Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2008 Week 9 Hansard (20 August) . . Page.. 3364..
MRS BURKE (continuing):
The minister just produced a whole load of waffle about how we on this side of the house do not care about our health professionals. It is again—the word I keep thinking of—disingenuous to say that. It simply is not true. The minister is treading on very thin ice when she continues to use those sorts of words. No-one would dispute—and this is the government's words—"the hard work of our primary healthcare industry". In particular, our community GPs have continued "to provide first-class health care despite workforce shortage". Staff anywhere and medical people, as we all know, do their utmost for us as a community. I do not think anybody on this side of the house has ever bagged and dragged through the mud our health and medical professionals—our nursing staff, our GPs, our allied health professionals. We have always had nothing but good to say about them. Let's face it: staff will do their best, do their utmost, in spite of governments.
The minister raised the fact that it was the responsibility of the commonwealth to ensure that adequate primary healthcare services are provided in our community. It is interesting to note—we have referred to it before—the minister's comments on the ABC on 13 May 2007. Ms Gallagher said that more effort is needed to improve the ACT's bulk-billing rates. I quote: "It's not that we're even close to the rest of the country in relation to bulk-billing rates or the out-of-pocket expenses; we're way below and we should be treated with a separate solution to our individual and unique needs, which aren't seen across the rest of the country."
What an admission. This is a staggering admission. I understand that it may have had some political connotations around it—that she perhaps wanted to bag the previous Howard government and did not want to take it to the Howard government or push hard enough. But now we have had over six months or so of a new Labor government. What efforts have we seen this ACT health minister make? We have seen her write and protest many times that she has written to the health minister, but how hard has she pushed? The last thing we all saw in the media was that Nicola Roxon, federal health minister, would not be bailing us out. I hope the minister is pushing this much harder. We cannot just say: "Well, I can't do anything. It's the commonwealth's responsibility."
So there is that line there. She really needs to make sure that much more is done to push hard. As she says here, we need a separate solution. We the Liberals have come up with that today. All we have had is ridicule; all we have had is bagging out; all we have had is carping and whining. All we have had is a health minister who is content to dive to the personal, to say, "We haven't done this; you're not doing that; you're a fool,"or whatever she chooses to say. I have got broad shoulders; I can stand that. But at least we have come up with some suggestions. We have come up with a solution and some plans that need to be investigated.
The government also refer to "the efforts of the ACT government to support our local GP workforce". This is interesting, isn't it? I was looking at some other stuff on the Choice website. It was talking about the corporatisation of the workforce. It said:
The more doctors move away from bulk billing, the more competitive forces between them are eroded and bulk billing rates will go into a free fall. This trend towards a less competitive GP sector has probably been hastened by increasing