This Government has a blind spot for rural and regional health

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (19:15): I want to turn the conversation to issues concerning rural and regional health. I am surprised that some of the members of the National Party that have stood and asked the minister questions have not taken the opportunity to raise these issues. If you look at regional health outcomes and compare those outcomes and the availability of primary care services for people in regional and rural Australia with those for people in metropolitan areas, there is a vast gap that needs to be closed. I am deeply concerned that this budget seems to have a blind spot for regional and rural Australia—a place where people are 30 per cent more likely to have diabetes and 20 to 30 per cent more likely to develop melanoma, where communities are 20 to 30 per cent more likely to have had men commit suicide because of mental health issues and where people are 20 to 30 per cent more likely to suffer from arthritis.

Against this background, you would be very cautious about implementing policy changes that are going to have an adverse impact on access to or cost of primary care services or even access to hospitals in regional and rural Australia. But when we look at the foundations of this policy we can see it has been built on anything but caution. We saw the hand-picked head of the audit commission being asked the basis for the new GP tax. He claimed, falsely, that the basis for the new GP tax was that Australians were visiting a doctor on average 11 times a year. You would have thought if your job was to have access to all the information and to go through it in fine detail that you would look at the right column. That is not a big ask. He should have known that the true figure is six or seven times a year, not 11 times a year. Yet that is the basis on which the GP tax is being introduced.

The Treasurer is fond of dividing the world up into leaners and lifters. When you look at the impact of this budget on regional and rural Australia you can see that the government is the one doing the leaning—on the wallets of people in regional Australia. Somewhere in the order of $1.4 billion will be taken out of the wallets of health consumers in regional Australia because of the operation of the GP tax. So I have to ask the minister: how is this going to improve access to health services for people in rural and regional Australia? The Rural Doctors Association has told us that rural people are some of the poorest in Australia, with some of the lowest incomes in Australia, and the AMA has told us that the GP tax is going to discourage people from going to the doctor. So you have to ask yourself: how is this going to improve health outcomes in rural and regional Australia?

I said earlier that I was surprised that members of the National Party have not ask questions of the minister in relation to the impact on rural and regional Australia. I am looking at the National Party health policy—I have it in front of me—which say, and this is very important:

The Nationals will provide increased financial support for doctors who provide health services in rural and remote communities, through increased Medicare rebates and scheduled fees …

That is a direct quote from the National Party's policy statement that they took to the election. So the question I expect one of the National Party members who are in the chamber today representing rural and regional Australia to answer is: why has their government and their minister breached this promise? Why have they not done what they promised to do? That is a series of questions, and I expect National Party members to follow up on this issue. I also expect them to answer: when you had a policy that said that the minister for rural and regional health would be in the room when all the big decisions were made, how come she was not? How come she was excluded from the biggest health decision the government is going to make in this term? Why was she excluded from this decision? And can the minister explain the impact that this will have on rural and regional Australia?