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Thursday, 17 February 2000
Page: 13852

Mr WILKIE (11:51 AM) —In August last year I received a delegation of senior constituents from my electorate. The purpose of the meeting was to highlight to me the plight that many in the community face in terms of access to the health services in their local area. At the top of the list was the need for the establishment of a Medicare office in the suburb of Belmont. My principal concern is to represent the constituents of Swan in obtaining better and more appropriate services in their local area. I, along with the residents of Belmont and surrounding suburbs, think that this matter is extremely important. Therefore today I have tabled a petition with 1,300 signatures calling for a Medicare office in Belmont.

Belmont is a rapidly growing inner metropolitan local government area that has recently undergone what many would consider a metamorphosis. Over $300 million has been spent on redeveloping the Belmont shopping centre and surrounding precincts. It now has an extra 55 shops and, for the first time, a cinema. The surrounding arterial roads have been extensively modified to cater for the growth in demand. In fact, $1.2 billion over eight years is to be spent within the city of Belmont.

The perplexing thing about all this development is that for the 19,000 people living in the immediate area there is no Medicare office. The reality is that community members living in the central geographic region of Belmont who need to lodge a claim form will, at the very least, have to travel to East Victoria Park. When they arrive they will find an agency, not a Medicare office, and their forms will be sent to Perth for processing. If they really want a discussion to sort out problems, they must be prepared for a journey—in fact, they should pack their bags. They will have to venture into the city centre or to Cannington just to speak to a Medicare officer.

After meeting with the delegation led by Mr Cameron Hogg, a notable community leader in the Belmont area, I sought to highlight to the appropriate minister the problem of a bustling region with declining services. I should have known better. In November, in reply to my letter of concern, Senator Tambling declined to consider the establishment of an office. As Mr Hogg indicated:

I now have to travel miles to the nearest branch of the bank; I now have to go to East Victoria Park to lodge my Medicare claim. I am 75 years of age. It takes me two hours to catch two buses, wait for them, walk to the shopping centre, and then I have got to do it all again to return home.

What of the disabled in the area? If they live in the Belmont region they would also have to struggle across town on public transport facing worse inconvenience than Mr Hogg. Let us for a moment consider that they make this trip. For a concession fare it will still cost the senior, a single parent, a student or the unemployed person $1.20 per trip. Do that regularly and it takes a fair bit of your disposable income when you are doing it tough.

As many of us are aware, due to this government's callous attitude, many in my electorate are doing it this way. There are almost 7,000 of these people—students, the unemployed, the disabled, the elderly and others on low incomes—in the immediate area. I must say, the Medicare officers in my electorate used to provide a superb service to my constituents. The decision to close the Medicare office in Victoria Park, for example, as so many of us know, had nothing whatsoever to do with the commercial results of Medicare. It had to do with dismantling Medicare.

When the closure was first mooted, when the first leak came, we said at that time that this was the first step by this government towards dismantling Medicare. The actions of this government in relation to the public health system mirror that taken by the Fraser government. During the seven-year life of that administration, there were nine different health schemes all aimed at destroying what was then known as Medibank. Today's Medicare is a later version of what was then Medibank and, bit by bit, the Fraser government dismantled it. This government also does not seem to understand that the people who use the cash claims offices of Medicare do so because they have to.

In many parts of my electorate, people go to the doctor, pay their bill and go straight to the Medicare office to get their cash. They get that refund so that they can then go to the pharmacy to buy whatever prescription they have been given. It is a critical and necessary part of life for many who are sick, disabled or temporarily incapacitated and who have a dramatic shortage of funds. I call on the government to reconsider the matter. A Medicare office must be established in the population centres of the electorate of Swan. This includes reinstating the office at Victoria Park and establishing a new Medicare office in the growing area of Belmont.

Main Committee adjourned at 11.56 a.m.