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Health Care Funding (Appropriation Bill 2023)

I'd also like to make note of my disappointment that neither the Minister for Health and Aged Care, nor the Minister for Aged Care, nor the assistant health ministers, are present for this consideration in detail debate. I would like to thank the Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention for being here. But the point of this consideration in detail debate is to ask questions of those ministers.

However, the government's $5.7 billion investment in health care is very welcome. As a doctor, I know just how neglected and underfunded our health sector was over the last decade, and it led to a healthcare system that was stressed and stretched to its limits. In particular, as the health minister himself has declared, it led to a crisis in general practice. Bulk-billing rates declined rapidly in recent years, due to the Medicare rebate freeze in place since 2014, which simply meant that rebates did not keep pace with the rising cost of running a practice. So the government's injection of $3.5 billion to triple the incentive payments for GPs to bulk-bill children, pensioners and concession card holders is a crucial health equity measure and will provide cost-of-living relief.

Also welcome is the $99 million over five years for the new Medicare level E item number, for consultations over 60 minutes. As a GP, I know that this will improve access for patients with complex needs. These consultations are more commonly performed by female GPs, and, like many of the feminised roles in our society, until now this vital work has been undervalued and underpaid. These measures, along with a four per cent increase in Medicare rebates through indexation, deliver a desperately-needed shot in the arm for universal health care.

However, the budget does little to address the other key problem in general practice, and that is the shortage of GPs in Australia in both rural and urban settings. We know that people are waiting longer and longer to see a GP, and it is simply not safe.

The health minister himself previously dubbed the declining number of medical students pursuing general practice as the most terrifying statistic in health care. A diminishing number of young doctors are choosing to specialise in general practice because, despite being the linchpin of our health system, this profession is not valued or esteemed in the same way as other medical specialties. In response to this trend, General Practice Registrars Australia has urged the government to introduce a scheme for GP registrars to receive base-rate parity with their hospital based colleagues. So my question for the Minister for Health and Aged Care is: with GPs being the foundation of our health system and the cornerstone of multidisciplinary primary health care, will the government ensure GP registrars are paid the same as their hospital based colleagues in order to again grow GP trainee numbers?

I'd like to turn to the issue of disease prevention. We hear so often that prevention is better than cure. It is a hackneyed saying because it is so true and used so often. I do applaud the government's moves to crack down on smoking and the illegal sale of e-cigarette in this country. The targeted sale of illegally imported vapes to our children is a disgrace and must stop. I also welcome the allocation of funding for a new national lung cancer screening program. Yet the government's investment in preventive health in this budget is, at best, modest. Most strikingly, the National Obesity Strategy remains unfunded. This is despite overweight and obesity affecting two-thirds of our adult population and causing the vast majority of the chronic disease burden in this country. Each year, obesity is estimated to cost our healthcare system nearly $12 billion. Funding the National Obesity Strategy would be the most direct and effective way to improve the health of our Australian population and to relieve our stressed hospital system. My question for the health minister, then, is: will the government fund the National Obesity Strategy and, if so, when?

I would also suggest that expenditure on mental health in this budget is inadequate. We are facing an epidemic of mental ill-health in Australia. The task of treating such large numbers has overwhelmed our mental health services. My last question for the health minister is: will we start to fund prevention measures in mental health—firstly, initiatives such as having a social worker or a counsellor in every school in the country?