Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014; Second Reading

12:32 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | Hansard source

I oppose the Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill. The bill is part of the unfair agenda of this government. It is unfair to the Australian public not to develop a long-term strategy to deliver health workforces that can meet the needs of the community. It is another example of the incompetence of this government—something that the public are seeing every day of the week. Day in and day out we see on display the incompetence of the coalition government. The third element to this government is their arrogance—their arrogance that they think they can do anything in the name of the market; that you should not plan for the future of health but should just let the market rip and everything will be okay.

It is interesting to note that the coalition were warned by their own think tanks and their own national secretaries that they should stop being ideological about how they deliver their message to the Australian public. If anything is ideological, it is this approach by the coalition government to dump the Health Workforce Australia organisation. It is a triumph of ideology over the national interest. It is another example of the lies that the coalition took to the Australian people prior to the election—there were to be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no tax rises. We heard lie after lie from this incompetent, arrogant and unfair government.

It is clear that the public are well aware that they were conned by the then opposition prior to the election. The incompetence and the arrogance abound. You only have to look at the Leader of the Government in the Senate, Senator Abetz. How could you ever trust the coalition government on health issues when the Leader of the Government in the Senate links abortion to breast cancer based on running an ideological line, based on trying to get some of the most extreme groups in the world to look at his approach on these issues? It beggars belief that the Leader of the Government in the Senate could be so wrong on an issue or so deliberately political that he would run a line linking breast cancer with abortion. Nobody believes that these days, and for the leader in the Senate and for this rabble of a government to be running those sorts of agendas and those sorts of lines for purely political and ideological purposes is a nonsense.

Then we have Senator Brandis. Senator Brandis has been described as the man with a brain like a planet. Well it is a barren planet—there is nothing growing up there. For him to bring policy to public forums and then not be able to explain that policy is another example of the incompetence of this government. Then there is Treasurer Hockey saying the poor do not drive so they do not have to worry about the petrol excise. How out of touch, how arrogant, how incompetent can this government get? The Minister for Education, Mr Pyne, threatened to cut research funding because this place is opposed to the ideological attacks on higher education. Again we see this arrogance. Then we have Senator Joyce talking this morning about not being able to pay the Defence Force, about not being able to have hospitals, even about closing down hospitals, because of some manufactured budget crisis. On top of that, and clearly against this government's promise that there would be no cuts to health, we get this cut of $100-odd million to Health Workforce Australia.

I am of the view that the public want long-term planning. They want governments to actually have a look at the challenges that the country and governments will face—not just in the short term, but in the medium and long term—and to sit down and plan a way forward. What could be important than planning for the health of all Australians? This issue was looked at by the Productivity Commission. They are not an organisation that I would praise very often, but I think they got it right when they said there was an ad hoc approach to long-term planning for health and that we had to put in place a proper approach to planning. That is why Health Workforce Australia was brought into being. It came from a recommendation of the Productivity Commission, it was discussed and debated by governments of both political persuasions at COAG, and COAG came up with a recommendation in support of the establishment of Health Workforce Australia. COAG did that because they agreed with the Productivity Commission that there had to be a separate independent body sitting down and planning for the future of Australia's health management issues. The establishment of Health Workforce Australia was a very important initiative of the previous government.

There was a Senate inquiry into the abolition of this organisation. Academic after academic came to that inquiry and indicated that it would be stupidity to move away from having an independent body that examines and analyses the health needs of the country in terms of the health workforce, in terms of health research and in terms of the future needs of the ageing Australian community. They argued that we should not do this. We had the AMA, the College of Surgeons and body after body representing the professional health carers in this country saying that we should not do this. Yet this government, in its arrogance and incompetence, has set about destroying an organisation that is focused wholly and solely on ensuring the health and welfare of Australian citizens.

When does ideology just become too much? When should we be saying that the interests of the Australian community should get a look in with this coalition government? The department, as I understand it, were unhappy with having the work they had been doing moved out of the department to Health Workforce Australia. Labor resisted the department's argument that they should maintain control and oversight of this work, because we took the view that the Productivity Commission got it right, and they had identified major flaws, major problems, with this work being done by the department and had recommended that it should be handed out to an independent group. That is why we established Health Workforce Australia. We accepted the arguments from the Productivity Commission and we accept the arguments right now of the health professionals and health organisations that came to the Senate inquiry and said, 'Do not do this. It is not in the national interest to get rid of this organisation.'

The problem, as has been identified by the Liberal secretariat, is that this government is dominated by ideology. Ideology dominates this government—not common sense, not the national interest, not what is good for the nation, but whatever the ideology of 'small government' and 'let the market rip' dictates. I can imagine the debate going on in the cabinet room about the socialisation of medicine, about the planning that is taking place by government: 'We should just let the market rip. We do not really need an organisation to look at the skill needs of the health industry. We do not need to look at what the issues are for the Australian public. Just let the market rip, and, by the way, we can probably save $140 million by getting rid of this organisation'—an absolute pittance. It is another budget cut for what? Because they have manufactured this false budget crisis. They have manufactured a lie about the state of the Australian economy, and they are now caught up in their own lie. They are now caught in a position where everything they do has to be about cutting costs, regardless of the impact that it has on the health of individual Australians and regardless of whether we can ensure that we have enough surgeons, that we have enough doctors, and that we have enough nurses and allied health professionals to ensure the health of an ageing Australian community. So ideology triumphed and arrogance triumphed—because they thought they could just get away with it and ram it through. Arrogance dominated and once again we have bad policy because of the arrogant, incompetent position adopted by this government.

Anyone who looked at the record of this government on health would be absolutely appalled. Everyone who understands the health system knows well that preventative medicine is extremely important, that you have to plan for the future and prevent as much ill-health as possible. Yet what has this government done? This government has set about making it even more difficult for ordinary Australians, for poorer Australians, for battling working Australian families, to go to their doctor. They introduced a GP tax, they introduced a PBS co-payment and they set higher safety net thresholds—all designed to cut costs regardless of the implications for the health system in this country. What is more ideologically stupid than that?

I see that Senator Seselja will be speaking in this debate. He should get up and explain why his government is cutting $60.5 million out of health in the ACT. Where is the money going to come from to ensure that decent standards are maintained? How is the ACT government going to deal with that cut? Senator Smith looks as if he is gearing up for a go. Senator Smith, please explain, when you get on your feet, why you are taking $428 million out of the Western Australian health system. These are the challenges that the ideologues have to deal with—the real implications of ideology and stupidity. That is what you have to deal with and you cannot deal with it by including more ideology and more stupidity in your speech. You have to deal with the facts. In Queensland, $952 million is being cut—nearly $1 billion out of the health system in Queensland. That is the result of the actions of this government, who are incompetent, who do not care and who put their own ideological interests before the national interest. It just beggars belief what this mob are all about.

We have not even been here in parliament for the last five weeks, yet we have still had the experience of watching this government selfdestruct, watching them nark at each other, argue with each other, fight with each other. Senator Macdonald has said—I do not normally quote Senator Macdonald, let me tell you—that the health policies of this unfair government, through this unfair budget, are not just bad but dangerous. When was the last time you heard a backbencher talk about government policy being dangerous? You might criticise your own government's policy from time to time—I have been known to do that myself—but you do not actually pick out a policy and say, 'This policy is dangerous.' The Australian public now have a government that is a danger to their health. They have a government that is a danger to building a decent society in this country. They are a danger to this country's long-established principle of the fair go. Yes, Senator Macdonald, this government is a danger—and not just on one policy issue. They are dangerous, they are incompetent and they are arrogant. What a combination that is!

This government have set about destroying the long-term health workforce planning of this country on the basis of their arrogance, their ignorance and their contempt for both this parliament and the Australian public. Even before this bill has gone through, we have seen the department start to transfer obligations from Health Workforce Australia back into the department—even before this bill has been debated in this house of review. The arrogance beggars belief. Every aspect of this government's operations is riddled with incompetence. No wonder the public are looking askance at this coalition government. No government has ever descended into such a farce, such a rabble, as quickly as this government. The Abbott government is seen as incompetent, the Abbott government is seen as a government that lies and the Abbott government is seen as a government that is not acting in the national interest. This bill is but one small example of the Abbott government putting their ideology before the national interest and before the health needs of this country. Abolishing the body that is looking at the long-term plan for the health needs of this community is one of the most arrogant, ideological and stupid propositions to have come before this parliament in a long time. That is why Labor opposes it—because we stand up for the Australian public and against the coalition's ideology. (Time expired)


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