Radio interview with Assistant Minister Kearney and Thomas Oriti, ABC News Radio - 29 April 2024

Read the transcript of the radio interview between Assistant Minister Kearney and Thomas Oriti on men's violence against women; bulk billing.

The Hon Ged Kearney MP
Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care

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THOMAS ORITI, HOST: Australia must do better. That was the message from the Prime Minister, Anthony Albanese, who spoke at a rally against gender-based violence outside Parliament in Canberra yesterday. It was one of more than a dozen demonstrations which took place across the country over the weekend in response to a number of women being violently killed in recent times. The Prime Minister was both cheered and jeered during his speech, during which he said a National Cabinet meeting with state and territory leaders will take place on Wednesday. Ged Kearney is Australia's Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care. She attended a rally in Melbourne yesterday and joins us live now.
Good morning. Thank you for your time.
HOST: You were at one of these rallies, as I say, in, Melbourne, how did you feel in the aftermath? Firstly, did you leave, perhaps with a clearer picture of what needs to be done? Because clearly, I don't think it's controversial to say something does need to be done.
KEARNEY: It's certainly not controversial. And the Prime Minister himself is saying that something needs to be done.
Well, I left the rally yesterday feeling that I think at last the situation has been elevated to the level it needs to be. Some of us have been fighting for change in around domestic violence for many years. You know, pretty much all of my career from the time I was nursing through the union movement and now in politics. And so after the rally yesterday, I did get a sense, Tom, that, yes, finally, I think the whole country is looking at this because that's what we need. a whole of country response, a whole of community response. No one government can do this. And so I'm really pleased the Prime Minister has called a meeting of National Cabinet. We really need every single state and territory, every everybody in federal government, local government, right across the whole community to look at this. And I finally felt that with those rallies yesterday that maybe we're going to get some momentum.
 HOST: Do you think it's somewhat sad in a way, that it takes tens of thousands of Australians to take to the streets to spread a message that actually, you know, we need everyone to come together and solve this after so many women have died.
KEARNEY: It's sad that so many women have died. And I do think it's sad that it's taken this. I'm just, can I just say, I'm just relieved that we are finally here.
Labor is absolutely committed to this. It's not that long ago that we had a Prime Minister who said that in another country, women might have been shot for marching, and didn't really take this situation seriously. We have a government that has invested $2.3 billion in measures around this issue. We have a National Plan to stop or to rid the country of family and domestic violence in a generation - that is ambitious. But we really need to get down to the nitty gritty now and say, well, is it, is it really working the way we want it to work?  It's only been in place a year or so. Where do we need to push a bit more effort to make it work? You know, there are so many factors involved in this. It's not one silver bullet that's going to fix it.
HOST: In terms of what we do, Anthony Albanese made this point yesterday, it's not enough to support victims. We need to focus on the perpetrators. We look at solutions here, reform around criminal laws. They will need to come from the state and territory governments as you flagged there, this National Cabinet meeting scheduled for Wednesday. But at a federal level, what can your government do?
KEARNEY: Well, the National Plan does look at prevention. What can we do with the next generation of young men that are growing up? I saw a sign at the rally yesterday that says, ‘What turns our beautiful boys into murderers?’ I don't know. I think we really need to look at that. What is that? How do we prevent that? Where can we invest in early intervention to where can we recognise that this is going to be a problem? And how do we intervene federally? We can of course, invest in a crisis response and we need to do that right across every state and territory. And of course, we need to help women who have experienced sexual and family and domestic violence and look at how we help them recover and heal. So, as I said, it's a multi-pronged approach, Tom, and no one silver bullet's going do it, but we have to really make a huge concerted effort now.
Although we can invest in wonderful organisations that are experts in this field. You know, we do support our watch. There's a lot of organisations out there that work with men. In my marvellous community., we have an organisation called Dardi Munwurro, which works with First Nations men and helps them through their anger management.
And so that there are lots of wonderful organisations in this country that we can support. We can pay to have them evaluated and get the evidence behind them so that we know that they do work.
The Attorney-General has talked about addressing coercive control through his work to implement a nationally consistent approach to coercive control because that nearly always underpins the dynamic of family and domestic violence.
There's a lot that we can do at a federal level through supporting those experts that know really how to make change.
HOST: Do you mind me asking about one suggestion? Just because it's been bubbling around in the news this morning. It's from the New South Wales Opposition leader. Mark Speakman himself a former Attorney General has been pushing for the rollout of ankle bracelets for alleged domestic violence offenders out on bail.  I guess this idea that if some domestic violence offenders aren't really going to care about a piece of paper from a court saying they can't go near a woman, if they want to inflict harm, they probably would anyway. What do you make of something like that?
KEARNEY: I do know that this is already in place in some states. I'm not sure about the territories, but certainly in some states this is being used. And so I'll be very interested to see to see the evidence and the pros and cons of that. It is a state responsibility, but I think everything we do, Tom has to be absolutely based in evidence and we have to have a clear understanding of all sides of such an intervention.
HOST: Okay. We'll have plenty more on that story of course throughout the morning. And no doubt, I imagine it's not the last time we'll be chatting about it either, but I just want to ask you about bulk billing. Visiting GPs for years, people are now saying it's just too costly that there has been what appears to be according to your government some good news this morning, a 2% rise in the GP visits that are bulk billed. Can you just tell us about that and why you think we're seeing that change now?
KEARENY: Well, in previous years, particularly under the previous government, bulk billing was in absolute free fall. And yes, you're right, the community was crying out saying it's impossible to see a bulk billing doctor. With the massive investment that we've put into Medicare - we tripled the bulk billing rates – and we increased the indexation for the rebates that the GPs get., so we have seen a steadying, if you like. There's a small rise of 2.1% increase, but the free freefall has definitely stopped.
Now this equates to around 950,000 additional trips to a bulk-billed GP in the five months until March. Victoria's done particularly well and Tom, we are really pleased to say that we have seen a lot of this improvement in rural and remote areas. However, you know we still recognise that people are still struggling and there's lots of measures that we are really trying to implement.
We have a big increase, a big uptick in - in thanks to Commonwealth investment , thanks to the federal government - in young doctors looking to do general practices as a specialty. I think if we increase the number of GPs that will certainly alleviate a lot of the pressure We have, of course made medicines so much cheaper through various measures. We have our Urgent Care Clinics where people can attend for those urgent but not emergency situations. I think that's taking a lot of pressure off people. They of course bulk bull.

We are looking at using our health workforce better. Maybe you don't need to see a GP. In some states you can go to a pharmacist now to get a script for urinary tract infection for example. Can we better utilise our nurse practitioners and pharmacists and paramedics? So we are looking at a range of measures to really ease the pressure on our general practitioners.
HOST: Can I ask just for some clarification, we were chatting about this with the College of GPs last week and I actually heard from a doctor who wrote in and just said he took issue with this statement that the government's tripled the bulk billing payment to GPs. He's saying that's not true. Hang on a minute. You know, you've tripled the bulk billing for some people, children and concession card holders. We are not talking about absolutely everyone here. Is that a fair argument? You know, what about everyone else? We’ll continue to have to pay out of pocket costs. I'm not discounting the fact that that concession card holders and pensioners and children should be bulk billed, but there are a lot of other people dealing with the cost-of-living crisis at the moment too.
KEARNEY: That's true. And doctors can bulk bill anyone that they like. Some will bulk bill everyone, others will just bulk bill kids. Others will bulk bill pensioners some of the time. I mean, it depends on what the consultation is. So, you know, we encourage all GPs to take advantage of the higher rebate for Medicare bulk billing now and for the bulk billing incentive rate. We would like GPs to bulk bill as many people as they can. We do understand the cost-of-living pressures on general practice is difficult right now and that they do vary from practice to practice. But you can ask your GP to bulk bill you if are struggling with the cost of living at the moment. 
HOST: Is that part of the issue in a way? It does seem like there's no hard and fast rule here, right? It depends on the clinic you go to. It depends on the GP you talk to. It depends on what discussion you've had at the cash register on the way out. It doesn't seem like there's a hard and fast rule as to who's treated in what way when it comes to bulk billing.
KEARNEY: That’s true and at the end of the day, general practices are individual businesses and we can't tell general practice how to run their business. But we can certainly make the government subsidies as good as we can possibly afford. We can work with general practitioners, and we certainly worked very closely with the RACGP to see what we can do to make sure that general practice, when they're running their business, can afford to bulk bill.
We are looking at my Medicare for example, where there's going to be different types of funding for general practice to take on, for example, people with chronic illness who we know are going to see a GP maybe 5, 6, 7 times a year. So, there's a separate sort of funding for that. Block funding, we are looking at different ways that we can help general practice do their business. But at the end of the day, Tom, yes, they are an individual business.

HOST: Okay. Thank you. Great to have you on.

KEARNEY: Okay, thanks Tom.


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