Interview with Kieran Gilbert, Sky News
2 November 2023
Subjects: Government's bulk billing incentive measure, GP payroll tax, Middle East conflict, Australians in Gaza
Kieran Gilbert: Welcome back to the program. Around 11 million Australians are tipped to benefit from access to free appointments under a boost to bulk billing incentives for GPs. The Opposition, though, is calling into question the efficacy of the changes in boosting patient access, claiming the Government's being misleading. Let's go live to the Shadow Health Minister, Anne Ruston. What are your concerns here?
Senator Anne Ruston: Well, first of all, the Government's out there saying that 11 million Australians are going to get access to bulk billing. We know that that is absolutely not going to be the case. Bulk billing rates are plummeting at the moment and we have seen no response from the sector to suggest that those rates are going to increase significantly under this measure. So I think to go out there and tell 11 million Australians, or to basically say that half of Australia is going to be able to get access to bulk billing as of yesterday, is very, very misleading. This is a government that came in and said they were going to make it easier and cheaper to see a GP and the only thing that's happened since they've been in government is it's been more expensive and harder to see a GP.
Kieran Gilbert: Is it not at least a step in the right direction? It might not be all of the 11 million people that we're talking about - concession card holders, those under the age of 16 - but three and a half billion dollars going into the system surely is going to help.
Anne Ruston: Well, first of all, we've got to see that three and a half billion dollars go into the system, because we know from speaking to the sector and many advocates from the sector have come out quite publicly and stated that they don't believe that this will be sufficient for them to resume bulk billing or to increase their bulk billing rates. In fact, the Government, by its own admission last week in estimates would not even say that they believed that this measure was going to make one more bulk billed appointment available to Australians. So first of all, we have to see whether it actually is going to work, because nobody has bothered to test it. There appears to be no modelling. It's just been sort of - like a sort of blow in the wind, we've decided $3.5 billion is going to be the number. But also at the same time, we've seen the states and territories come out and say that they're going to impose a payroll tax on GPs, and the first thing that GPs are going to have to do is to pass on that cost through to their patients. So, you know, Mr. Albanese really does need to be making sure that he's talking his state and territory premiers and health ministers to make sure that they're not doing something that's completely and utterly counterproductive to measures that potentially can be put in at a federal level. So we remain very sceptical that this is going to deliver the outcome that the Government is proporting that it's going to.
Kieran Gilbert: On that payroll tax issue, it's an interesting one because I've already had feedback from GPs in Canberra saying we're moving because that impost is going to make the whole thing counterproductive. So for individual younger GPs, it's enough to have them move jurisdiction.
Anne Ruston: Look, absolutely. And the problem we've got is that different jurisdictions around Australia have taken different approaches to this. Some have said that they're not going to bring it in immediately. Some have said they're going to make it retrospective, which is going to be much, much more punitive even than the bringing it in, in a retrospective manner. Others have deferred it for a period of time. So we've got a situation where, you know, you realistically could see doctors moving to different jurisdictions simply because they can't afford to be able to continue to operate in the jurisdiction that's bringing these measures in. So it really says to me that this government, from a federal perspective, needs to be taking a much stronger leadership role to make sure that primary care and access to GP services, and the cost of access to GP services, is unified across the nation so that Australians are not disadvantaged depending on where they live.
Kieran Gilbert: Indeed, well, it's a bit of a debacle. As I say, I've already had GP's contact me saying they're upping and going because of that issue. Now onto the Gaza situation. The catastrophe continues. There were - there was a cohort of Australians that were evacuated last night, a relief for those 23 people, but still dozens remain in that terrible limbo.
Anne Ruston: Look, absolutely. And a real shout out to the diplomatic corps in the Middle East at the moment, who've been working so hard to be able to get that initial cohort of people out of Gaza and hopefully on their way home. But there's much more work to be done to make sure that other Australians are getting the support that they need. You know, it is a - it's a very, very confronting situation in the Middle East at the moment. And obviously our thoughts go to the families of those people that I know have not been able to get out as yet. But also a huge thanks to the diplomatic corps for the work that they're doing and they'll continue to do.
Kieran Gilbert: The Greens are calling for a ceasefire. I had David Shoebridge on the program a bit earlier suggesting that there needs to be an immediate ceasefire. The Government says a humanitarian pause. I did put it to Senator Shoebridge that the IDF isn't targeting civilians, that Hamas has been using civilians and civilian infrastructure to hide some of their own terrorist infrastructure. What's your read on this broader debate as we see this appalling situation and thousands continue to lose their lives, but a great deal of scrutiny right now on Israel.
Anne Ruston: Well, I mean, I think the first thing is that nobody wants to see anybody who is innocent lose their life or be injured as a part of this particular situation that's occurring in the Middle East. But, you know, fundamentally, Israel has the right to defend itself against the terrorist activities that were inflicted on its people starting on the 7th of October. And so, you know, we have to understand that they have the right to be able to defend themselves, but nobody likes to see innocent civilians in danger or killed as a result of it. But unfortunately, these are the consequences of the terrible actions that we saw inflicted on Israel on the 7th of October.
Kieran Gilbert: Yeah, an appalling tragedy all around. No doubt about it. Senator Ruston, I appreciate your time as always. We'll talk to you soon.
Anne Ruston: Thanks, Kieran.