April 13, 2022


SUBJECTS: Labor’s plan for Medicare Urgent Care Clinics; Liberal’s replacement Health Minister; Jobseeker rate; Labor’s campaign strategy


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: Mark Butler is the Shadow Health Minister and our guest, Mark Butler, welcome.


KARVELAS: A Labor Government would spend $135 million rolling out 50 emergency clinics. How is this going to improve medical care for patients?

BUTLER: It will do two things. It'll make it easier for Australians to see a doctor, and certainly much cheaper for them to do that. But importantly as well, it will relieve pressure on our hospital emergency departments, which are really heaving under an unprecedented level of demand.

What it does is to create a level of care somewhere in between your standard general practice on the one hand, and your fully equipped hospital on the other so that people can get free access to care seven days a week, 8:00 AM till 10:00 PM for some of those minor emergencies, like when your kid falls off the skateboard or a deep cut that needs stitching and suchlike. You can't get in to see your GP right now for it and too often you end up at a hospital emergency department.

KARVELAS: How are these urgent care clinics any different from GP super clinics which already offer the same sort of care and treatment?

BUTLER: GPs around the country and community health centres have been trying to make this sort of model work, but it simply can't stack up financially under the existing Medicare system.

The Medicare rebates for this sort of thing just aren't adequate, which is why we've had a very clear message from the sector that if we are going to get this level of intermediate care, the urgent cares between general practice and hospital care, you are going to need additional funding. We've seen that around the world where this model works the best.

For example, in New Zealand, which has a result, has the lowest level of emergency department presentations in the developed world.

KARVELAS: Why not just put the money into emergency department centre, cut down on their waiting times?

BUTLER: Emergency departments are set up for these once in a lifetime emergencies. There's a very serious car accident, the heart attack, the stroke. People shouldn't have to go to a hospital if they've busted their arm falling off a skateboard or have a deep cut that needs stitches. But there are about 4 million presentations every single year to emergency departments which doctors and nurses say could be quite adequately dealt with outside of a hospital setting.

Not only are people having to go to a hospital when they don't need to because they can't get in to see a GP either at all, or certainly cheaply.

But we're also seeing a big clogging up of our emergency departments, which drags from their ability to do the work they're intended to do, which is to look after these once in a lifetime emergencies.

KARVELAS: The Prime Minister is expected to announce on the weekend who will replace Greg Hunt as Health Minister because Greg Hunt is retiring from politics. How important is that the voters will have this information before the 21st of May?

BUTLER: I think it is particularly important in the middle of a once in a century pandemic that we know who is going to be in charge of the health policy area, particularly if the government is re-elected, who will the Health Minister be? But at the end of the day, the key issue for the Australian people is the competing health policies.

It's never been harder to see a doctor. It's never been more expensive to see a doctor. We know the aged care system is in crisis and that is down, at the end of the day, to the Prime Minister and his policies.

KARVELAS: I think it might be Family Services Minister and Campaign Spokesperson Anne Ruston, she's the hot favourite. Is she a safe pair of hands?

BUTLER: I get on very well with Anne, she's a fellow South Australian. She's a good person and I think I could work across the aisle with someone like Anne in the way I've been able to with Greg Hunt, a very decent person who's worked very hard for his country during the pandemic. The problem is not Greg or Anne, the problem is the set of policies being pursued by Scott Morrison as Prime Minister.

When his record as Treasurer was to cut billions of dollars out of aged care, to freeze the Medicare rebate, which has cut billions of dollars out of Medicare, and as a result, we've got an aged care system in crisis and a Medicare system where it's never been harder to see a doctor and ever more expensive.

KARVELAS: I want to change the topic if we can to unemployment. Why has Labor dumped its promised review of the jobseeker rate, which works out to just $46 a day?

BUTLER: I think we've said from the time of the 2019 election that we would be taking a more focused agenda to this election than the one that Bill Shorten took to the last one. We've been clear about that, a much more focused, more modest agenda, frankly, but also circumstances have changed. We argued very strongly through the course of the pandemic that the increase that temporarily was made to the jobseeker rate should be made permanent, and I think the pressure that the Labor put on the government was a very big part of the reason that the government didn't cut the jobseeker rate back to $40 a day and instead locked in a $50 a fortnight increase, a very significant part of the reason for that was Labor’s pressure.

But we are very, very clearly focused still on the needs of Australians with fixed and low incomes, those households that are really struggling to get access to housing, which is why we've got a strong social and affordable housing policy.

KARVELAS: Yeah, they are your other policies, but do you really think this rate is acceptable?

BUTLER: As I said, we've been very clear we would take a more focused agenda –

KARVELAS: That wasn't the question Mark Butler. Do you think this rate is acceptable?

BUTLER: We've said we would take a more focused agenda to the election that we wouldn't be able to deal with all of the damage done to the country over the last 10 years, that we would prioritise those things we thought we could do in a focused and modest way if we're elected to government. Things like making it cheaper and easier to see a doctor, expanding social housing –

KARVELAS: But could you live on this? This base rate of $642 a fortnight?

BUTLER: We've all been very clear that the rate of jobseeker is a very difficult rate to live on in Australia. That's why we argued so hard –

KARVELAS: Then why won't you review it?

BUTLER: That's why we argued so hard for the increase of $50 a fortnight to be locked in and not see the government cut it back to the old rate of $40 a day. We've been very clear in our argument about that –

KARVELAS: Sure, but if it's not good enough and people can't live on it. Why not review it?

BUTLER: We've been very clear that we would not be able to take every single one of the almost 300 commitments we took to the last election for this election.

KARVELAS: No, but why didn't you make this one a priority?

BUTLER: We will take a more focused agenda, we argued strongly for the rate to be increased in a permanent way and our pressure was a very significant part of the reason why that was locked in over the course of the pandemic.

And we will be taking a range of other policies that make it easier for people on low and fixed incomes to live and to get ahead.

Things like social housing, things like fee-free tafe that help them to get additional vocational training, affordable childcare and more.

KARVELAS: But you couldn't live on it?

BUTLER: I think everyone has been very clear this is a difficult rate for people to live on, which is why we argued so strongly for an increase in this term of Parliament.

KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese wants to just “shake it off” in relation to the gaff he made at the start of the campaign.

But John Howard says he's not the sharpest tool in the shed when it comes to the economy. Won't that haunt him to Election Day?

BUTLER: He made a mistake, we all make mistakes. I can't think of a politician who hasn't made a mistake of this type. The important thing is that he owned up to it. He took responsibility. He didn't seek to blame someone else or shut his eyes and hope it went away. He took very clear responsibility for it. Now I think people want us to get back to talking about our plans for a better future for the country, not a mistake made two days ago.

KARVELAS: Phil Coorey in the Australian Financial Review is saying that Labor is now working on resetting its entire campaign strategy. What do you know of that?

BUTLER: That's news to me and we're proceeding in a way in which we intended to two weeks ago. We’re rolling out health policies that make it very clear that our focus will be on strengthening Medicare and making it easier to see a doctor.

That's why we're focusing on that today. It's what we were always intending to focus on in the first week of the campaign.

KARVELAS: Anthony Albanese economic credentials are being closely scrutinised, he claims that he was an economics advisor for several years to the Hawke Government. But wasn't he just a research officer for the left-wing, Tom Uren? Has he been trying to embellish his CV?

BUTLER: He provided advice to Tom Uren, who was a very important part of the Hawke Government. I don't think you can be clearer than that.

KARVELAS: But he was research officer, right?

BUTLER: I don't know what the title was but I know the work that people do on the personal staff of members of Government. It is incredibly important work ranging across a range of different issues that I know Tom Uren had an involvement in and responsibility for, and I think it was a really important job for that government.

KARVELAS: Thank you so much for joining us.

BUTLER: Thanks, Patricia.

KARVELAS: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing and you're listening to ABC RN Breakfast.