP’s than ever before—and, rather than leaving it to chance like the Liberal Party did, we have a plan in place to train the future health workforce in Australia.
So, in addition to training over 800 GP’s—a 35 per cent increase from the time the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister—we have also increased the number of places for junior doctors to experience working in general practice settings by 10 per cent and we are investing $1.1 billion in clinical training for doctors, nurses and other health professionals. This is the single-biggest investment that an Australian government has ever made in the workforce. More students are going to receive quality clinical training as health professionals, and of course that means over time that Australians, not just in the seat of Lyons in Tasmania but across the country, will find it easier to get the healthcare professionals that they need.
Tomorrow I will be meeting with the states’ health ministers in a dedicated health ministers conference dealing with workforce issues where I will be asking and encouraging—in fact, requiring—them to sign onto additional commitments in the workforce arena. This of course is in stark contrast to the leader opposite, who basically said the system was not broken. His direct quote was, ‘If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it’. But everybody knows that his response to the lack of access to medical care for families was to cap GP places. His response to 750 public hospitals suffering, after he ripped $1 billion out of the public hospital system, was to pick one winner, the Mersey Hospital in Tasmania, and forget about all the rest. His sneaky spin to explain away a $1 billion funding cut was to call it a ‘reduction in the forward estimates’. And his response to one of 650,000 Australians on the public dental waiting list, after his government axed the program, was to lament that he ‘did not have a magic wand to solve the problem’.
Exactly! I did wonder whether maybe that magic wand had been found. Of course, the shadow Treasurer is storing it somewhere with his tutu and crown. No doubt the Leader of the Opposition will be able to ask for that magic wand to fix and fund all of those uncosted promises. He might be able to use the magic wand to convince the shadow finance minister what the difference is between a million and a billion dollars!
But the serious point here is that the Leader of the Opposition has a legacy: he neglected the health workforce needs of the country. Every member on the other side knows this, because they are the people who write to me everyday about their shortage of doctors. They can thank their leader for that problem. Luckily, we are starting to fix it.