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Tuesday, 18 June 2013
Page: 6176

Ms OWENS (Parramatta) (22:15): I rise to congratulate my Medicare Local for its great work in improving access to good-quality primary health care in my community. Medicare Locals are new. They were established by the Gillard government in 2011. There are 61 of them around Australia, each working to improve the health of the community by improving access to primary health care. The term 'primary care' is one that is used in the medical profession but is still largely unknown in the broader community. It essentially means the first access to medical care—usually a GP, but it includes health promotion, illness prevention, treatment and care of the sick, community development and advocacy, and rehabilitation. Medicare Locals, at the local level, focus on things like immunisation, access to bulk-bill GPs, 24-hour access to medical help, early intervention, e-health records and the kind of personal health management that one gets with a good relationship with a GP: having regular check-ups; monitoring weight, blood pressure and cholesterol levels; getting advice; changing habits early; keeping health records; doing the regular screens for types of cancer; keeping an eye on things that run in the family; identifying things that might need attention; and referring a patient when necessary. It is all part of the process of a person's self-management of their health.

Medicare Locals are locally based for very good reasons, because when it comes to primary care the needs of communities differ. Some communities have more young children; others have older people; others have high incidences of skin cancer, obesity or cardiovascular disease. Each area is different. In mine we have heart attacks some 10 years earlier than the rest of Sydney, and we have higher than average obesity rates in four out of the five local council areas and high incidences of diabetes. Medicare Locals employ more than 3,000 front-line health workers to deliver services in communities across the nation, and from 1 July 2013 the Australian government will be providing an average of 60 per cent more funding to Medicare Locals for expanded GP after-hours services. My Medicare Local, because of the high obesity levels in the area, is helping people in the area to reduce their waistlines and improve their diet through a program called SHAPE. It is already making e-health records a reality for my community.

Another great example in my electorate is the funding of the Priority Medical Centre in Harris Park. It is a large bulk-billing practice offering many services, including a range of male and female GPs that speak a range of languages; a practice nurse; and allied health services including physiotherapy, a chiropractor, a psychologist, a dietician, a podiatrist, an exercise physiologist, a diabetes educator, a psychiatrist, a gynaecologist, cosmetic surgery and a general surgeon. The Priority Medical Centre is a training practice and has between three and five registrars at any one time. It is open for long hours and has a broad range of skills. It is already a great practice, well due for expansion under the primary care infrastructure grant of $500,000 which has allowed it to renovate the house next door and attach it to the practice. It will be a great addition to Harris Park.

More than anything, Medicare Locals are about a fundamental change in the dialogue about health. For a long time under the previous Howard government, we had a government that did not support primary care in any real way, and the proof of that was the decline in bulk-billing rates. The Howard government, with Tony Abbott as health minister, did not believe that a federal government had a role in preventative health, and we can see that attitude continue with the current coalition under the leadership of Tony Abbott, with their complete lack of support for the Preventive Health Agency. Now, of course, we see their lack of support for Medicare Locals.

Parramatta is benefiting from the front-line health services that the Medicare Local is delivering, but its future is far from certain should the coalition come to power. The coalition have said that they would cut Medicare Locals, ripping $1.2 billion from primary care in Australia and sacking some 3,000 people. The fact is that seven out of 10 of the 3,000 local employees of Medicare Locals provide front-line health services. They are doctors, nurses, psychologists, social workers, outreach workers, Aboriginal health workers and care coordinators, and they form an important part of keeping communities focused on their health and ensuring good access to all-important primary care. The difference here is quite clear. On this side of the House we built Medicare; the other side tore it down. We put it back again. The other side saw a dramatic decline in primary care during their term in the Howard years, and we have been building it back again. This is the only side in this House that cares about primary— (Time expired)