Thursday, 2 September 2021
Questions without Notice
[by video link] My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Senator Colbeck. This week a major incident alert was issued for two South Australian hospitals struggling to cope with pressure on emergency departments, and emergency doctors at the Women's and Children's Hospital warned urgent action was needed before the system fails completely. The SA Salaried Medical Officers Association has said:
Can you imagine now if we had COVID in this environment, it's just mind-blowing what we will be able to do, or won't be able to do if COVID crosses the border and comes into South Australia.
Can the Morrison-Joyce government guarantee that hospitals in South Australia will be properly resourced to cope with the increased demand of going into the next phases of the national plan with high case numbers?
I thank Senator Smith for her question. Funding contributions from the Commonwealth for public hospitals in all states and territories has grown substantially since we came to government in 2012-13, from $13.3 billion to $25.5 billion in 2020—a growth of 92 per cent, since we came to government.
As I indicated earlier today in the chamber, preparation to support the public health system through COVID commenced in February of last year. We have already invested over $6 billion in support to state hospitals for COVID. We've established telehealth and GP respiratory clinics to ease pressure on hospitals and state workforces. We've created the private hospitals partnership, called the private hospitals viability guarantee. That provides a 100 per cent contribution from the Commonwealth to support that measure. It provides for the integration of private hospitals with state and territory health systems to ensure over 30,000 additional health beds. The sector's 105,000-strong skilled workforce is available alongside the public health system to support it in the event of a COVID outbreak. We continue to evolve and work on all of the issues that we need to to support the public health system. As I've said, the Doherty modelling and the national plan is about mitigating cases and controlling a safe opening to support the health system in the Australian community.
The AMA president, Dr Omar Khorshid, wrote to Mr Morrison warning, 'If we throw open the doors to COVID, we risk seeing our public hospitals collapse.' Is the President of the Australian Medical Association correct?
The issue in that statement is: if we throw open the doors. That is not the plan. You need to make up your mind, Senator, whether you support the plan or not. I'll tell you that, on this side, there are serious questions as to whether Labor actually supports the plan or not. Does Labor support the plan? The Premier of Queensland, who clearly doesn't support the plan, is more interested in fighting the federal election than supporting Australians through COVID. A three-year-old child can't go and see their mum because of the approach that the Labor Party's taking in Queensland. It is outrageous! NRL players and their wives can go. A three-year-old child can't go to Queensland to see their parents. It is completely outrageous what is being proposed. So Labor needs to make up its mind. Do they support the national plan or not?
Dr Khorshid has also warned, 'Too often we hear tragic stories of late-stage cancer diagnosis, emergency treatment delayed and sadly, avoidable deaths all resulting from an overworked system. This is only going to get worse with COVID.' Can the minister guarantee that no Australian will suffer a late-stage cancer diagnosis, emergency treatment delayed or avoidable death as a result of increasing demand from COVID?
As I've said a number of times, the process that we're going through is to carefully open the economy using the national plan and the stage process so that we can also protect the public health system. We've also put other measures in place to support the public health system as that process continues. I have also acknowledged that COVID-19 will place stress on the health system, and that will have an effect across the health system. For Labor to pretend that it's not is dishonest. It is dishonest, which is a bit of a trait, because they dishonestly pretend that effects may not happen if they were in charge when, in fact, they would. We are dealing with a global pandemic here, and there will be effects. Unfortunately, there will be effects. We have a plan to deal with it. Labor has no plan, and we're not sure if they actually support the plan that we have.