GP Access After Hours service funding must be restored in full - Speech to Parliament

Speech to Federation Chamber

29 November 2021

Watch here speech here

I rise in support of this motion by my colleague the member for Newcastle, and I acknowledge the hard work that she has done within our community. We value GP after-hours-access services for the people of the Hunter region and we condemn the Morrison government for cutting funding that will cause the closure of the Calvary Mater clinic and reduce operating hours at Belmont, John Hunter and Maitland hospitals, and at the Westlakes Community Health Centre.

Cuts to this valuable and pioneering 20-year-old health service will be devastating for the people of the Hunter, who have come to rely on it so very much. These cuts will put more pressure on our overstretched and underfunded emergency departments, and will cost the taxpayer much more in the long run. It just makes no sense. But, most importantly, these cuts mean that an important safety net will be taken away from Hunter families—families who can't get into a GP because, quite frankly, there just aren't enough of them and families who cannot afford to see a GP who bulk bills because there aren't enough of those either. And all of this because the Morrison government is determined to undermine Medicare. This is the length and breadth of it: they hate Medicare and they don't want universal health funding. They can't stand this because it's a Labor idea that has worked so brilliantly well over the decades. They just hate Medicare and it's death by a thousand cuts for Medicare.

Why on earth would a government want to cut an after-hours GP clinic that saves it money? We really have to wonder about the Morrison government, led by this Prime Minister. Of course, they've tried to pass the buck to the state, to the New South Wales government, but no-one's buying that. The Minister for Health in the Morrison government can reinstate GP access funding right now, today. In fact, the Prime Minister could himself reinstate GP after-hours funding when he comes to town—which he seems to enjoy doing these days. In fact, he flies in like Santa Claus and sprinkles a little bit of magic dust around, but then, on Christmas Eve, he takes away GP access.

For every parent who has sat in an emergency waiting room for hour after hour with a sick child—I myself have done it—whether they sat at the John Hunter or Maitland hospitals, thinking, 'Please, God, let them be seen soon,' GP access has provided the answer. You can actually make an appointment, be seen within a short time and not sit all night in an emergency department. And it takes the pressure off these overstretched emergency departments. The people in them are doing such a great job.

GP access is a godsend, and this government wants to cut it. It's death by a thousand cuts. The government freeze Medicare rebates and then they make it harder for doctors to bulk bill. Then they make it harder for regional practices to actually recruit doctors and then they make it nigh impossible for people to get into a doctor, or into a doctor who they can afford. And now they're cutting the safety net: the after-hours GP access. We have seen through COVID that health has never been more important to the people of this country. Why would the government cut such a valuable service? It just does not seem really important to this government. What about our frontline workers? Where's the recognition of what they've done for us over the last couple of years and, quite frankly, what they've done for us every day? The past two years during the pandemic have been inordinately stressful for healthcare professionals. Nurses, doctors—they're on the front line and particularly those who work in after-hours clinics such as GP Access. They've borne the brunt of this. They're part of our community and they understand how valuable the service is.

Access to GPs and GP Access in the Hunter is an institution. It was started in the Hunter; it should most definitely stay in its full capacity in the Hunter. It saves families time and distress. It saves families money. It saves the government money, for goodness sake! Where is the downside to this? I have been proud to join with my Hunter colleagues to speak up in support of this incredibly important service. Over 11,000 people have signed our petition to stop these cuts and restore GP Access to its full operation. This is the thin end of the wedge. We cannot allow the Prime Minister to cut the health care of good hardworking Australian families.