SUBJECTS: Improving access to primary healthcare; Israel-Hamas conflict; Cost of living.
DR GORDON REID, MEMBER FOR ROBERTSON: Well, good morning everyone, and welcome to the beautiful Central Coast, unfortunately it’s a bit wet today but thank you all for coming. And I want to in particular, thank the Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles, for coming to the Central Coast to support our general practices, we know that supporting primary care and general practice is a really important focus of the Albanese Labor Government. It’s also a really important focus of doctors locally. We know that if we’re supporting primary care, if we’re supporting preventative measures and prevention measures, like general practice, we will be able to take pressure off our already strained emergency departments. I had a shift in the emergency department not last night but the night before, and it was one of the busiest shifts that I’ve experienced in quite some time. People coming in to the emergency department because they either can’t get in to see their GP or can’t afford to see their GP. And that’s why the Labor Government’s focus at this time is to make sure that we are fully supporting general practice to make sure we take the pressure off our emergency departments, but also to support our nurses and our doctors who are under constant strain, particularly in this region. I know and I want to thank the Erina Fair Medical Centre for having us here today, and for their time and their expertise. We had a wonderful look around the clinic today and had a listen to some of the work that they do here, which ranges all the way from chronic disease management, all the way to more advanced procedures like wound care, IV antibiotics, and skin grafting and skin procedures and the like. And so with that, I’ll now pass over to my friend and colleague, the Acting Prime Minister, Richard Marles. Thank you.
RICHARD MARLES, ACTING PRIME MINISTER: Well, thank you, Gordon, great to be here at Erina Fair and to see the Erina Fair Medical Center, and great to be here with Gordon Reid, the fantastic local member for Robertson, who really brings an enormous amount of expertise to this area of policy. As Gordon said, he’s still doing shifts in the Wyong Hospital emergency department, so Gordon understands firsthand the pressure that has been placed on emergency departments in this part of the world and right around the country, and therefore, the importance of investing in primary care to take the pressure off that. The Erina Fair Medical Center has just received a $35,000 grant as part of the Strengthening Medicare general practice grant program. That’s a $250 million program, which is providing grants of this kind around medical practices around the country. To IT, to other upgrades in infrastructure. This is about encouraging general practices to be offering more bulk billing. And of course next Wednesday from 1 November, the bulk billing incentive will triple, that is the largest increase in bulk billing incentive that there has been. This formed part of the Albanese Government’s commitment to investing in Medicare, to investing in bulk billing, to investing in your primary healthcare. So in addition to the $1.5 billion investment in increasing a range of Medicare rebates, which in turn makes it easier for GPs to offer bulk billing, but provides greater access for patients to primary healthcare. And of course, we’ve got two urgent care clinics that will be opening on the Central Coast, one Umina, and the other at Lake Haven north of here. And that too forms part of the suite of measures that we’ve put in place to strengthen primary healthcare. This is in turn just one part of the effort that the Albanese Government has in place to ease the cost of living pressures which are obviously impacting so many Australians but reducing the costs to access healthcare, putting downward pressure on power prices, be it freeing up TAFE places, providing for more affordable childcare, the Albanese Government is absolutely committed to easing the cost of living pressures, providing greater access, cheaper access, to primary healthcare.
JOURNALIST: At 9am, the waiting room is already at capacity. Are the measures that you’re putting in place actually making a difference on the ground?
MARLES: Well, I think the fact that at 9am the waiting room is full speaks to the importance of primary healthcare, but it also speaks to the importance of making sure that we are increasing bulk billing. This is one of the last clinics in this area which has been offering significant degrees of bulk billing and I think that that full waiting room speaks to that. The access to bulk billing is fundamental, particularly for an older community such as what we have here at Erina Fair. But that absolutely speaks to the importance of the measures that we put in place in the last Budget which will come into effect next Wednesday.
JOURNALIST: You talked about easing the pressure on the public hospital system. Just this week, we learned that a private hospital here on the Central Coast – the Tuggerah Lakes Private Hospital – is going to close at the end of next year, due to a number of pressures, including the private levies on people not investing in having private health cover. Is that distressing for you that in regional areas, private hospitals aren’t able to survive, which puts in turn more pressure on the hospitals and on clinics like here?
MARLES: Of course, we working with private hospitals around the pressures that they feel. And obviously, when we see steps of that kind, it is obviously of concern. But again, it emphasizes the importance of focusing on primary healthcare, making sure that at this level, we have the most accessible healthcare available to Australians that we are able to invest in this, invest in preventative healthcare, as Gordon has said, all of that speaks to the importance of the measures that we’ve put in place. And as I say, which begin from next Wednesday.
JOURNALIST: That money, the $35,000 that this clinic here received, what would that be used towards? Obviously, those grants can’t be used to pull them out of financial stress. So what sort of support is the Government giving to ease that burden on them?
MARLES: Well, it’s one measure amongst a number that we are putting in place which will assist GP clinics such as this. The bulk billing incentive is part of that, increasing the Medicare rebates across a range of areas also is obviously going to make a contribution to clinics. And the grant that we’ve been able to provide under this program is going to be really important for this clinic in terms of upgrading its IT and putting in place other refurbishments. Infection Control is another area that this grant can be used for. We are really focused on investing in primary healthcare to relieve pressure on emergency departments, we’re really focused on investing in primary healthcare so that we can provide greater accessibility to the Australian community at a more affordable price.
JOURNALIST: Can we move abroad, the Prime Minister has announced $15 million to assist in aid for civilians in Gaza. What will that money specifically be spent on?
MARLES: Well, this is in addition to the $10 million that we had announced last week, so takes the total to $25 million. This will be working through a number of international agencies, the United Nations, the Red Cross to provide humanitarian assistance for those who are obviously caught in the terrible circumstance of being in Gaza right now. We are particularly concerned for those who are suffering in Gaza. Gaza is home to more than 2 million Palestinians, the vast bulk of whom have nothing to do with Hamas, and who are obviously caught up in this very difficult set of circumstances. And so we are committed to providing assistance to them through international agencies such as the UN and Red Cross.
JOURNALIST: How quickly could that aid reach the people in Gaza?
MARLES: Well, look, that’s going to be worked through obviously, with those agencies, but we will be providing that money as soon as we can.
JOURNALIST: Is there any update on the number of Australians in Gaza and any plans to get them out?
MARLES: My last advice is that we’re working with 79 Australians permanent residents and their immediate family. It is obviously a very difficult situation. We are working with international partners to establish a humanitarian corridor, which we hope we can have in place which will allow people such as them to leave Gaza, that is not in place yet. We have though seen some humanitarian assistance come through the refugee checkpoint on the border with Egypt. And so we will continue to work on that. We’re encouraging those people to move to the southern part of Gaza, in accordance with the Israeli warnings, which will be a safer place obviously than being in northern Gaza. But the whole of Gaza is obviously in a very difficult situation and we continue to work with those people, those Australians, and they are front of mind in terms of our efforts right now.
JOURNALIST: You mentioned, the strain on cost of living. If interest rates go up in November as predicted, will the Government take any responsibility for that rate hike?
MARLES: Well, obviously, interest rates are set by the Reserve Bank, and they act independently of Government. But we could not have been more mindful of the impact of the cost of living on Australian household budgets, on the budgets of businesses in this country. It’s really why from the very moment that we came to office, our focus has been around easing the burden of the cost of living. We’ve been talking about access to healthcare today. Last December, we put in place a multi-billion dollar package to put downward pressure on energy bills. That was done in the face of opposition from Peter Dutton and the Liberal Party. We have, as of July, put in place a more affordable childcare package, which will see more than a million Australian families be able to access childcare at a cheaper rate. And that is one of the really biggest bills which impacts household budgets. And we’ve got wages going again, the very first step that we took was to advocate to the Fair Work Commission to increase the minimum wage and that that has happened. So we are critically focused on the questions of cost of living, we will remain so, and see this as really central to our mission as a Government.
JOURNALIST: But does the Government take some responsibility if rates do go up in November?
MARLES: Well, we have seen an inflationary environment around the world. Australia is not immune from that, in terms of the management of the budget, we have delivered a surplus. So in that sense, which is something that the former Liberal Government never did, prudent management of the budget is the most important step that we can take in terms of not contributing to inflation. And that’s what we what we are doing that prudent management. So we’re focused on that. And we’re focused on putting in place measures which help Australians in this moment
JOURNALIST: Prior to the federal election Labor promised to deliver 50 urgent care clinics. It is now October, and that was in July, this year 50 would be established, it’s October, only less than half have been delivered. When will we see that promise delivered in its entirety?
MARLES: Well, we are working on establishment of those urgent care clinics and as I said, we are seeing two being delivered in the Central Coast, one at Umina, one at Lake Haven north of here. And we’re expecting those to be up and running very shortly.