Radio interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Sally Bryant, ABC Riverina Breakfast - 15 May 2024

Read the interview with Assistant Minister McBride and Sally Bryant on the Federal Budget; mental health; Wagga Wagga and Young Medicare Mental Health Centres; health workforce; Riverina bulk billing.

The Hon Emma McBride MP
Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention
Assistant Minister Rural and Regional Health

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SALLY BRYANT, ABC: And talking Budget this morning, and we’ve heard from the Member for Riverina, Michael McCormack, on his thoughts on Jim Chalmers’ budgetary measures, and also response from welfare advocates and housing specialists. Hearing now from Emma McBride, who’s Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention, and also Assistant Minister for Rural Health, who I spoke to a short while ago.

EMMA MCBRIDE, ASSISTANT MINISTER: In this Budget the number one priority is cost of living relief. And we know for Australians, particularly those living in the regional parts of Australia, many of them are doing it tough. And this Budget will provide relief for every household. Every household will receive $300 energy rebates on top of a tax cut for every taxpayer. And we know that in the Riverina that’ll be a bigger tax cut than they would’ve received under the former government’s Stage 3 tax plan.

SALLY BRYANT: Emma, I have had comments coming in on the text line this morning saying people feel they’re- nobody’s going to knock money back, but they would rather see that $300 per person go more targeted to people who are really doing it tough – or even, in fact, being spent on things like mental health services, because mental health services right across the regions are really bad at the moment.

EMMA MCBRIDE: And with my responsibilities with mental health and suicide prevention, particularly for the 7 million Australians living out of our major cities, I'm really pleased that we're launching a new national early intervention service. This will be a service that anyone can access without a diagnosis or without a referral for free, high quality, evidence-based therapy from trained professionals. This will make a big difference to people living in distress, to be able to access quality care closer to home and very affordably. And also particularly locally, in the Riverina. I'm really pleased to announce an upgrade to the Head to Health centres. So, they will be Medicare Mental Health Centres with extra clinical capacity. And there's two that have already been announced in Wagga and Young, which will be up and running towards the end of this year. And what they will provide is for adults in the community a free walk-in service where they can have quality wraparound mental health care and support, including access to a psychologist, a psychiatrist, and a GP on call. So, a big boost in access to affordable mental health care for people in the Riverina, with those two services to be up and running in Wagga and Young later this year.

SALLY BRYANT: So have you got these new centres staffed?

EMMA MCBRIDE: With that, we are building on our former budget, which was really around laying foundations, which was investing in the pipeline of workforce. And we've made investments, including additional university places for doctors at regional clinical schools, um, wiping the university debt of doctors and nurse practitioners working in the most regional or rural parts of Australia, and also investing in a new type of workforce, a peer workforce. We know that sometimes the best support you can have is from someone who's been in your shoes, and we've invested in this Budget in setting up a professional association for peer workers, because we know the contribution that someone has- that someone with lived experience can make to people's support and care, and helping them to navigate the broader mental health and suicide prevention system. So, we do have a 10-year strategy on mental health workforce, and we've invested significantly, including in the last budget, in building that pipeline of workforce.

SALLY BRYANT: How can we go about getting more medical help in country areas?

EMMA MCBRIDE: One of the biggest things we've done to do that is tripling the bulk billing incentive. That was the biggest investment in Medicare since Medicare was developed more than 40 years ago. Before Medicare was introduced, the leading cause of personal bankruptcy was unpaid medical bills. And what we've now seen with the tripling of the bulk billing incentive is a jump in bulk billing. It was in freefall under the former government, and in the Riverina, we've seen a 2.3 per cent jump in bulk billing. That bulk billing rate in your community is now 82.5 per cent, which means that 82.5 per cent of visits to a GP locally are fully bulk billed That's supporting children under 16, age pensioners and other people in the community to be able to get that access to quality healthcare close to home and affordably.

SALLY BRYANT: We've got a surplus, but then we've got a forecast deficit. Would there not be good sense in taking the pain now?

EMMA MCBRIDE: What the Treasurer has done and what we're as a government are committed to do is reducing the cost of living. And we know that many people, including people living in regional and remote Australia and many of these communities I've visited, I've heard from people who've spoken about the pressure that they're feeling, whether that's financial distress or otherwise. This is a balanced Budget that's looking at providing cost of living relief where we can afford it, and also looking to make sure that we're investing in the future. I think in this Budget there is something for every Australian. There's a tax cut for every Australian taxpayer. There's energy bill relief for every household and small business. This is a very well thought out Budget, the number one priority being cost of living relief, particularly for individuals and families.

SALLY BRYANT: Is this Budget setting up for an early election?

EMMA MCBRIDE: What this Budget is doing is investing in Australians and making sure that we can reduce the cost of living whilst not adding to inflation. It's the second surplus budget- the second back-to-back surplus budget, which really speaks to the economic management of the government. And what that's allowing us to do, it's not an end in itself, but what it allows us to do is provide support and to people and small businesses where they need it most.

SALLY BRYANT: Emma McBride, thank you so much for your time this morning.

EMMA MCBRIDE: Thank you. It's been really good to be with you.

SALLY BRYANT: Assistant Minister for Mental Health and Suicide Prevention and Assistant Minister for Rural Health Emma McBride, who I spoke to a short time ago.

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