Transcript: Press Conference - Kooyong - 28 January 2023



28 January 2023

Subjects: $100 cost for GP visits, cost of living, Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, beer tax


This morning, Australians woke up to the devastating fact that Medicare-funded costs are $100 for somebody to go to visit their GP. That means for the average Australian, that's a $60 out-of-pocket cost to visit a GP. This is a government that was elected on a platform of strengthening Medicare and all we've seen so far is our Medicare system weakened. We've seen 70 telehealth services cut out of Medicare. We've seen our mental health rebates slashed in half. We've been promised urgent care clinics - We don't even know where they're going to be. And right around the country, we're seeing the ramping at our hospitals just getting worse and worse and worse. It's time for this government to stop admiring the problem that is the crisis that's facing our health care system, and to start talking about some of the real and tangible options about how to deliver relief to Australians, particularly cost of living relief.
And this morning, we saw the vanity project of the Treasurer who spent his Christmas holidays penning a 6000 word thesis on modern economic theory, when I think every Australian has the right to expect that their Treasurer would have spent his Christmas holidays working out ways that he and the Government were going to relieve them of the cost of living pressures that are just so evident. Rising mortgages, rising electricity prices, the bills at the supermarket are just getting higher, and now this morning, we see an $100 cost to visit a GP - Another cost of living pressure that this government must do something to address.

JOURNALIST: If there's a shift to a blended funding model under Medicare, how should funding be allocated? Should it all be funnelled through GPs?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, look, I think one of the things that we have been asking this government to do is actually release their Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report. That, hopefully, will give us some indication about the broader issues and measures that the Government is considering after consulting with the broader medical profession. But right now, we have so little detail. It's very, very difficult for anybody to actually make any analysis about how is best to go forward. But certainly, we are very keen to make sure that we, as an Opposition, are constructive in supporting measures that are going to address the challenges that are before Australians, so that not only will Australians be able to get affordable access, but they will be able to get easy access to their GPs. It is a fundamental workforce issue, and we've yet to see any answers to how the Government's going to deal with that.

JOURNALIST: If GPs are given the money, do you think that could cause tension between allied health practitioners?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, the most important thing is that we have got a wonderful healthcare system in Australia with amazing health professionals, and we need to work together with them all so that we have a seamless and integrated system that supports the delivery of efficient and effective access to primary care and allied healthcare for all Australians. So we need a government to put together a policy mix that allows our healthcare sector to work constructively together.

JOURNALIST: Thank you very much. Anne, this new research done by online health directory, Cleanbill, has shown that of the 504 postcodes analysed right around the country, basically less than 10% of doctors, 7.5% now, are actually offering universal bulk billing. They are abandoning bulk billing because they just know the Medicare rebate isn't keeping up with practice costs. What do you make of that?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, clearly, we have a situation at the moment where the Medicare rebate and general practice have become, I suppose, the poor cousins of other specialities. We're seeing, for the first time, less than 15% of our medical graduates are choosing to go into general practice, and there's got to be a number of reasons for that. A matter of ten years ago, 50% of our medical graduates would choose to go into GP. So clearly, we have to come up with a suite of measures to make general practice more attractive. Part of it, obviously, is making sure that they are remunerated accordingly and appropriately. But there is so much more that we need to do to make sure that our GPs have got a satisfying and rewarding career, so that we can encourage our graduates to choose that as a speciality when they come out of medical training.

JOURNALIST: How would you ensure that physios and nurses receive adequate funding under a blended model?

SENATOR RUSTON: Well, look, once again, we don't know what is being proposed because we haven't seen the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report. And so, what we would be saying to the Government is please release this report, allow Australians to have a look at what they're proposing and let's all work together to make sure that we make general practice - rebuild it, strengthen it again, and actually do strengthen Medicare instead of just talking about it.

JOURNALIST: Anne, I don't know if you can comment on this, but there's also some reports today about the beer tax going up to - it's going to be something about $12 or thereabouts for a schooner of beer. How do you think that's going to go down in the pubs around the country?

SENATOR RUSTON: I'm afraid I haven't seen that the beer tax is going up today. But I mean, obviously, right now with cost of living pressures biting Australians, to be able to just grab a beer at the pub and relax at the end of the day is a fundamental right of Australians. And so we'd like to think that all measures to try and address cost of living would be put in place by this government. The last thing we need to be seeing them do is actually increasing the price of goods.


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