Senate debates

Tuesday, 26 August 2014


Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014; Second Reading

1:46 pm

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise today to question and to speak against the government's decision to abolish Health Workforce Australia. This decision is a clear demonstration of the Abbott government's lack of vision for Australia, its complete failure to plan for the future, its failure to take responsibility for the health of Australians and its ideological hatred of anything that strengthens our universal health care system. Health Workforce Australia was our vision, Labor's vision to establish a national approach to the planning and training of Australia's health workforce. Labor, unlike the Abbott government, wanted to ensure that we planned today for Australia's health needs of the future. Labor inherited from the last Liberal-National government a piecemeal approach to health workforce planning, a system that responded badly, in an ad hoc way, to peaks and troughs. If the abolition of Health Workforce Australia goes through, health workforce planning will fall back on states and territories.

I would like to illustrate just how ill-equipped my state, under the Barnett Liberal government, is to deal with health workforce planning. I am sure government senators from Western Australia have seen today's headlines in The West Australian newspaper. The Barnett government, 12 months ago, lost our AAA credit rating. In a state where the money flows from mining dollars, a state rich in resources, we saw the Barnett Liberal government lose—just drop, just disappear—through its absolutely poor management, our AAA credit rating.

Today The West Australian is reporting that the Barnett government is now down to a AA1 credit rating. What a disgrace, what squandering, what mismanagement by the Western Australia Liberal government. The state of Western Australia and our prospects should lead the nation not lag behind. Remember what Prime Minister Abbott said of Mr Barnett? The Prime Minister said that he wanted to be a leader like Mr Barnett. This abolition is going down exactly the same path—no vision, just a plan to abolish Health Workforce Australia, a body set up specifically to look at our future health needs.

To continue on the Western Australian theme for the moment, their take on health in Western Australia is nothing short of a cot case. It is an absolute disgrace. The latest report on our brand new, fully costed under Labor hospital, the Fiona Stanley Hospital, which should be the showcase of the nation, was published by the Auditor-General in June criticising the Barnett Liberal government for wasting taxpayers' money, for failing to deliver top-class, world renowned information, communication and technology. You would think with a brand-new hospital, with proper planning by the state government, that we could get that right, but no; we have yet another bungle by the Barnett government over the Fiona Stanley Hospital.

The Auditor-General's June report reveals that the Barnett government, as WA taxpayers know, is making a mess of the Fiona Stanley Hospital and this time with critical information, communication and technology, something that is needed to create a modern, world-class functioning hospital. That one bungle alone—and there have been countless bungles at Fiona Stanley Hospital—has cost Western Australians $370 million, that is, $370 million just gone, down the drain, because the government clearly has no idea how to run a health system, let alone how to plan for the future needs of our health workforce. The Auditor-General went on to say that the project was poorly planned, managed and monitored. Remember the Prime Minister said he wanted to copy the Barnett government? Well he is copying by abolishing Health Workforce Australia.

The woes with Fiona Stanley do not stop there. The hospital is complete. It is ready for patients, or it would have been ready had it not been bungled by the Barnett government. When was the hospital completed? In December 2013, almost 12 months ago. It is going to be old by the time it is opened. But when will it get patients? Well, there has been delay after delay after delay and we are now told it will be sometime in 2015. What a disgrace! Imagine how much that is costing the taxpayers of Western Australia. And this is where the Abbott government thinks health workforce planning should sit: back with the states.

The Fiona Stanley Hospital is ready to go but it cannot go. Why can't it go? Because there are workforce shortages in Western Australia. We have already seen the Barnett government completely fail to plan for the workforce that is needed at the Fiona Stanley Hospital. Yet the Abbott government and the Prime Minister, who wants to model himself on the bungled Barnett government in Western Australia, believe that somehow the states and territories are better placed to manage health workforce planning. Nobody in their right mind could agree that the Barnett government could plan anything in health, except a massive cost to taxpayers. They can certainly plan that! But they cannot plan workforce issues.

And the bungling of the Barnett government does not just stop at the Fiona Stanley Hospital. It failed to deliver women's reproductive services and family planning to the new Midland Hospital. The issue of the lack of women's reproductive technology and family planning was repeatedly raised by the local community over and over again. It has been a major issue in the Midland area for at least the past three years, possibly longer. Yet earlier this year the Barnett government tried to hoodwink Western Australians, by saying, 'Actually, we weren't aware that women's reproductive technology and family planning services weren't going to be available at the new Midland Hospital.' Can you believe that? How could they not have been aware? This just shows that they are absolutely incapable of planning health services and health workforce in Western Australia. Nevertheless, at this point, no reproductive or family planning services will be undertaken at the eastern suburbs hospital, the new Midland campus, because the government simply ignored it and thought it would go away. They have no capacity to plan.

So how can Western Australians trust that the Barnett government will be able to develop long-term workforce planning? It clearly cannot even manage the services it is currently accountable for. 'Poorly managed'—and that is not the Labor opposition saying that; that is the Auditor-General saying that.

Health Workforce Australia's own record shows the current medical training system is inefficient and it is uneven in its distribution of the medical workforce. We all know this and we know that it particularly affects rural and regional communities. We also know that chronic diseases are on the rise in Australia and are the leading cause of death and disability in Australia. None of this is secret; it is obvious. We have an ageing population, we have chronic diseases occurring, we have workforce shortages and they are much more acute in rural and regional communities.

We know that chronic diseases are associated with a high use of healthcare services and that that puts pressure on our healthcare system in Australia. We also know that there are cost pressures around chronic diseases and that Australia's ageing population, together with chronic diseases, will lead to a greater use of health services. These are services which require a skilled clinical workforce and solid evidence-based workforce planning, not the sort of mismanagement we have seen in Western Australia by the Barnett government.

Work is already underway by Health Workforce Australia. It has already produced Australia's first national long-term projection for doctors, nurses and midwives, with its publication of Health Workforce 2025: doctors, nurses and midwives. Why would we want to throw that out? Why would we want to say that we do not want to focus on health workforce planning anymore; we are just going to ignore that and somehow imagine that the Department of Health, with all of its pressures, will be able to dedicate particular resources to focus on this vital issue?

This report, prepared by Health Workforce Australia, is the first ever national report and it identifies Australia's long-term health workforce needs. Health workforce planning is complex; it is not simple. It cannot be left to ill-equipped states and territories. And it certainly cannot be left to the Western Australian Barnett government, which cannot be financially responsible, with the downgrading of its credit rating today. It certainly cannot be left to that government. But it does involve coordinating state and territories. We have seen by the Western Australian example that states just cannot get this right. It should not be left to them.

Health workforce planning needs a focus and Health Workforce Australia provided that focus. That focus will be lost in the Department of Health. The abolition of a specific focus through Health Workforce Australia demonstrates, once again, that the Abbott government has no commitment to health and no plan for Australia's future health needs. It either does not care or expects the issue of workforce planning to happen elsewhere. This is another unfunded throwback to the states and territories. What a shambles!

Where are the Nationals on this issue, supporting the Liberals? They are nowhere to be seen. The Nationals are interested in power, not people. There is already a well-known, well-documented shortage of doctors and nurses in rural areas. What is the Nationals plan? They have no plan. They have deserted the bush and left future workforce need to chance—'Just roll the dice, let's see what the numbers are and maybe the states and territories will provide the much-needed long-term planning.

So what will happen? The Abbott government will continue to rely on recruiting our health workforce—

Debate interrupted.


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