Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Questions without Notice
Rural and Regional Health Services
My question is to the Minister for Indigenous Health, Rural and Regional Health and Regional Service Delivery. What is the government doing to ensure Australians living in rural and regional communities have access to the best possible health care and how is this an improvement on past approaches?
I thank my friend the member for Flynn for his question. We all know his commitment to his communities and his understanding of issues to do with delivery of health services to people who live in rural and regional Australia. The issue of health services to rural and regional Australia is at the forefront of the government’s mind. That is why I was fortunate enough to be appointed the first minister in this parliament for Indigenous health and rural and regional health, and I thank the Prime Minister for that appointment. I want to make some observations about the importance of addressing health services in regional Australia.
Opposition members interjecting
Last week I visited the north-western New South Wales town of Walgett where I had the very great fortune to spend time with Dr Vlad Matic whose practice was awarded the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners 2009 National General Practice of the Year award, a very important—
On a point of order, Mr Speaker. The minister’s supposedly amusing aside was in very bad taste. I assumed you would ask him to withdraw it. I now ask you to ask him to withdraw the rather bad taste aside.
As I visit rural and remote parts of Australia, as I have been doing over the last few months, talking to rural practitioners and other health professionals, it is very clear that a key issue confronting the delivery of health services in the bush is workforce, workforce, workforce.
An unfortunate aside from the Leader of the Opposition is that they did not freeze GP training places, but they did. We need to understand that whilst we have been going around listening we have also been producing. In 2009-10, we are investing $700 million in targeted rural health programs, a 45 per cent increase in funding of rural programs compared to that provided by the previous Minister for Health and Ageing and now Leader of the Opposition.
This government has introduced a $134.4 million package of incentives and reforms. This encouragement is based on the simple principle that the more remote you go, the better the reward. As a result of this proposal and changes that will come in on 1 July, 500 communities and 2,400 general practitioners will be entitled to these new benefits. I have three examples. In the electorate of Eden-Monaro there are relocation grants of $30,000, retention payments after six months of $4,000 and after five years $18,000. In the electorate of Parkes—in Walgett where I was last week—relocation grants are $60,000, retention payments are $5,500 after six months and $47,000 after five years. In my own electorate of Lingiari—the wonderful town of Borroloola—relocation grants are $120,000, retention payments are $8,000 after six months and $27,000 after three years. In addition, we have introduced a rural locum support program providing locum support placements to enable rural GPs to take time off at the same time providing urban doctors with additional training opportunities to undertake locum exchange.
We have lifted the number of GP training places by 35 per cent to 800—training places that were frozen at 600 by the Leader of the Opposition. We have invested $1.1 billion in Health Workforce Australia which was established for clinical training, the biggest Commonwealth commitment to the health workforce. The government is also investing in a series of rural education initiatives through rural health departments of universities and rural clinical schools, boosting funding by $10.9 million. As well as that, we are investing capital through the National Rural and Remote Health Infrastructure Program. I know this is of great interest to the members opposite because they are all applying for it—they are encouraging people in their electorates to apply for it. The difference is that whilst we have been going around talking we have also been taking action. The contrast between the positions adopted by this government and the policies introduced by Mr Abbott when he was the Minister for Health and Ageing are there for all to see. The contrast could not be greater.
Opposition members interjecting
The issuing of golf balls as a way of inducing people into the rural workforce is no answer. What it demonstrates is that a vacuum exists between their ears.