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Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20711

Ms HALL (9:00 PM) —I have raised the issue of health on many occasions in this House and I have always been disappointed with the response from the government. On many occasions I have brought to the House my concern about the doctor shortage on the Central Coast. On many occasions I have begged ministers to act to assist the people on the Central Coast to get more doctors in their area and to increase their access to health services. I have also raised the issue relating to the people of Lake Macquarie.

It is very interesting to look at the demographics of the electorate I represent in this parliament. It is the 10th oldest in Australia. In addition to that, the Central Coast, as well as being an older area, has a very young population. It is a very transient population, with a big turnover. People move to the area from Sydney, find that they do not have the resources and do not have the access to health care that they need and then move back to Sydney.

The recently released bulk-billing figures have shown that the bulk-billing rate in Shortland is now down to 46.7 per cent. I find this absolutely appalling. It was well over 70 per cent back in 2000. When I started raising this issue, in September 2000, the government ignored what I had to say—they ignored the people of Shortland—and they have just refused to act. And what has happened? We have had this constant decline—fewer and fewer doctors; bulk-billing for fewer and fewer services—in an area where the majority of people are on some sort of Centrelink payment. The most disadvantaged area in my electorate, an area that is possibly the most disadvantaged in the whole of Australia, does not have a doctor who bulk-bills. One of the first acts of this government was to close the Medicare office at Belmont, which necessitates people travelling a long distance to be able to access a Medicare office. Many of those older people are unable even to drive. Therefore it is something like an hour's trip on a bus to get to their nearest Medicare office.

This heartless, cruel, mean-spirited government has failed to act to address the health needs and the health issues within the Shortland electorate. I really believe that this does not end with the Shortland electorate; it is the same throughout the whole of Australia. Instead of delivering services and access to doctors, this government has let its philosophical opposition to Medicare flavour its response to these health care needs.

I have a few surveys here that I have received from people in my electorate. One lady even indicated on the survey that she returned to my office that she has recently moved to the area from the eastern suburbs of Sydney—Rose Bay, to be exact—in the electorate of Wentworth, which is one of the wealthier electorates in Australia, and she travels from Shortland electorate to Rose Bay to see a doctor so that she can have a doctor that bulk-bills. It is cheaper for her to travel by train—I think it is $2.50 return—to Sydney so she can see a doctor that bulk-bills than to go to a doctor who charges $46. According to the surveys, doctors are charging a range of fees: $40; $46; $49; according to this response, for a pensioner it is an extra $12; for this person, $12.50; for another person, $12.50; $38; $37.50. These are the fees that doctors are charging pensioners within my electorate.

I think I would be very remiss if I did not just quickly link into the medical indemnity crisis. Eleven doctors have withdrawn their services from the Central Coast area health services. Local GPs have visited my office and told me what a crisis there is: the doctor shortage in those communities, communities without doctors, surgeries closing and an elderly population. What disturbs me more than anything is that there are Liberal members of this parliament who have done nothing. They have not joined with me in demanding that the government act to resolve these problems. I saw the member for Dobell sitting behind the minister today when he was speaking. It makes me so angry that his only contribution to trying to get more doctors to our area and to get more doctors to bulk-bill is to sit behind the minister when he makes a speech. It is not good enough. The people of the Central Coast expect better from their members, and I call on him to join with me in fighting for better resources for our area. (Time expired)