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Improving integrity and transparency of the Higher Education Support Amendment Bill 2022

I move the amendment circulated in my name:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"whilst not declining to give the bill a second reading, the House calls on the Government to:

(1) recognise that the financial benefit delivered under this bill, will, in many cases, not be sufficient to overcome other perceived barriers for entering the regional, rural and remote workforce;

(2) acknowledge that Australia is facing a nationwide GP crisis with a workforce shortage of 11,000 GP's forecast by 2032;

(3) acknowledge that not enough medical students are choosing general practice and commit to long term planning to increase the number of GP's including improving GP training programs; and

(4) substantially increase the Medicare rebate for GP services, as per recommendation 6 of the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Provision of general practitioner and related primary health services to outer metropolitan, rural, and regional Australians—Interim Report".

I support the Higher Education Support Amendment (2022 Measures No. 1) Bill 2022 and the measures it introduces to abolish or reduce higher education debt in order to incentivise doctors and nurses to live and work in Australia's rural and remote areas. Rural and remote areas are facing a healthcare crisis. Patients are waiting sometimes months to see a doctor, and doctors are working up to 80 hours a week.

This amendment includes a review clause to assess the effectiveness of the measure by requiring review periods, reporting and for those reports to be tabled in parliament. This is an important amendment to improve the integrity and transparency of this bill. Extinguishing or reducing the HELP debt will deliver benefits to individual Australians using taxpayer money. Under current arrangements, the HELP forgiveness would equate to a benefit of approximately $45,000 to $68,000 for students who studied medicine and nearly $8,000 for nurse practitioners. As such, we must monitor and evaluate its application to make sure that the measure is delivering the intended consequence, to make sure that it is delivering value to rural and remote communities and, in short, to assess whether it is working or not. We cannot know its effectiveness without monitoring its implementation.

It has been suggested that incentives like this have been unsuccessful in the past. There is a suggestion, even in the Parliamentary Library's own Bills Digest for this bill, that the measure may be ineffective and deliver financial benefit to doctors and nurses who were planning to return to regional and remote areas anyway without bringing additional workers to the regions. This is not the intention of this legislation. I'm not suggesting that I believe this to be the case, and I support incentives to encourage doctors and nurse practitioners to move to remote and regional areas. However, what I am saying is that we won't know whether this is the case unless we track, measure and evaluate programs and their success. This is what this amendment seeks to do. We need to assess for both intended and unintended consequences.

Further to this, those reviews will allow us to determine how effective this measure is and consider how the relief from HECS and HELP debt can be used more broadly for other policies, including to help manage workforce shortages in other areas. It is good practice to include review and reporting clauses in legislation to improve transparency and integrity in policy measures. This is what I seek to achieve with this amendment.