STEPHEN JONES, SHADOW ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR HEALTH: Good morning everybody. The idea that the discredited Human Services Minister is going to be put in charge of one of the most significant public policy issues - the privatisation of Medicare - beggars belief.
This is a proposition which endangers the livelihoods of 1,600 government workers. I know that in an interview this morning the Health Minister dismissed this as irrelevant. But the 1,600 people whose jobs are on the line, they don’t think that it is irrelevant. Medicare is a national icon; it is at the frontline of government service delivery. We need to keep that capacity in-house. Privatising it is not in the community’s interest, it is just another step in the Government’s plan to erode and do away with Medicare by stealth.
If I could also make some comments today on the legislation that will be introduced by the Health minister in relation to medicinal cannabis. It’s six months since the Government promised to introduce legislation. We welcome the fact that there is action in this area; we’ve been saying for a long time now that the Government needs to take a lead on this issue. As it stands today – it is illegal to grow, illegal to manufacturer, illegal to seel and illegal to use.
But we know that medicinal cannabis is providing much–needed pain relief and medicinal benefits to people who can’t get relief from other medicines. So seeing legislation in the House today is a welcome first step. As far as we can see it won’t go far enough. We need two things; we need to ensure that people will have safe, legal, reliable and affordable access to medicinal cannabis products. But we also need to deal with the criminal law issues. Because we can’t have people having access to a product if they face the risk of arrest for being in possession of it. So all of these issues need to be dealt with and only the Commonwealth can take a lead on this. That is exactly what they should be doing
JOURNALIST: Australia Post is another Australian icon. There is some talk of them taking over the payments system; you don’t see any merit in that proposal?
JONES: Medicare is one of government’s most trusted brands. It is more popular than any Commonwealth government in my lifetime. People rely on it, people trust it, people know that it is there as a safety net to help them with their health and other related costs. Whenever government has a crisis that it has to deal with, what are the agencies that they call upon? They call upon Centrelink and they call upon Medicare to provide that frontline of service to deal with Australia in a crisis. Whether it is a gun buy-back or whether it is any one of the crises that we face around the country - Medicare is on the frontline of dealing with that. The Prime Minister talks about the importance of being agile and nimble. Well, Medicare and Centrelink, these are the frontline agencies which enable the Commonwealth to respond quickly and in an affordable way to the challenges that we face as a nation. We simply won’t be able to do that if we outsource or privatise that work and that capacity.
JOURNALIST: You don’t see any merit at all in moving towards a more electronic system?
JONES: Most of the transactions that Medicare conducts are already going online or done by electronic means and they have a capacity to deal with that. Sure, they should be continually investing in the way that they offer those services. But let’s not get sucked into an idea that this is a debate between whether Medicare should be doing more stuff online or be more IT savvy, it already is. Most of its work is already done online, but we still need that critical frontline, face-to-face human contact that Australians rely on. We know that Malcolm Turnbull knows a lot about IT and a lot about business. But he has probably never spent two hours on a phone waiting for his call to be answered by a Centrelink or a Medicare call centre. We need to be re-investing in these agencies, not privatising them.