My priorities for 2018

February 15, 2018

Thank you Madam Speaker.

It’s wonderful to be back for another year with a great team of Labor members, refreshed and eager to continue our work delivering for our growing community.

2018 will be a big year for our community, with a number of important milestones to be reached and projects delivered.

The Barr Labor Government is delivering on the agenda we took to the community in 2016. At its heart is our community; the people who make up our wonderful city. As I said this time last year we must plan now for a future that includes more people and families while retaining the liveability our city is rightly proud of.

Our agenda is focused on our community’s needs, on the growth and success of our city and on responding to the challenges and opportunities ahead. And above all it is about providing opportunity for everyone in our community to live a healthy and prosperous life.


Health and Wellbeing

Madam Speaker, the health of Canberrans will always be a priority for Labor. We will continue to invest in health care to keep Canberrans healthy and deliver better care, where and when they need it. We will ensure that if and when Canberrans get sick or need access to healthcare, they trust they have a world class health system that is patient-centred and focused on making them well.

Our status as the country’s most healthy city is evidenced in the recent Report on Government Services. ACT residents have the highest life expectancies in the country. Smoking rates have been decreasing over the past several years due to our initiatives to tackle smoking, including recent restrictions on smoking in areas near children, such as playgrounds and public transport waiting areas. We have some of the lowest rates of cancer and diabetes in the country. We consistently have some of the highest immunisation rates and our kids have the equal lowest rate of obesity in the country.

The ACT also has more nurses, midwives and medical practitioners per head of population than the national average. We have an excellent health workforce, which will continue to grow with our focus this year on a workforce attraction strategy to fill specialist gaps in the workforce.

Madam Speaker, in last year’s budget we delivered $443 million in new health investments and services, building on the $1.6 billion the ACT Government already invests in healthcare services each year.

Madam Speaker, we simply cannot be the healthiest city in the country without an excellent health system. This does not happen by accident. As Labor members we share pride in our investments in the health of our community. This year we will continue to improve access for our community in all areas of health care, from acute care services at the city and the region’s major tertiary hospital, the Canberra Hospital and at Calvary Public Hospital Bruce, including in patient and out-patient care, to the soon to open rehabilitation hospital at the University of Canberra, to our community health centres, services like Hospital in the Home and of course our nurse led walk in centres.

In so many areas we provide excellent, high quality, compassionate care.

But we must continue to improve. We will continue with a range of reforms that, coupled with Labor’s record investment in health, are essential to improving our health system and respond to emerging opportunities and challenges. I acknowledge there are areas where we have come from behind, and where we simply must do better. And we are - on many measures we continue to improve.

If you look, for example, at the improvement in median wait times at Canberra’s hospitals between 2012-13 to 2016-17, these wait times have reduced by one third from 44 to 30 minutes. This is the biggest improvement in the country over this period.

I am very focused, not only on continuing to make the right health investments for our community but to make sure our system is patient-centred, efficient and innovative. 

Over the course of this year as Canberrans will continue to see improvements. I would like to highlight some of my priorities for this year, which include:

  • Continuing my strong focus on prevention
  • Completing the important system-wide data review
  • Continuing to improve our engagement, consultation and collaboration with health stakeholders, our workforce and employee representatives and the broader community
  • Finalising the Territory Wide Health Services Framework and progressing the associated clinical and service planning and implementing our Quality Strategy and Digital Strategy;
  • Working with ACT Health to bring down wait times and increase access to our emergency departments and elective surgery
  • Attracting more specialist health staff to our city
  • Updating and investing in important drug and alcohol policy and services
  • Continuing and completing major upgrades to existing and new health infrastructure Health and our partners deliver to the community every day.



I will continue my focus on preventive health, and to establishing Canberra as a centre of excellence on preventive health. The growing tide of chronic disease is a challenge for all governments, but most importantly can have major impacts on a person’s quality of life. I said in my inaugural speech to this place that investing in prevention makes sense and I am very committed to the range of preventive health initiatives we will deliver, including additional funding, building an evidence base to support investment, partnerships with our research institutions and a Preventive Health Strategy.

As a member of the COAG Health Council, and this year its Chair, I will continue to strongly advocate for investment in prevention.


System-wide Data Review

Members will recall I initiated a System-wide Data Review at ACTH Health. This was a significant undertaking but I am certain it was the right thing to do. I have provided regular updates to the ACT Legislative Assembly to keep the community informed on its progress and look forward to sharing the outcomes of the review following its conclusion in March. 

I am confident this review will set a new benchmark for health data and I am excited about its potential. We have already supported an important finding of this review, announcing investment in a new ACT Health data warehouse that will improvement the management of essential health data.


Engagement and collaboration 

This year will see continued consultation and engagement with key health stakeholders and the broader community. The TWHSF Advisory Group which recently met is just one example of a renewed approach to engaging with important stakeholders and partners, and its members are a recognition of the importance of making sure our health services meet the needs of many in our community, especially those who may be vulnerable or have special needs. It is also a recognition of the importance of engaging with the primary health and research sector. I look forward to listening to and working with our partners this year. I also look forward to strengthening our relationship with our partners at Calvary Health, who deliver essential hospital and palliative care services to our community.


Territory-wide Health Services Framework 

The Territory-wide Health Services Framework is a vital and exciting piece of work. It is about a holistic, systems approach to healthcare in the ACT that puts patients at the centre of everything we do so they don’t have to go searching for the specialists or the services they need.

The Advisory Group is up and running and I was very pleased to join them at their first meeting earlier this year. ACT Health staff have been holding forums and meetings with staff across the Directorate to inform and plan the essential clinical and service planning that underpins this work.


Waiting Times

When it comes to timeliness of elective surgery and emergency department services, I have made it clear to ACT Health that we need to continue to see improvements in these areas.

The ACT is heading in the right direction but, as I said earlier, we know we must do better. But we should also celebrate our improvements, which are real. Again we have seen among the best improvements in the country on median emergency department wait times and percentage of patients seen on time. It’s important to recognise we have a unique mix of hospitals here in the ACT, one of the top ten busiest emergency departments in the country, and significant increases in demand, for example we saw a 9% increase from 77,747 during 2015-2016 to 85,093 during 2016-2017.

It is also important to work with NSW as we provide health services to a growing population outside our borders, this is important for both jurisdictions and I look forward to progressing a number of issues with the NSW Government.

In the past financial year Canberra Hospital implemented a number of strategies in the 2016‑17 financial year to improve patient flow within the ED. The Nurse Navigator role oversees patient journeys and team based care has seen a strengthened, collaborative approach to patient treatment. Further work is also being undertaken to increase the workforce within the ED to align rostering to peak activity times and to further improve patient flow in the ED, importantly working right across the hospital to ensure efficient and timely admissions and discharges.  This work will continue.

Madam Speaker, as part of the Budget Mid-Year Review, the ACT Government is addressing elective surgery waiting times by investing an additional $6.372 million for more surgeries to help over 600 additional patients access treatment within recommended timeframes and to achieve over 13,000 elective surgery procedures across the ACT.


Workforce Attraction Strategy

It is also important we have the right health workforce by supporting our own home grown graduates, to supporting training and professional development and attracting more people to work in the ACT health sector. This year we will develop a workforce attraction strategy to attract and retain health specialists to Canberra. I look forward to providing more advice on this work soon.


Alcohol and Other Drugs

Also this year I will have a focus on drug and alcohol issues. We will update relevant policy frameworks, clinical guidance and continue investment in drug and alcohol services and systems, importantly including work to establish a prescription monitoring scheme. I am working closely with Minister Ramsay and Minister Rattenbury on the establishment of a drug and alcohol court and associated health services. This is important work and the government looks forward to improving the lives of people in our community grappling with issues of addiction, to supporting them and their families.  


Health Infrastructure

We will remain focused on delivering new and improved facilities to delivery hospital and community based care.

Major construction is complete on the new rehabilitation hospital at the University of Canberra. Recruitment is underway for this innovative new facility, Canberra’s first purpose-built rehabilitation hospital. It is designed to support people recovering from surgery, injury, or experiencing mental illness.

Planning and design is also underway for other initiatives including:

  • Expansion of the Centenary Hospital for Women and Children;
  • The new Surgical Procedures and Interventional Radiology and Emergency (SPIRE) Centre; and
  • We are working with Calvary on how we can better deliver healthcare services to Canberra’s Northside.

This year we will open Canberra’s 3rd walk in centre in Gungahlin with planning underway for the Weston Creek region and the Inner North.

We are providing more support to local GPs, with the recently opened

grants round for GPs to increase bulk billing in the Tuggeranong and Molonglo Valley regions.

We are also working with Winnunga Nimmityjah to build a new health centre for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Canberrans. This will be an important facility, but also a demonstration of the Government’s commitment to the health and wellbeing for our local indigenous community. I especially look forward to continuing this work with Minister Stephen-Smith and in close collaboration with Winnunga Nimmityjah.


My Health Record

Other innovations in the health sector this year include the national rollout of My Health Record. This is important work led by the Commonwealth which I strongly support. ACT Health and the Capital Health Network are working to support our transition to the national opt-out arrangements, which come into place later this year.  

Canberrans can expect to see most GPs and all public hospitals actively using the My Health Record and a large number of private practices uploading patient information to My Health Record by the end of 2018. 

This will be a significant step in Australia’s national health system will become better connected and lead to improve improved safety and better care for patients and their families in the ACT.


Transport Canberra & City Services

And we know that a healthy community is also supported by other important services, and a number of these are in another of my portfolios, Transport and City Services.

Transport Canberra and City Services deliver services across our city every day, supporting and sustaining our community. It is a wonderful portfolio, at the nexus of traditional local and state-based service delivery.

It is easy to look at what TCCS does and think of the physical assets like buses, books and roads, but really our services are about people. Every day TCCS do what they can to make the lives of Canberrans easier, and the government has a number of clear priorities in this area.

Just like in Health, this year will see significant activity and achievement in this portfolio, building on the work we have done in 2017, but I would like to highlight some of my priorities for the year which include

In Transport

  • Delivering Stage 1 of Light Rail and associated major bus network upgrades and planning for Stage 2 of light rail from civic to Woden
  • Boosting our active travel infrastructure and services, including a continued focus on walking and cycling safely to school
  • Updating our key policy document, Transport for Canberra to align with the important policy work in planning and climate change

And in City Services,

  • Improving our city services through the Better Suburbs project
  • Delivering important upgrades to Town Centres
  • Continuing a focus on responsible pet ownership
  • Delivering a range of important waste initiatives
  • Completing major road duplications and delivering more improvements to our roads network



Our transport vision is very clear, a modern, sustainable and integrated transport system that provides a real alternative to the car.

We are working on a refresh for Transport for Canberra that will update our transport policy framework to incorporate opportunities for improvement and consider emerging transport trends, data and innovation. It will include community consultation and draw parallels with the ACT Planning Strategy Refresh and the Climate Change Strategy work.


Light Rail

Madam Speaker, the construction of light rail – with stage one due for completion later this year – will help achieve our vision.

As our city grows if we don’t invest now in public transport infrastructure, congestion will only get worse, impacting travel times, productivity and our quality of life. We simply cannot leave public transport investment until the city is gridlocked.

The construction of Canberra’s light rail network is the most significant transport project this city has ever embarked upon, and construction of Stage 1 from Gungahlin to the City is now well underway. The momentum of construction will continue to increase along the corridor until later this year.

Work is also progressing on planning for Light Rail Stage 2 which will extend the network from Gungahlin through to Woden, connecting the north and south of the city, linking employment and cultural hubs, and create a public transport spine.

Unlike our political opponents, our government will not ‘kick the can down the road’. This is a vital piece of infrastructure that will set our city up for many years to come. In decades from now, Canberrans will look back and be glad that the ACT Labor Government took this revolutionary step for transport in Canberra.


Bus Network

Extensive community engagement, combined with MyWay data, and customer feedback has told us Canberrans want 3 key things out of a transport network: quicker trip times and more direct routes, more frequent and reliable services, and increased services on and off peak.

We also know Canberrans want value for money. It is the case that building an integrated and efficient transport network cannot be achieved by a bus stop on every street. We have tried this for years and it has not worked.

All modern public transport networks across the world are integrated, connected and innovative, using all available modes to drive patronage and get people out of their cars. What this means for Canberra is a service that is easy to navigate, and provides frequent reliable services 7 days a week. This year we will see 5 more rapid services and a range of customer service innovations. We are excited about the possibilities and look forward to working with Canberrans soon to design a modern and integrated transport network. Stage 1 of our consultation closed late last year and we look forward to Stage 2 opening soon.


Active Travel

Madam Speaker, the ACT has one of the highest participation rates of active travel amongst the major Australian cities and we are among the leading cycle friendly cities. We aim to be the most cycle friendly city in the country.

This year we will continue to upgrade and enhance our suburban community path network and invest in the Age Friendly Suburbs program.

We know that there is a significant proportion of our community that is ‘interested but concerned’ about riding bikes in our city. We want to demonstrate that cycling is safe and fun and show people how they can move around our city on their bikes. We want to bring new people to the joys and benefits of cycling by giving them the confidence through good infrastructure, improved facilities and better way finding and signage. This will also be an important part of our Transport for Canberra update.

We will start work on the Belconnen Bikeway, demonstrating our commitment to the next generation of active travel infrastructure.


School Programs

Madam Speaker, I will continue a strong focus on encouraging more kids to walk or ride to school and giving parents the confidence that it is safe, easy and fun. This focus will help relieve some of the pressures at the school gate and reduce car park congestion.

We also know that walking or riding has added benefits, including improving kids’ health and wellbeing, helping them stay fit and setting them up for a more productive school day.

To achieve all this we have just introduced Labor’s election commitment of a School Crossing Supervisor program. This has commenced at 20 crossings and has already had extremely positive feedback after just two weeks.

The Active Streets for Schools program is also being delivered at 25 schools in the ACT, with an extra 50 to be rolled out. This includes infrastructure improvements, such as better footpath connections, new pram ramps and the relocation of bike storage facilities. And of course the wonderful tear drop signage on a number of paths showing a safe route to school.


City services: amenity, maintenance, Town Centres and road network

The appearance of our city is also very important to the government. We have some improvements to make as our city grows and we strike the right balance between our newer and more established suburbs.

The Better Suburbs Program was launched last year and we will deliver a finalised Better Suburbs Statement this year after some exciting community engagement and collaboration planned for April this year.

It will also build on our investments in our vital Town Centres, with work underway in Gungahlin, Belconnen, and Tuggeranong as well as planning for works in Woden and a number of our Group Centres, notably this year in Kambah. This is important work to implement the vision of the Government and the community.

There are currently five road duplication projects underway across the city, responding to the growth of new development areas in Molonglo and North Gungahlin, as well as growth in Tuggeranong, and I look forward to each of these reaching completion and progressing new stages soon.


Responsible Pet Ownership

This year the ACT Government will also focus on animal welfare and management practices by promoting responsible pet ownership across the Territory. Last year we launched the ‘Paws for Thought’ campaign to promote responsible pet ownership and drive cultural change within the community. This will build on the important work undertaken last year in developing the ACT’s first comprehensive Animal Welfare Strategy and legislative change and investment to prevent and respond to dog attacks



Madam Speaker, this year will also be a big year for our waste sector and for households.

The Government will introduce a Container Deposit Scheme (CDS), protecting our environment and supporting local community groups for fundraising. We will also continue the rollout of the green bins service and seek further opportunities to innovate in our waste sector.


Higher Education, Training and Research

Finally Madam Speaker, I would like to update the Assembly on the Government’s ongoing work to support the higher education, training and research sector.

This year my priorities include

  • Supporting CIT to modernise and provide even more vocational education and training opportunities to Canberrans
  • Supporting the growth of the sector and collaborating to attract investment and opportunity
  • Advocating the benefits of the VET sector and rolling out our commitments to women in trades and supporting reskilling of mature age workers



Under the leadership of its Board, CIT is continuing its journey of transformation through the implementation of the Strategic Compass 2020. This includes growing our region’s economy by adapting course offerings to provide skills for the future and advancing Canberra’s workforce. CIT is also focused on updating its campuses to ensure it meets the needs of students and staff in a modern and competitive VET sector.


Supporting the sector

We know one in every six Canberrans is engaged with a tertiary education institution. This is a sector plays an integral role in Canberra’s economy and our identity as a knowledge city. It is a priority to support investment and growth in our city’s key industry strengths, including cyber security, the defence and space industry and the healthy and active living sector.

Our credentials as an education city were enhanced by last year’s announcement with UNSW Canberra of the possibility of a new campus in the city east precinct. This is an exciting development and has the potential to strengthen our vision for Canberra as an education city, creating capacity over time for up to another 10,000 students.

The ACT Vice Chancellors Forum, chaired by the Chief Minister, will continue this year. This is an important mechanism to bring together the leadership Canberra’s universities and of course CIT.


Advocating for VET and supporting women in trades and mature age workers

The potential of the VET sector can be significantly enhanced and this year we will focus our efforts on advocating for the VET sector, within our school and broader community and strengthen relationships with employers.

This year we will also implement initiatives to reduce the barriers women face in entering targeted trades, and provide support for mature age workers to upskill or reskill to enhance their job opportunities or seek a new career.



In closing Madam Speaker, it is a privilege to outline my ministerial priorities for my portfolios today.

I look forward to continuing to work with our amazing public sector who are on the frontline of service delivery every day. Whether they are garbage collectors, bus drivers, nurses, physios, doctors, VET teachers or rangers. I know they put the Canberra community first. I again thank them for their continued service this year.

And I look forward to continued engagement with stakeholders and service deliverers across my portfolios, listening to and working with you is just another of the privileges of this role. And of course to the broader community, whose insights and input to our work is vital for, after all, you are the reason we do what we do.

I look forward to seeing some of our important initiatives and big projects become a reality this year. I know 2018 will be an exciting year for Canberra and I look forward to delivering for and on behalf of people in our community.

Thank you.