Page 3322 - Week 09 - Wednesday, 20 August 2008

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Health—general practitioners

Debate resumed.

MR MULCAHY (Molonglo) (11.57): This is an important motion which I am glad to speak on. I will try to deal with the various elements of the Liberal Party’s proposal and also the amendments. When I got home last night, my family members said, “Did you hear the news, dad? The Liberal Party announced something that has turned out to be illegal.” I said, “Well, I have heard a bit about this and I am intrigued to know how this policy is going to unfold.”

I do agree with the sentiment in the first part of Mrs Burke’s motion, which is that we have a shortage of general practitioners in outer suburban areas and that access to bulk-billing services in a number of these areas after hours is particularly problematic. But I am certainly not sure it is accurate to say that the current shortage of doctors is chronic. There is certainly a lack of doctors. I have received and taken up a number of complaints from constituents and I have referred them all to the minister.

But we are not yet in a situation where people are completely incapable of receiving treatment and I think that it is a stretch to say that this is a chronic problem. I think we need to look at our problems in perspective, and throwing around terms like “chronic shortage” without some very clear, serious evidentiary backup is not a particularly intelligent approach.

Nonetheless I think the first part of the motion does well to identify a problematic situation in the ACT where it is clear that many residents are having increased difficulty in accessing basic services from GPs in a timely fashion. Our family’s experience is that sometimes it takes longer to get into the GP. When you have got sick kids and you do not want to use the public hospital facilities because they are not emergency circumstances, then it is a problem, and it is not one that I believe will be solved quickly.

The second part of Mrs Burke’s motion calls on the Assembly to welcome the proposal of the Liberal Party to establish bulk-billing clinics to provide incentives to GPs, to discourage interstate relocation, to guarantee internship places at the Canberra Hospital to ANU graduates and to help young GPs into private practice through the establishment of an entrepreneurial fund. I have several problems with these proposals. With respect to the bulk-billing clinics proposed by the ACT Liberals, as was raised yesterday and as has been raised again today, there have been some important questions as to whether, in fact, it is possible, given the current commonwealth law and commonwealth arrangements, to set up this kind of system.

In the short time I have had to consider this issue I have not had the chance to receive legal advice on this point so I cannot offer any authoritative view on the question. But I have other concerns about the scheme. In particular, I am always sceptical about the idea of government run clinics competing with private doctors. I listened intently to Mr Seselja on radio yesterday. He sounded to me, Mr Assistant Speaker, as though he was struggling on the detail. I am certainly struggling on the detail because it is certainly not clear to me how this is all going to work.

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