Federation Chamber - BILLS - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2023-2024 - Consideration in Detail

14 June 2023

I'd like to thank the minister for health and the two assistant ministers for health, my very good friend and colleague the member for Dobell, and my other friend and colleague the member for Cooper, for their support in getting excellent health policy into the Australian parliament after 10 years of neglect. This is a matter of philosophy. It's quite clear that the opposition does not believe in the fundamental benefits of the universal healthcare insurance program that we now call Medicare, which was originally called Medibank. Medibank was introduced by Gough Whitlam, destroyed by the Fraser government and then denied by ongoing Liberal governments until the advent of the Hawke government, who introduced Medicare, incidentally, on the same day that I started my private practice.

It is a matter of philosophy. I know there are members across the whole parliament who strongly believe in equitable access to health care and who believe in Medicare, but it's quite clear that those opposite don't. We have a Leader of the Opposition who introduced the Medicare co-payment, undermined the importance of bulk billing and undermined the importance of equitable access to health care, and this has continued. Ten years of neglectful policy has led to huge workforce problems in our general practices and huge problems in our ability to access equitable health care. I believe their neglect was ignorant and damaged Australians to a huge degree. The advent of the Albanese Labor government and the health minister Mark Butler, who are prepared to make hard decisions to act for patients to access equitable health care, has been so important.

I know the member for Mackellar, the member for Lyne, the member for Dobell, the member for Robertson and the member for Higgins understand the importance of Medicare as the basis for an equitable healthcare system. It's very important that this continues, and I'm so proud to be part of an Albanese Labor government that is continuing strengthening Medicare and providing access to health care for all Australians in an equitable manner. Bulk billing is so important. The tripling of the bulk-billing incentive in the last budget was hugely important, not only in providing patients access to equitable care but in encouraging our young doctors and our young medical students to go into general practice, which I think is most difficult health speciality, to provide that access to care for our patients. I think it's fantastic. This is just part of our $6.1 billion investment to strengthen Medicare and make it easier to see a bulk-billing doctor. It will also be easier for those with chronic health conditions to get the care they need, with the extension of the bulk-billing rates for people with chronic illness and the more prolonged consultations that they need for their health care.

The heart of our healthcare system is the workforce. We've seen that they've been through some really difficult times, with COVID and with the pressures that we've had on our economy, because of course these cost-of-living pressures impact our medical practices as well, with the increasing costs of materials, staff, insurance, rent, et cetera. The fact that the Albanese government is committed to strengthening Medicare has been so important for our general practice workforce and our other healthcare workers. There have been many ups and downs, particularly during COVID, and there's much work to do, and I'm very pleased that the Albanese Labor government is continuing that work—such as the work they have done to make medicines cheaper for all Australians.

Now, all we hear from the other side is talk from vested interests. We don't hear about patients. And patients are at the centre of the Albanese government's healthcare policy. It's about evidence based policy to strengthen health care for our patients—for the people who require health support—and it's just so important to be part of a government that is promoting that.

My parliamentary colleagues, particularly those with a background in health care, are working hard to boost the health workforce across the country. This budget that we just passed in May will unlock the potential of our nurses and our midwives to provide the care Australians need, with higher rebates for nurse-practitioner-led care, and thousands of new places for students of nursing and other allied health professions in our universities, to help our workforce cope with the needs of an ageing patient population—