The Work of the Department of Health and Ageing I 2013

I rise tonight to speak about the important work done by the public servants in the Department of Health and Ageing. The Leader of the Opposition would have Australians believe that we do not need a Department of Health and Ageing. That Leader of the Opposition has questioned repeatedly whether the Department of Health and Ageing needs all of its staff considering—in his words—they do not run a single hospital or nursing home, dispense a single prescription or provide a single medical service.

I believe that the work of the Department of Health and Ageing is vital to the health and wellbeing of our nation. Tonight I would like to talk about the range of services that the department provides. I will start by talking about the National Human Papillomavirus Vaccination Program. As we know, our own Ian Fraser from the University of Queensland, Companion of the Order of Australia and 2006 Australian of the Year was a pioneer in the development of this globally significant vaccine.

Since 2007 this vaccine has been rolled out via a school based vaccination program administered by the Immunise Australia Program—an initiative of the Department of Health and Ageing. The vaccine protects young women against HPV infections that can lead to cancer and disease later in life. Widespread vaccination has the potential to reduce cervical cancer deaths around the world by as much as two-thirds if all women were to be vaccinated and if the protection turns out to be long-term.

The vaccine can also reduce the need for medical care, biopsies and invasive procedures associated with the follow-up from abnormal Pap tests thus helping to reduce healthcare costs and anxieties related to abnormal Pap smears, Pap tests and follow-up procedures. Studies have shown a substantial drop in HPV related infection among the vaccinated group in Australia since 2007.

Earlier this year the Minister for Health announced that from 2013 the current school based program for females aged between 12 and 13 years will be extended to offer HPV vaccination free to males aged 12 to 13 years with the catch up program in 2013 and 2014 for males aged 14 to 15 years. In addition from to protecting males from HPV related cancers and disease, vaccinating males will also help protect females from cervical cancer and from HPV related disease by reducing the spread of the virus. The HPV vaccine is just one of 16 vaccination programs administered by the Immunise Australia Program, and the Immunise Australia Program is just one example of how the important work of the Department of Health and Ageing improves our lives every day.

Today is the start of Kidney Health Week and, along with many of my parliamentary colleagues, I attended the launch of Kidney Health Week in Parliament House this morning. Deputy Speaker, I am not sure whether you have, but I have been to dialysis units; I know many people on dialysis and so I know the importance of kidney health. I particularly know the importance of kidney health through all of the volunteer work I have done in raising awareness on organ and tissue donation. At the launch today, the Minister for Health and the Parliamentary Secretary for Health and Ageing announced that a kidney function test will be added to the minimum requirements of the annual cycle of care under the Medicare Practice Incentives Program, a program to encourage GPs to identify chronic kidney disease in patients with diabetes. People with type II diabetes are at a particularly high risk of chronic kidney disease. Through the PIP diabetes incentive, payments are given to general practitioners who complete an annual cycle of care to support patients with diabetes. This includes eye examinations, body mass and blood glucose monitoring, self-care, education, and reviews of diet, smoking and physical activity. The PIP is another initiative of the Department of Health and Ageing.

According to Diabetes Australia, an estimated 280 Australians develop diabetes every day. The 2005 Australian AusDiab Follow-up Study showed that 1.7 million Australians have diabetes, but that up to half of those cases of type II diabetes remain undiagnosed. It is estimated that by 2031, 3.3 million Australians will have type II diabetes. Diabetes Australia estimates that the total financial cost of type II diabetes is about $10 billion. Of this, carer costs are estimated at $4.4 billion, productivity losses at $4.1 billion, health system costs at $1.1 billion, and an estimated cost of $1.1 billion was due to obesity. A reduction in the prevalence of type II diabetes will not only result in cost savings in the health budget but also result in increased participation and productivity in the workforce, which is so important and, most importantly, in better health outcomes and quality of life for Australians. There is no doubt diabetes is a serious health issue facing our nation but it is not all bad news. Up to 60 per cent of cases of type II diabetes can be prevented by healthy living and informed lifestyle choices. We also know that good blood glucose control and maintaining healthy lifestyle can significant improve the complications associated with diabetes.

The Department of Health and Ageing—the department that the Leader of the Opposition wants to dismantle —runs important awareness campaigns relating to the lifestyle factors that can cause type II diabetes and other chronic diseases. Campaigns such as Measure Up, Swap it, Don't Stop it, and Quit, the National Tobacco Campaign are addressing the rising prevalence of lifestyle-related chronic disease. These campaigns lay the foundations for healthy behaviours in the daily lives of Australians.

I have spoken tonight about just a couple of the areas in which Department of Health and Ageing does incredibly important work. The department also manages mental health policy and primary mental health care, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health programs and policies, and health promotion and disease prevention, to name but a few. Should the coalition be elected in September, the Leader of the Opposition wants to cut 20,000 public service jobs, 5,000 of them from the Department of Health and Ageing.. The coalition's proposed cuts will undo so much of the important work that is currently being done by the department. It will undo the considerable good that is being done in terms of changing attitudes to lifestyle risk factors for chronic disease, and it will without a doubt be detrimental to the future health of our nation. These cuts will also hurt my electorate of Canberra. In 1996, following the election of the Howard government, 30,000 public service jobs were cut across the nation, and 15,000 of those were here in the ACT—and one of those jobs was mine. So I know firsthand the implications of mass public service sackings. Not only did I lose my job but I witnessed the economic downturn in Canberra that followed. I witnessed the shops that closed down. I witnessed the businesses that went bankrupt. I witnessed the fact that people left town and our population slumped. I witnessed the fact that house prices plummeted. I witnessed a great deal of tragedy that flowed to not only the people who lost their jobs but also their families— I experienced it firsthand as a result of being sacked myself.

Just as I believe we must protect the economy of Canberra, I also believe we must protect the future health of our nation. While the coalition may not value the work of the Department of Health and Ageing, I do. While the coalition may not value the jobs of its public servants, these servants of democracy, I do. The coalition is promising nothing but pain and suffering for Canberra and, through it, for our nation. Remember 1996, Canberra.

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