March 02, 2020

It is utter hypocrisy from the Liberals to move this motion, and the last contribution from the member for Chisholm was mendacity incarnate. It was a mendacious contribution that bore little resemblance to reality. The truth is that the health of Australians is the No. 1 priority for Labor members of parliament, and the health of my community in Shortland is at risk due to the changes to Medicare that came into effect earlier this year. The Liberal Party abolished Medicare when it came to power in 1975 and took, to three separate collections in the 80s and 90s, a policy to abolish Medicare. The only change now is that they do it by slices rather than outright abolition. The GP tax was one example of their attempts to kill Medicare. We saw it only this year. On 1 January, the Morrison government cut bulk-billing incentives to doctors in the Hunter region and 13 other regions throughout Australia, making it harder for doctors to bulk-bill even those who need it most.

Notices have gone up in doctors' surgeries saying they'll no longer be able to bulk-bill, and others have put up their fees. This isn't the fault of doctors or medical centres; this cut is simply one of many to Medicare by Liberal governments over the years.

The electorate of Shortland already has low bulk-billing rates. Less than 60 percent of people are routinely bulk-billed, meaning two in five people in Shortland must pay every time they see a doctor. When they do pay, they are $37, on average, out of pocket for every visit, an increase of 38 percent since 2013. If you have the misfortune of having to visit a specialist, it's even worse. Four out of five people aren't bulk-billed when they see a specialist, and the average out-of-pocket expense is $80. The cuts to Medicare bulk-billing centres will only make matters worse for my region. Unfortunately, the Lower Hunter combines some of the lowest bulk-billing rates with some of the highest rates of disadvantage. Windale and Mount Hutton are amongst the most disadvantaged communities in Australia, with particularly high levels of children living in poverty.

People living in these communities cannot afford to pay to see a doctor. Those who are already paying to see a doctor cannot afford to pay more. When people can't afford to go to the doctor, they do one of two things: they go home and suffer in silence, or they go to the hospital room and clog up our emergency departments, which is a much more expensive form of treatment. For those who go home, if their illness gets worse and they then present to hospital, that is much more expensive than seeing a primary healthcare provider, a GP.

I've been inundated with calls on this issue from people in my electorate—constituents such as an age pensioner who is a retired registered nurse. He was forced into retirement due to a chronic back injury. He needs to see his GP every month and says that, if his doctor did not bulk-bill him, he would no longer be able to afford to visit him. These appointments are crucial, as this is when this pensioner is provided with the prescriptions for his medication to help with his pain. Another pensioner, Cal, has rheumatoid arthritis and diabetes, and she's told me that her GP no longer bulk-bills. She can no longer afford to see her GP, so she will now have to find another doctor or medical centre who bulk-bills, which will be a challenge in my electorate, where 40 per cent of people do not have bulk-billing. This pensioner is extremely stressed about her situation, particularly if it means she must see different doctors at a medical centre and constantly explain her condition to someone new. It's not just pensioners who are worried. Families are struggling too. I heard from Karen, who says her family of five rarely visits a doctor due to the high cost and difficulties in finding a doctor that will bulk-bill. Even then, the out-of-pocket costs are too high for them. I also heard from a mother of two young children who lives off a single income. She said that, while seeing a GP is a must, it is currently a luxury due to the high cost.

These cuts to bulk-billing centres are unconscionable and are hurting the most vulnerable in our community. I have written three times to the Health Minister and am again asking him today: please restore the bulk-billing incentives to doctors in the Hunter. For the Coalition to move a resolution bragging about their support for Medicare is hypocrisy. This party abolished Medicare when they came into power in 1975, they took policies to abolish it to three separate elections in the 80s and 90s, and we've seen attack after attack while they've been in power, whether it's the GP tax or the cuts to bulk-billing incentives that are going on right now in my region.

Medicare is the most popular institution in this country. It's the bedrock of public health in this country. It is essential to communities like mine that rely on Medicare access to get good health care. They rely on bulk-billing to see a doctor when they need it most. This is a vile attack on my community, and I will stand up to defend my community against these attacks.

View my full speech here.