I rise to make a contribution in support of the Public Health and Wellbeing
Bill 2008. It is a thorough review of the Health Act. If this bill is passed, it
will replace an act that is now 50 years old. I take this opportunity to
congratulate the Minister for Health, Daniel Andrews, and his staff for the
drive they brought to this exercise to bring about a greater modernisation of
public views of how public health needs to be contextualised.
For the first time we are enshrining in Victorian health
legislation the state’s role in promoting and protecting public health and
wellbeing while continuing to prevent the spread of infectious diseases. The
bill contains a number of new powers to promote health and wellbeing in
Victoria, such as requiring the preparation of state public health and wellbeing
plans every four years, with the first plan to be produced by 1 September 2011.
Secondly, the bill enables the Secretary of the Department of Human Services to
conduct a public inquiry into any serious public health matter. Thirdly, it
enables the minister to direct that a health impact assessment be carried out of
the public health and wellbeing impact on the importance of health proposals.
That in itself is an important initiative.
The essence of the bill essentially refocuses the health system
to one that puts a lot more importance on preventive measures.
It focuses on the wellbeing of individuals but at the same time
contextualises health and wellbeing within our community. This will be done
through the promotion of primary health care and reorientating the health system
so it is more robust and can face ongoing and increasing challenges. All of this
will be evident in the local area health agreement plans.
I would argue that this positions the health system to meet the
key new challenges it is facing. These include issues in health that go to the
matter of ageing and the pressure all the ageing issues have on the health
system. Other health issues that are not age specific include chronic diseases
such as diabetes. We have also seen an increasing incidence of obesity, and
within the younger ranks of our community as well. We are also seeing skill
shortages within the health professions area.
None of this is new, but this reorientation will provide
greater flexibility, I would argue, to meet those challenges, as well as an
ability to face the ongoing funding pressures that the health system is
This focus the government has is not new. In fact it was
stipulated in the Premier’s statement of legislative intent earlier this year.
The statement was quite specific in mentioning the promotion of public health
and wellbeing and the preventive element of it, whether it be a quantitative
shift or a qualitative shift. All of this requires a new mindset to be adopted
by all of those who are connected with the health system, whether they be
doctors, nurses or aides. Whilst many in that category already understand it, we
also need to have administrators providing a supportive framework to the
professional health carers who have guiding principles that will enable them to
make decisions more precisely in a well-thought-out process that will follow the
primary objectives of the act.
It also goes to the need to reorientate the focus of general
community members, whether they be patients or members of families of patients,
and a preventive and primary care mindset that is supported by a team-based
framework and, as I said, administratively supportive.
This approach to health and wellbeing is a philosophy, but it
is also underpinned by a number of vital Brumby Labor government initiatives —
things like the Premier’s Active Families Challenge, which I have had a personal
involvement in at the Port Fairy Consolidated School and the Colac Primary
School. The children understand not just the intent of the challenge but also
the process surrounding it. Families get involved, not just students, and there
are competitions within families to ensure that they have a common goal to improve their family’s
physical and mental health.
Over the years we have seen the Go for Your Life programs and
their success in a number of areas of our communities. It is also important to
mention the recently announced $600 million work health initiative, which is
about educating, screening, discussing, sorting out early intervention and
getting people to seriously sit down and not just talk about health in the
workplace but to be actively involved in looking at and working on their health.
It is not just about talking about fads, it is about long-term education to
assist people in assessing their health and also developing healthy habits. This
program will be rolled out over the next few years, and it is set to reach close
to 3 million workers here in Victoria.
The bill also contains a regime for vaccination in which
preventable disease management is highlighted.
For example, the introduction of immunisation status
certificates for primary-aged schoolchildren will be issued so that parents and
medical providers have evidence of where a child is up to in the immunisation
It is not my intention to go to the specifics, as Johan
Scheffer went thoroughly and eloquently through the specific parts of the huge
bill before us, but in summing up I would like to say that the bill represents a
significant review of the current act. One could argue that it is more than just
a major rewrite, it is a massive intervention in the philosophy of how we
perceive health and wellbeing in this state. It is a rewrite and a reorientation
that meets the challenges of the public health system now and into the future,
and it recognises the new challenges and new approaches necessary to bring about
better health and wellbeing for all Victorians. I commend the bill to the house.