Tuesday 16 November 2004

Mr FINCH (Rosevears) - Mr President, thank you to the member for Murchison for moving the motion to note this report. My contribution will not be as detailed as his but there are some observations I would like to make. The Department of Health and Human Services is of course the biggest and, some would argue, the most important State government department with a budget of $960.102 million, almost a billion dollars, the largest overseen by this Government. If it continues to grow at its present rate it will not be sustainable in the long term.

At June this year the DHHS had just under 9 200 employees. In Tasmanian terms that makes it a massive employer. The services provided by the DHHS affect every Tasmanian almost every day of their lives, and those services are in increasing demand. Just looking at some of those services and the range of services offered by DHHS: Disability Services clients receiving day options, up by 59.7 per cent in the past financial year; community youth justice, completed community-based orders up 40.9 per cent; the number of children on assessment short and long term, and protection and guardianship orders, up 12.8 per cent; family, youth and child, occasions of service, up 10.5 per cent; ambulance responses, up 2 per cent.

Mr President, one of the telling parts of this report is contained in the 'Our Performance' page where the figures I have just highlighted are shown. It is a statement of great predictive importance, I would suggest. To quote:

'Tasmania is changing in many ways and if we are to improve the circumstances of individuals, families and communities, our health and human service system needs to respond to change. There are already significant pressures and these are likely to grow into the future. Particular challenges include rising demand and costs, inappropriate and inefficient configuration of services and infrastructure, a workforce not well matched to changing service patterns and increasing community expectations.'

Mr President, I would like to extract and stress some key phrases from this statement: 'rising demand and costs' and 'increasing community expectations'. We have reached a stage where the people of Tasmania have to be involved in certain decisions about the future of some of the services provided by the Department of Health and Human Services, particularly those services provided by hospitals which are becoming increasingly sophisticated and expensive.

At some stage the public and the State Government are going to have to say, 'Enough is enough'. We cannot continue to increase our health budget until it overshadows all other spending. What is the alternative? I believe the only course of action to head off a health services crisis in this State is for us as individuals and families to take greater care of our health. Many diseases and conditions which put Tasmanians into hospitals are preventable.

While individuals can do a lot to keep themselves healthy, enlightened government policies are also needed. I call on the State Government, through the DHHS, to spend more on preventative medicine. Let us start with our young people. I have long called for more emphasis on physical education and activity in schools. Among other things, this would help to address the high incidence of osteoporosis among ageing male and female Tasmanians.

We are an island with a population of only half a million relatively well-educated people. Tasmania could become a world leader in preventative medicine if it had the will to do so. The alternative is an unsustainable health budget. This House should not just note the annual report of the Department of Health and Human Services; we should press for urgent action to change the emphasis of our State health system to prevention rather than cure. I support this motion to note the report of the Department of Health and Human Services.