Media Releases

SKY NEWS: 13/4/22

April 13, 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics; Jobseeker rate; dental.


KIERAN GILBERT, HOST: Returning to Labor’s health announcement today, the Opposition Leader says his government, if he's successful, would open dozens of urgent care clinics around the nation. The Coalition has labelled it already a failed policy. Let's go live to the Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler. Mr Butler, thanks for your time as always. This looks like it's similar to what New Zealand has in place. Explain to our viewers how it would work.

MARK BUTLER MP, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: What I think Australians need is something between the standard General Practice that we're used to on the one hand and hospital care on the other. What people really need is somewhere where they can go at all hours without an appointment, free of charge to deal with some of those minor emergencies. When your kid falls off the skateboard and busts their arm or when you have a big cut that needs stitching. Currently getting into see a GP for those sorts of things is very, very difficult, costs a lot of money, and so a whole lot of people end up at the emergency department where they don't really need to be. Emergency departments are built for those once in a lifetime emergencies like heart attacks and car accidents.

What we've seen in places like New Zealand, other countries as well, but New Zealand is perhaps the best example is where you put an urgent care model outside of hospitals, that's free of charge, open seven days a week, staffed by specialised doctors and nurses. You really take that pressure off emergency departments, which we know around the country are heaving under unprecedented levels of demand.

It ticks two boxes, first of all makes it easier and cheaper for people to see a doctor when they need it, but also it relieves some of that pressure that we know people are very worried about that they're seeing in their hospitals.

GILBERT: The Queensland AMA President Chris Perry said the $135 million pledge is nothing is how he described it. It's a nothing announcement in, in his view, Professor Perry. What would you say to that critique?

BUTLER: I think it's unfortunate that the AMA hasn't engaged in this. This is obviously not our entire health policy. This is the first commitment we're making to strengthen Medicare and make it easier to see a doctor, but this is something we've engaged very carefully with GPs about. We've very clearly made a decision not to fund new clinics.

That that's something I think the AMA has misunderstood about our policy announcement for example, what instead we want to do is work with existing GP practices. In some cases, perhaps community health centres, to enhance the service they already provide to their community rather than setting up a new clinic that might compete with them.

We know GPs want to do this, they want to be able to provide this service, but the existing funding arrangements under Medicare simply don't allow it, which is why we're providing an additional strand of funding to ensure that this service is available to people.

I note that the College of General Practice has welcomed this commitment. They've said that that using existing GP practices rather than building new clinics, in their words, makes a lot of sense. I know that the Grattan Institute and their expertise in the health industry is very well known, has said that this is an innovative model that that will make a difference.

GILBERT: Health obviously going to be a key focus of this campaign. How important is it that your leader is able to find his mojo to get it back on track? Because it's been a tough few days, hasn't it?

BUTLER: He made a mistake. We all make mistakes. I don't know a politician who hasn't made that sort of a mistake. The important thing, I think, is that Anthony put his hand up and took responsibility for it. I think we've gone through that now, he's taking responsibility for the mistake, and I think what the Australian people want instead of sort of rehashing over something that happened now two days ago, is they want to hear our plan for a better future. They particularly want to hear how we, in the health area are going to make it easier and cheaper for them to see a doctor, because frankly, it's never been harder than it is right now to get into see a GP and it's never been more expensive because gap fees have skyrocketed. The amount that you pay out of your own pocket has skyrocketed under this government.

GILBERT: Another policy announced today, this one by the Greens. They're supporting bulk-billed, general dental care. Is that something that appeals to you?

BUTLER: Policy contributions by the Greens are all well and good to have a good look at and admire, but they're never going to have to be delivered.

They don't really need to abide by the same stringencies that the major parties do to make sure that we can put in place a budget that keeps pace with the economy. We’ve got a very proud record on dental care when we were last in government, we put in place a sensible, measured plan that provided dental care services to children from working families. And that's made a big difference to juvenile dental health which will pay dividends for decades to come.

GILBERT: I spoke to Kristen O'Connell earlier from the Anti-Poverty Centre who was scathing about Labour decision not to go ahead with a review of the dole or jobseeker as it's now known. Was that a tough call from you and your colleagues?

BUTLER: Obviously as the Labor Party, we're very focused on the needs of households on low and fixed incomes. We've been strongly arguing the case for a review of jobseeker now for many, many years, and I think it's pretty clear that the decision by the government to make permanent what was a temporary increase to jobseeker during the pandemic is in no small part due to the pressure that Labor Party put on them over the last couple of years. We really did argue that case very strongly, which led to a permanent increase in the jobseeker rate of $50 per fortnight we're not going to be able to take every commitment to this election that we took to the last election. We've tried to be as upfront and honest about that over the last three years as we possibly could be. But still, the interests of those households are very much front of mind for the Australian Labor Party, which is why we're focused so strongly on policies like social housing and affordable housing, which isn't matched by the government, on cheaper childcare, on making sure that people can access to fee-free tafe to improve their vocational training and their job prospects. This obviously is a group in the community that's very much front of mind for Labor.

GILBERT: Joining me live from Port Adelaide, Mark Butler. Thanks for your time, appreciate it.

BUTLER: Thanks Kieran.