DOORSTOP: 20/4/22

April 20, 2022








LOUISE MILLER-FROST, LABOR CANDIDATE FOR BOOTHBY: Hi, my name is Louise Miller Frost. I am the Labor candidate for Boothby, and I am thrilled to be here in Marion domain with Mark Butler and Penny Wong to have a very important announcement that will strengthen Medicare and take the pressure off our hospitals.


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: Thank you, Louise. It is great to be here with our wonderful candidate in Boothby, Louise and also my colleague Senator Wong, and a number of hard-working nurses who've been advocating so strongly for better health care and better aged care in this election campaign and obviously the South Australian election campaign that we went through only a matter of weeks ago.


After 10 years of cuts and neglect to Medicare, it has never been harder to see a doctor or nurse in the community, and it has never been more expensive. Gap fees have increased by more than a third to see a GP and by more than 50 per cent to see a specialist because of cuts put in place to Medicare, initially by Tony Abbott and then extended for years by Scott Morrison when he was Treasurer. Cuts, that still run to more than $500 million out of the Medicare system each and every year.


Labor is committed to strengthening Medicare. There is no higher commitment for an Albanese Labor team at this election campaign than our commitment to strengthen Medicare, to make it easier to see a doctor and a nurse, and importantly to take pressure off overcrowded emergency departments, including here in South Australia.


A key part of that is making it easier to see a doctor and a nurse when you have one of those minor emergencies that pop up. At the moment there are 4 million presentations every single year to emergency departments for people in what they call “non-urgent” or “semi-urgent” categories, who in many cases could quite adequately be cared for out in the community if that service existed. Think of your child falling off a skateboard and busting their arm at 7:00 or 8:00 o'clock on a summer evening, a very deep cut to one of your family members, something caught in the eye. Too often those families are spending hours and hours waiting in overcrowded emergency departments. Labor is committed to providing a better model of care for those minor emergencies. A network of 50 urgent care services across Australia, will be operating seven days a week, extended hours from at least 8:00 AM until 10:00 PM in the evening and importantly fully bulk billed.


Those services will be set up to deal with those minor emergencies that do not need to be at a hospital emergency department. A service somewhere in between your standard general practice service on the one hand, and your hospital emergency department. But after all, is built to deal with those once in a lifetime emergencies like heart attacks and strokes and major car accidents rather than those minor emergencies that can be dealt with elsewhere.


So today, I am incredibly pleased to announce that if elected Labor will build an urgent care service here in the area serviced by Flinders Medical Centre in the electorate of Boothby. This is something that Louise has been strongly arguing for because she knows that a service like this will make it easier to see a doctor or nurse when you need it and, importantly, take much needed pressure off the Flinders Medical Centre Emergency Department.


JOURNALIST: Mark, how quicky do you expect you can get these urgent care centres up and going? In particular the one here in Boothby?


BUTLER: We're committed to getting these up and running by the beginning of the financial year 2023/24. That is a short time frame. We have heard very clearly two things, firstly, how important this is. Emergency departments are overcrowded in a way we have not seen before across the country. People heard about this through the last South Australian election campaign. We need to do everything we can to take pressure off those emergency departments. But I've also heard from general practice organisations and community health centres across the country, how keen they are to do this. In many cases they've been trying to deliver this service to their community because they know what a difference it would make. But the existing Medicare rebate systems just don’t make it viable. They certainly don't make it viable to deliver it seven days a week, extended hours, on a fully bulk billed, free of charge basis, so that's what this will do. That's what this Labor commitment would do. All of those general practice organisations that have been contacting me over the last several days since we first made this announcement, they're keen to go, and if we're elected on May 21st we’ll be keen to go as well.


JOURNALIST: Senator, a couple words you wanted to say on this issue as well?




JOURNALIST: OK, no worries.


WONG: I'm happy to do questions once we do the announcement first. Then I’ve got a couple of other things.


JOURNALIST: Great, no worries. Have you done any preliminary works with regards to identifying either practices that will take part this year in Boothby or would you look for a Greenfield site?


BUTLER: This won't be a Greenfield site, importantly, what we've said is we're not interested in building new clinics, new buildings, and practices that will operate in competition with the hard-working primary care practices that are already in place. In this part of Australia and in in all the other parts. What we're doing is giving particularly general practices, but also community health centres if they're around, the opportunity to take their practice to the next level. What we'll do is we will undertake a competitive process, call for expressions of interest from organisations that want to deliver this service in the area of Boothby, service partners, Flinders Medical Centre and it will be a competitive tender.


JOURNALIST: If we look at the 50 sites around the country, are these sites going to be skewed towards marginal electorates?


BUTLER; No, they’re regions that are being selected based upon our analysis, particularly about emergency department activity. So, we know, for example, that Flinders Medical Centre has below national average performance on category 4, so non-urgent or semi-urgent ED presentations. Clearly, and I think everyone in this area knows, this is an emergency department that's overcrowded that is struggling to cope with the pressure. There are lot of big hospitals around Australia that are experiencing the same thing. We're undertaking an analysis of ED performance in particular but also some population data. You'll see these announcements extend right across the big cities, but also in the regional communities. I've already made an announcement in relation to the Hunter Valley where you have some emergency departments there that perform among the worst of any emergency departments in NSW. There will be Liberal seats, Labor seats, independent seats, in urban centres and in regional communities.


JOURNALIST: So, this certainly isn't just a pork barrelling exercise in the leadup to an election?


MARK BUTLER, SHADOW MINISTER HEALTH AND AGEING: These are regions chosen on their merit. Obviously, if elected, we want to undertake further negotiations and discussions with Primary Health Networks that oversee primary care services in a particular region, and with state governments about how their emergency departments operate. Because once these services are up and running, it's important that there be clear protocols about when people access that service instead of going to a fully equipped emergency department. We've seen examples of this around the world. It’s operated incredibly successfully in other countries, particularly in New Zealand, which now has the lowest rate of presentation to emergency departments in the developed world because they have this intermediate level of service. Urgent care for minor emergencies, that too often in Australia end up at the emergency department because there's no alternative.


JOURNALIST: Thank you.


WONG: Thanks very much. I could just make one brief comment in relation to Mr Morrison’s announcement here in South Australia today where he's come announcing more jobs for South Australia. Well, if that happens, we welcome it, but South Australians have heard this before. They've heard Liberal minister after Liberal minister promising more jobs in South Australia. Remember Christopher Pyne promised 25,000 shipbuilding jobs and what have we seen? Well, in the Government’s figures we see 650 fewer jobs in shipbuilding now, and that's on top of the workers in the construction sector who've lost their positions as a consequence of the Government’s cancellation of the French contract. So, always when it comes to shipbuilding jobs in South Australia, the Liberals talk a big game, but they just don't deliver. 


JOURNALIST: If we look at the announcements and we obviously had Defence Minister Peter Dutton here a couple of days ago as well. What reservations do you have about the future submarine projects and the prospect of the submarines? Maybe even not even being built at odds with?


WONG: Well look, the Government declined Labor’s offer to work on the Nuclear Propelled Submarines Project in a bipartisan manner. The Government, we offered to work with them to continue to be consulted, they didn't want that. But what I would say is this, we're on to our third submarine, and the way the Liberals approached the submarines in South Australia, you see from history, the first contract was with the first build they wanted to look at was for Japanese-built submarines, and you remember a Liberal minister said that the ASC couldn't build them. So, they had to get out of that. Then we have the French contract where we get told there will be 90 per cent local content, then 60 per cent local content, and then the contract doesn't actually have a local content provision and the South Australian community run a campaign, the government finally puts it in, and then they walk away from that contract. $5.5 billion dollars later. So, there's a lot, a lot of promises that the Liberals have made over many years, they just haven’t made good.


JOURNALIST: The Coalition has also pointed out during the previous Labor government from 2007 through to 2013, that there were very few decisions made around shipbuilding at that point in time. What has Labor learned from that particular process and could you, can you give us guarantee you've learned from your mistakes?


WONG: I would make it a point that when we were in government the shipyards were full, the jobs were there, it was very different. The second point I’d make is this, we live in very different strategic circumstances, it's why what is happening in the Solomon Islands is such a failure of responsibility and failure of leadership from Mr Morrison. And we understand, as Anthony has said, that means a very different environment in terms of defence budgets. Of course, the problem with the Coalition is they've had a great deal of difficulty converting the dollars in their defence budget into a capability. We talk about the submarines, I ask questions in Senate Estimates about this, there appears to be a looming capability gap and no plans will resolve that, and that's deeply concerning. What I'd say to you is this, we are very clear about the need to use defence dollars, to convert to real capability for the ADF.


JOURNALIST: Further to that point though, Senator would it therefore makes sense under whatever future submarine model this review lands on, and we know obviously there's the conversations happening between the United States and Australia and the UK at the moment to build, to fill that capability gap, the first couple of vessels overseas. Is that an idea that Labor is open to?


WONG: Yeah, well I saw Mr Dutton, I think it was yesterday or the day before, suggesting that wasn't the case, and if that is the case, they should frump up about it. We have a long history of advocating for jobs here in South Australia and delivering them.  The coalition has a long history of talking about the jobs and not delivering.


Thanks very much. 


JOURNALIST: What’s the prospect of an urgent care centre being set up in and around this part of Adelaide and what do you think it would mean for the Flinders Medical Centre, particularly the ED there, which we know is one of the busiest it not busiest in the state?


ELIZABETH DABARS AM, ANMF SA SECRETARY: Sure, and look, we are not affiliated with any political party, but the reality is that this is good policy, and we would support this type of policy no matter where it was coming from. So, we think that this is excellent policy, is something that we've been actually advocating for at least the past 15 years about having urgent care centres, priority care centres. We know there have been a couple of attempts at this, both run by the state government but also by the federal government in the past and none of them have ultimately gotten off the ground. We are really, very hopeful that this announcement goes to show the level of genuine interest and the level of genuine commitment to making sure that nurses and midwives work to their full scope of practice, with the primary objective making health care accessible to everyone.


The reality is, the very sad reality is that at the present time, if you want to get in to see your GP, it can be a two week wait. There are many, many practices where you can't even get in to be a new patient, because they simply aren't accepting new patients and that is adding a considerable burden on our hospital system, because people aren't getting treated early enough, but then ending up into the emergency department because they simply can't obtain care as and when they need it after hours.

So, The Flinders Medical Centre has been one particular area where their emergency department has been simply overwhelmed. We know that the state government and former government had a plan of building an emergency, a bigger emergency department. The reality is that building a bigger emergency department just simply means you end up getting a bigger emergency department block.


This method, or this policy that's being put forward today is really about putting in additional capacity into primary health care, that's where it should be going in order to keep people out of hospital in the first place. It should be about making sure that people can have their chronic illnesses addressed early. It should be about making sure that when people have some kind of event, some kind of accident at home, and instead of having to line up in the emergency department and become one of the very, very many hundreds of people, literally waiting hours if not days on end up in an emergency department, but that that can be freed up and the capacity in our emergency departments can be dedicated to who it needs to be dedicated to, and that's people with genuine emergencies who need the treatment and assistance of a hospital.


And we are talking about many hundreds and thousands of people every single day, both in South Australia and Australia wide, who are currently suffering unnecessarily waiting in an emergency department not being able to be seen and treated, simply because there are not enough services out in the community. So, we see these emergency, these urgent priority care centres being a really important strategy, a great policy, that should see nurses and midwives working to their full capacity with the important objective of making primary health care accessible and affordable to those people who need it most - and that’s our community.


JOURNALIST: Have you had any preliminary conversations with new health minister here in South Australia or about expanding at a state level on top of this federal announcement, those sorts of diversionary pathways away from emergency departments?


DABARS: Yes, we have. We certainly have, both of them, with Minister Picton, both before the election we saw commitments about diversion. They seemed extremely interested at the time. I think this would be, this federal commitment would be an important part of the jigsaw puzzle that is required in order to make our health care system actually operate for the people it's supposed to, and that’s our community and enable nurses, and midwives, and other health care professionals to actually deliver on their commitment to their community.


And we hear all too often people being frustrated, members of the community being frustrated, about not being able to access appropriate health care services in a timely and effective manner. And that flows on to our members, the hard working and dedicated nurses and midwives of this state, who simply feel frustrated and really angry that they can't provide appropriate care to the patients as and when they need it.


And this is a really important policy commitment that should lift an enormous burden off our hospitals and health care system, and we absolutely warmly welcome that. It is something that we've been advocating for, for many years, and it's very pleasing to see that people have listened and that there is a very strong commitment, and we warmly welcome that.


JOURNALIST: Thank you.