LABOR CANDIDATE FOR ASTON, MARY DOYLE: Thanks everyone for coming and thank you to Anthony and the team here at Pharmacy@Knox. I'm Mary Doyle, I'm the Labor candidate for Aston at the upcoming by-election. Now, of course years ago the Hawke Labor Government, they were the ones who brought back Medicare after the Liberals dismantled it, and it's no secret that I've had a fair bit of experience with Medicare since then. I was very shocked to be diagnosed with breast cancer when I was only 25. I was the first in my family to be met with this diagnosis, and I don't have the gene for it. Now, under the same circumstances, if I'd been born in the US, I would probably not have survived. Sadly, I would not have been able to afford an ultrasound, mammogram, and numerous other tests and operations and medicines which ultimately saved my young life. But I am here. And that is the value of Medicare and why I will always, always fight to defend it. And I want to be part of a team that's going to strengthen Medicare after 10 years of neglect from the Liberals and Peter Dutton. It's no secret that in the outer east, people are doing it tough. But here in Aston people have saved more than $250,000 on their prescriptions since the Albanese Government's policy came in on the first of January, and that's a lot of money in people's back pockets. And I want to be part of that. I will always stand up for locals, and I want the people in this community to have their opinion heard when it comes to strengthening Medicare and be part of the great work that Health Minister Mark Butler's doing. Over to you, Mark.
MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thanks so much, Mary. It's terrific to be here in Knox. And I want to thank Mel and Dat for hosting us today, and for the work that they're doing every single day at this 24-hour pharmacy here in the Eastern Suburbs of Melbourne. For the work that they've done over the course of the last few years, which have been tough for people across the world, but particularly tough for the people of Victoria. People tell me time and time again that over the course of this pandemic, there was no more accessible health care place to visit than their local pharmacy. And you know, we just can't thank pharmacists like Mel and Dat enough for caring for people in their community through a really tough time for the people of Victoria. They tell me that their books are overwhelmed with vaccination appointments and walk-ins for people to get that additional dose that is now available to them whether it's your third, fourth or fifth dose, if you're eligible for that: if it's been more than six months since you’ve had an infection or had your last vaccination dose, get out there, come to pharmacies like the pharmacy here at Knox and just top up your treatment to protect yourself over the coming period.
But we're also here to talk about the benefit of cheaper medicines. And it's just so terrific to be here with Mary Doyle. She is a powerful voice for better health care policy in this country. And it comes from that deep experience she just talked about as a cancer survivor, but also as a mum, living in a community where people are doing it tough - they recognise it's never been harder to see a doctor, and never more expensive to see a doctor than it is right now. Cost of living pressures across the household budget are really biting, and at the election last year, Mary campaigned on a promise to deliver Australians in her community cheaper medicines and Labor has already delivered on that promise. In July, we slashed the maximum amount that pensioners and concession card holders would pay for their medicines so that now across a year, millions of pensioners and concession card holders will pay no more than $5 a week for all of their medicines needs, no matter how many medicines they get a script for every month. In September, we cut the price of 2000 brands of medicines putting $130 million back into the pockets of hardworking Australians. In November, we extended the seniors health care card to thousands and thousands more self-funded retirees so that they'd get access to cheaper medicines as well. And on the first of January the centrepiece of our policy that we worked up with the Pharmacy Guild, we delivered the biggest cut to the price of medicines in the 75-year history of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and already in just the first two months, that's put $36 million back into the pockets of Australian patients. As Mary said, a quarter of a million dollars just here in her electorate of Aston with a cut to the price of 22,000 scripts in just two months. That's making a real difference to the hip pockets of people in her community at a time of skyrocketing cost of living pressures, but it's also good for their health because pharmacists like Anthony, who's here representing the Guild today, have been telling us for months and months now that hundreds of thousands of Australians every year go without or defer their medicines - a script that their doctor has said is important for their health - because they simply can't afford it. So, making medicines cheaper is not just good for cost of living, but it's good for people's health as well.
And the contrast between our first Budget delivering on those promises that Mary made to the people of Aston last May could not be clearer from the Budget that Peter Dutton delivered back in 2014 as the Health Minister. In his first Budget as Health Minister, he cut hospital funding by $50 billion, he put in place - or tried to put in place - a $7 tax on every single Australian for every single doctor visit that they undertook across the year, and when he couldn't deliver that through the Senate because we blocked it, instead, he started a freeze on the Medicare rebate that went for six long years and helped create the crisis in general practice that we have today. He also tried to jack up the price of every single script in pharmacies like this by $5, our first Budget cut the price of scripts for general patients by $12 a script, Peter Dutton tried to jack it up by $5. No wonder Australia's doctors voted Peter Dutton, the worst Health Minister in the history of Medicare. Now this by-election is a chance to put in Parliament a strong local voice who is passionate about better health care, like Mary Doyle, and it's also a chance to send a message to the Liberal Party that you've got to do better than Peter Dutton. Happy to take questions.
JOURNALIST: Less and less doctors are offering bulk-billing at the moment in the local area. Does the government have any plans to address that?
BUTLER: We've been saying for many, many months before we were elected in May that there is a real crisis in general practice. While the former government was trying to pretend that bulk billing rates were at historic highs, we were hearing from patients and from doctors that they were under unprecedented pressure, and I think the evidence is starting to show that we were right, unfortunately, we were right. The average gap fee now to see a doctor for a standard consult is actually more than the Medicare rebate itself for the first time in the history of Medicare. And there is no person in Australia more responsible for this than Peter Dutton because he started that freeze on the Medicare rebate that ran for six long years. So, GPs had their income frozen while their costs were continuing to rise. No wonder they had to start jacking up gap fees. The crisis in general practice is precisely why we placed strengthening Medicare at the centre of our health policy at the last election. We've already received and published the Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report, that was received and published in January, and our response to that report will be delivered in the May Budget. But what it will include is the $750 million that we allocated at the last election and delivered in the Budget in October - the only party that went to the last election promising more investment in Medicare. We're already rolling out Urgent Care Clinics, Expressions of Interest are open right across the country for our 50 Urgent Care Clinics that will be bulk-billed and take enormous pressure off our hospitals. So, strengthening Medicare is the biggest priority that our government has in health policy.
JOURNALIST: When are we expecting the TGA to hand down the results of its vaping review?
BUTLER: It's becoming increasingly clear just how big a public health menace vaping is in this country to the general community, but particularly to our children and adolescents. These products are often directly marketed not just to adolescents, but to very young children - they might have pink unicorns on them, they're bubblegum flavoured. I was told of a story by a parent earlier this week of discovering a vape in their child's pencil case that was made to look like a highlighter pen so they could take it to school. I mean, this is cynical, this is shameless, and this is posing a deep threat to our children and adolescents. So, I've been very clear we intend to come down hard on this industry that has exploded over the last several years, frankly, because of a lack of controlling action by the former government among other things. Now we've had some really productive discussions with my Health Minister colleagues right across the country, there is a deep determination to come down strongly on vaping. We are going to have to do that in a cooperative way with state governments, it is going to have to include controls at the borders, but it's also going to have to include policing on the streets, which will require some resources from state governments. As you said, I asked the Therapeutic Goods Administration to conduct a broad consultation over the course of summer, they're in the process now of compiling the results of that, there were thousands of submissions, including from parents and from teachers and school principals, who tell us now that vaping is the number one behavioural issue they confront in school communities. So that process is underway, we had a Health Ministers meeting only in the last fortnight, where again, across the board, we reaffirmed our determination to act in a cooperative way, and over the coming period we'll make clear what that action involves.
JOURNALIST: Mary, pre-polling opening on Monday, what's the reception been like from the local community?
DOYLE: I've been out on the doors everyday pretty much and on the phones and getting a very warm reception, actually. Yeah, so it's very encouraging, even from previous Liberal voters, it's been wonderful. But look, you know, I do realise it's a mountain to climb and I've never shied away from climbing mountains even with a dodgy knee. So yeah, it's been good.