Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (5 March) . . Page.. 536 ..
MR CORBELL (continuing):
These are all options available to the federal government. They are options I am pursuing on behalf of the territory in the next round of the Australian Health Care Agreement. These are options that I think the Liberal Party, if they were serious about the need for Canberrans to get access to GP services and bulk-billing, would support as well. Quite clearly, they are not interested.
MS MacDONALD: As a salve for the removal of the universality of Medicare, the Prime Minister has raised the prospect of additional incentives for rural and remote areas to attract more GPs. Can the minister indicate how such incentives would assist the ACT?
MR CORBELL: The answer is that they won't. How is this for public policy? Even though the ACT has the second lowest rate of GPs available in the country and the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country, Commonwealth policy does not assist us one little bit. I would venture-
Ms MacDonald: I have a point of order, Mr Speaker. Just because the opposition are not interested in hearing the answer, having asked the question, I would actually like to hear the answer. I would appreciate it if I could listen to it without the interjections.
MR SPEAKER: That is a good point of order. Mrs Dunne, this morning you were calling for silence on the government benches. Mr Smyth, you should take some guidance from your whip.
MR CORBELL: Thank you, Mr Speaker. What does it say about the Commonwealth government's public policy that the state or territory with the second lowest proportion of GPs per head of population in the country and the lowest rate of bulk-billing in the country gets no assistance from Commonwealth government policies designed to address these very issues?
I would venture that it has more to do with how the people of the ACT vote federally than it has to do with any good public policy rationale. They know it over there, but they are not prepared to stand up to their federal colleagues and say it is wrong, it is unfair and Canberrans deserve better. We believe Canberrans deserve better, and we are prepared to say it is wrong and it is unfair.
The Prime Minister and the Treasurer-it is interesting that the Commonwealth health minister is not involved in this debate at all, but maybe that says more about her clout in cabinet than anything else-have both said that they will not only look at ways to attract more GPs to rural and regional areas but also provide incentives for those GPs to bulk-bill in rural and regional areas.
Why aren't they prepared to provide that in the ACT? We have been specifically excluded from Commonwealth initiatives aimed at addressing these issues. This is a matter that must be addressed-because it is unfair and because our public hospitals have to cope with the subsequent increase in numbers because people are not able to access a GP or bulk-billing.
Mr Speaker, it is an important public policy issue, which the government will be continuing to advocate at Australian Health Care Agreement negotiations. I wish the