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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18702


Mr GIBBONS (2:42 PM) —My question is to the Acting Prime Minister. Is the Acting Prime Minister aware that, at Victorian public hospital emergency departments, GP patients have grown by an average of 25,000 patients per year? Is the Acting Prime Minister also aware that, at New South Wales public hospital emergency departments, in the last financial year at least 9,000 people presented themselves suffering from coughs, colds and sore throats? Acting Prime Minister, isn't it the case that all of these patients could have been seen by a GP? There was simply no need for them to be in a hospital: most could simply not find a bulk-billing GP as a result of the Howard government's destruction of Medicare.


Mr ANDERSON (Acting Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for his question. No, I do not accept that that is the case at all. Seven out of 10 services provided to Australians are provided on the basis of no cost to the patient. So the very large bulk of Australians are indeed able to access a doctor at no cost to themselves for the services that they require.

But, recognising the difficulties faced here, we have moved to improve the access and affordability of these services with the A Fairer Medicare package. That is what we have been done at very considerable expense. We will through the General Practice Access Scheme be paying financial incentives to GPs in return for their guarantee to bulk-bill patients covered by Commonwealth concession cards. That is well known, but I repeat it here because it bears repeating.

Those payments, at their various rates, have been calculated at a level to ensure that they are financially beneficial to the vast majority of GPs across Australia, that they provide them with a rationale, a reason, for providing better services. We are improving, too, the affordability of GP services for those patients not covered by a concession card by reducing their up-front and out-of-pocket costs. Doctors can still bulk-bill anyone they choose. That will not change. But we are ensuring, too, that patients with chronic health needs or families with large medical expenses are given greater protection through the introduction of two comprehensive safety nets.



The SPEAKER —Member for Lalor, standing order 55 applies to you, as it does to all others.


Mr ANDERSON —Our approach to the needs of people looking for health care in this country has been very reasonable. I would add to that some raw figures. We have increased spending on Medicare by $2 billion—it is up from $6 billion to $8 billion. We are investing $560 million in the Rural Health Strategy. There is more than $80 million going to an outer metropolitan program to encourage more GPs into those areas. Indeed, total Commonwealth expenditure on general practice has increased by more than 27 per cent since we came to office. That is a pretty good record.