GEPP (Northern Victoria) (12:52): It gives me great pleasure to rise to speak on this bill today.
Mr Tarlamis: It’s a good bill.
Mr GEPP: It is a great bill, Mr Tarlamis, and what is even better is I will get to commence this contribution before the lunch break and I might resume after the break as well. I want to talk about the positive nature of the bill, but I also want to contrast that with the approach of those opposite when they had their hands on the lever, so to speak. Of course it is the Leader of the Opposition in this place who was the Minister for Health for four years when they were in power. The contrast between the two approaches could not be greater.
I might reserve my comments about the approach that this government has taken until after lunch, and I might focus just before lunch maybe even on giving those opposite a bit of indigestion prior to them consuming their food. Of course members will recall that they went to war with our nurses and they had a significant industrial dispute in 2011 based around a pay agreement where they were also trying to reduce nurse-patient ratios. They were attacking them. Mr Davis was leading from the front—that was his approach to health care in the state of Victoria under his leadership, as the minister, as the leader, and he has not learned anything. He has not learned anything, because today we have heard again his approach to this pandemic. And what does he want? He wants our resources taken away from the management of the pandemic to satisfy his need to have a piece of paper in front of him where he can determine whether or not the public health team and the chief health officer in this state have put strategies in place that are right. He wants to be the judge and jury of those things. But unlike Mr Davis and those opposite, we do not go to war with our healthcare workers. They are a very, very important part of our community and are leading the charge. I think the Premier has described them as the last line of defence in the management of this pandemic because they are the ones that are going into places where most of us could not even contemplate going in the management of this pandemic.
So those opposite cannot be trusted. Mr Davis cannot be trusted. His modus operandi when he was in power was to cut, close and privatise. They were the three objectives. I think he asked yesterday—or somebody asked a question over there—‘What are your three priorities?’. I think it was a question asked of Minister Stitt: ‘What are your three priorities?’. They tried to come up with some sort of gotcha moment. But we did not have to wonder what Mr Davis’s three priorities were when it came to management of the healthcare system when he was the minister for four years between 2010 and 2014. We know what his three priorities were: cut, close, privatise—‘Let’s do those three things’. We have seen it before, and we know that if he were given the opportunity ever again, then that would absolutely be the modus operandi of this bloke.
Now he waltzes back into the chamber because we are actually exposing his approach to health care, and he does not like it.
Mr Davis interjected.
Mr GEPP: He does not like it; he blows a valve. Every time you bring up his record he gets all toey, he gets all testy. He cuts, he closes, he privatises. You see the blood pressure start to rise whenever you uncover what Mr Davis actually did when he was the Minister for Health in this state and we go back to his reign of power. What did he do? Of course he did nothing positive. He did nothing during that four-year period except go to war with our frontline healthcare workers—the biggest industrial dispute in nursing for many a long year, for almost 20 years. Who was the architect of it? Mr Davis. But he comes in here and says, ‘I want all of these documents. I want this, I want that’. I think he still thinks he is actually the minister, that he has got some capacity and he has got some sort of expertise in being able to have a look over these things and then stand up and say, ‘Oh, no, no. I don’t think that’s quite right’. Well, Mr Davis, your reign was four years too long as the Minister for Health. Heaven forbid that you should ever be in a position to hold that position again. Goodness help the Victorian healthcare system because I think we would all fret for those people. So unlike your record of cutting, closing and privatising, we are actually about—
The PRESIDENT: Order! We will have a lunchbreak. I will resume the Chair at 2 o’clock, and Mr Gepp will continue.
Sitting suspended 12.59 pm until 2.06 pm.
Mr GEPP: I will just perhaps conclude my earlier remarks and my focus in relation to Mr Davis by saying to those opposite: please do not rush to lance that leadership boil, we are quite enjoying the tactics of Mr Davis on these matters.
But I do want to focus on some of the key elements of the changes to the Safe Patient Care (Nurse to Patient and Midwife to Patient Ratios) Act 2015. The changes will of course bring about a rounding in the methodology. It will complete the rounding methodology across remaining shifts and add settings to create some consistency in staffing workload determinations through the act, and that is very, very important. These things are not arrived at magically; they take a lot of hard work with a lot of consultation and input from nursing and midwife staff, who know their jobs better than anybody. Being able to provide a methodology that gives them certainty, both in terms of their work-life balance and importantly in terms of their ability to provide the level of care that they do, is so, so important.
These changes will also mean improved staffing levels in residential aged care and rehabilitation wards. Staffing numbers will also increase through the provision of an in-charge nurse or midwife across a range of settings, including on night shifts. For anybody who has been a shift worker, we all know the issues associated with working those odds hours. And having again those staffing numbers in place across a range of settings is so important to improve patient safety and to ensure that the staff have the necessary care and wellbeing available to them in their workplace. I see Mr Bourman nodding, and he would understand completely the issues around this.
I am really very pleased about the impact that these changes will have in rural and regional areas—for example, in places like Colac Area Health, Kyneton District Health Service, Terang & Mortlake Health Service and down in Ms Shing’s electorate of Eastern Victoria in South Gippsland. Down in those parts of the world they will benefit from an additional after-hours coordinator, acknowledging the increasing complexity of coordinating a range of services that these facilities will now provide. The bill acknowledges the requirement for additional staff to manage the increasing complexity often associated with the coordination of mixed services in smaller rural services. Coming from regional Victoria, my electorate of Northern Victoria—and I have mentioned Eastern Victoria and Western Victoria—we understand that many of these small regional and rural health services punch above their weight. They do an extraordinary amount of work, and of course they do it across many, many different types of medical care. So to have these additional after-hours coordinator positions is so, so important. And it will apply specifically to level 4 hospitals that are operating a birthing suite and/or an emergency department with greater than 2500 presentations per annum. I have mentioned some of the places that will be impacted by that change.
There will be a reclassification for Warrnambool down in western Victoria. Specifically, the Warrnambool Base Hospital will be reclassified from a level 3 hospital to a level 2. ‘So what’, you say? Well, importantly, what that will do is increase the staffing levels on medical and surgical wards, acknowledging the changing needs of the local community. We often hear about the issues related to regional and rural health services, and this bill through this particular change will ensure that there are, through that reclassification, increased staffing levels on those important medical and surgical wards to improve the level of health care for people in regional and rural Victoria. Demand on the healthcare services in Warrnambool continues to grow, we do know, as a result of the continued population growth within the City of Warrnambool. So there are many, many aspects to the improvements being made under this bill.
I want to finish with another couple of little contrasts between the approach of the Andrews Labor government since 2014 compared to those opposite. What did they do? Well, thankfully rural and regional Victoria have now had almost six years of solid investment—record funding year after year after year. Not once have we gone backwards—not once. We have improved and we have increased—and we do so proudly. Mr Leane was telling me this just before the lunch break. He said, ‘Did you know that the Andrews Labor government in 2019–20 invested $12.4 billion for hospital operating budgets?’. That included the $200 million for the flu package. And he also drew to my attention very importantly that that level of funding in 2019–20 was 40 per cent greater than the level of funding when the Liberals were last in office in 2013–14.
So when it comes to health care, you can talk the talk but you have got to be able to walk the walk. You have got to be able to walk it as well. You have got to put your money where your mouth is, you have got to stump up, you have got to give the support that is so necessary to our fantastic healthcare workers—and who better than our nurses and our midwives? You have got to put in place the systems and the funding to ensure that they are able to deliver the quality of health care which they do deliver so wonderfully well to all of Victoria. With those comments I commend the bill to the house.