Strengthening Medicare


Ms CLAYDON (Newcastle—Deputy Speaker) (18:02): I rise to speak to this motion to strengthen Medicare moved by my good friend and colleague the member for Macarthur. Labor has a proud record on health. Forty years ago, the Whitlam Labor government established Medicare, the universal health insurance scheme that continues to serve millions of Australians in need. But Medicare's introduction and, indeed, its survival has been anything but smooth sailing, because coalition governments have had a long history of hostility to Medicare. Today the Albanese Labor government is building on Whitlam's legacy as we strengthen Medicare for all Australians. Indeed, one of the first acts of this government was to restore the much-loved GP access after-hours service in the Newcastle and Hunter region, reinstating in full the operational hours of all clinics and reopening the after-hours service at the Calvary Mater hospital, which closed under the Morrison government's watch. Now thousands more Australians can soon access free urgent care when they need to, through the additional 29 urgent care clinics we announced in the recent budget, bringing the total number across Australia to 87. That's 87 urgent care clinics offering free walk-in care seven days a week over extended hours, completely bulk-billed.

I was pleased to recently host the Minister for Health and Aged Care in Newcastle to announce an urgent care clinic that will be established to service the Newcastle and Lake Macquarie area. This is great news for Novocastrians. It will help take the pressure off the John Hunter Hospital, where around 40 per cent of visitations are what we call categories 4 and 5—that is, patients with non-life-threatening conditions who are turning up to emergency departments when they would be better suited being treated in primary health. I've been fighting for an urgent care clinic in Newcastle and I am pleased to say this government is now delivering. It will go a long way to helping my community access quality, bulk-billed primary health care when they need it. The only card you need at an urgent care clinic is your Medicare card.

After a decade of cuts and neglect from the opposition, Labor's investments in Medicare and our health system are reversing the damage done—and more. The centrepiece of the Albanese Labor government's 2023-24 budget was a historic $6.1 billion investment in strengthening Medicare. This included a $3.5 billion investment to triple the bulk-billing incentives for GPs, benefiting more than 11 million people.

We're also expanding the range of free mental health services through a commitment of $361 million over four years, including a network of 61 walk-in Medicare mental health centres that are fully staffed with professionals to care for people at every stage of mental health distress. We're investing $69.8 million to provide more MRI machines that are Medicare eligible—from 227 machines to 620. We're funding Medicare rebates for nuclear imaging and other common medical tests, enabling more people to access critical and timely diagnostic testing without having to worry about the cost. This will quite literally save lives.

But it doesn't stop there. We're also easing cost-of-living pressures for households through a $4.3 billion investment to deliver cheaper medicines. The maximum cost of PBS medicines has been reduced to $31.60, and 60-day prescriptions have been introduced for 184 common medicines, which is saving millions of Australians time and money, while caring for their health. In my electorate of Newcastle alone, 203,432 cheaper prescriptions have been issued since we've introduced this initiative, resulting in over $2.3 million in savings for Novocastrians.

We still have more to do to undo the previous decade of damage done by the opposition to Medicare and our primary health system, but Labor has a long history of caring for Australians and this Albanese Labor government is no exception. Only Labor can be trusted to invest in and support Medicare, which is, after all, a Labor government's legacy. It is the most pressing issue for people in Newcastle and the Hunter region and I really want to thank the Minister for Health for listening to our concerns. I come from an area where bulk-billing rates plummeted to a record low under the former government's watch. I'm doing absolutely everything I can to stop that downward spiral and turn this around.