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Transcript of joint doorstop: Sandors on the Park Hotel, Launceston: Tuesday 22 July 2003: Medicare, Peter Costello, Kerry O'Brien pre-selection.

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Shadow Minister for Health



Subject: Medicare, Peter Costello, Kerry O’Brien pre-selection

GILLARD: I’m here today with Labor’s Save Medicare Committee for one simple reason: every Australian knows that Medicare is dying under the Howard Government. The backbone of Medicare is bulk billing: the ability to go and see a doctor for free. In this area, Launceston, Michelle O’Byrne has advised me that bulk billing rates are now at 46% - the lowest in Tasmania and they have slipped by 6% in the last two years.

Where does all this lead to? Well, we know from the Victorian and NSW newspapers yesterday and today, where it leads to is a two-tiered health system where if you pay, you get to the front of the queue. The newspapers in Victoria and NSW have revealed that various medical clinics are allowing you to have the next appointment if you pay the highest fee; are ensuring that you get seen that day if you pay the middle fee and if you are to be bulk-billed, you just sit and wait. So two people with exactly the same medical needs - the one with money will get seen first, the one without money will just sit and wait. Now, I view that to be an un-Australian system, it’s the system that John Howard wants, where a doctor is forced to check your wallet before they check your heartbeat, where a doctor is forced to grab your credit card before they grab your Medicare Card. And you know that Medicare’s already sick and part of the reason I’m here today is to hear the community’s stories about what’s wrong with Medicare. But the other thing we know is that the Howard Government has a plan in its last Budget to kill Medicare off entirely. To make sure that average Australians no longer are able to go to the doctor for free, are no longer able to be bulk-billed. And I note in today’s newspapers that Treasurer Costello was tut-tutting and clucking sympathetically about the news from Victoria and NSW that medical queues are now determined by the size of your wallet. My message today is that instead of cluck-clucking sympathetically, what Treasurer Costello should be doing is acting to save Medicare. And he can do that very simply by adopting Labor’s plan, a $1.9 billion plan to save Medicare and strengthen bulk billing which, in an area like this, would not only see the Medicare rebate rise and make bulk billing more attractive for doctors, it would give doctors a $22,500 incentive if they bulk-billed more than 70% of their patients.

Today, with Michelle O’Byrne, I will be conducting a health forum with community members, I will be meeting with local general practitioners, I will be speaking to the Pharmacy Guild who are obviously desperately concerned about the future of the


Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and I will be meeting as many members of the community as I can, to find out what they think is wrong with Medicare.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

GILLARD: Well, for the average Australian family, we’ve always proceeded on the assumption that if you get sick and your kids get sick - and that’s the way that it goes in families - one family member tends to get an illness, everybody gets it - that you can within a reasonable proximity to your home, access a doctor who bulk bills. You can take everybody to the doctor for free and get your medical needs attended to. What we’re moving to is a system where, if you can’t pay, you can’t get seen by the doctor. That’s not only an amazing stress for the families involved, if you’re sick or the kids are sick you’ve got to be able to go and see a doctor, but it’s also a major stress for our public hospitals who end up dealing in the

emergency department with people who really could have seen a GP. And that prevents them getting on with the job that they’re best at, which is dealing with people who are acutely ill.

JOURNALIST: The Health portfolio seems to be a poisoned chalice (inaudible). Can a $1.9 billion injection just be a cure-all, a magic wand so easily?

GILLARD: What the $1.9 billion plan to save Medicare is, is a down payment. It’s not the complete solution. When Simon Crean announced it on the day that he replied to the Howard Government Budget, he said that he was committed to saving Medicare and that this was a down payment to save Medicare. More needs to be done and one of the reasons that we have forums like today, that we meet with general practitioners, that we make sure that we’re in contact with Michelle O’Byrne, people who are very close to their local communities, is to work out what else needs to be done to make sure we save Medicare and save what is universally acknowledged as the world’s best health system.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

GILLARD: Look I think when we look at political contests, they’re not beauty contests. If we look around Australia, if you said to have a low popularity rating as Opposition Leader meant you couldn’t ever be elected, then it would be impossible to explain how Bob Carr got there, how Mike Rann got there and how a series of others were elected into office. The main

thing that people vote on on the voting day is the issues on what affects their families and I believe what affects Australian families is particularly Medicare and its future but also a series of issues about education, about jobs, about support for regional communities and I expect on election day in Launceston, that’s how people will be thinking when they vote.

O’BYRNE: The bulk billing rate in Tasmania is already about 46%. Now, what that actually means for people’s lives is that most doctors have closed off their lists, most doctors do not offer bulk billing so most people here are not able to access health care at an affordable price when they need it. We’ve had people contacting my office asking us to find them a doctor who bulk bills. Now, we’re happy to do that, but you as an individual should be able to get health care at an affordable price when you need it, not by going to a politician’s office.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

O’BYRNE: We already have a shortage of doctors, so that means that there’s an incredible amount of pressure on doctors and we also have a high number of people who would like bulk billing. I don’t think that doctors here would want to offer such a scheme, but I’m not sure that the Howard Government leaves them much choice. What we need to do as a community


is point out just how appalling we find this situation and ensure that the health standards we expect are actually delivered.

JOURNALIST: (inaudible)

O’BYRNE: I think all parents get very concerned when their children are sick and to believe that you might not be able to take your child to the doctor because you can’t afford it that week, is a frightening thing and no parent should have to experience that.

JOURNALIST: Can you make a comment about Kerry O’Brien?

GILLARD: Pre-selections are a matter for party members and we have a democratic system where people get a right to vote, but I would like to say, having worked in Shadow Cabinet with Kerry O’Brien, my view is that Kerry is a very capable member, he’s a creative

thinker, a very hard worker and an extremely vocal advocate for the state of Tasmania, and if I was voting in this pre-selection, I know I’d be voting for Kerry O’Brien and he has my 100% support.


22 July 2003

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