Health Services Funding
Mr SOURIS: My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Do proposals by country area health services, such as the Mid North Coast Area Health Service, to delay paying bills to local businesses because they are short of money confirm the conclusion by Access Economics that the funding package the Minister announced recently was a total sham and will leave country hospitals in a state of crisis?
Mr KNOWLES: It is extraordinary that the Leader of the National Party does not talk often enough to members on his side of the House to know that to use the mid North Coast, of all regions, in a question is bizarre in the extreme. As all honourable members would realise, one of the fundamental policy underpinnings of the Sinclair and Menadue reports was for an equitable redistribution of health funds. The inequity had been the bane of governments for more than 20 years. How many honourable members, at least on this side of the House, have argued in this Chamber and in their electorates for a fair share of health dollars and a redistribution of health dollars around the State to deal with some of the historic inequities that have manifested themselves in respect of health for many years? Only a few short years ago people in the south-west of Sydney, where I live, had to travel to the central Sydney region to access cancer treatment or heart surgery. Why do people who live on the North Coast, or indeed the mid North Coast, have to travel long distances, and be dislocated from their families, to access services that we would all argue should be located centrally?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Wakehurst on two calls to order. I place the honourable member for Coffs Harbour on three calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: The fundamentals of the underpinning policy prescriptions of Sinclair and Menadue were that a great deal of extra money be injected into the system and that clinicians be involved in the planning and delivery of clinical services. For example, clinical service plans for obstetrics, paediatrics, coronary care and trauma services were all based on the premise that the money would be fairly and reasonably distributed. Which region in the State got the lion's share of the redistributed health funds? It was the mid North Coast, with a 29.4 per cent increase over the next three years. It received a huge cash injection of recurrent funds. A couple of weeks ago I was on the mid North Coast turning the sod and inspecting construction work, which is well under way, of a new $82.5 million hospital, which the Opposition could not deliver when it was in government. This Government advanced stages one and two, and did it all in all one go.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind the honourable member for Coffs Harbour that he is on three calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: For too long the honourable member for Coffs Harbour—who became a member of Parliament on the same day I did 10 years ago—has been on record arguing for stage one of the hospital, a $53 million project, which is a large amount in anyone's language. The Government has built both stages in one go and given a 30 per cent increase in funding for the mid North Coast. For the first time clinicians can plan locally for the delivery of services in a brand new hospital that will provide acute care services and, after many years of failure by successive governments, psychiatric facilities, which up until now could only be described as Dickensian. The Leader of the National Party is out of touch. He has the temerity to talk in this Chamber about funding problems on the mid North Coast. He masquerades as the National Party leader, yet he does not even understand that, as a result of these two reports, the Government has delivered fundamental reform in health services.
Mrs Skinner: Point of order: The question relates to the fundamental flaws in the health funding, as set out in two reports. The question does not relate to the two reports being flourished by the Minister. I ask that the Minister be brought back to a relevant answer.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! There is no point of order.
Mr KNOWLES: People around this State who traditionally have criticised the Government and the previous Liberal-National Government have said that this is the best news for 20 years.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I remind the honourable member for North Shore that she is on three calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: Where is Thomas George, the honourable member for Lismore? Is he in the Chamber today? I remind him of what he said at a press conference in the Northern Rivers area, standing by my side on the day of the announcement.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I call the honourable member for Oxley to order for the third time.
Mr KNOWLES: The day before the announcement in the mid North Coast the honourable member for Coffs Harbour said, "What we need is our fair share of cash, and delivered in three years." The next day the Government delivered.
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I place the honourable member for Port Macquarie on two calls to order.
Mr KNOWLES: I come back to the central point. The Opposition has to demonstrate to the clinical work force—the doctors, nurses and ambulance officers—and their communities what it would do different to the Government's actions. Would it roll back three years of budgets? Would it roll back the equitable distribution of funds around the State?
Mr SPEAKER: Order! I ask the Serjeant-at-Arms to remove the honourable member for Oxley.
[The honourable member for Oxley left the Chamber, accompanied by the Serjeant-at-Arms.]
Mr KNOWLES: Would the Opposition roll back three years of health funding? No. Would it roll back the equitable distribution of funds around the State? No. I will not embarrass some of the Opposition members who phoned me and said, "Good on you. You have done things that we cannot do." Would the Opposition roll back the involvement of clinicians in the planning and delivery of services? Would it take away the $45 million for chronic and recurrent conditions and improvements in the way those conditions are treated? Would it take away the money for accidents, emergency and intensive care? Would it stop the information technology roll out to general practitioners in the acute system? Would it stop the multipurpose service program?
Mrs Skinner: No, increase them.
Mr KNOWLES: According to the National Party policy, the Opposition would decrease them. Would the Opposition stop the increase in funds for Isolated Patients Transport and Accommodation Service [IPTAS], a $500,000 extra cash injection for people living in isolated areas for their transport needs? No, of course it would not. The Opposition is left with asking questions on behalf of the Australian Medical Association, because it has nothing to say and nothing to offer. The Leader of the National Party at least documented a policy statement at the last election. I searched for the Liberal Party policy on health. I could not find anything. But there is late news. In the anniversary statement from the Leader of the Liberal Party, the Leader of the Opposition and, of course, the Leader of the National Party, which will forever be documented as the "Maitland Statement" or the "Maitland Agreement", we have at last, 12 months into the election, the Liberal-National Party Coalition health policy. It will not take long, so I will read it; it will take only two seconds. The health policy states:
That policy represents 10 months of solid work. Hundreds of testimonials about the best news for health, versus only two sentences. One has to go back a long way to find a really good effort by the Opposition at a policy. I preface my remarks by saying that I do not necessarily agree with everything that is in this document, but at least it has the semblance of a policy. It talks about restructuring needs, medical advances, productivity initiatives and the sorts of things one would expect to find in a policy document. Who do you think wrote it? Peter Collins! The only problem is that it is 10 years old. Two sentences versus the document says it all!
We believe everyone is entitled to expect the best health care possible when that care is needed most. Our priority must be the patients and not the process. We must support front-line health staff with adequate resources.