September 01, 2020

Mr CONROY (Shortland) (16:06): Today I'm updating the House on the Morrison government's continued attacks on Medicare and bulk-billing for the people of Shortland, who I'm proud to represent. Since January, Shortland and the entire Hunter region has been designated as metropolitan for the purpose of determining the bulk-billing rebate GPs receive.

Ms Claydon: Outrageous!

Mr CONROY: It is outrageous, Member for Newcastle. Before this, Shortland was rightly classified as being regional. Shortland is a regional electorate; it is not metropolitan in any way. There are two local government areas in Shortland—Lake Macquarie and the Central Coast Council. I would ask the Minister for Regional Health—who confirmed to me in writing that the government would not be changing this classification—to visit Shortland. I'd gladly show him around. I'd show him the small lakeside community of Chain Valley Bay and dare him to tell the residents they live in a metropolitan area, and I'd show him the beautiful coastal jewel of Catherine Hill Bay and dare him to tell the residents they live in a metropolitan area. Finally, he might visit the suburb of Mount Hutton, five minutes from my electorate, where many residents have no mobile phone reception in their houses, and tell them they live in a metropolitan area.

A government member interjecting—

Mr CONROY: I'll take the member opposite's interjection. There aren't many coalmines in a big city. That is why this is a regional electorate.

Bulk-billing is important to the people I represent. Shortland is the sixth-oldest electorate in Australia. Over 20 per cent are over the age of 65, and there are 22,500 age pensioners. This group relies on Medicare and bulk-billing. However, many practices have told these pensioners that they are no longer able to bulk-bill them. I've met with the Hunter General Practice Association and they've made it abundantly clear to me that GPs do not want to charge their patients they previously bulk-billed; however, the reality is that, because of this reduction in the rebate they now receive, many practices would not be commercially viable and would close if they continued at the previous bulk-billing rate.

Let me spell it out. If the government cuts the amount they pay GPs, which is what this is—those GPs will suffer a Medicare cut—those GPs have two choices: they either charge their patients or they go out of business. That is what this horrible, hopeless government is forcing upon doctors in the Shortland area. Then, in turn, when facing these increased costs, my constituents will be faced with the situation of having to decide whether to do the weekly shopping or see their GP. They are telling GPs that they won't be able to continue with regular appointments because they can't afford it. These are some of the most disadvantaged people in the country, with chronic health conditions. Because of this heartless decision, their conditions will just become more and more chronic. One alternative to consulting a GP is for them to attend an emergency department—something that will add more and more cost for the taxpayers of this country. This cut to Medicare is a disgrace, and I will continue to fight it on behalf of all the residents of Shortland.