June 21, 2021

Today I am providing an update on some health issues in Shortland. In my recent community survey of Shortland residents, health care was ranked as top third concern by all respondents. I imagine this would be similar right around Australia. Access to quality health care is a fundamental importance for all Australians. For me, health as a priority is particularly important as I represent the sixth-oldest electorate in the country. The elderly constituents and young families I represent care about health, and they care about the Liberals and Nationals attacks on Medicare.

Before talking about Medicare, I briefly want to give an example of the government's appealing rollout of the COVID vaccine in Shortland. I was recently contacted by Joyce from Windale, who was distressed as she wasn't able to make an appointment for herself and her 95-year-old partner Jack. Her medical practice is not able to distribute the vaccine because of government red tape. Joyce called my office as a last resort, desperate. She and Jack were determined to be vaccinated; they just had no idea about how to go about getting an appointment. I am pleased that my staff were able to assist them to get such an appointment. These are two elderly people, both clearly category 1a, who nearly four months after the vaccine rollout began have been left high and dry by this incompetent and bumbling government.

Many people have also contacted my office regarding the government's recent Medicare changes. They are concerned about the Liberal's and National's ongoing campaign to attack the cherished institution which is the basis of our healthcare system. The most recent changes come after years of eroding Medicare services by this government, which has fundamentally undermined the universality of the system and made it almost impossible for my constituents to find a bulk-billing doctor. The government's classification of my electorate as being metropolitan—the same as Mosman in Sydney—cutting how much GPs receive for bulk-billing, combined with the five-year pay freeze for GPs, mean that many of my constituents struggle to find a doctor that bulk-bills. I met recently with local GPs, and they were distraught at not being able to continue to bulk-bill their patients. One GP the example of having to swap from bulk-billing 80 per cent of his patients, with 20 per cent not bulk-billed—to only bulk-billing 20 per cent. Imagine that—a complete reversal in the ratio of those being bulk-billed. And now the changes to the MBS mean that people will pay much more for surgery.

These are just a few of the comments from my constituents over the last few weeks. Sharon said, 'All Australians should be able to access medical treatment regardless of their bank balance.' Ellen from Buff Point wrote, 'As an aged pensioner Medicare is very important to me and many others I know.' Barbara emailed saying: 'Medicare is an essential service for Australians and particularly disadvantaged Australians. We have an enviable  health system that must not be sabotaged.' Finally, Sarah wrote: 'My husband and I rely on the Medicare system. Having access to affordable health care means that we can continue to work and support our family because we can access health care when we need it.' These are a few examples of how the constituents I represent—constituents who live in regional, not metropolitan Australia—feel about Medicare.

The electorate that I represent, Shortland, not only has, for the most part, an elderly demographic but also has pockets of very significant socioeconomic disadvantage, and these constituents rely on Medicare. They can't afford to pay a gap to see their GP. For them, the choice is between doing the groceries or paying for an appointment. I know this because my constituents have told me this. This is a choice no Australian should ever have to make. And, as we know, if a consultation for treatment for a relatively straightforward complaint with a GP doesn't happen, that condition will get worse, often requiring attendance at a hospital emergency department, which puts even more pressure on our public hospitals, costing more for an already overstretched public system. This demonstrates that undermining Medicare not only is disgusting from a social justice perspective but also makes no sense economically.

The bungled vaccine rollout and the distress and anxiety this has caused by constituents, many of them elderly,  as well as the renewed attacks on Medicare are a clear sign that this tired Liberal-National government is not only incompetent and useless but also completely out of touch with the lives of ordinary Australians. And the government is at it again—undermining Australia's world-class healthcare system, in Medicare. The latest changes to the Medicare benefits scheme come after the recent cuts to bulk-billing rebates of GPs. These cuts, combined with a five-year GP freeze, mean that it is now virtually impossible for many of my constituents to find a bulk-billing doctor in my electorate.

At least the Liberals had the integrity in the mid-1990s to say that they would abolish Medicare. Now they are killing it by a thousand sneaky cuts. Labor will oppose this, I will oppose this, because Medicare is the fundamental essence of a fair and just Australia—and I will stand up for my constituents.