You are here

No Commitment from Health Minister to Tasmanian Sex Workers

25 May 2016
Rosalie Woodruff MP

Wednesday 25 May 2016

Ms WOODRUFF question to MINISTER for HEALTH, Mr FERGUSON

[10.35 a.m.]

You have committed Tasmania to being the healthiest state by 2025 and championed a preventative health strategy, but now you have cut funding to the Tasmanian Sex Worker Project, a frontline preventive health investment that has been running for a decade.  This service is a safe space for sex workers that helps prevent serious STIs and blood-borne virus outbreaks in the wider community, all for a measly $61 000 a year.  Your decision will make us the only state without a sex worker organisation and means we will be in breach of a number of national health agreements and our own state health strategies.  You told the media this was a departmental cut but your office told the Scarlet Alliance that the funding was not on your list of priorities.  Is your decision really based on ideology and not disease prevention?

ANSWER

Madam Speaker, first of all I will say that it is offensive for the member to come into this House and verbal my office in a question to me.  She ought to be encouraged to stick to the facts of the matter -

Greens members interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  The member has asked a question and the minister is not even 10 seconds into it.  Please allow him to answer.

Mr FERGUSON - Only someone from 'Green-land' would describe $61 000 as measly; only someone from the Greens.  The facts of the matter are as follows.  The department has reviewed many of its funding agreements in 2014-15 to ensure effectiveness, efficiency, sustainability and value for money, and the funding programs are reaching those most vulnerable to poorer health outcomes.  Based on this review, it was assessed that the funding agreement for the Scarlet Alliance does not provide sufficient value for money in comparison to other funded programs, which I will come to shortly.

Ms Woodruff interjecting.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  I warn the member for Franklin, Ms Woodruff.

Mr FERGUSON - The time-limited funding agreement expired on 30 June 2015 and this Government extended it by one year.  The first funding agreement with Scarlet Alliance was struck in 2009-10 and the second was for the period 2012-15.  Public Health Services, which is a division of the department, recommended that funding to the Scarlet Alliance be ceased at the end of the current funding agreement at 30 June 2016.  This was approved by the secretary earlier this year and is not something that I had any input into.

Ms O'Byrne - I don't think anyone believes that.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.

Mr FERGUSON - I do not care if the member opposite believes that; this is the truth and they are the facts.  During this time Public Health Services reviewed all funding agreements to ensure that funded programs were in line with priorities, showed evidence of quality and effectiveness and provided the best investment for the Tasmanian population. 

The member has not asked me about other projects that were also time limited that have not been continued.  They include, for example, the recently expired funding for Active Launceston through UTAS and Thriving Communities - Healthy Families through Neighbourhood Houses.  This is also in line with the broader review being conducted by the department of all community grants.  The department has a budget savings task to deliver and therefore it is prudent for it to review all areas of expenditure.  A number of community -

Greens members interjecting.

Mr FERGUSON - Madam Speaker, I have been asked a question.

Madam SPEAKER - Yes, I have already issued a warning.  If I were the member for Franklin, Ms Woodruff, I would sit there in silence.  The member for Denison, Ms O'Connor, is bordering on receiving a warning as well.

Mr FERGUSON - A number of community sector organisations work with the department and the THS to prevent and manage the burden of blood-borne viruses and STIs in Tasmania, and work more specifically with vulnerable populations.

As to the facts about our funding commitments, in 2015-16 the Government has invested more than $2.5 million in organisations involved in and programs designed for sexual health, STI and blood-borne virus prevention.  There are other organisations that provide services to priority populations as part of this funding, which is very counter to the political rhetoric being displayed this morning by the Greens members.  Examples of such services include public awareness, professional training and education for service providers. 

Importantly, under the white paper on delivering safe and sustainable clinical services, this Government committed to fund another full-time medical specialist position for the statewide Sexual Health Service which was run down and not supported by the previous government.  I am very pleased to say that this description of a measly $61 000 pales in comparison to that commitment which is now being delivered with another full-time specialist having recently commenced with the service.  It has been an under-supported service.

I am not putting distance between me and the department on this but when a member opposite is saying it is decision by me personally, they are wrong.  It is simply not true.  To suggest this decision, as I have heard during these interjections, has an ideological basis is incorrect, offensive and has not even a scrap of evidence to support the political claim.

Madam SPEAKER - Order.  The minister will wind up.

Mr FERGUSON - To wind up, limited public funds need to be directed to where we can get the best value for the whole community and that is exactly what this Government is doing.  The members opposite have it wrong on the premise of their question.