Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care doorstop – 6 May 2024

Read the transcript from Assistant Minister Kearney's doorstop on the Primary Care Nursing and Midwifery Scholarship Program, paid placements, HECS debt

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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LISA CHESTERS, MEMBER FOR BENDIGO: Good morning. Welcome everyone to this very exciting moment here at the Bendigo Latrobe Campus. My name is Lisa Chesters, the proud federal member for this area. Can I begin today's press conference by acknowledging the traditional owners on the land in which we meet, the Dja Dja people and pay my respects to their elders both past, present and emerging, and any first Nations people who might be joining us here today.
I know that Latrobe Bendigo in particular has a beautiful relationship with our local First Nations people. I'm very excited to be here today on the almost-eve of the next federal budget for our Albanese Labor government. In a moment I'll introduce our amazing Assistant Minister for Health, who has the honour of making an announcement on behalf of our government. But first I just wanted to recap on what has been a very big 48 hours for higher education and what it means for our region of Bendigo.
So first, the big announcement by Minister Clare about the changing of the indexation for HECS-HELP debts. And we acknowledge, and the Accord acknowledged, that it was the current system is particularly unfair for students and those who have a HECS-HELP debt. I'm proud to say that I really welcomed our announcement that we will be changing the way that the indexation is applied - CPI or the wage price index, whichever is the lower and it's retrospective. We will go back to wipe out that nasty 7.4% that people were hit with last year. So, to give you an idea of how many people in the Bendigo electorate, there's about 17,000 people in our electorate with a HECS-HELP debt.
So that's not just existing students, that's people like my partner Matt, he's in his 50. It's people who are working in a number of professions across our town, people in their thirties, forties, fifties, as well as twenties that have this debt. And they will now have a much fairer way in which they'll contribute back towards the cost of their studies. And then today's announcement, which is also very exciting, to be joined with some of our first year nursing students here, where our government has announced that we will help support students who are nursing, midwifery, teaching and social work students.
We'll help them with about $300 a week towards their living costs in terms of unpaid placements. And I know how much that is an issue because here we are at a regional campus, but a lot of the students here are placed in other regional towns as far as Mildura, Swan Hill, Shepperton. You can't travel from Bendigo to those places each and every day. You have to stay there. We want them to do those placements there, but there is an out-of-pocket cost to doing that.
So I'm incredibly proud. That announcement will have such a significant impact and will support so many of our students here do those critical placements that they need for their courses. And now we get to the main event about why we're here. I'm very proud to have the honourable Ged Carney here today to make an announcement about Nurse Practitioners. So please make Ged feel very welcomed. Thank you.
GED KEARNEY, ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE: Well thank you very much Lisa and thank you for that beautiful acknowledgement of country. I too acknowledge that we're on the land and I pay my respects to elders past and present. It's wonderful to be back here at La Trobe. Bendigo La Trobe University of course is my alma mater. I'm always very pleased to be here and it is indeed an historic day for nurses and midwives. But before I get to that, can I please acknowledge some of the attendees here.  
Of course, we just heard from the wonderful, amazing member for Bendigo, Lisa Chesters who's a tireless advocate for the region and particularly healthcare for the regions. And we all know that providing access to healthcare in rural and regional Australia is an absolute focus of our government. And Lisa is a great advocate. We have Leanne Boase, CEO of the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners who we'll hear from in a moment. The college of course was successful in gaining the tender to administer the scholarships. Professor Jane Mills, Dean of La Trobe Rural Health School. It's wonderful. Thank you for hosting us today. And I know that they do produce some of the world's best nurses. There's no doubt about that. Some standing right behind me here. And Margaret O'Rourke, head of campus Bendigo La Trobe, thanks so much for having us today.
It's great to be here. I'd like to acknowledge all of the other wonderful staff, the students, health professionals from La Trobe and the College of Nurse Practitioners who've joined us today. And a particular big shout out to midwives. Yesterday was International Day of the Midwife and we do love celebrating our midwives and our nurses.
Today I'm extremely pleased to announce that the Albanese Labor government will be investing in our health workforce by upskilling our nation's nurses and midwives. We will be providing $50.2 million in scholarships to make sure that our nurses and midwives can do advanced practice, can become nurse practitioners, can become independent midwives, and can provide that all important access that Australians so desperately need to healthcare. The scholarships will provide 1,850 postgraduate scholarships over four years for registered nurses and midwives to become nurse practitioners and endorsed midwives.
I would like to take the opportunity to really congratulate Leanne and the College of Nurse Practitioners who I said will administer this program. I have worked for a very long time with Leanne to advance the role of nurse practitioners. They really are a much undervalued as advanced midwives, undervalued group of health professionals in this country. But they provide expert clinical care. They are really an amazing group and we think that they will go a long way to helping us provide access to excellent healthcare, particularly in our rural and regional areas. I'm pleased that the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners, one of the first things they'll do is they'll establish an advisory group to ensure that the scholarships awarded are in the areas that need them the most. And that includes rural and remote communities. And also we are really hoping to encourage some First Nation students as many as possible to take up the scholarship.
Now this builds on Labor's commitment to primary healthcare, our commitment to regional health and ensuring that we can maximise the wonderful health workforce that we have. Just recently, I was extremely pleased to have worked with Leanne on making sure that nurse practitioners and advanced practicing midwives could practice to their full scope. Now what we did was introduce legislation to remove a requirement for them called Collaborative Arrangements. Removing the requirement for them to have to be ticked off by a medical practitioner. All the work had to be ticked off before they could access the MBS or the PBS or before their patients could. This was a huge announcement and we think the fact that now nurse practitioners and midwives can practice autonomously, their patients can now access full MBS and PBS subsidies, will attract more people in because it will be a more attractive career. They can actually work more autonomously and we'll be able to set up beautiful areas like Bendigo and provide wonderful service.
And of course you add to that, as Lisa said, the great announcements we've made around paid clinical placements, which does of course apply to Masters. And so these post-grad programs will be eligible for paid clinical placements. And you add to that the reduction in HECS-HELP. And I think you look at this amazing package that the government is providing to help health professionals, first of all afford to study, to work to their full scope of practice and to not live a life that is completely with out-of-control debt because of their soaring HECS.  

I think we've got an amazing package from the Albanese Labor government that is really going to strengthen our primary healthcare workforce.  At end of the day that's what it's all about: that Australians can access high quality, wonderful healthcare from a highly skilled health workforce right across the board.
Thanks very much everybody for being here today.
LEANNE BOASE, CEO COLLEGE OF NURSE PRACTITIONERS: Thank you so much for your tireless work on this. It is appreciated immeasurably. I'm the CEO of the Australian College of Nurse Practitioners. I also am an Adjunct Associate Professor here at La Trobe. I've been teaching for nearly 20 years and it's really great to have the nursing students here with us. So when we're talking about administering this scholarship, ACNP was part of a competitive tender process and we were successful and what we're bringing to the table is that real focus on nurses and midwives being able to work to their full scope of practice.
We have the experience in not only developing policy and campaigning for nurses and midwives to work to their full scope, but we see this scholarship as an opportunity to continue promoting that. So, supporting nurses and midwives to do postgraduate study and at the same time while they're learning, supporting them to advance their clinical practice and understand what those roles are, those more independent roles.
For us at the College, this is extraordinarily exciting. It's an opportunity to add more value to the health system and it's at a crucial time. This is a turning point in health thanks to the work that Ged has been doing. Largely we've got the scope of practice review happening at the moment. This very much ties in with that, ties in with the nurse practitioner workforce plan. It ties in with the National Nursing Workforce Strategy. So there's so much going on at the moment strengthening Medicare. We are really at a turning point in health and these scholarships are a key part in that.
What makes it difficult for a nurse to study and then go on to a more advanced and autonomous role is often those challenges around financial cost. And that's also not just the course cost, which the scholarship will help with, but the clinical placement and HECS debts that we talked about as well today with the announcements coming out at the same time.
I really do see this as a turning point. We're talking about workforce health, workforce development, and I think we're at right now is a real turning point in health workforce. And I think for all of us that are getting a little bit older in the room, it's very reassuring too that we're going to have a bigger and better and more highly skilled workforce for the future. And a workforce that's able to work to their full abilities and provide care more independently and autonomously. And of course, we know a lot of that happens in primary care and we also know that working in rural healthcare, we need to use all of our skills at all times that we need to keep upskilling. And that's one of the reasons we are here. This is the largest rural health school in Australia. We've got over 3000 students enrolled here and we've got some real innovation happening on this campus too. There's a new graduate diploma and graduate certificate in rural nursing practice being offered here and very focused on advanced practice and practice development. We've got real innovation around clinical placement that can both enrich the nurse and midwife's experience and also enhance healthcare outcomes for the community.
I think we're in the right place for this announcement and I'm really, really pleased to be here and thank you to everybody who's here with us and supporting us all the way. Thank you.
I'm now going to introduce Jane Mills.
Professor Jane Mills, Pro Vice Chancellor Health Innovation (Regional) and Dean, La Trobe Rural Health School: I'd just like to first of all acknowledge and thank our very esteemed guests today. It's wonderful to have so much support from the Albanese Labor government and the announcements that have come through in the last few hours are really going to make a massive difference to the experience of our undergraduate students as well as providing very exciting opportunities for postgraduate students.
La Trobe University currently has 1300 students enrolled in postgraduate nursing and midwifery courses between the School of Nursing and midwifery and the La Trobe Rural Health School out here in Bendigo. We have the only online master of nursing practice course in the country. This is going to provide great opportunities for us to really increase the number of students that we've got in those postgraduate programs and to provide an opportunity for them to progress quite swiftly through them because of this additional financial support for us.
One of our key missions as the Rural Health School is to produce a workforce for the future. So for us, we work very closely and in partnership with our colleagues. It's nice to see Matt here today from the Murray PHN and many others around our regions. And really for us to be able to offer opportunities for nurses and midwives to be able to skill up, to really move into advanced practice will create a whole new workforce for the future that hopefully will make sure that we increase access to care across our regions.
I'll leave it there, but thank you very much and today's a really fabulous opportunity for us to showcase the school but also La Trobe University and all the work that we do in this area. Thank you.
Thank you very much.

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