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The Australian National Preventative Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014

 

Mr Deputy Speaker, I am very proud to speak today on this Bill. I am also very proud that all Australians have access to a world-class health system with access to top quality medical services and excellent health promotion and prevention programs.

 

Australia has an ageing population that now has a longer life span than their predecessors, whilst simultaneously faced with chronic illnesses, diseases and lifestyle choices that produce adverse health effects in the long term. There is an increased need for government to implement proactive health policies, and effective programs with sustained funding. Individuals are now expected to live longer with better access to healthcare than ever before.

 

The Coalition believes in supporting individuals to embrace healthy and beneficial lifestyle choices and enabling them to take control of their lives with enhanced awareness. The government is committed to supporting, building and enhancing our health system and its allied professionals in developing sustainable innovations, incentives and networks to help all Australians make informed lifestyle choices.

 

In order to achieve these objectives, relevant information must be readily available to the targeted audience to influence desired health behaviours. The government’s role is to ensure that the relevant department can disseminate such information so people are engaged to take control of their own behavior and make their own decisions.

 

Over the last few years, the three major health concerns facing Australians are tobacco, harmful use of alcohol and obesity, of which lifestyle choices have significant influences on.  

 

In light of this, the former Labor government in 2010 established the Australian National Preventative Health Agency (known as ANPHA) through the Australian National Preventative Health Agency Act 2010, as an outcome of Council of Australian Governments (COAG) meetings. The focus of ANPHA was to establish and deliver preventative health programs and initiatives.

 

This did not exclude the Commonwealth Department of Health from continuing its preventative health programs, an area which it had been doing for some time, with constant funding for these activities. In fact, the vision statement of the Department of Health is “Better health and wellbeing for all Australians”, with “primary health care and preventative health”, listed as some of key areas of focus.

 

The Australian National Preventative Health Agency was founded on the basis that it would allow for states and territories to direct funding in return for specific preventative health advice. It would be a Commonwealth backed operation to deliver specific services to the states and territories at their request. However, it has been noted that funding simply based on projects delivered to states and territories will not be enough to sustain the agency.

 

Since its inception, Mr Deputy Speaker, ANPHA has been solely funded by the Commonwealth, and to date, no work has been provided to states or territory bodies. Further, its listed programs and initiatives have been jointly conceived or delivered alongside the Commonwealth Department of Health. No doubt, it can be confusing navigating the distinct differences between the two agency functions for stakeholders.

 

In addition, this is notwithstanding the Commonwealth Department of Health still providing programs, policies and advice on preventative health programs in alignment with stakeholder concern for states and territories, which begs the question why ANPHA is needed.

 

Although the previous Labor Minister for Health, the Hon. Nicola Roxon had noted that Australia’s preventative health efforts were ‘fragmented and lacked cohesion and focus’, the performance of ANPHA to date has not been an enhancement to the important work the Department of Health was already doing.

 

Two separate government agencies with similar key objectives with similar outputs but requiring two lots of funding seem to make at least one of them redundant.

 

The Commonwealth Department of Health has played a role in preventative health initiatives and programs through its continued policy work for a long time as part of advisory roles in addressing chronic illnesses and other major health reforms.

 

Now Deputy Speaker, with two departments performing similar if not sometimes identical roles in preventative health, is arguably not an efficient or effective use of taxpayer funds. There is no clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities between Australian National Preventative Health Agency and the Commonwealth Department of Health hence the inevitable duplication of responsibilities and overlapping of preventative health functions.

 

This Bill would repeal the ANPHA Act and in turn, abolish the agency to create better demarcation and division of roles, streamline administrative, policy and program functions and enable efficient use of Commonwealth, i.e. taxpayer funds.

 

The Coalition is acutely aware of specific health problems facing the Australian population and we absolutely endorse relevant preventative health initiatives to empower behavior changes that would ultimately reduce the abuse of alcohol, lower tobacco use and decreased rates of obesity.

 

Having duplicate functions and departmental staff is not the key to prevention itself.

 

Deputy Speaker, I note that the list of initiatives and preventative health programs already performed by the Department of Health as outlined on their website are also the intentions of the Australian National Preventative Health Agency. There is nothing that ANPHA has done that suggests it is uniquely different and independent to the Department of Health. Hence, additional staffing, administrative arrangements and a special advisory committee at ANPHA is costly without the necessary quantitative benefits.

 

By keeping the Australian National Preventative Health Agency, taxpayer funds contribute to a bigger bureaucracy without addressing the real needs of medical health prevention. In my electorate of Barton, the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation is an example of a program that is at the medical forefront, using science to provide key breakthroughs for better health outcomes.

 

The Coalition is committed to proactively addressing increasing rates of health complications arising from lifestyle choices but believes in better ways of managing this.

 

Repealing the Australian National Preventative Health Act will abolish the agency and streamline key functions, and merge key roles with the Commonwealth Department of Health and saved wasted Commonwealth funding on the fragmented, disjointed and overlapping of functions by the two departments.

 

Empowering individuals through personal health responsibilities is pivotal. Many of the social determinants of health are beyond the health care system itself, at times, affected by socio-economic status. It is not apparent exactly how ANPHA will address this through its framework.

 

I stress the importance and merit of taking ownership of health problems. Facilitating better use of taxpayer funds through effective preventative health programs not duplication of processes and channels will enable sustainable and better outcomes for all. Again, this is something the Commonwealth Department of Health has accomplished already.

 

Budget papers and forward estimates indicate that abolishing ANPHA with this Bill will save $6.4 million over 5 years which is important Commonwealth funding; money derived from our taxpayers that can be and should be used towards programs at the forefront of preventative health research such as the one in my electorate and recently, a national Medical Research Fund. The Medical Research Fund is an excellent initiative devised by this government that will complement the work of establishments such as the St George and Sutherland Medical Research Foundation to implement outstanding medical research that can prevent and cure existing ailments and chronic diseases. This is a first in Australia and will save Australian lives at a time when individuals are living for longer but not always better due to crippling diseases.

 

Unfortunately, ANPHA is not doing the above or anything else the Department of Health has not already committed to or acted upon.

 

When we have the debt and deficit left by Labor, it means a responsible government has to give the best value for taxpayer’s money that will generate forward savings, produce real outcomes and assist our future generations. But regardless of deficit or surplus, it is what any responsible government should do. We are, however, in a more precarious position to make these decisions because our health system is already unsustainable in the long term based on current needs and further exacerbated by Labor’s economic mismanagement.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker, the path to surplus is not possible without identifying, assessing and streamlining duplication in our Commonwealth portfolios, and eliminating functions that simply are not value for money on the public purse.

 

The repeal Bill will allow transitional arrangements for a smooth handover of existing projects for a wind down of ANPHA to reintegrate with the Department of Health. Since existing work on addressing tobacco, alcohol and obesity reforms have been underway for some time this will be a natural progression.

 

The Coalition is focused on existing commitments on grants, social marketing, analysis and expert advice on key health issues. All of which have been performed by the Commonwealth Department of Health.

 

I must reiterate that whilst transitional arrangements are in place, this government will continue to support Australia’s world-class health programs, and preventative health measures.

 

There is no denying that tobacco smoking is one of the largest causes of preventable deaths and diseases in our country and decreasing the rate of smoking is a must, immediately and into the future.

 

There is no denying that obesity has a multitude of ongoing public health concerns and consequences for generations of Australians if nothing is done and that measures must be in place and appropriate programs implemented so that Australians are empowered to make lifestyle choices that can prevent the chances of increasing obesity, and intergenerational health problems.

 

Finally, whilst it is a steadfast Australian pastime to have a drink, abuse and misuse of alcohol have long been documented to have adverse effects on the individual with other social economic effects. Again, targeted programs can alleviate these issues and allow individuals to make informed choices that benefit their health in the long term.

 

Addressing these key concerns is of national interest and one the Coalition is devoted to. Simultaneously, it is also about responsible public spending and that previous funding is not wasted on maintaining a separate agency that performs the same functions.

 

Mr Deputy Speaker, allow me to assure the opposition that the new streamlined strategy does not devalue preventative health nor diminish the role preventative health management has on the Australian public.

 

The Coalition does not assume, nor should anyone on the other side of the chamber, that preventative health measures are only derived through the agency. The key functions of the Department of Health will allow states and territories to facilitate measures by methods that are suitable for them to support its stakeholders in living better, sustainable lives.

 

The Coalition has a strong track record in delivering effective preventative health strategies and abolishing the Australian National Preventative Health Agency has nothing to do with cost cutting on preventative health programs. For example, it was the Coalition who implemented the highly successful National Bowel Cancer Screening Program first in 2006 that has saved lives and will continue to fund this important program for biannual screenings of all Australians between the ages of 50 and 74.

 

Preventative health care is a key concern that should be shared by all. At the same time, government agencies established with the intention to prevent national health issues need to be scrutinized to ensure funding is producing the intended results.

 

It is the Coalition’s responsibility, one in which we are happy to actively work towards, that we have preventative health programs and initiatives that work in the best interest of all Australians and that utilizes the best value for tax payers.

 

Having two separate agencies that produce almost identical functions and programs with the same key objectives is not sustainable. Particularly when there is a lack of clear demarcation of roles and responsibilities, lack of cohesion in a national framework and how obligations between states, territories and other agencies are achieved.

 

We owe it the taxpayers of Australia to ensure their money is invested without folly. Abolishing the Australian National Preventative Health Agency Act is the first step in addressing this.