Many people in my community are rightly concerned about access to health care, particularly when it comes to being able to see a GP at the moment. I want to thank all the locals in my community who have taken the time to contact me and share their concern and their experiences about how difficult it is to see a GP and, in particular, to access a bulk-billing service. I want to thank the hardworking GPs who have also come to see me to explain how they feel stretched and burnt out and not sure how long they can continue for. I know that having timely access to health care has real impacts on people ‘s health and life. A deferred trip to a GP because of unavailability or cost can mean serious consequences down the track. And of course it’s not just individuals who suffer because of this. We all suffer when our community is unhealthy, health problems are left to crisis point and our busy hospitals are stretched even further.
We didn’t get to this point by accident. There were nine long years of cuts to and neglect of Medicare under the previous Liberal-National governments, including, most significantly, a six-year freeze on the Medicare rebate. The result of this is that it is harder than ever to see a doctor, particularly a GP. It has never been more expensive to see a doctor. For the first time in the 40-year history of Medicare, the average gap fee for a standard GP consult is now more than the Medicare rebate itself. This cannot go on.
My community has sent me here with a very clear message, which I’m taking to the Minister for Health and Aged Care and which I’m raising here, that we must invest in our health care. We must make it easier to get access to GPs and good health care in our communities. I know that, unlike previous Liberal-National governments, these calls are not falling on deaf ears. Labor is the party of Medicare. We created Medicare and we will always protect it. Our government has no higher priority than strengthening Medicare and rebuilding general practice to ensure that Australians get the care they need, when and where they need it.
After nine long years of cuts to and neglect of Medicare, particularly that six-year Medicare rebate freeze, we know that this is not going to be a quick solution. We know it’s not going to be easy, but we are committed to making it work. We are committed to fixing Medicare. I want to reassure residents in my community: whether you’re in Eltham, Greensborough, Heidelberg—right through my electorate—we know that you want to be able to see a GP when and where you need it. You want it to be affordable. You don’t want to be left in a position where you have to go to an emergency room. The investments our government are making, the $750 million to deliver the highest priority investments in primary care and the investments we will make in the budget in May, are important. They are all part of our efforts to strengthen and fix Medicare after it being neglected for too long under the Liberals and Nationals.