SCOTT LEVI (HOST): They had a Senior’s Expo at the Doylo, at Doyalson Club, the big club there and the Member for Shortland, Pat Conroy was there to hear from some of his constituents who fall into that bracket. There’d be a lot that would fall into that bracket I would think, Mr Conroy. Good morning.
PAT CONROY MP: Good morning Scott, how are you?
LEVI: Yeah going well. It’s good to talk to you after this because you get a really good indication of what seniors in your community are talking about. What they’re worried about or concerned about. Take us through some of the stories that you heard.
CONROY: Yeah as you said in your introduction, Shortland has one of the largest population of senior Australians in the country and I had 400 of them attend the Seniors Expo on Friday and we had 21 stallholders with people like Services Australia and Service NSW there to help. The main issues that people raised were how could they get more assistance with cost of living, our election commitments around improving mobile phone coverage, the challenge around finding a general practitioner and wanting more information to our changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. So it was a really good opportunity to outline how we are helping with the cost of living, how we are putting in a lot of resources to get doctors into our area and how we are delivering on our election commitments.
LEVI: How did you help people, I believe there are a lot of people who have difficulties with their telecommunication providers. Were you able to steer people in the right direction because sometimes the devil is in the detail with some of those contracts, isn’t it?
CONROY: Oh absolutely, and so there were two categories of issues. There was general frustration about mobile phone coverage and I was able to let people know that one of my election commitments was to build mobile phone reception towers to support Lake Munmorah and Budgewoi/Halekulani. So I was able to update them that we expect the companies that are bidding for that work to be selected this month and then they can get on with construction. And then there was the individual issues and we had the two biggest telecommunication companies – I won’t name them because we are on ABC – who had stalls there so people were actually able to take up their mobile phones and their bills and see representatives from the two companies and actually talk to a human and actually get there problems sorted out on the day. So that was a really good service that I think people responded really positively to.
LEVI: Did people get satisfaction there because that can be really frustrating can’t it?
CONROY: Absolutely, and it really was. The two categories where people find the hardest to navigate is telecommunication companies and then dealing with Government like Centrelink, Services Australia, Service NSW and we had all those representatives there and people were able to talk to a human straight away and able to get advice and either resolve their problems or understand what they needed to do to get their issue fixed.
LEVI: What about aged care in that part of the world? You mentioned that it is one of the oldest demographics throughout all of the electorates in Australia. Do we have adequate transition to aged care or home care, was that something that people asked about as well?
CONROY: Not directly, we’ve got more manufactured homes in our area than anywhere else in the country so it’s a big population. People typically sell their family home and purchase a manufactured home and live on the difference. People were really interested in what I was talking about in terms of support for pensioners through getting to see a bulk billed doctor and for self-funded retirees, some of them hadn’t heard that we are actually increasing the income threshold that self-funded retirees could earn and still get access to the seniors health care card so one of the big announcements we made to help with cost of living is that self-funded retirees couples can now take $144,000 out of their super or earn that money through their investments and qualify for the seniors health care card which gives them big concessions on things like medicine and access to the $500 electricity rebate that we announced late last year. It was more about how we can help seniors with cost of living rather than access to aged care per se.
LEVI: Dental too I think through the free clinics that are federally funded at Wyong and Gosford and Woy Woy? All of those spots?
CONROY: Oh yeah absolutely and people were also interested in me updating them that the GP After Hours Service at Belmont. The hours have been restored, which is relevant to the northern Central Coast and secondly that the Warnervale Medicare Urgent Care Clinic will be operational by the end of the year. That’s one of the two on the Central Coast that will provide after hours GP access for people completely free of charge. So obviously people were relieved to hear that those commitments were being fulfilled.
LEVI: Do we know where that will be situated yet?
CONROY: Ah, I think negotiations are still ongoing but our commitment is that there will be one in Warnervale by the end of the year operating and that will provide after hour services that’s completely bulk-billed for families and seniors and anyone in the community.
LEVI: Just one you mentioned there so many people, you’ve got the highest number of people living in mobile home parks which are great little villages, great communities, but their under a lot of stress aren’t they? Do you think the state government and local government have got the rules right when it comes to rises in payments for services, and we’ve seen, services that they don’t get in some of the parks? Also the fact that they are on very shaky ground when it comes to ownership and can be kicked out at the blink of an eye. It would be an absolute affordable housing crisis if that land was taken to be developed, wouldn’t it? You know, are they protected properly because we have seen on the southern end of the Central Coast where they’ve been fighting for a long time for better rights?
CONROY: I think more can be done and I think the manufactured home community groups are getting stronger and more vocal. I was proud to be part of a campaign to stop full GST being charged on the sites when I first was elected as an MP. It was sort of a campaign that Jill Hall and I ran as neighbouring MPs to stop the GST which would have had a massive impact on affordability of those sites through the rental fees that the owners of the homes pay to the parks but more needs to be done. The rights, I think, should be better clarified and they should get more rights to be frank. What I’ve seen is some really awful cases of exploitation and some really heartless rulings by some of the owners so I think more can be done and especially in a period where cost of living is going up. So for example, people in these manufactured home communities don’t have the right, generally, to find their own electricity provider, the owner of the park has done a deal with a –
LEVI: Alright, look we will have to leave it their Mr Conroy but we might talk some more about this issue because it is a major issue when it comes to affordable housing here on the Coast. It’s 7:00am.