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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31763

Mr BYRNE (11:09 AM) —I rise today to very briefly discuss a few issues of relevance to my electorate. I want to paint a picture of the region where my electorate lies. It is an incredible growth corridor. It is within the borders of the City of Casey. It has a population of 210,000, and that population is growing by between 60 and 80 families per week. There are 40,000 children in this area between the ages of zero and 12, which is the highest rate of young people in the state of Victoria. This is an area that has a huge number of young families, and a huge number of young families need the sort of social infrastructure that they deserve to keep their communities going. One would expect, given the huge amounts of money that the federal government has put in through this budget—$52 billion over four years—that the social infrastructure that these families require—bulk-billing, access to doctors, access to Medicare offices—would be readily available. But I regret to inform this place that that is not the case.

Over the past three years, from the year 2000 to the end of 2003, the bulk-billing rate in my electorate dropped from approximately 92 per cent to 76 per cent—a drop of roughly 15 per cent. I would like to say that we know that the bulk-billing rate has risen. However, because we cannot get the statistics from the Minister for Health and Ageing, because he is suppressing them—democracy in action, coalition style—I cannot actually tell you that. But I can tell you that I have rung the Dandenong District Division of General Practice, given that these statistics are suppressed, to try and ascertain the effects of the government's measures. At this point in time, what I am being told is that there is no discernible difference. So a huge sum of money has been put into the health budget to allegedly prop up bulk-billing, but in this area where bulk-billing doctors are needed most there has been no discernible increase. If the health minister released the statistics on this perhaps we would have a better idea. However, anecdotally, at this point in time, without the benefit of statistics, I am being told that bulk-billing has not increased—that is, that the rate has not increased from its depth of 76 per cent.

In this area, with this population of 210,000 people, you would expect that there would be an abundance of Medicare offices. For example, the City of Monash has three Medicare offices, with a population of 165,000. So one would expect, given that ratio, that there should be four or five Medicare offices in the City of Casey. They have none at this point in time. They are about to have one open next week, but they have had no Medicare offices. The Medicare office which has just been funded and will open next week will be based in the Fountain Gate shopping centre. For many years, this shopping centre was the largest shopping centre in Australia that did not have a Medicare office. We had been lobbying for five years to actually get a Medicare office and had been told by the Health Insurance Commission that it was not justified, as the population growth was not sufficient to enable a Medicare office to be placed in the Fountain Gate shopping centre.

Curiously, in a running visit in the suburb of Narre Warren North, the Prime Minister announced funding for the Medicare office—and I am very grateful to the Prime Minister and to the Health Insurance Commission for that. It would have been better if it had been delivered five years ago. However, it may have something to do with the Fountain Gate shopping centre being right on the border of La Trobe, which is a marginal seat that the government needs to hold to maintain government.

So the people of the City of Casey know this: they know that they struggled for five years to get a Medicare office and they have just got one; and they know they deserve more than one Medicare office. For example, in the suburb of Cranbourne, that has 30,000 people, roughly 60 families per week are shifting into that particular area and yet they still cannot get a Medicare office. So the City of Casey, population 210,000, just got funding; it just got one Medicare office. The City of Monash has three offices with a population of 165,000.

I will touch very briefly on doctor shortages. In the City of Casey, the ratio of patients to doctors is one to 2,000—one doctor to 2,000. The recommended ratio is one to 1,400. We have a severe doctor shortage, yet none of these measures that have been proposed by the government even addresses this particular issue. A lady that has a bulk-billing clinic in Hallam, Dr D'Argent, is urgently seeking doctors and still cannot get a doctor out there. So these budget measures that are supposedly propping up bulk-billing and resolving the doctor shortage issue are doing no such thing. In my time remaining I would also point out that 94 per cent of people in my electorate did not get a tax cut—94 per cent. I think those statistics and my discussion about health show that the people of Holt have been dudded by this budget.