Press Conference – Sydney | Prime Minister of Australia
HENRY BATEMAN, CEO CORNERSTONE HEALTH: I’d like to welcome the Prime Minister and Mike Freelander today. It is a privilege to have you here at this fantastic centre on a very great day for Medicare bulk billing and for access for patients.
DR MIKE FREELANDER, MEMBER FOR MACARTHUR: Thanks so much, Henry, and thanks to you and Cornerstone Health for having us here today. It’s a great day. We’re on the lands of the Dharawal people and I pay my respect to them and their elders past, present and emerging. It is absolutely fantastic to again have the Prime Minister here, I’ve lost track on the number of times that he’s been in the Macarthur electorate, very proud to have him here today on a great day for public health, with the increase in the bulk billing incentives, increasing the rebates coming to force today, this is a great thing for Macarthur families. It is expensive to see a doctor if you have to pay private fees, so much so that many people just can’t afford and bulk billing is important for everyone. It was really important for me, in my practice, for over forty years in Macarthur, and it’s even more important today. So thank you so much, Prime Minister for what you’ve done to public health. It’s wonderful to greet you to Macarthur once again, and I really appreciate you being here today.
ANTHONY ALBANESE, PRIME MINISTER: Well, thanks very much, Mike, and thank you for hosting us here at this wonderful medical centre here in Gregory Hills, the heartland of Macarthur. It’s a growing region, a region that families are been raised in, in very large numbers. Many of the families of course, related to Dr Freelander in his, as I travel around here many of the younger people, of course, had Dr Freelander as their paediatrician in his previous life but doing a wonderful job as the Federal Member for Macarthur as is Sally Quinnell, I want to take the opportunity to congratulate you Sally on your election as the Member for Camden as the state election that was held this year. I can think of nowhere better than the electorate of Macarthur with my friend, Dr Mike Freelander to be acknowledging the fact that today is the day in which we tripled the bulk billing incentive for Medicare. This facility here sees, how many thousand patients?
BATEMAN: 150,000 this year.
PRIME MINISTER: Yeah a very quick, doesn’t sound like much if you say it quickly. Think about this, 150,000 patients at this centre getting the healthcare they need for free because of Medicare, and the tripling of the bulk billing incentive is designed to provide an incentive for that to continue at this centre, but for more bulk billing to be spread as well as a result of what was the centre piece of our Budget handed down in May this year. We know that the health system is under pressure and one way that you deal with that is by taking pressure off emergency departments by making sure that people can see their local GP, and at a centre like this, where you have radiography, physiotherapy, where you have pharmacy, where you have, you can get a CT scan, you can get the range of services available, including specialists able to visit this facility, cardiologist, across a range of health issues, to be able to get the care that people need, and all they need is their Medicare card, not their credit card. This is such a critical issue going forward, and that’s why we’re very proud. In major cities, a doctor will get 34 per cent more for a standard bulk build consultation of under 20 minutes, making an enormous difference. In regional and rural Australia, a doctor will get around 50 per cent more for the same consultation, the same visit making an enormous difference as well. This is part of our commitment to strengthen Medicare, one of the four themes that my Government is undertaking. Earlier on today I was with the Member from Macarthur here in this electorate, again looking at manufacturing jobs, a future made Australia, a second of the themes of my Government. But to do with the tripling of bulk billing incentive, that’s got to be matched with what we’re doing with 58 Urgent Care Clinics being rolled out around Australia. It’s got to go together with the cheaper pharmaceuticals that we have implemented, reducing for the first time the PBS, $42.50 down to $30 from January of this year, benefiting already millions of Australians and the 60 day dispensing again, making a difference, literally cutting the cost of pharmaceuticals for people who need that, those regular drugs to make a difference for a health condition that they have from thirty days to sixty days means half the cost, but it also means half the visits potentially to the doctor to get a script, again taking pressure off the system. We understand that Medicare is at the centre of our health system. That primary health care, that GPs deliver makes an enormous difference to people. And the easier they can see a doctor, what we ensure is that health conditions get treated at the earliest possible opportunity. That’s good for the patient and people suffering from a condition. It also happens to be good for the taxpayer as well because what you have is a slight condition dealt with early, treated properly, ensures that it doesn’t become an acute condition. So, this is a very proud day today. We have across the country, this will be celebrated. I want to thank all those doctors and people in the health system who do such an extraordinary job of looking after their fellow Australians. Happy to take some questions, then at the end, I have a statement that I’ll make about something as well.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, on this change coming into effect today for providers, when can we expect it to start saving patients money at a large scale?
PRIME MINISTER: Right now. From November 1 it makes a difference. Now today, we’re making it easier and cheaper for more than 11 million Australians to see a doctor. This is the biggest investment in Medicare bulk billing in 40 years. And later this week, I will on Friday, I’ll be attending the memorial service, the funeral of the late Bill Hayden. Bill Hayden deserves credit for so much of what he did in public life, but nothing more so than what he did as a Minister in the Whitlam government of introducing Medibank. I noticed that some in the Coalition seem to not understand their history because they’ve gone out and said how fantastic it is, the bipartisan support for that. Of course, the Fraser government abolished it when they came in and it took the election of the Hawke government where Bill Hayden, of course, was the Foreign Minister to reinstitute Medicare. And John Howard went to elections promising to trash it and to get rid of it. This was not a bipartisan thing. This was a Labor initiative. Bill Hayden deserves absolute credit for the work that he did. And the Hawke government deserves credit for entrenching this as part of the system. But we know, of course, that the Leader of the Opposition, Peter Dutton, when he was Health Minister during that disastrous period where he was regarded as the worst ever Health Minister, tried to get rid of bulk billing effectively with his co-payment, which would have abolished the idea right here that people who are patients here at this wonderful facility can see a doctor for free.
JOURNALIST: How many GPs does your government expect to actually increase bulk billing under this new incentive?
PRIME MINISTER: We think that it will have a very positive impact in two ways. One is it will encourage facilities like this to continue to bulk bill. But secondly as well, it will provide an incentive for more bulk billing from doctors right around the country, and that’s what we want to see.
JOURNALIST: Prime Minister, what does the decision by the High Court over Abdul Benbrika mean now for the Minister’s powers and being able to revoke a person’s citizenship?
PRIME MINISTER: Look, we’ll examine the ruling and respond appropriately. Quite clearly there was an issue with the former government’s legislation, which is what this ruling relates to. But when it comes to the legal consequences, we’ll seek advice for the ruling and respond appropriately.
JOURNALIST: One concern that has been raised over this bulk billing incentive is that it may also incentivise some GPs to perform shorter consultations to get more people through the door and lift their hourly wage. Is there anything that can be done to stop that and is it a problem?
PRIME MINISTER: I think overwhelmingly doctors, including my GP, I’ll give a shout out to him without publicly saying who he is. He does a fantastic job. And the GPs we met, a young woman here, where is she? She’s hiding and being shy. She’s back at work seeing a patient, who has been seeing people in this area for four decades. That’s the sort of commitment that I see from GPs. And one of the things that we want to do as well is to encourage people who are studying medicine to go into general practice, because it is general practice that is the front line of medical services and keeping Australians healthy.
JOURNALIST: The family of Yang Hengjun has released the letter they sent you publicly. How confident are you that you can achieve a breakthrough for him, or do we need to be realistic about the chances of getting him home?
PRIME MINISTER: Well, every case is, of course, different. But I received, the letter was sent to the media, I think perhaps before it was sent to me. But I have received the letter and I’ve responded to the family this morning. This is a case in which every Australian we make representations of. And I raised Dr Yang’s case before when I met with President Xi. I raised Dr Yang’s case when I met with Premier Li in Jakarta just a couple of months ago at the ASEAN Summit. And we, of course, always raise the interests of Australians. When it comes to China what I say is we’ll cooperate where we can, we will disagree where we must, and we’ll engage in our national interest and I will always make representations on behalf of Australians.
JOURNALIST: What was your response to the letter?
PRIME MINISTER: It was, along the lines, I informed the family that I approved a draft this morning to go to the family who wrote to me, just indicating that I had raised the issue previously and that we will always raise these issues and make representations on behalf of Australians and that we are very sympathetic and understand the concerns that they would have for their father and for this Australian who has been detained now for a long period of time.
JOURNALIST: The Northern Territory Government defended its use of private security patrols on the streets despite the Four Corners program showing violent altercations are occurring within communities. Do you support private policing in the Northern Territory?
PRIME MINISTER: I’m the federal Prime Minister and I will be travelling to the Northern Territory later this week and I’ll be there on Friday and Saturday. But I’m responsible for the Commonwealth and I continue to fulfil those responsibilities.
JOURNALIST: But do you condemn the government funding –
PRIME MINISTER: I’m the Federal Prime Minister and the Northern Territory, I’m not here to, it is not reasonable to expect that I respond to the eight state and territory jurisdictions who have power over all of their issues.
JOURNALIST: Will you speak to the Chief Minister about it?
PRIME MINISTER: I’ve answered your question.
JOURNALIST: Can we get your reaction to the bombing of the refugee camp in Gaza?
PRIME MINISTER: I haven’t seen, sorry, those specific. Look, the tragedy that we are seeing in the Middle East, Hamas’s terrorist activities horrified the world and we remain very concerned about humanitarian issues in Gaza. We continue to urge for all civilians to be protected, for the international rule of law to be applied. We say that Israel has a right to defend itself, but how it defends itself matters and we want to see all innocent lives protected. Every life matters. Every Israeli, every Palestinian. Innocent people have been impacted by this in Israel and in Palestine. And we are concerned about humanitarian issues. That’s why we continue to advocate for, as well, Australian citizens in Gaza to be allowed to move to safety. We remain concerned about that. We as well remain concerned about the potential spread of conflict in the region which is why we have issued a plea for Australians in Lebanon if they wish to leave, to leave now. That is a very important position and I refer to the resolution that was carried overwhelmingly in the Parliament. It was very important in putting forward a very clear and unequivocal position on behalf of the Australian Parliament.
Can I conclude with just a statement. I spoke this morning with my friend, the Attorney-General, Mark Dreyfus, and he informed me that his beloved wife of 44 years, Deborah, passed away last night. People would be aware that Deborah has suffered for a long period of time from illness and that has meant that Mark was absent from some period in Parliament, but continued to fulfil his duties as the Attorney-General of Australia. Mark informed me that he and Deborah’s children were there as she passed away peacefully last night. I give my sincere condolences on behalf of the government, on behalf of the Labor Party and on behalf of Mark’s many friends and family for this very sad loss after a very long and difficult illness where Deborah showed enormous courage and fight for a considerable period of time. This is a sad time. Mr Dreyfus will be taking leave as Attorney-General from today. I have encouraged him to return to work only when he is able to do so. This is a time in which he should be allowed to grieve with his family and I ask that his privacy and the privacy of his family be respected, which is why I’m making this public statement here today. Thanks very much. Thank you.