Mr RAMSEY (Grey—Government Whip) (16:05): This is an important motion. We should be debating the level of services in Australia.
I think those who have brought the motion forward don’t have a great record in this area. They were, of course, the party that brought us the ‘Mediscare’ campaign in 2016, when they said that those on this side, the government, were going to sell off Medicare. In fact, we’ve lifted the funding by 75 per cent, and we’ve guaranteed the future of Medicare. So that was completely misleading.
But it is an issue. As our population expands and ages, the demands on our health services become greater. That is why I am so very pleased that the government is up to the task, because we are lifting the taxpayers’ contribution to health, and we are undertaking many innovative things within the system to bring about a better outcome. In fact, from when we came to government in 2013, the hospitals budget has risen from $13.36 billion to a projected $26.2 billion by 2022, which is a doubling—a doubling of money for these services. That’s well, well in front of CPI or even medical inflation. So we are making a significant contribution. It is about actually getting value for money, where we have to concentrate.
As to bulk-billing, I heard conversation coming from the other side about the ever-increasing size of the gap. But they should be very pleased, at least, that the number of people paying the gap is falling, because 86 per cent, up from 82 per cent, of Medicare charge items are being bulk-billed.
I also want to speak a bit about mental health, and I’m indebted to the former speaker who spoke about mental health issues. This is a very important thing. We are lifting expenditure in the mental health field over the forward estimates by $736 million.
In my electorate of Grey, mental health services are delivered by the primary healthcare network. I’ve told this House before—and it’s something I’m very proud of—that when the former Minister for Health, Peter Dutton, was the minister there was a proposal that there be one primary healthcare network for South Australia, and I put the case that I thought that, under any circumstances, a dedicated country primary healthcare network would be far better. I’ll always trust people in the country to make decisions about things in the country, far more than somebody making decisions about the whole system. In fact, that has put more than $31 million back into the electorate of Grey since the 2015 start-up, largely dedicated to mental health.
In 2013, when we came to government, there was one headspace unit in Grey. There are now four. Since that time, we’ve managed to get funding for a unit in Whyalla and another in Port Lincoln, and we now have a flying headspace, operating with the flying doctor out of Port Augusta. It’s a wonderful outcome.
I now want to touch on doctors and the member for Makin’s comments before. He is quite right: we have a crisis as to rural doctors in South Australia. We are more than 30 short in my electorate of Grey. It is something that I have been waxing on ever since I got to this place, because I had been, as a member of hospital boards and hospital associations before I got to this parliament, dealing with the issue of trying to get doctors to work in the country for many years before I came here. There are no easy answers, Member for Makin. I’m thankful that the government is actually recognising the issues and providing $550 million for the rural health strategy, and delivering a dedicated string of rural medical school networks to try to increase that supply. But the problem, with doctors in the country and doctors generally, is that it’s like trying to turn the Queen Mary around—it really takes a long time. Once you start putting things in the pipeline, you’re talking 10 to 15 years before you get the results, and we’ve got a crisis now.
I’ve spoken many times about this issue in the parliament and have put forward the proposal that we need to move to postcode-specific Medicare provider numbers in Australia. Why we allow people to set up business virtually wherever they like, when 90 per cent of their income or thereabouts is coming from the taxpayer, is beyond me. In fact, I warn now, and I have warned before—and I think we’re already in that case—where we are seeing— (Time expire