2CC CANBERRA BREAKFAST WITH STEPHEN CENATIEMPO
THURSDAY 2 NOVEMBER 2023
SUBJECTS: Bulk billing rebate; Charity town halls; Competition Review Taskforce.
STEPHEN CENATIEMPO (HOST): Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Competition Charities Treasury and the Member for Fenner. Andrew, I need a bit of common sense after that, mate.
ASSISTANT MINISTER FOR CHARITIES, COMPETITION, TREASURY AND EMPLOYMENT ANDREW LEIGH: I'm sure you do, Stephen. Here I am.
CENATIEMPO: Thank you. Now, there's a couple of things I want to talk about this morning. The changes to the GP bulk billing rebates, just explain to us exactly what's happening here, because the headline is "tripling the bulk billing incentive", but it doesn't necessarily apply to everybody, does it?
LEIGH: So, this applies to patients who are bulk billed, which is about two-fifths of GP visits in Canberra, three-fifths nationally. And it means that for a GP who sees a bulk billed patient, the rebate they get from the government has gone up 34 per cent. That's the biggest increase in the bulk billing incentive since the inception of Medicare. It's a massive investment in Medicare and in sustaining bulk billing. That's critical for children, for pensioners, for people on those concession cards across Canberra and time of a cost of living crisis, it's absolutely critical that we put money back into people's pockets and sustaining bulk billing is one way we're doing that.
CENATIEMPO: Does it apply to all bulk bill patients or only those cohorts you just talked about?
LEIGH: It applies to all bulk-billed patients but those groups tend to be the primary bulk-billed patients here in Canberra.
CENATIEMPO: Now, something the Health Minister has pointed out, and he's 100 per cent right on this, is that the changes to, or the proposed changes to payroll tax that GPs are going to be hit with by the states and territories could actually negate this. I mean, what is the Federal Government doing to do try and rein that in?
LEIGH: Well, that's been a court decision and the implications have flowed through to states and territories. What we've done with this bulk billing incentive is to listen to the College of General Practitioners. They describe this policy as a game changer. It is about sustaining bulk billing. From a Commonwealth perspective, one of the key things we can do, and it's part of a $6 billion package we're investing in primary health care. That sits alongside a range of the other things we've done in health care. Sixty day prescribing means people visit the doctor half as often if they've got a prescription for a medication they're taking year on year. And it also halves the cost of getting those prescriptions. So, we're recognising the cost of living crisis and acting through our health care measures.
CENATIEMPO: With the 60 day dispensing. When does that actually start? Because I haven't noticed it at my pharmacy yet. What's the process of that? Is it going to take time to roll out? How will it work?
LEIGH: Most of the medications came on stream on the 30th of September, but others will continue to come on through there. But for a range of the most common medications, people are getting the benefits of that 60 day prescribing already. It means there's less time taken to go and see a doctor. It means there's less expense when you go into the pharmacy. It's a reform which puts us in line with a range of other advanced countries and it improves both convenience and cost of living for regular Canberrans.
CENATIEMPO: You know, Andrew, I'm usually critical of the Federal Government but I can't call you out on any of this, so I don't know what I'm going to do next. But moving right along, the other issue we want to talk about. You started yesterday around a town hall chats with charities. What are you trying to achieve here?
LEIGH: This is an ongoing conversation with charities to make sure that people are aware of the important work we're doing around engaging with the charity sector. We're putting in place once-in-a-generation philanthropy review via the Productivity Commission. We're developing a blueprint to improve the productivity of the charity sector. We want to hear from Canberra charities about the pressures they're facing, the opportunities that they see. The former government waged a war on charities and we're turning that around with a constructive consultation, which is the biggest charity consultation in Australia's history. So, yesterday's meeting in the Albert Hall with a whole range of Canberra charities was the 15th town hall meeting I've had, and I'll have further meetings in Sydney and Melbourne next week.
CENATIEMPO: Now, you've also made some appointments to the Competition Taskforce advisory panel.
LEIGH: We have. This is a panel which will support the Competition Taskforce, a crack taskforce in Treasury, looking at how we can deal with cost of living and boost productivity through better competition reforms. We've got people like John Asker, who's a Professor of Economics at the University of California in Los Angeles. Kerry Schott, who's highly regarded for her work in government infrastructure. Sharon Henrick, who's a leading competition lawyer. And David Gonski, who'll be well known to your listeners from his work on schools, but also as chairman of ANZ and a member of the Takeovers Panel.
CENATIEMPO: Andrew, good to talk to you this morning. Thanks for your time.
LEIGH: Great, thank you, Stephen.
CENATIEMPO: All the best. Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister for Competition, Charities and Treasury and the Member for Fenner.