Friday, 10 November 2023
Questions without Notice
My question is to the Minister representing the Prime Minister, Senator Wong. The Albanese Labor government made a commitment to the Australian people at the last election that it would strengthen Medicare and address the problems left behind by the nine years of reckless mismanagement and neglect under the Liberals and Nationals. Can the minister please provide an update on how the Albanese Labor government is strengthen Medicare and helping Australians get access to medical care when they need it?
Thank you to Senator Stewart, who is committed—like all on this side—to a strong Medicare system and to bulk-billing. That's quite different, of course, to those who we face opposite. It is this side of the chamber that is delivering historic investments in Medicare and health: the largest investment in bulk-billing in the history of Medicare, which came into effect last week; the rollout of urgent care clinics, which are a bulk-billed walk-in service seven days a week for extended hours; making medicines cheaper by cutting the cost of PBS medicines for all Australians; and supporting medical staff.
We know from history, from form and from values that it is only Labor which can be trusted to protect Medicare. What we know about those opposite is this: a shameful legacy of cuts and a shameful legacy of mismanagement in Australia's health system. They deliberately ran down Medicare and general practice.
Mr Dutton, in his first budget as health minister, tried to abolish bulk-billing altogether and make every single Australian pay the GP tax every time they visited a doctor. When we blocked that infamous GP tax in this chamber, Mr Dutton started a six-year freeze to Medicare rebates.
Opposition senators interjecting—
It's unsurprising they want to interject. There was a six-year freeze to Medicare rebates. Remember, any time they come in here and complain about health care, their shameful record of ripping billions out of general practice and making it harder and more expensive to see a doctor.
I thank the minister for that response and for outlining the appalling work of those opposite and the exceptional work that the Albanese Labor government has done to strengthen Medicare. I have seen a number of urgent care clinics open in recent weeks. Can the senator please provide an update on urgent care clinics?
Thank you, Senator Stewart. We know that when we came to government it had never been harder or more expensive to see a GP. We know that bulk-billing was in sharp decline after a six-year freeze to Medicare rebates and nine years of cuts and neglect. So, in addition to the $6.1 billion to strengthen Medicare and make it easier to see a doctor, we of course are also ensuring more broadly that the system is improved. We have seen the Albanese government's Medicare urgent care clinics opening around the country, making it easier for Australians to see a doctor. Just recently we had a second urgent care clinic open in Marion in my home state of South Australia, in Adelaide. Senator Birmingham and Senator Ruston, you should go down and have a look. It'll help patients get help faster and ease pressure on the nearby Flinders Medical Centre, where about 30 per cent of presentations are for non-urgent or semi-urgent care. As Stephen Duckett said, 'The legacy left by Liberal health ministers'—I'll have to come back to this quote.
I note the minister mentioned changes to bulk-billing which came into effect last week and will improve the lives of five million children and their families and of seven million pensioners and other concession card holders. Can the minister please outline what impact these changes will have and why this boost to bulk-billing was so desperately needed?
The reason it was so needed is that, as Dr Duckett told us:
The legacy left by Liberal health ministers Dutton, Ley, and Hunt is a Medicare scheme sorely in need of repair, because of the slow erosion of the value of rebates, and the failure to respond in any meaningful way to changed circumstances …
Our record investment means it's easier for 11 million Australians, including kids, pensioners and other concession card holders, to see a doctor—the largest investment in bulk-billing in the 40 years of Medicare history.
No amount of you saying it's not true makes it so, Senator Ruston. You see, we invest in Medicare and you don't, because we believe in Medicare and you don't. It's as simple as that.
The College of General Practitioners says this is 'a game changer'.