Wednesday, 23 November 2022
Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2022-2023; Consideration in Detail
Mark Butler (Hindmarsh, Australian Labor Party, Minister for Health and Aged Care) Share this | Hansard source
I'm pleased to rise to say a few words and take some gentle probing questions about the health budget for 2022. In the election in May, Labor, in the health and aged care area, promised three main things: the first was to strengthen Medicare, the second was to deliver cheaper medicines and the third was to fix the crisis in aged care. In the October budget, we delivered on all three of those promises. Members on our side and, I suspect, members on the other side will be regularly told by their constituents that it has never been harder for them to find a doctor, it's never taken longer to get in to see their GP and it's never been more expensive. We know that to be the case. The data reflects the anecdotal evidence that I know all members of parliament are getting. It's particularly acute in rural and regional Australia, but it has crept right through our cities. The structural challenges in general practice go way beyond the pressures of the pandemic, although, of course, the pandemic has placed enormous pressure on primary care, as it has on all other areas of the health system: the acute sector, mental health, aged care and so many others besides.
The Labor government has no higher priority in the health portfolio than rebuilding general practice. It has suffered nine years of cuts and neglect. Before the beginning of the pandemic it was already experiencing enormous pressure. On top of those two structural pressures, the funding crisis and the pandemic, there is a background of demographic change in patients, with an ageing population and a much higher incidence of complex chronic disease, which is the third major structural pressure on general practice.
Strengthening Medicare was the centrepiece of the policy we took to the last election, and we delivered on that centrepiece in the October budget. To their credit, the former government and the former minister, to whom I paid credit on a number of occasions as his shadow, set up a long process that brought in the AMA, the college of GPs and many other experts besides to develop a 10-year primary care plan that was released in March alongside the last budget of the former government. That was a good thing. Broadly speaking, I think there's a strong consensus that that plan is the right pathway forward for primary care and general practice in particular. The problem was that there was no money attached to it. There had been $468 million previously allocated to the implementation of primary care reform, particularly voluntary patient enrolment, but it was ripped away in the March budget by the former government, which had put it in place to underpin its plans. We committed money at the election. We allocated that money in the October budget to invest in the reforms prioritised by the sector from that 10-year primary care plan. At the moment I'm chairing the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, which meets again on Friday, to prioritise the things that are really important to take that pressure off general practitioners and deliver the accessible quality care that patients deserve. We'll be doing that over the coming months.
This budget also allocated $229 million in infrastructure grants for general practice. General practice deserves more than our thanks for the extraordinary contribution it has made to keeping our community healthy and safe over the course of the pandemic. They need some support to upgrade their IT systems and to make changes to their practice that make their practice more accessible to their local community. We'll be rolling that out in the coming months as well.
There's an incredibly exciting First Nations health package that I was delighted to be able to announce with the now member for Lingiari in her community in Alice Springs during the election campaign. We worked very closely with NACCHO in particular. It will deliver more Aboriginal health workers and Aboriginal health practitioners to a sector that desperately needs those workers. It will invest in much-needed dialysis capacity, with 30 new four-chair dialysis units through the country, double the number of communities that get directed support for rheumatic heart disease—a disease that, frankly, should not be present in a developed country like Australia—and much more besides. I'm really looking forward to being able to implement this budget. It will make a difference to the Australian community.