April 13, 2022


MICHAEL ROWLAND, HOST: Okay, let's go back to the federal election trail now and Labor is switching its focus this morning with a major Medicare announcement.

Mark Butler is the Shadow Health Minister. He joins us now from Adelaide. Mr Butler, good morning to you.




ROWLAND: Front and centre of this announcement today is the Labor Party promising a Labor Government would set up these urgent care clinics. What are they and how extensive would they be?


BUTLER: We've allocated $135 million over the forward estimates to set up 50 of these clinics across Australia and what they do is they provide a level of care somewhere between the standard general practice that you get and a fully equipped hospital. It's things like the minor emergencies you have when your kid falls off the skateboard, or you've got a deep cut that needs stitches. You'll be able to access these clinics seven days a week, 8:00 AM till 10:00 PM, staffed by experienced emergency trained doctors and nurses and importantly not pay a single dollar, They'll be fully free, fully bulk-billed, and what that will do is make it easier and cheaper to see a doctor.

But importantly as well, start to pull some of the pressure off our emergency departments, which are really heaving right now under unprecedented levels of demand.


ROWLAND: But wouldn't there be pressure on these clinics? It comes down to staffing, doesn't it? Emergency departments are stretched by definition. Are you confident there'll be enough doctors to staff these urgent care clinics?


BUTLER: We know that there are GPs who want to be able to provide this level of care. It's a level of care that is very effective and successful in other countries. New Zealand, for example, pulls that pressure off hospitals, meaning that New Zealand has the lowest level of emergency department presentation in the developed world. We know doctors want to be able to do this, but the existing Medicare system simply doesn't make it financially viable. Labor’s commitment today will make it viable, will make it successful and make it much easier and cheaper to see a doctor.


ROWLAND: And speaking of a cost, how much would it cost the budget?


BUTLER: We've said $135 million over 4 years. That will deliver 50 enhanced Medicare urgent care clinics across the country. Fully bulk-billed operating seven days a week, deep into the evening.

An opportunity for people to take those smaller emergencies which at the moment too often end up at emergency departments, which after all, are built and equipped to deal with once in a lifetime emergencies like heart attacks, and strokes, and very serious car accidents, not those sorts of 4 million or so presentations described as “non-urgent” or “semi-urgent” that could quite adequately be dealt with outside of a hospital setting if this sort of service was available.


ROWLAND: With all the other issues floating about in a busy election campaign including cost of living, for instance, how confident are you health will feature anywhere near prominently as a key issue?


BUTLER: I think health is always an important election issue, but right now still in the middle of a once in a century pandemic when we know it's harder than ever to see a doctor, our hospitals are under unprecedented pressure. We hear very clearly from people that they want to see a health plan. They didn't get it in the budget, the week before last from Scott Morrison.

Labor is committed to making sure that strengthening Medicare is a key plank of our plan for a better future for Australia.


ROWLAND: Now Labor has made one of its key values pitches over the years that the fact that the, as you see, the jobseeker payment is inadequate.

One of your colleagues, Andrew Leigh, confirmed yesterday a Labor Government won't increase the jobseeker payment if you win and wouldn't even review it. Why have you taken that decision?


BUTLER: We have been very clear since the last election that we wouldn't be able to take every single one of the commitments we took to the last election in 2019, almost 300 commitments, that our agenda for this election would be more focused and frankly more modest. We did argue though, very strongly, over the course of the pandemic for the temporary increase that the government made to the jobseeker rate to be made permanent. The Government was intending to cut that back to the original $40 a day rate and Labor’s pressure was a big part of the reason why over the course of this term of Parliament, there has been a $50 a fortnight increased to jobseeker. We take some pride in that, but we will be taking policies to this election that's just started that really do relieve pressure for low and fixed income households in things like housing, expanding social housing, for which the government doesn't have a plan. As I said, making it cheaper and easier to see a doctor. Cheaper childcare, fee-free tafe to allow people to expand their vocational qualification.


ROWLAND: Welfare groups, as you'd be aware, are unhappy and at the same time, aren't you abandoning the people at the lower end of the income scale? The job seekers who may have been hoping for some extra help from a Labor Government?


BUTLER: We argued very strongly for that temporary increase through the pandemic to be made permanent and I think a big part of the reason why that $50 a fortnight increase was locked in was the pressure that Labor brought into the Parliament. But we'll be taking, as I said, a range of policies to ease the squeeze on those low and fixed income households. In areas like housing, childcare, vocational qualifications and more.


ROWLAND: Okay, now finally Bill Shorten, former Labor leader, has told The Australian today that, in his words, Scott Morrison should not be underestimated, and Labor should not, in his words again, count their chickens before they hatch. Is that helpful advice?


BUTLER: I think it's wise advice. I don't think we've ever underestimated Scott Morrison’s campaigning ability, his ability to skate over a whole lot of the mistakes and failures of his time as Prime Minister over the last three years. His failures on the bushfires, his failures on accessing vaccines early enough for the Australian people, on rapid tests.

We don't underestimate Scott Morrison, and we don't underestimate the sort of mountain we have to climb to be only the 4th Labor Party team to win government from opposition since World War II.


ROWLAND: Mark Butler in Adelaide, appreciate your time this morning. Thank you.


BUTLER: Thanks Michael.