ABC RN: 16/05/2022

May 16, 2022



MONDAY, 16 MAY 2022

SUBJECTS: 10-year health plan; the housing market.


PATRICIA KARVELAS, HOST: With talks about strengths to Health and Medicare this week, it’s promising an Albanese government would boost spending by almost a billion dollars to improve both GPA access and affordability. But the government has dismissed the new money as 'a slush fund' with no explanation of how it will deliver better health care. What do you make of the idea?

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Right now, I'm joined by Mark Butler, who's the Shadow Minister for Health, Mark Butler, welcome.




KARVELAS: This plan includes 750 million over three years for a new Strengthening Medicare Fund. How will this make it easier to see a doctor, which is really the biggest concern for many people?


BUTLER: You are right - Australians are crying out for better access to a doctor. But they're also crying out for better treatment options, particularly for the more complex chronic disease that we see more and more often here in Australia.


Over the last few years, doctors, nurses, allied health and patient groups have been working very hard on developing a 10-year plan to strengthen Medicare, and to improve primary care, and the plan was published only very recently in March. 

But the problem for all of them is the government then left them high and dry with absolutely no funds to actually deliver the recommendations of that plan, to improve access, to improve treatment options.

When the government had put in place $450 million in the 2019 budget specifically for this purpose, and then cut their own funding, and in this year's budget, there was nothing for it.

So, what we've said is this plan, so it doesn't simply sit on a shelf and gather dust, needs funding, needs policy decisions, to improve access, and to improve care options, and we'll deliver that.


KARVELAS: Ok – but the policy refers to greater patient affordability – does this mean it will be cheaper to see a doctor if you’re elected. How solid is that promise? How does it work?


BUTLER: Well, there are a range of recommendations in this 10-year plan, particularly for wrap around care, for patients who have that complex chronic disease, strengthening the relationship between the patients and particularly their general practice, so not just their GP, but nurses and allied health professionals working in that practice.  That’s been particularly the focus of the AMA, the College of GP’s – to make those recommendations a reality because the Morrison government walked away from any implementation responsibility there.


KARVELAS: The government says you haven't released any criteria for how the funding would be spent, which means it's just a slush fund. They describe it as a 'Labor slush fund', but really just a pool of money, we don't know where it's going. Don't voters have a right to know how the money would actually be spent?


BUTLER: That money will go into the primary care plan. It will be added to the Medicare Benefits Schedule; it will improve Medicare options, not just for doctors and nurses, and allied health professionals, but importantly for patients.

And if you want to get a sense of where the money is going to be directed, the government should look at its own 10 Year Primary Care Plan.  It asks the doctors and the nurses and everyone else to work hard on developing their plan, and then walked away from them, left them high and dry.

So, we know what key priorities there are, it's about better access, particularly after hours to your GP.  It's about making sure that general practice is able to bulk up their team to have more nurses and allied health professionals working there. It's about strengthening that relationship, particularly for patients with complex and chronic disease.

So that's why I've said we don't want to relook at the plan. The plan has the support of pretty much everyone in the health sector. The problem is it doesn't have any funding, and it doesn't have any policy decisions to draw it out of that long term
10-year plan. The question is what are the priorities to implement right now?

That's what I will be doing if we're elected? Well, I will be doing with AMA and the other groups now and the end of the year.


KARVELAS: Why do you need a task force to tell you where the money is needed the most? Don't we already know where the pinch points are, namely a lack of GPS, especially in regional Australia?


BUTLER: Because this is a 10-year plan. This a long-term plan with a whole lot of material within it, and as the plan makes clear itself when the government published it a couple of months ago, the plan now needs policy decisions and funding decisions to make it a reality, to actually deliver the change that patients need.

And that's why I've said that I'll pull together those groups, not to look at the plan again because people support the plan, but to make those decisions for the budget next year – what are the priorities?

And they've already identified the sorts of areas that we should be looking at, as I said, access after-hours, more nurses and allied health professionals working as a multidisciplinary team for people particularly with chronic disease and strengthening those relationships with your own GP.

So, this shouldn't take long. I've said that the work should be done by the end of the year so that we can feed into the budget process for 2023 and funds can start to flow to strengthen Medicare and improve access so patients have to good quality 21st century care.


KARVELAS: If you are elected, can you guarantee you would implement the recommendations from the task force, that they won't be quietly binned?


BUTLER: Well, this is a commitment, that’s why we put the money on the table. You know what we're not going to do is what Scott Morrison government has done, which is to have doctors and nurses, and patient groups, spend all of this time working hard to develop a plan and then leave them high and dry. We want this plan implemented to deliver the change that patients need that they've been saying they need.

KARVELAS: Now, all up the policy will cost, I think it's shy of just a billion dollars, right?

It's not just, it's a lot of money. Given the budget is swimming in debt and deficit, where will you find the money to pay for it?


BUTLER: Well, we make no apology for prioritising Medicare, cheaper childcare fixing the aged care crisis, the expense of making sure that multinationals pay their fair share of tax and ending the waste and the rorts.  Jim Chalmers and Katie Gallagher have already laid out some of our plans about that. But in terms of our costings, they will be released, as you know Patricia, in the usual way over the course of the final week of the campaign.


KARVELAS: It's pretty late though! Why so late?


BUTLER: It's not late Patricia.


KARVELAS: It is late.


BUTLER: It is exactly the same time the parties lay out their costings and have done in previous elections. I mean, why would you lay out costings before announcements are completed? Of course, the costings are released after the two parties have released all of their policies. And as we've seen only in the last 24 hours, both parties are still obviously releasing costings, the election campaign is not over yet. And as you know, this is precisely the time that the major parties have done this in previous election campaigns.


KARVELAS: On the coalition's plan to allow first homebuyers to withdraw up to $50,000 of their Super - you're opposing this right?  This is really a point of difference between the parties. Why is this such a bad idea? Why not help young Australians who are priced out of the market, save for a deposit?


BUTLER: This is a desperate act by a Prime Minister coming up with a policy that has been considered and rejected by every serious economic thinker in politics over the last 20 years, including every serious economic thinker in the Liberal Party, John Howard, Peter Costello, Malcolm Turnbull, Matias Corman, because they know that all it will do other than deplete people's retirement incomes in the housing market, all it'll do is push prices up even further and see the dream of homeownership slip even further from the fingertips of most young Australians.


KARVELAS: I put that to Jane Hume, the Minister for Superannuation, she says actually, they haven't seen this plan with these caveats, including putting the money back when you sell the house, that it's not, you know, they haven't commented on this plan that they've now developed.

BUTLER: There was a parliamentary committee only six weeks ago chaired by a Liberal MP, Jason Falinski, that concluded that allowing people to raid their Super to push into homes would simply push prices up. You know the fundamentals of this haven't changed. This will push prices up even further.

And I think Jane Hume conceded that, but what it also sees, just think about how many young Australians are going to be able to find $50,000 in their Super. They need a Super balance of $125,000 to access 50 under Scott Morrison's policy.

How many young Australians have $125,000 in their Super? Hardly any. So, for those who don't, for whom this is really a meaningless announcement by a desperate Prime Minister, all they'll see is house prices go up even further.


KARVELAS: The Minister says it will be a temporary rise, that it won't be a long-term rise. What's your reaction? What's your response to that?


BUTLER: Well, I think that just ignores the reality of the Australian housing market. Like when have we seen a temporary rise in house prices? This will push house prices up even further, and for the overwhelming bulk of young Australians for whom this is meaningless, because they don't have $125,000 in their Super, it will just see the dream of home, homeownership slip even further away. And I think what young Australians would like their Prime Minister to be doing right now is to be supporting a wage increase for them. As they've seen their wages go backwards for a decade now. A wage increase might help them do things like make ends meet and start to save for a deposit as well.


KARVELAS: Okay. Scott Morrison says it's a game changer. Are you in danger of being wedged on what is such a key issue for so many voters?


BUTLER: No, we will argue against this because this is terrible policy. It is policy on the run by a desperate Prime Minister that has been rejected by every serious thinker in politics for the last 20 years. And I challenge you Patricia, I bet you cannot find someone to come on your programme who's not from the housing industry who will profit from even higher prices, or a supportive media commentator, who will say this is a good idea. You will not find anyone to do that.


KARVELAS: Scott Morrison used the liberal launch on the weekend to talk about how he's the man with the plan. He's only just getting started as Prime Minister. Labor is still clearly scarred by the experience three years ago. It's obvious that Labor people are scarred, they pretty much admitted. Would you put it past Scott Morrison pulling off another miracle win?


BUTLER: Yesterday was just more desperation from Scott Morrison. This is a terrible policy idea that will cause real damage to the housing market.


KARVELAS: Yeah, it might be very popular for the housing market?


BUTLER: Well, I think as people think for more than a couple of minutes about this, they'll see that this is a policy that only a few people will benefit from and the overwhelming bulk of young Australians will suffer from.


KARVELAS: Isn't the risk for you though that people won't necessarily, spend lots of time analysing. I mean, some people do, but people don't sit down for hours analysing policy, that on face level, this is a policy that will be popular.


BUTLER: Young Australians won't take long to think whether they have $125,000 in Super. And if they do, they can take $50,000 out and they might as well just hand it straight to the housing industry that ultimately is going to be the only beneficiary from this in higher prices for the overwhelming bulk of young Australians. Just think, the majority of Australians in their late 20s have $20,000 or less in their super.

The majority of Australians in their early 30s have $35,000 or less in their Super, so they respectively would be able to take out maybe $8,000 or $14,000 for this policy, as they see house prices continue to race away from them, continue to race away from them.  I don't think it will take them long to realise that this is a desperate political act by a Prime Minister who has been telling them over the last week they don't deserve a wage increase.


KARVELAS: We're out of time but Mark Butler, thanks for joining us.


BUTLER: Thank you, Patricia.


KARVELAS: Mark Butler is the Shadow Minister for Health and Ageing and you're listening to ABC RB breakfast...