Transcript: Interview with Rikki Lambert, Flow FM - 31 January 2023


31 January 2023

Subjects: 2032 Olympic Games infrastructure, Women’s Health Advisory Council, regional health challenges, Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report


RIKKI LAMBERT: Great to be joined by South Australian Senator and Shadow Minister for Health and Sport, and a few other responsibilities as well, Anne Ruston. How are you, Anne?

SENATOR RUSTON: I'm very well. Thanks so much for having me.

LAMBERT: Anne, look, let's talk about sport first of all. It's always a good place to start. Health is a big topic as well, but you've got some concerns about sporting infrastructure and how it's invested in going towards future major sporting events.

RUSTON: Look, what we did when we were in government, in agreeing to support the Queensland Government in their bid for the 2032 Olympic Games, was say that we'd stump up 50% of the cost of building the infrastructure, and that's not just the stadium, that could be transport infrastructure, accommodation infrastructure, so we put on the best Games in the world. But as part of that, we said we need a joint oversight body so that taxpayers funds could be properly scrutinised as they were being spent. And so far, we have not seen the current Government put any pressure on the Queensland Government about establishing this authority. So, we're calling for that, because we think taxpayers have got every right when billions and billions of dollars of their money is going to be invested in this infrastructure to know that it's being spent well.

LAMBERT: We've seen concerns expressed when it comes to major infrastructure spending, even in your home state of South Australia, say on hospitals, on the work of the CFMEU I think it is now, and you know, whether they end up with a pretty good deal out of it. Is that where your concerns arise from the Coalition point of view?

RUSTON: Well, first off, I think it is just prudent good management and governance that you would always have an oversight body, so that transparency and good governance can be put in place. But you know, the Queensland Government has got a bit of a track record of looking after its mates. We've seen many, many times on the front pages of our newspapers and on the headlines of our news the corruption, because of paybacks to union mates, and the last thing that we want to do is see that happen again. Because the Olympic Games is such a showcase for Australia, we want to make sure that it goes ahead without any taints of corruption, and the fact that we want our Games to be the best and the best they will be is if we have good infrastructure, well-planned and delivered on time.

LAMBERT: On the subject of health, one of your other shadow responsibilities, the Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney was out this morning talking about the Women's Health Advisory Council they have appointed. They want to tackle medical misogyny and concerns that women disproportionately are experiencing delayed diagnoses, overprescribing and a failure to properly investigate symptoms. Where does the Coalition stand on investigating medical misogyny?

RUSTON: Well, of course, we want Australia's medical system to be the best it possibly can be and to support all Australians to get timely healthcare no matter who they are or where they are. But, you know, this is just another example of this government coming up with another advisory group, another so-called plan, another admiration of a problem. I mean, what I think Australians are getting a little bit sick of is that every morning they wake up to their Minister or one of their Assistant Ministers standing up and talking about a problem. We actually want to see some real and tangible measures that can deliver outcomes that impact on people. We've got to stop talking about things and actually start doing something.

LAMBERT: Now, on the matter of talking, we've talked a lot here on Flow FM in the last couple of years about regional health services, ability to get to a GP and what not. First of all, good to have Anne Webster in your corner as the new Shadow Regional Health Minister. But I imagine, you've got another talk or discussion going on soon about getting everyone together to try and find some solutions on that front.

RUSTON: Well, I mean, I've always viewed that rural, regional and remote Australia is a bit like the canary in the coal mine when it comes to services. We will feel it first and we feel it hardest the further you are away from a capital city. So, I absolutely commend Anne for what she's doing in her own community, and that is getting all the heavyweights into town to actually listen firsthand to the people on the ground about what's actually happening in her community, because it is a reflection of what's happening across the whole of Australia. And so I think, for the first time, instead of sitting in Canberra and demanding that the experts turn up and and listen to the Minister, Anne is saying no, we're not going to do that, we're going to get you out into our community and hear what's going on. Because there are some really critical issues with workforce, with access to GPs, with access to allied health in rural and regional and remote Australia, because there is perverse incentives for our health professionals to stay in the city. And it's only been made worse by some of the initiatives that have been put in place by this government. You know, changes to the distribution priority areas no longer require international medical graduates to do a period of time in rural, regional and remote Australia. There are many, many places now where they can do it in the city, and we're seeing almost immediately that doctors that otherwise would have come to rural, regional and remote Australia are choosing to go into metropolitan cities, which is stripping many, many communities of the only doctor they had. So I think we do need to get these people out into the country areas so they can see firsthand the impacts of the decisions that are being made by this government. And hopefully, these health professionals will start being loud advocates on behalf of rural, regional and remote Australia, not just the Coalition.

LAMBERT: Well, Anne Ruston is the Shadow Minister for Health. With the Federal Parliament firing up next month into February and also the Federal Budget coming in May, the Health Minister - South Australian colleague Mark Butler - is saying that he's going to do a shake up of Medicare. What's the Coalition going to be advocating for if we are shaking Medicare up?

RUSTON: Well, look, I'm all for making significant changes to make sure that Australians have got timely and affordable access to healthcare. But so far, once again, all we've seen the Minister do is to come out and talk about the problems. We knew that there were challenges before our health system and certainly COVID has exacerbated and accelerated many of those. We've seen massive workforce shortages caused by a lack of overseas trained medical professionals coming into the country over the last three years. We're also seeing quite a challenge because only 15% of our medical graduates are choosing to go into general practice and even less of them are choosing to go into rural and regional Australia. So, I'm hoping that Minister Butler, with his Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, will come out and actually address the critical issue before the whole of Australia, but particularly rural, regional and remote Australia, and that's workforce challenges. I mean, you would know, just about all of your listeners I'm sure can tell a story of the difficulty of getting into a doctor, but they woke up earlier this week to a headline in the paper that said at a standard consult - $100. That means that the person who had that consult is $60 out-of-pocket. You know, this government was elected on a platform of strengthening Medicare, and so far we've seen little else apart from a weakening of the Medicare system.

LAMBERT: Well, Anne Ruston, plenty to talk about in that area. Looking forward to catching up with you, and as well Anne Webster, the Regional Health Shadow Minister, soon on that. Thanks for joining us today on the phone.

RUSTON: My absolute pleasure. Thanks for having me.


tags:  news feature