House debates

Monday, 22 February 2010

Questions without Notice


2:09 pm

Photo of Janelle SaffinJanelle Saffin (Page, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, what are the future challenges facing the Australian health system?

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

I thank the member for Page for her question, because working families across Australia have a deep interest in the future of the health and hospital system of Australia. Australians have a fundamental interest in making sure that our system is got right for the future. Every year Australians make about 115 million visits to the doctor. Every year the nation’s 768 public hospitals deliver some 49 million hospital services to the Australian public. All this is made possible by a dedicated Australian health workforce made up of something like 60,000 doctors, 230,000 nurses and 134,000 allied health professionals. This comes at great cost to the Australian taxpayer. Taxpayers at present pay some $71.2 billion each year to support this public health system of Australia.

We have to look, however, at how this system of ours is sustainable into the future. By international standards our health and hospital system performs well, but it is under great pressure. The demand for health services in Australia is rapidly outweighing the supply of those services, and the reasons are pretty plain: firstly, an expanding population; secondly, an ageing population; and, thirdly, of course, great advances in medical technology. I also say to those opposite and to the House at large: the proportion of those over the age of 65 is increasing and is expected to increase around sevenfold, which means that the overall burden on our health and hospital system for the future will be greater indeed.

The other point of stress in the system for the future is—

Photo of Andrew LamingAndrew Laming (Bowman, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Your lack of action! You’ve done nothing in two years.

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

the ability of the states and territories to fund the system’s expansion for the decades ahead. Mr Speaker, those opposite interject about the capacity of the health system to deliver, a health system which has not been able to deliver effectively because the previous government ripped a billion dollars out of the public hospital system. Treasury projects that the total health spending of all states will exceed 100 per cent of their tax revenues, excluding the GST, by around 2045-46 and possibly earlier in a number of states—in fact, as early as in about 20 or so years time. A final point about stress in the system and the ability to fund future needs is this: waste, duplication and overlap. The Bennett report reached conclusions that some 10 to 20 per cent of our total health expenditure at present could currently be being wasted because of the duplications which exist within our system.

The government in its two years in office has increased the overall allocation to health and hospitals by some 50 per cent. We have a $1.1 billion investment in training for more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals; a $750 million investment in improving our emergency departments; a half-billion dollar investment in subacute care beds; and nearly a half-billion dollar investment in prevention, expanding the preventative healthcare investment to $872 million. These are the practical measures we have taken so far, given the billion dollars which was ripped out of the system by those who preceded us.

The government is also taking significant steps to underpin the future funding needs of the system. That is why in the 2009-10 budget we introduced the vital private health insurance savings measure to make sure that low- and middle-income Australian taxpayers were not subsidising the health insurance of wealthier Australians. This important savings measure is still being blocked by the opposition in the parliament. If not passed it will cost taxpayers almost $2 billion over the forward estimates and much more beyond—billions of dollars which should be being invested in the future needs of our health and hospital system. This is absolutely fundamental to the future funding of the reforms and expansion of the system that we need, a system that is already under considerable stress.

That is why the government welcomes a debate on the future of health and hospitals. That is why the government has acted, in its two years on this matter, against the billion dollars ripped out of the health and hospital system by those opposite. I say to those opposite, when they reflect upon their 12 years in office—the freeze they put on the training places for GPs, the billions they ripped out of the health system overall and, on top of that, the shortage of 6,000 nurses across the country—this is a debate that we welcome for the parliament and for the country at large. We have acted in the two years we have been in, and we have much more to do on this one.