[Acknowledge traditional owners.]
Hello, thank you for the opportunity to address the Royal Australian College of GPs.
Thank you for your advocacy. People trust doctors. As a begrudging member of the least trusted profession speaking to the most trusted, can I just say how grateful I am for your contributions to the big issues in public debate. They are really important.
Your efforts in speaking out around the health impacts of the climate emergency have been powerful, and adding your voice to the importance of phasing out coal, oil and gas will be so crucial in what climate scientists have called the critical decade for climate action.
They’ve said we have until 2030 to halve global pollution or we risk losing control of our climate system and all that this would mean for our health. The expansion of tropical diseases southward, rising saltwater and storm surges infiltrating our drinking water and sewerage networks, and an unleashing of the silent killer of heat waves.
Historically, Brisbane has had 12 days a year over 35 degrees. But on current pollution trends, then within our children’s lifetime, there will be between 37 and 80 days a year.
So thank you for using your position to speak up for a safe climate. And thank you for fighting for people seeking asylum in helping us pass the Medevac bill in the last Parliament.
And thank you for all you have done to support our communities through the pandemic. We have saved thousands of lives. It’s been tough, but we owe a tremendous debt of gratitude to our public health system, for the clear advice, the willingness to stand up and speak out, and the public confidence you rightly hold.
And I want to thank you for inviting me as Greens Leader to address my first RCAGPs conference.
Because the Greens aren’t just key to determining whether legislation that’s bad for our health system gets stopped in the Senate, like when we helped stop the government introducing a $7 GP co-payment to visit your practices back in their first budget in 2014.
If history and current polling are any guide, the Greens are also likely to be in balance of power in a minority Parliament after the next election.
The outcome of the next election will be closer than you think. Scott Morrison holds on to majority government by the barest of margins. If just a few hundred people changed their vote at the last election, the Greens would be in balance of power in both houses right now. For Labor to win in its own right, they’d need a swing only seen once in the last 20 years, so unless the current Leader proves to be as popular as Kevin Rudd, we’re heading for a power-sharing Parliament.
The Greens believe in growing the public health system and expanding Medicare. Last time we were in balance of power back in 2010, part of our signed agreement was to bring dental into Medicare for children. Over 3 million families have been able to get free dental care for their children because of the Greens.
And right now it has never been made more stark that quality public healthcare is a human right. So I give you a sense of what we’ll be fighting for.
Your report illustrates what many of us have been hearing for a while. There is a massive mental health concern in our country. When psychological conditions are the most common reason for presentation for 5 years running, something is deeply wrong in our country.
The Greens have already announced our plan to bring mental health fully into Medicare, by Expand the Better Access Initiative to unlimited psychology or psychiatric therapy sessions and raise their Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) rebates for patients with a diagnosed mental illness. We’d deliver free and unlimited mental health care as part of Medicare.
The Greens also understand that there’s a lot doctors deal with every day that many people haven’t got to because they've been stuck in lockdowns, caused by a federal government failure to give you and others enough vaccines early enough, so now we’re lagging behind in the vaccine race at 31st out of 38st OECD countries.
Your report being launched today highlighted that managing vaccines and patient expectations was the hardest part of GP’s work during this pandemic.
None of this was helped when the government let its MPs spread misinformation without consequence and let a billionaire donor to the Coalition, Clive Palmer, sabotage public health advice with billboards, newspaper ads and text messages, all of which made it harder for health professionals to do their job.
We now have more people struggling to manage chronic illnesses, more people presenting with more complications and needing greater levels of integrated help.
And waiting lists were already too long at public hospitals, but now our public hospitals are getting ready for the fight of their lives.
Our public health system - whether it be inside our hospitals, our GP clinics, our universities and research labs - should be our absolute priority and we should fund every part of it properly. That is where the need is and that is where the best value is too.
But it appears we have arrived at the ideological end point of a government that kept the Medicare rebate - the income of GPs - frozen for years.
Your report makes the point starkly that 26% of members said Medicare rebates were your highest priority. The Greens hear you.
And while the government keeps trying to push GPs to do more with less, the amount of money they give to their big corporate donors rises by the year, even as it skews our health priorities.
There is a general rule in public policy to tax more of something you don’t want and fund more of what you do. But in our health system we have it all backwards.
We first started subsidising private health insurance under John Howard’s Prime Ministership. Still no one wanted to use it, so they started taxing people for not having it.
This has forced people to take out junk policies to avoid paying the Medicare surcharge. This is effectively a tax diverted away from the public good to go straight to the bottom line of private health corporations - who offer nothing in their product.
But the only thing rising faster than the premiums are the policy exclusions, so even today, people really don’t want to take out private health insurance.
But the Parliament keeps throwing good money after bad, bending over backwards to change the rules and allow premium increases and public handouts to keep these big corporations profitable.
Each year, the public hands $6.7 billion to the private health sector, where 4 big corporations control 70% of the market and make large profits off the back of public largesse.
To keep the $6.7b a year flowing, a small amount of that money flows back to the coffers of the Liberal and Labor Parties, with $2.73m in political donations being made since 2012.
We have fallen a long way from when Labor health spokesperson Jenny Macklin rightly called it “the worst example of public policy ever seen in this Parliament”, and now both the government and opposition are captured by the industry.
But the Greens are not.
There are better ways of spending $7b a year than giving handouts to big corporations to put up the prices of a product people increasingly don’t want to buy.
The Greens plan is simple. We want to stop giving handouts to the billionaire corporations in the private health industry, and put that money back into the public health system.
The State Premiers have been pushing to make 50/50 Commonwealth/State hospital funding split permanent, beyond this pandemic. We’ve had a policy costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office as to what a 50/50 split in the growth of hospital funding would cost and it would require a boost in hospital funding of $8 billion over the next decade.
Once the COVID-pressures on our hospital system starts to ease, then with targeted, one-off funding of $875 million to the States, we can get to work on clearing the built up backlog of people on waiting lists, prioritising those categories of clinical urgency.
In balance of power, the Greens will push to make healthcare more accessible, slash out of pocket costs, wipe out waiting lists, build up staffing levels and ensure the public health system is there for everyone when they need it.
According to the Parliamentary Budget Office, even after removing the taxes that the Medicare surcharge raises, cancelling these corporate handouts will free up $59 billion over the decade.
We can use this money to fund GPs and provide the security your report demands, fund chronic health management, fund prevention, fund regional health, make telehealth permanent and make mental health care completely free through Medicare.
We can do all this as well as lock in the 50/50 funding growth model and clear public waiting lists when the crisis has subsided. As you can see, $59 billion buys a lot of public services.
Of course, it isn’t all about money, we want to improve the communications between GPs and hospitals and recognise that GPs have been forced to take up the load of other underfunded areas of our health sector. The Greens don’t want you to keep having to do more with less.
And I am sure many of you have seen the effects of these publicly subsidised corporate behemoths first hand, with the context and economic model of delivering GP services having changed and becoming increasingly corporatised.
We want to take the pressure off GPs, so you can do your job, keeping our community safe and healthy.
Thanks again for everything that you do