JENNY MARCHANT, CO-HOST: Let’s take a look at Labor’s first Federal Budget in almost a decade with Pat Conroy, the Federal MP for Shortland. He’s also the Minister for Defence Industry and Minister for International Development and the Pacific. Good morning.
PAT CONROY MP: Good morning Dan and Jenny, how are you?
DAN COX, CO-HOST: Well thank you. So the Budget includes money for some of the election promises made by the Government, like $55 million for the Newcastle Airport International Terminal, money for the Hydrogen Hub, money to restore GP Access which was a big part of your election campaign. When will we see that take effect?
CONROY: Well that money will start flowing very shortly because what was apparent when we came to power was that the last Liberal Government not only had cut funding to the GP After Hours service, they’d actually had no funding left at all to continue the service full stop. So if the last government had continued, the GP After Hours service, which had already lost one of it’s five clinics, would have lost all four remaining and it would have been shut down so that’s why this Budget commits $28.7 million over 6 years to restore and maintain that really important service. I’m yet to meet a Hunter family that hasn’t used that service. It is incredibly important and provides bulk-billing access to GPs out of hours and especially if you have young kids or you’re a senior Australian or you have a chronic health condition, being able to see a GP when you need to is really important.
MARCHANT: Well staying on that health theme, part of the election campaign was a big announcement back in April. You were there in Cessnock announcing a bulk-billed Urgent Care Medicare Clinic (sic) when will we see that happening?
CONROY: Again, what we need to start doing – or actually this is already happening - is public health needs to negotiate with stakeholders on the location of those centres but we are starting that process. They are really important and obviously there is a commitment for one at Cessnock and there’s two on the Central Coast, particularly one on the north of the Central Coast that will support people in Shortland. So the Department of Health is talking to the key stakeholders to establish those and they are really important because it is getting increasingly difficult for people to see doctors, particularly bulk-billing doctors and that’s why these initiatives are so critical.
MARCHANT: So 6 months? 12 months for that bulk-billed clinic? What’s the timeframe?
CONROY: Well I’m not going to put a timeframe on it because ultimately we have to negotiate locations for them and work with the area health services so that they complement each other. So, to give you an example on the Central Coast, there is a debate about whether it should be co-located at Wyong Hospital or is it better at Long Jetty and that’s one where we actually have to talk to the medical community to make sure that it’s in the right location.
COX: Minister, our charities are at capacity, we are hearing of people not eating for days on end, we heard from a woman this morning living in her car and she’s an older woman. What is in this Budget for immediate relief, immediate relief for people who aren’t sure how long they can manage financially.
CONROY: I want to preface it by saying I know people are doing it really tough, particularly with the rising cost of living. People are in need of assistance, but we also have to make sure that the system doesn’t actually add to the problem by increasing inflation and that’s why our initiatives in this budget are really focussed on how can we help with the cost of living without increasing inflation. They go to things like cheaper medicines which will impact on almost every Australian, cheaper child care, expanding paid parental leave, more affordable housing including a very bold goal of a million new homes and getting wages moving. They will all have an impact in improving peoples lives and improving cost of living and the cheaper medicine is one I will point you to straight away -
CONROY: that will have an impact. Cutting the costs of medicine by $12.50 for people who have multiple scripts especially, people I talk to are having to choose between eating dinner or getting their medicine and that is unacceptable in a rich nation like Australia.
MARCHANT: Well, the cheaper medicines, that begins from next year. The childcare subsidies are increasing but, you know, I am hearing questions about whether or not there’s the workforce there to deliver more childcare places. You know how tough it is right now, is there anything in there for our local charities like Survivors R Us? You visited them before the election, is there money for them to help meet demand where they are just feeling overwhelmed right now?
CONROY: Well, I know Survivors R Us very well. They do a great job, Ann-Maria Martin and the crew, and I have provided a number of grants to support their operations and we work very closely together referring people to Centrelink where there are issues and we know they are doing it tough and that is why we work closely with them. When they get people coming to them we do work with them and I would urge anyone who is doing it tough, if you are working with a charity, please contact my office. We have specialist case managers within Centrelink that we can coordinate people with because often people who are the most marginalised cant navigate the system so there is assistance there and it requires people like my electorate office team to cut through the bureaucratic waffle and talk directly to someone at Centrelink so people get the help they need.
COX: Alright, we’ve got more questions, but we are going to run out of time. Minister, thank you for talking us through some of the things there. You know cost of living is on the minds of Hunterites and yeah lets see this Budget means for our hip pockets going forward.
CONROY: Not a problem and importantly we need to grow jobs that drives wages and helps with cost of living as well and that is what this Budget does.
MARCHANT: Thank you very much Pat Conroy, Shortland MP.