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Thursday, 15 May 2003
Page: 14715

Ms CORCORAN (2:43 PM) —My question is to the Deputy Prime Minister. Is the Deputy Prime Minister aware that in my outer metropolitan electorate of Isaacs bulk-billing rates have declined by over 16 per cent since December 2002 with the average patient contribution for a non bulk-billing GP now nearly $12? Does the Acting Prime Minister regard a milkshake and a sandwich as adequate compensation for those families in my electorate forced to pay more and more for the cost of visiting a doctor?

Mr ANDREWS (Minister for Ageing) —I thank the honourable member for Isaacs for her question. I indicate to her and assure her constituents that what this government is doing is about strengthening the Medicare system and strengthening the health system in Australia. The announcement made by the Prime Minister and the health minister recently that we were putting an extra $917 million into Medicare and the health system in Australia shows that we are, in fact, strengthening the system for all constituents of all electorates right throughout this country.

We have increased expenditure on Medicare by $2 billion—from $6 billion to $8 billion—we have put $560 million into providing more doctors in rural areas of Australia and, in areas like hers and beyond in the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne, we have put in an extra $80 million to encourage more GPs into those areas. There are measures in which there are incentive payments of up to $22,000 for doctors to provide bulk-billing for the seven million Australians who have concession cards. That is an absolute strengthening of the Medicare system in Australia. For those who live in her electorate, under these measures—if the Labor Party will get behind and pass them—it will mean that, when they go to a doctor, they will have their rebate refunded to the doctor at that stage. That will be the last time they will need to worry about that—

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition is a persistent interjector! The minister has the call.

Mr ANDREWS —rather than having to fund the rebate and queue up at a Medicare office—in the future. I would say that the electors of Isaacs and those right around Australia will certainly welcome this measure to ensure that, when they go to the doctor, their rebate is paid to the doctor there and then. They will not have to waste their lunchtime or the time in which they would otherwise be picking up their kids. In that way, they will get that repayment made at that time. In addition to that, we are making more doctors available through the measures that were announced and repeated today by the minister for education, and also by the additional places in terms of training for GPs.

Overall, this is a AAA approach to Medicare and the health system in Australia. It is about making Medicare more affordable for those seven million concession card holders. It is about making Medicare more accessible for those people who will only have to go to the doctor and not then queue up at the Medicare office. It will be more available for people because there will be more doctors and more nurses in Australia.