In May the government asked Australians to give us the opportunity to deliver a better future for all of them, and Australians were clear, when they voted our party in, that they were looking to our government to fix a number of outstanding challenges that communities like mine are facing. I am very clear that some of the biggest challenges that my community and, I think, communities around the country are facing are in our health system, where we look at the impact of Medicare having been underinvested in and having been undermined for almost a decade.
Another challenge is our aged-care system, where for too long the care of older Australians just has not been what it should be. Older Australians should absolutely have dignity in their lives, and for too long that has not been the experience of people in the aged-care system. I’ve certainly heard from so many people in my community about their concerns about what’s happening in aged care. People have come to me and said that they weren’t sure whether, if they didn’t go in every day, their loved one would be fed. I’ve had people come to me and say how unsure they were about whether their loved one in aged care was getting the appropriate medical care—the GP only came once a week, there wasn’t a nurse there and it was unclear what sort of support was being offered. Of course, having a loved one in aged care is difficult enough without having these extra worries on your mind. So our government has absolutely made fixing aged care a priority of the work we are doing, because we know that all Australians should have confidence that, in their old age, they will be able to live with dignity. That is a fundamental right for them. So we’re determined to reverse the neglect of the previous government, and we’re committed to putting security, dignity, quality and humanity back into aged care. Aged care will remain a top priority for our government.
I am particularly proud to be part of a government that’s committed to putting nurses back into the aged-care system. As I said, it is a concern a number of constituents have brought to me that they’re just not sure what medical care is there. They come in in the morning and ask, ‘Well, why wasn’t this addressed overnight?’ The reality was that there was just no one there to address it. So having qualified nurses in our aged-care homes 24/7 is going to be a game changer. It’s not easy. Of course it will take us some time to get there and to make sure that this reform is put in place in a way that is sustainable and implementable. But I am absolutely confident that we are doing the work we need to do to make sure that older Australians in aged care are getting that standard of care that they should.
The Aged Care Amendment (Implementing Care Reform) Bill 2022, which passed parliament in October, as well as having that requirement to have a registered nurse on site from 1 July 2023, means that those people will get that immediate clinical attention when they need it, leading to fewer unnecessary trips to hospital. Again, hospitals in my area are very much overstretched at the moment, so the more we can provide this care in nursing homes and aged-care homes, before people need to go to hospital, the better it will be for all of us.
Of course, the new Australian National Aged Care Classification funding model started from 1 October this year, and this new model will provide more funding for residents in residential care, with an uplift of nearly 13 per cent more funding than the previous model, as well as more equitable care funding to providers that better matches the needs of residents and the levels of care they receive. This means that carers will have more time to care for older Australians—an average of 35 additional minutes per day compared to current levels. One of the things I hear constantly in my community is that people are very much concerned that, while they respect the aged-care workers who are working so hard to provide care to their loved ones, they just don’t have the time. So this will help with that problem. Of course, we’re also working to get aged-care workers the pay rise that they so richly deserve and need.
Outside of aged care, our government is also aware of the cost-of-living pressures facing older Australians. Earlier this month, we increased the threshold for the Commonwealth seniors health card. This is one way we are supporting older Australians. The annual income thresholds will increase to $90,000 to singles, up from the current level of $50,761, and $144,000 for couples, up from the current limit of $92,416. This delivers on an election commitment we took to older Australians, ensuring that more people—and I know people in my community are pleased about this—will qualify for the Commonwealth seniors health card, and that will make a real difference.
Alongside this, I am very proud that our government is making medicines cheaper from the start of 2023. People in my community will absolutely benefit from that at this time when, again, we know the cost-of-living pressures are a real thing. To have that safety net in place and to know that your medicines will be cheaper will be a big thing for people in my community, particularly for older people in my community, who I know have been struggling with the cost of medicines.
One of the biggest issues that my constituents are bringing to me at the moment is an issue around GPs in the community. Certainly in the past few months I have had a number of people come to me and say: ‘The last bulk-billing doctor in the area just shut down. There’s nowhere we can go anymore to get bulk-billing services’. This is of real concern, obviously. Our system is built on Medicare being there for people when they need it and on access to a GP being affordable. It’s a problem that our government inherited, because the previous government neglected Medicare. They failed to do the work they should have done to make sure that this absolute plank of our health system, the bit that’s holding it all together, was as strong as it should be. We’re now in this situation where, in communities like mine, people are starting to wonder: ‘Will I be able to get in to see a GP? If I do get in to see the GP, will I be able to afford to see the GP?’
This is not the health system that our country wants or deserves, so I am very pleased that the health minister recognises the seriousness of this situation and that our government is doing everything it can to start working on this problem that we’ve inherited from a decade of neglect and a decade of a government that just didn’t value Medicare and hasn’t done the work to make sure our GPs are set up in our communities. So we’ve started on the important work with the appointment of our Strengthening Medicare Taskforce, which is a group of experts and other representatives who will be looking at these issues around improving patient access to GPs, access to nursing and allied health services, affordability issues and the management of complex cases. This is really critical to our health system locally and across the country. We’re investing $750 million to implement the highest-priority reforms that are recommended by the task force. We really do want people to see improvements in our health system as soon as those recommendations can be made and implemented.
Of course, in my local community, I am very pleased that we have a commitment to have a Medicare urgent care clinic established. I know that our local hospital, the Austin Hospital, does wonderful work but they, like hospitals around this country, are overstretched. When I talk to them and talk to the nurses who work there, they just keep raising with me that their emergency department is just absolutely always at a level of busyness they’ve never seen before. And they know that, if we are able to take some of the pressure off those EDs—by getting our GP system functioning so that people know they can go to a GP, including this Medicare clinic that we will establish, for some of those issues that they’re currently going to emergency departments for—that will absolutely make a difference to those people.
I really want to highlight how critical this issue of fixing our health system is to my community and to communities around the country. I know that GPs are such an important part of our health system, and our government knows this and that is why our government is investing in Medicare. We are doing everything we can to work out what’s gone wrong over the past decade, to look at the impacts of the previous government freezing the Medicare rebate for six years, ripping billions from health care and, of course, seeing gap fees skyrocket. That is not the country we should live in. Health care in this country must be affordable and it must be accessible for all. Making sure that we have a strong Medicare system and strong local GPs is a big part of that.