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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6238

Senator MOORE (3:24 PM) —I also rise to take note of the answers given by Senator Patterson in question time today and respond to issues she raised, particularly concerning the much discussed figures on bulk-billing. It is no surprise that people are waiting for the figures on bulk-billing. It is no surprise that we are awaiting them quite eagerly, because this was discussed in this place when the last round of figures were due and because the media report on what is happening to bulk-billing across our country on quite a regular basis now. I note with interest that Senator Patterson actually said that she expected the figures sometime this week and that, when she got them, which usually happens on the evening before their release, she would note them—but not for action; she would just note them.

We are now aware—having been told about 10 minutes ago—that the figures will be released this Friday, 15 November. We await these figures with great expectation, because we know that there is interest in them. We know that people are waiting to have a look at them to find out what is happening with bulk-billing across the country, not just in particular areas. It was proven by the last figures, whenever we got them, that bulk-billing is falling. In fact, in my state of Queensland it is clear that there has been quite a serious decline in bulk-billing and that, in some of the poorest parts of the country, people no longer have access to their doctor in that way. In some areas of Central Queensland and western Queensland the figures on this have dropped to lower than 50 per cent.

The only reason we know this is happening is that people are telling us it is happening. They are concerned, they are hurt and they are making quite serious decisions about whether or not they can afford to go to the doctor. The much awaited figures that we are going to see, hopefully—definitely—on 15 November, will indicate exactly where bulk-billing is available and how it is being accessed. The figures that we got last quarter, after waiting to see whether or not they would be noted, indicated that people no longer had access to that service. Anecdotally, the people talking to us say that the choices they have to make indicate whether or not they can go to their doctor. The doctors—who, as we heard recently, have been posturing—have in fact gone public with their own concerns about this service. They have gone to the media and they have lobbied their politicians. They are talking to the AMA about the fact that, in Queensland, 30 per cent of members have already stopped offering bulk-billing and that those members still using the service or providing the service to their clients are now forced to restrict it. It is a really serious issue: no longer can people expect a service that they used to have.

In some areas of Queensland, doctors are saying that they are being forced to restrict the service to particular types of patients. Also—and this is something that I have great difficulty with—they are only able to provide bulk-billing during particular hours. So you can go to the doctor during particular hours and maybe you can have bulk-billing but, if you go during other hours, you cannot. That is not the access to medical services that we need to have.

However, if we are going to look realistically at what is happening to the health system, there should be an open expectation that we will have the figures. There should be an open expectation that everybody who has an interest in this quite critical issue—our health—will be able to have a look at agreed data, that they will be able to study it and ask specific questions. Rather than posture, people will be able to ask particular questions about what is important to them. Then and only then will we be able to work out some realistic way to address the problem. Instead of quarrelling over whether or not we have the accurate figures, we will be able to look at the real issue, which is whether there is a crisis in the medical situation in our country and how many people have access to a fair health system.

It is interesting that it is very easy for people to quote the private health care figures and that they are able to be released automatically every month. So this afternoon we were able to hear how effective private health care allegedly is and to have accurate figures that could be related to and used to promote the system in this place. It would be novel—in fact, it would be refreshing—if the same degree of pride could be had about what is happening with bulk-billing in the country. We will wait and see, with interest, whether we get the figures on Friday—then maybe we will see whether they are accurate.

Question agreed to.