6 February 2013 ASSEMBLY



Second reading



Mr WYNNE (Richmond) — I rise to make a contribution on the Health Services Amendment (Health Purchasing Victoria) Bill 2012, and in doing so I indicate that my background is in community health. I spent very happy times over more than a decade working in community health on our public housing estates in Kensington and Flemington. That was a time in my career I look back on with very good memories, because it afforded me the opportunity to understand just how crucial community health services are.

Community health services were one of the great initiatives of the Whitlam government. I have had cause over the summer break to read the most interesting book on the times of the Whitlam government, which by any measure — short as the Whitlam government was — did afford extraordinary reforms to this country. The most important of those was the significant social safety net of Medicare, which has gone on and survived successive governments and is now part of the social fabric of this country.

It is something we owe a great debt of gratitude to the Whitlam government for, along with many other reforms which opened up the economy and recognised China as a crucial player. It is only 40 years since some of the extraordinary and reforming achievements of that government, which I think we now recognise in a different light. Nonetheless the crucial social safety net of Medicare and the formation of community health centres was one of its great initiatives, and it lives on today. I pause to acknowledge that.

I am blessed with having wonderful community health services in my electorate. We have facilities in Church Street, Richmond, which are now shared with the neighbouring municipality of Boroondara, and two stand-alone community health services — the North Richmond and North Yarra community health services. North Richmond Community Health is under the leadership of its CEO, Demos Krouskos, who is a longstanding and extremely well respected CEO of that service.

Only last week I was at North Yarra Community Health, where we celebrated the wonderful event of Chinese New Year. That gives the house some sense of how the community health services, with their long history from their genesis under the Whitlam government, are thriving and doing marvellous work in the community.

I want to comment briefly on the extraordinary commitment that was made by the then Minister for Health and my current leader, the Leader of the Opposition, when he committed the largest amount of funding ever to a capital program for the refurbishment of a community health centre. That was for a $26 million redevelopment of the North Richmond health service. I was at the two-stage opening of it by the now Minister for Health. It was a day of great celebration, but obviously for me on one level there was a moment of regret because we were no longer in government. The community very much understood that this world-class community health service on the North Richmond public housing estate is one I am immensely proud of and did a lot of work to secure the funding for.

It is interesting that at the opening both the management and office-bearers of the community health service mentioned to me that various delegations were coming from right around the world. They had recently had a visit from a delegation from China, which was taken through the community health services. People were amazed at the extraordinary level of services that are provided at the centre, including all of what we would expect of primary health-care services and many of the allied health services, including podiatry — and I think there are now five dental chairs at the service. It is a comprehensive service not only for the residents of that significant public housing estate at North Richmond but also for the broader community of that area. It is a wonderful legacy. That is why the opposition, when it was in government in 2008, amended the Health Services Act 1988 to allow for community health services to continue to be regulated and to implement significant changes to allow for exempt tax arrangements to continue. This was a very important issue for community health services and one that the previous government responded to.

The amendment before us today is also an important initiative. Access to Health Purchasing Victoria is important for community health services because it will assist them in what are quite straightened times. We have to acknowledge — and the Treasurer is at the table — that these are quite straightened times in terms of health delivery. Significant demands are being placed on our public hospital system as well as on our community health services. There is an obvious knock-on effect between our public hospitals and our community health services, particularly those that are providing primary health care delivery, in relation to the funding cuts. Community health services having access to Health Purchasing Victoria’s contracts will be of significant benefit.

I note from the minister’s second-reading speech that Health Services Victoria contracts only 23 per cent of the extraordinary total of $1.6 billion that is spent on supplies and consumables.

There is rich ground for Health Purchasing Victoria to extend its purview to provide service not only to community health services but more generally. It is analogous to the purchasing arm of local government, which I know very well, which has provided, through a good purchasing arrangement, excellent cost savings to local government. Encouraging more collectivity around purchasing arrangements will ultimately be, in the case of community health, to the benefit of consumers, and in relation to local government to the ratepayers of those municipalities.

In conclusion I say that we are obviously concerned. My colleague the member for Yan Yean, who opened the debate for the opposition, is a passionate advocate, particularly for women’s health. In the broader community health sector there are some significant concerns about how some of these cuts will manifest themselves in relation to service delivery. It is right and proper that my colleague the member for Yan Yean is passionate about this.

I share her passion and her concerns about ensuring that those who critically rely on community health services, particularly women’s health services, and the crucial, preventative aspects of community health are retained in the future. We will always stand with those services.