FRIDAY, 16 JANUARY 2015
SUBJECT/S: Tony Abbott’s attack on Medicare; Tony Abbott’s GP Tax; Sussan Ley’s embarrassing backflip; The Castle; National security; Bali Nine.
BILL SHORTEN, LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION: Good morning, everyone, it's great to be here with Catherine King, Labor's spokesperson for health, also Doctor John Hodgson who runs a really busy practice in suburban Coolaroo in Melbourne's northern suburbs. He sees 2,500 patients a week. This gentleman and his team are genuinely the front line of healthcare in Australia. This morning we've seen the new Health Minister come out and declare that the GP Tax is still on the table. Whilst they've been forced into an embarrassing retreat by the patients, doctors, Labor Party and the Senate, the Abbott Government are repeat offenders. They are starting 2015 just as they started 2014 - full of chaos, breaking promises and interfering with the front line of healthcare in this country. We say to the Abbott Liberal National Government; hands off Medicare. The GPs of Australia should be supported. The Government should be thanking the GPs of Australia. They're 30 per cent of the cost in the system yet they see 80 per cent of patients in Australia and what we see is that they are delivering great results every day for families, for people who are sick.
The Abbott Government needs to stop any changes to Medicare where they're going to make it harder for sick people to see a doctor. The truth of the matter is this morning, that the new Health Minister has let the cat out of the bag. The Abbott Government haven't changed their mind on wrecking Medicare, taking away bulk billing, fighting with GPs and patients, they've just changed their tactics. Australia now knows, after this morning, that if you want to protect Medicare you need to change the Government of Australia and again, we say to the Government stop making up propaganda and myths about our health system. We have a relatively efficient health system by world standards. Its cost is not in crisis as the Government keeps using to justify and I might ask my colleague, Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King, to further explain why this Government can't be trusted on Medicare.
CATHERINE KING, SHADOW MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Thanks Bill, and also thanks to John for having us here in his incredibly busy practice today as well. Well of course the Abbott Government's attacks on Medicare continue. Whilst we saw a back down yesterday there is still $2 billion being ripped out of front line services, funding that goes to general practice and making sure that our universal health insurance scheme continues to be affordable and accessible for all Australians. This Government might have changed its Minister, it might have changed its tactics but the only way, the only way to protect our universal health insurance system that is Medicare is to get rid of the Government. $2 billion will still be ripped out of general practice under this Government's measures and the new Health Minister needs to immediately come out and ditch her other proposals.
Her $5 GP Tax which will see out-of-pocket costs in general practice rise for patients or it will see practices like John's here that is 100 per cent bulk billing have to face a cut of well over $200,000 a year just because of this Government's decision to rip money out of general practice. Now, we know out of the money that is spent on the Medicare Benefits Schedule, only 30 per cent of that goes to general practice but they see over 80 per cent of the patients. Yet this Government is continuing its attacks on general practice, the part of the system which we know is the most efficient, is the part of the system we want people to go to stay well, yet this Government's health policy is to try and stop people going to the doctor and make it more expensive. What sort of Government has as its health policy trying to put a barrier in the way to people going to general practice?
SHORTEN: I might just ask Doctor John Hodgson who runs this remarkable, hardworking practice to give the GP's perspective on recent events.
DOCTOR JOHN HODGSON: Thank you, Bill. We see the co-payment as an attack on our income. We don't think that's a fair thing at all. We're supplying services to patients. We need a health system that cooperates with general practice, that works with it, not penalises it. We don't earn a great deal of money compared to the specialists and the hospital system and I think if 70 per cent of the income goes to the hospital system we should be looking at assisting the hospital system, not criticising it but making it easier. We need to take more patients out of outpatients, we need to help them reduce their costs, there needs to be better communication between us, we need to be able to access each other's notes and records and results, stop the duplications in the system. We need to assist them with their afterhours care so that we're better funded after hours. Our doctors are like everybody else. We're all working too hard, we're all overworked, we don't want to spend our weekends and our evenings working but doctors feel that there's an obligation to the community to do that and we're prepared to do that but we just need some help, some cooperation instead of being slammed with a cut of our funding.
SHORTEN: Thanks John, well put. Any questions?
JOURNALIST: Is the Opposition willing to work with the Government to sort of stop 6-minute medicine?
SHORTEN: I'm not going to engage in this slanderous GP bashing. We just heard from a hard-working practice right then. GPs are not the key cost issue in the system. Let's just deal with some health cost facts and I'll ask my colleague Catherine to supplement what I am about to say to you. But when we look at the GP costs in the system, they're only 30 per cent of the costs. They see a much greater proportion of the patients. Now we've heard Doctor Hodgson make it clear that there can always be improvements made in information and processes between hospitals and GPs, but Australians know and the only people who don't seem to know are the Government's spin-misters and Tony Abbott and his health team. GPs are not the problem in Australia and when you want to look at the costs in Australia generally our system and the costs, increasing costs are below OECD averages, so not a crisis there.
And furthermore when you look at the proportion of the Australian economy spends on health as a percentage of GDP, we're well below say the United States, we're at 9 per cent of GDP, the United States is at 17 per cent. We always want to be improving our system. But you don't improve the system by penalising the front line. The GPs and the nurses and the staff working here, they're the front line for millions of Australians to get healthcare in a timely fashion. The Government should stop fighting with its GPs and start working with them. I might see if Catherine's got a little more to add on the cost analysis.
KING: Bill's exactly right. What we do know in terms of Medicare Benefits Schedule and the funding that goes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule is that GPs are not where the substantive costs are. 30 per cent of the Medicare Benefits Schedule goes towards funding general practice and general practice services. But we know for that 30 per cent we get very good value for money. In this practice over 2,000 patients a week are seen here. That's keeping people well, it's managing chronic disease, it's keeping people out of the hospital system. The Government sustainability argument doesn't stack up. The sustainability argument doesn't stack up because not a dollar, not a single dollar of the $2 billion they are ripping out of general practice goes back into general practice, goes back into our healthcare system, goes back into the delivery of front care services. Not a single dollar goes in the sustainability of Medicare and that's the sham of the Government's argument.
JOURNALIST: Mr Shorten, the Health Minister has flagged changes to $5 GP co-payment policy this morning on ABC, what's your response to that?
SHORTEN: I don't trust the Federal Abbott Government when it comes to front line healthcare systems. This Government repeatedly has tried to put new charges to discourage people from using the system and repeatedly they keep getting knocked back but they then will again try. It's like a series of bad horror films, you know, we saw Budget horror film, Medicare 1.0 and then we've seen them doing it again recently over Christmas. They've been knocked back again. This Government has not changed its mind about attacking bulk billing. They have not changed their mind about putting extra costs. They love sending price signals to poor people and sick people about don't come to the doctor, we'll charge you more. This is a Government that cannot be trusted on Medicare. The only way you can save Medicare is to change the Government.
JOURNALIST: Do you think that yesterday’s announcement was linked to the Queensland election?
SHORTEN: Sorry, I've just got the plane over going head. I don't know how many of you watched that film The Castle but this is where it was set in Coolaroo. Mind you if I can borrow from The Castle's line; if anyone thinks that Tony Abbott did this because he cares about the health system and he won't try again, tell 'em they're dreamin'. It was all to do with the politics of the Queensland election. Everyone knows that Tony Abbott is electoral box office poison in Queensland but this measure of putting on $20 taxes on people, $20 fines for going to see the doctor was going to create a revolution and the Government just stumbled its way through a reluctant retreat.
Does anyone think that Tony Abbott, he was on radio 24 hours before supporting it, he sent his poor old hapless Small Business Minister Bruce Bilson out into the cross-fire and, you know, pulled the rug out under his feet. Everyone knows this was a messy, untidy, chaotic shambles because the Government can't be trusted on Medicare. They've just pulled back for the moment so they don't try and hurt Campbell Newman's chances in Queensland and as soon as you get the State election out the way they’ll be back at it again.
JOURNALIST: Would you support the $5 co-payment if the savings went back into frontline healthcare rather than the future medical research fund?
SHORTEN: We don't buy the proposition underpinning this extra $5 tax. We don't think that the crisis is the crisis that the Government says it is. We think he should sit down with GPs, clinicians, practitioners and patients. Everyone knows that this Government's not interested in Medicare except what it can do to get cash for its poor Budget position. If we want to have a better health system we're always up for that discussion, but if Tony Abbott and Sussan Ley want to tax the sick and the poor, well they’ll have to come through us to get to them.
JOURNALIST: Sussan Ley suggested having over 70 per cent of patients bulk billed is too high, would you agree with her on that?
SHORTEN: No. People who are against bulk billing are out of touch with the way that real people organise their lives in the real world. If you're a mum with three kids and one of your children’s got a condition and the cold spreads to the others then they have to go to the doctor several times in several weeks. Only out of touch Abbott Liberal Ministers could just say well that's a matter of people paying up front and then waiting for the system to pay back and that they can afford to pay big gaps in the payments.
People, most Australians live from pay cheque to pay cheque, fortnight to fortnight, and I'm not going to start making their life harder by getting rid of bulk billing. The Abbott Government has an ideological bent against bulk billing. I think the one thing which is clear in what Sussan Ley said is they want to kill off bulk billing. So I say to all those Australians who go to the doctor, who go to the GP, I say to all those GPs who rely upon bulk billing, the Abbott Government doesn't agree with you and they will do everything they can to get rid of bulk billing.
JOURNALIST: Well the Health Minister said the Government doesn't have another plan up its sleeve, do you think they should have had a plan B?
SHORTEN: Well this is a Government who hasn't had any plan for Medicare except to damage it since day one. You can't trust this Government when it comes to healthcare. Why do you think you've just seen the chaos and confusion of the Abbott Government at the start of 2015. If they didn't have a Queensland election and the massive backlash from Australians, they'd still be trying to do this. This Government hasn't changed its mind, it's just changed its tactics and we can't change this Government's mind when it comes to protecting Medicare, that's why we need to change the Government.
JOURNALIST: The Government says you have no alternative to deal with the fiscal issues with Medicare, do you?
SHORTEN: Well first of all we don't accept the proposition that Medicare is the great big disaster which the Government keep trying to say it is. This is a Government who threatens and intimidates its enemies. They complain about the Senate, they keep attacking the Opposition. They have no plan for the health system in Australia or Medicare. Now they want to attack all GPs and make out somehow that everything in the world can be solved by giving GPs lower rebates. This is a Government at war with its own GPs and I know which side I'm on. I'm on the side of GPs, the front line, who are seeing thousands of patients every day across Australia and making Australia a better place to live.
JOURNALIST: On another topic, there are reports of a 23 year old Melbourne man in Syria making terror threats against Australia, what do you know about this and what are your thoughts on it?
SHORTEN: We haven't had any briefing from the security agencies but we've seen what you've seen in the media. It's dreadful. We would just say to anyone who is in any fashion attracted, any young people disaffected attracted to these crazy, murderous causes in Iraq, in northern Iraq and Syria, don't go.
I also don't think this young man represents anywhere near the rest of the Muslim Australian community and I know from my own direct conversations with many people that everyone, Muslim and non-Muslim Australia, are appalled by what they've seen. This is a clear attempt at propaganda and I'm not going to let that sway us.
Labor and Liberal on this matter are fighting terror, are in it together and we will keep working with the Government and we've got great confidence in our security agencies to deal with the threats.
JOURNALIST: Leaders in the Muslim community are part-blaming that there hasn't been the promised funding for grass roots deradicalised programs, what do you know about that?
SHORTEN: We certainly believe that we should be providing support not to just our security agencies and police, as important as that is, but working with various communities so that they can make sure their disaffected youth don't spin off into these paths of evil and terror. Any last questions?
JOURNALIST: It’s been reported that two of the Bali Nine members have been put on the list for execution, do you think the Government’s doing enough to help them?
SHORTEN: I’d need to get briefed by the people involved in this matter further. I couldn't tell you exactly if the Government's doing enough. But certainly we don't support the death penalty and we do believe that the Government should do everything it can, but to be fair to the Government, I haven't had the latest briefing on what's happening so I don't want to start muddying the water further.
Thanks, everyone, cheers.
KING: Thank you.
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