Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014

Senator SESELJA (Australian Capital Territory): I am pleased to speak in support of the Health Workforce Australia (Abolition) Bill 2014 this evening. It is worth saying at the outset that the debate over the abolition of Health Workforce Australia is not a debate about whether you want to engage in health workforce planning; it is a question of how you do it and working out what is the best vehicle for that. The coalition has very clearly formed the view, correctly, that Health Workforce Australia, whilst it may have been well intentioned some years ago, has not worked out. I will go to a couple of the ways it has not worked out as may have been intended when it was put together a few years ago.



The bill will streamline the delivery of health workforce policy and programs through removing an unnecessary level of administration and bureaucracy. Over the last six years the health bureaucracy has continued to increase in size and, more importantly, in complexity with 21 standalone agencies operating outside the portfolio department. That is something that we have seen in other portfolio areas as well. It is one of the areas that the coalition wanted to address. Having something like 1,000 agencies in the Commonwealth does not make good sense. There is cause to consolidate many of those agencies in order to make sure that they are delivering in the most efficient and most effective manner for the Australian people.


The coalition government is determined to get every possible dollar onto the front line in order to make every dollar spent on behalf of our community as effective as possible, so that we do health workforce planning in the most effective way—not in a way that, as I said, may have been well intentioned but has not worked out.


Health Workforce Australia was established under the now expired four-year National Partnership Agreement on Hospital and Health Workforce Reform, agreed by the Council of Australian Governments in November 2008. Health Workforce Australia became operational on 1 January 2010. Fundamentally—and I think this is one of the strongest arguments in favour of this bill—all Australian governments were to provide funding to Health Workforce Australia.  However, the states and territories have not contributed any funding as agreed. The Commonwealth government, in partnership with the states and territories, agreed to fund it to the tune of over $1 billion and the states and territories promised to do their bit to the tune of around half a billion dollars, but they have not come to the party. So we have a model where the Commonwealth becomes the sole funder, yet the states and territories, as part of that agreement, effectively get to be there as part of the government's arrangements. For me, that is at the heart of why this legislation is important.


Programs and functions of Health Workforce Australia have transferred to the Department of Health. This government is not withdrawing support for the health workforce; it is delivering on its commitment to reduce red tape and streamline programs. Savings will support frontline health services and programs.


The coalition has a strong record of making sensible investments in Australia's health and medical workforce. The previous coalition government invested in nine new medical schools, which has resulted in an increase in medical students graduating now. The number of domestic school graduates per year has more than doubled since 1996.


The government has committed to doubling from $100 to $200 the Practice Incentives Program teaching payment for each three-hour teaching session provided to a medical student. It will better compensate general practices for the consultation time dedicated to teaching, it will encourage more general practices to provide much needed teaching opportunities and it will work to strengthen the future workforce. The measure will benefit approximately 3,000 general practices that are expected to provide PIP teaching sessions. It is expected that approximately 20,000 students per annum will be provided with PIP teaching sessions. A rural loading of up to 50 per cent will also be applied to payments to practices in rural and remote locations.


The government is also investing $40 million in up to 100 additional medical internships each year in non-traditional settings, including private hospitals in regional areas. This will provide more certainty for students and alleviate pressure on public hospitals for training. Priority will be given to positions and rotations outside major metropolitan centres to bolster the medical workforce in rural and regional areas.


The coalition will provide infrastructure grants to general practices on the basis of an equal commitment from the practice. This will leverage private investment and help ensure efficient and productive use of resources. The government has committed to provide up to 175 grants for rural and remote general practices to expand facilities to support teaching and training of medical students and registrars. The grants of up to $300,000 will be provided to successful applicants and require a matched contribution from the practice. The measure will benefit GPs, registrars, medical students and communities situated in inner regional, outer regional, remote and very remote Australia where the grants will be targeted. These practices face unique challenges in the provision of health care.


The government will also significantly expand the number of GP training places. GP training places will increase by 300—from 1,200 to 1,500—new places in 2015. The significant increase in GP training places will create more vocational training opportunities for this workforce, freeing up more junior doctor training positions for new graduates coming through. The Australian General Practice Training program, which the government's commitment will expand, has a distribution target that requires 50 per cent of training to occur in rural and remote locations.



I commend the bill to the Senate.