Minister for Health and Aged Care - press conference - 17 May 2023

Read the transcript of Minister Butler's press conference in Melbourne on Victoria's Urgent Care Clinics

The Hon Mark Butler MP
Minister for Health and Aged Care

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VICTORIAN MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AMBULANCE SERVICES, MARY-ANNE THOMAS: Good morning, everyone. It's really great to be here in South Melbourne today with the Federal Minister for Health, Mark Butler. But before I start, I wanted to firstly acknowledge the children and the families who have been impacted by the terrible crash that we saw in Eynesbury last night. I've been on the phone this morning to the CEO of the Royal Children's Hospital. All Victorians can be assured that the children are receiving the very best care. But obviously, this is a really traumatic time for close-knit community, and our thoughts are with all of the Exford Park Primary School community.

It's now my pleasure to hand over to Federal Minister for Health, Mark Butler. It's great to have Mark here in Victoria. Our government is delighted to have a true partner now in Canberra and we've been working very effectively together. We’ll always stand up for Victoria, of course, Mark knows that, but we very much welcome him here today.

MINISTER FOR HEALTH AND AGED CARE, MARK BUTLER: Thank you Mary-Anne, can I add my words of solidarity and support to the community that's been impacted by this accident. The whole nation has been deeply shocked by the reports, the images, of what happened to this school community, this beautiful group of young children, and I know the whole nation is really just praying for the recovery of those children. Thank you, Mary-Anne, for providing us with that update.

I'm really pleased to be here with the Victorian Minister for Health, and my friend and colleague, Josh Burns, the local member here, the Member for Macnamara, in a terrific announcement about our plans to continue to strengthen Medicare. We were elected last year as the Federal Government on three core promises in the health and aged care portfolio. The first to strengthen Medicare, the second to deliver cheaper medicines, and the third to fix aged care and implement the recommendations of the Royal Commission into the Aged Care System. Last week's Budget delivered on all three of those promises.

In Medicare we delivered more than $6 billion in new spending to strengthen Medicare. As well as $1.5 billion dollars in a boost to indexation, which will deliver the largest across the board increase in Medicare rebates in more than 30 years - since Paul Keating was the Prime Minister of this country. And the centrepiece of our strengthening Medicare program is a $3.5 billion dollar investment to triple bulk billing incentives to return bulk billing as the beating heart of Medicare, and to really strengthen the financial position of great primary care providers like this one – Star Health in South Melbourne, which is part of the Better Health Network, right through big parts of Melbourne, down, I think, into the peninsula. So, this is a really important investment. We went to the election saying that we unashamedly placed general practice and primary care right at the top of the list of health portfolio priorities that we have. And I know the Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has been leading work for states and territories in this area, and has also recognised that fixing primary care after 10 years of cuts and neglect is not just only important to ensure that people can get the care in the community when and where they need it, but it's also incredibly important to take pressure off hospital systems that are dealing with strain right across the world, not just here in Victoria, not just across Australia, but right across the world, after three years of terrible pandemic.

A core element of our plan to deliver better care in the community and take pressure off hospitals is our network of Medicare Urgent Care Clinics. We promised 50 at the last election and last week's Budget built on that by delivering 58 Urgent Care Clinics funded by the Commonwealth, right across Australia. These will deliver services on a seven-day basis per week, across extended hours from 8am to 10pm. And will be fully bulk-billed. They’ll be available for walk-in clients who are dealing with non-life-threatening emergencies that need care immediately. Whether it's your kid falling off the skateboard or busting their arm, or a deep cut, or an urgent infection, often people just aren't able to get into their normal GP quickly enough to deal with that emergency, and too often that means they're ending up at emergency departments.

We have about 4 million presentations every single year in emergency departments that are classified as semi-urgent or non-urgent, and it's important for us to take as much of that pressure off those hospitals into primary care where they can be adequately cared for as we possibly can. Now we've had great partnership with all state and territory governments that have deeply invested time and energy, they’ve co-designed this new model of care across the country, and that partnership has been no more apparent anywhere in the country than here in Victoria, where I know that Mary-Anne and the Premier have taken up this new model with real energy. So, we've been delighted to be able to partner with the Victorian Government across eight of those centres, which we will take up funding responsibility for from 1 July. There are two additional centres that we’re committed to opening over the course of this year. The first of which will be in Sunbury on the outskirts of Melbourne, and the second of which will be here in South Melbourne, building on a terrific work that services like this one have been delivering for so many years. Expressions of Interest will open next week for the South Melbourne Urgent Care Clinic, and we look forward to that being able to start delivering services over the course of 2023. Happy to take questions.

JOURNALIST: Minister Butler, on the changes announced today, there will only be a gain of two clinics in Victoria. So why is the Federal Government not creating an additional eight clinics to build on the work the state government has done and take further pressure off hospitals? 

BUTLER: If you look at the election commitment that we made for the May 2022 election, we identified 10 locations for Commonwealth funded Medicare Urgent Care Clinics, eight of which are already operating. Now what the Victorian Government - to their great credit - decided was that they could stand up those clinics quicker than we could as a newly elected government. And they decided to do that to take pressure off their own hospital systems to deliver care into the community in those eight regions, on the understanding that funding will be transferred to the Commonwealth Government from 1 July. That is what precisely is happening. So without the Victorian Government taking those steps, we would not have been able to deliver those services as quickly in those eight regions as we've been able to do. But they were always intended to transfer back to us and be funded through the money that was allocated in last week's Budget.

JOURNALIST: A question for the Member for Macnamara, do you stand by your views on reforming negative gearing rules that are different to the PM and the Treasurers views, and will you raise this at National Conference?

MEMBER FOR MACNAMARA, JOSH BURNS: Well, there’s a bit in that. A bit of mayo put on that question. Let me say clearly that the issues in the housing sector right now revolve entirely around supply. And it is absolute madness that we have this wacky coalition of the Greens, One Nation, Clive Palmer's bloke, and the Coalition blocking the biggest investment in social and affordable housing in almost a decade. The Federal Government hasn't been involved in housing for a very long time, and this Labor Government that I'm so proud to be involved in with Mark and the Treasurer and the Prime Minister, is putting public housing and social housing back on the agenda. If the Greens are going to stand with this wacky coalition of One Nation, Clive Palmer's bloke, and the Coalition Peter Dutton’s mob, then they need to explain why they're blocking social and affordable housing. I stand by the Prime Minister and the Treasurer, we have a really collaborative culture in the Federal Parliament. We talk about a whole range of policy ideas, but the biggest issue in the housing sector is supply. 

JOURNALIST: So just going back to that previous question, just confirming that with the Federal Government taking over state funding for the centres that was due to end this year, were that not to happen would there be a risk of those centres closing?

THOMAS: Let's be absolutely clear, primary care is a Federal Government responsibility. And after 10 years of neglect under the previous Federal Coalition Government, our government took action to establish priority primary care centres here in Victoria, because we needed to take pressure off our emergency departments. Under the former Federal Coalition Government, Medicare was broken. We stepped in, we're proud to do so, but now that we have a partner in Canberra that we can work with, a Federal Labor Government that takes its responsibilities to deliver primary care seriously, we can work on models that are going to best serve the needs of our communities.


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