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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 7 Hansard (24 June) . . Page.. 2334 ..


(5.57): There are certainly some valuable initiatives in the health area, most particularly this year in the area of mental health. The modest allocation of services to clients with dual diagnosis is very welcome, as is the new funding for mental health services for Gungahlin, funding for mental health assessments for people in the justice system and the funds for early assessment of mental health services at Calvary.

I am also glad to see funding to cut the public dental health waiting list. This spending will greatly reduce human misery and it is an initiative that I wholeheartedly support. However, it is very disappointing that there is no funding this year for recruiting nurse practitioners, with only machinery changes to be made this year to facilitate future recruitment of these valuable professionals. A marked increase in presentations to emergency wards has led to a $422,000 funding increase for Calvary Hospital in this budget. This rise in demand strongly suggests that measures to alleviate our GP crisis, such as new nurse practitioner positions, are needed sooner rather than later.

It is disappointing that there is no commitment in this budget to re-establish community medical centres. We need general practitioners back on the ACT payroll, supported by health workers who can provide referrals to preventive health and healthy lifestyle facilities. So far, the government's health initiatives have been fairly limited in their vision and I do believe that we need further examination of bringing back community medical centres and having nurse practitioners working there with general practitioners and other health care workers and professionals to help the people of the ACT stay healthy.


(5.59): The health budget is something that always worries me. I can remember in the first Carnell government, I think our first budget, a valiant attempt to live up to a party promise, living within our means, and it was not long before a $14 million appropriation was necessary as a result of a blowout in health. I do not think that I have seen quite so many blowouts in health in the short space of a government as I have with this one. It is disconcerting to see graphs like the one in the Estimates Committee report and, more so, to hear what people who work in the system say at the coalface.

This is a classic case, as we have seen in a few other areas of this budget, of spending more but actually getting less and it is happening in such a crucially important area because, if you look at the demography of Canberra, which is probably a bit more advanced on the demography of Australia and similar to the demography of a lot of the western nations, you will see that we have a rapidly increasing aged population that is going to be around for a lot longer and will need quite extensive health care for a number of reasons. We are seeing a decline in births, so a lower taxation base for the people actually paying the taxes to provide for people who are going to live a lot longer but who will have very distinct health needs.

There are, obviously, lots of preventive strategies that we need to take. I am not going to go over what my colleague Mr Smyth spoke about, but I think that he was very much spot on in terms of planning for the future and looking at ways in which we can keep people out of the health system. But when we see large sums of money being expended for a result which is not super-brilliant, there is real cause for concern.

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