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10 June 2021


SUBJECT: Morrison Government’s cuts to Medicare.

TOM CONNELL, HOST: The 2016 federal election saw Labor nearly topple the then Turnbull Government. It was on the back of a campaign warning against cuts or even the total subjugation of Medicare. Turnbull labelled it Mediscare. Is this campaign going to be run again by federal Labor, after recent changes to procedures and how much people get in terms of benefits? It seems so. Let's find out from our next guest. Bill Shorten was the Labor leader back then. He remains, of course, on the frontbench. Thank you very much for your time. The Medicare benefits schedule is what has changed. You've tweeted saying you will stop the government destroying Medicare as a response. How will these changes destroy Medicare?

BILL SHORTEN, MEMBER FOR MARIBYRNONG: Well, we warned people in 2016 and we thought the Government had got the message from that election result. But there's a shocking lack of detail. The Government's proposing to change 900 of the MBS Medicare Benefits Schedule items. That's one in six. That goes to general surgery, orthopaedic surgery, cardiac services. And what we need is more information. We need more clarification. Patients need more time.

CONNELL: Is that the main thing time? Because when you look at the changes you mentioned, the nine hundred changes, there are one hundred and sixty eight new items. There are two hundred and eighty amended items. So, services requiring a change, they improve clarity or sometimes they're outdated services and one hundred thirty seven superseded items. So, nine hundred sounds bad. A lot of these changes can be good, can't they? If you – we just have to pause, they will come back to you in a moment. We're just going to go to emergency services talking there in Victoria. We will come back to you in a moment, Mr Shorten. 


CONNELL: We've got an audio issue. We'll see if we can come back to it. Picking up on my last question, Bill Shorten, there are improvements in these changes as well. That's the whole point of this task force, isn't it? 

SHORTEN: Well, let's be straight here. If the Government wants cooperation, they're going to need to, I think, not rush these reforms. I mean, Tom, this is a Government who's not notorious for their work ethic or their reform excitement. But now all of a sudden, they've got to get all these changes through by the first of July. Spare me. I think the AMA is proposed in part a sensible approach. They said that people need more time. Both they and the Grattan Institute have said that it's likely the costs are going to rise for patients and that in some cases patients could be out of pocket thousands of dollars. I think if there is anything good in what the Government's proposing - and that's an if - I think the government needs to come with clean hands and lay all its cards down on the table, face up. I mean, Tom, can you think of any item other than perhaps cutting the NDIS where this government shown any excitement for reform whatsoever? 

CONNELL: I'll have to mull over that, we've got our audio back, please stick with us there Mr Shorten.

SHORTEN: All right, we’ll take that on notice during the intermission. 

CONNELL: Yeah, I've got plenty of time for it. Let's just return to emergency services there.


CONNELL: Standing by patiently, though, through all this, Bill Shorten, I'm glad you're in your office today, not in our studio, at least we didn't make you trek out. Look, a final one on what's happening with these Medicare changes. The AMA is actually responded to this by saying it agrees with modernising the schedule. It has taken five years to do it, they have a few quibbles and issues with how it was done, but they support the process. That's a thumbs up overall to this, isn't it? 

SHORTEN: Oh no, I think when someone says you'd like to see things modernised, well, that's one of those sorts of unarguable truisms. But the AMA has also said very clearly, Tom, that July 1 is not an appropriate start date, the patients aren't aware, the private health care system isn't ready, costs will go up. I mean, whatever happened Tom, to an approach of a government whose fair dinkum about reform as opposed to cost cutting and unfortunately, it's in the Liberal DNA to savage Medicare, not to save it, but if they really want to have reform, Tom, and it's not just about Medicare, although there's no issue any more important than Medicare. The same goes for National Disability Insurance Scheme. The same goes for a whole lot of things, workplace relations. Why don't they sit down with the Opposition? Why don't they just bring people together? But that's not the way this government does it. You and I both know that this is a hammock swinging, work-shy, reformless Federal Coalition Government. So, unfortunately, I don't trust Scott Morrison and the Liberal Party and National Party when it comes to improving Medicare. It's not in their DNA. 

CONNELL: You mentioned it's a cut. Is this a cut? Because Mediscare funding continues to go up. 

SHORTEN: Sure. Listen, you know, this is a Government who expect a bunch of flowers for getting up every morning and making themselves a cup of tea. The reality is that the population is increasing in Australia. So inevitably we're going to spend money on the health care system. But it's all a matter of priorities, isn’t it? 

CONNELL: It hasn’t increased in the past year.

SHORTEN: But, Tom, in the middle of a pandemic, why is it the Morrison Government's only interested in changing the costs and in some cases increasing the costs of out-of-pocket expenses of patients? I mean, this is a Government who does nothing on multinational tax reform, for example. But yet, they've got a view about - you know, they'll hand out JobKeeper to billionaire walking by in the street. But when it comes to Medicare, the NDIS or Robodebt, you know, these guys are tough on the weak and weak on the strong. 

CONNELL: We'll have to leave it there a bit cut short. Bill Shorten, we'll talk again soon. Thank you for standing by.

SHORTEN: Look forward to it. Cheers mate.