ABC Canberra Breakfast with Adam Shirley Friday 16 February 2024 - Transcript


SUBJECTS: Improving competition, increasing bulk billing in the ACT.

: The Member for Fenner and he's also the Assistant Minister to the Treasury, Andrew Leigh, a very good morning to you.


SHIRLEY: I might ask you about your view on that, given, you know, numbers and, you know, Canberra and its low bulk billing rates from a practical perspective. But one thing that does matter, and it does matter a lot, is the role of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission and whether it can crack down on dodgy, potentially corrupt, or at least behaviour that is against the spirit of competition. What is the new tool that consumers or businesses might have to bring their case, their concern, to the ACCC?

LEIGH: Well, Adam, what we've introduced into Parliament yesterday is a fast-track approach for peak consumer and business groups to bring evidence of systemic misconduct to the attention of the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission. This is a power that exists in other countries, which recognises the important role that these peak groups play and the way in which they may see problematic conduct occurring in a lot of the complaints from their members or in the community. It's part of a bigger piece of work we're doing to revitalise dynamism in the Australian economy. We've seen a rise in market concentration, an increase in markups. We've just had the worst decade of productivity in the postwar era. So, we're doing a lot in the competition space, including a Competition Taskforce, a review of the Food and Grocery Code of Conduct and raising penalties for anti-competitive conduct in order to make sure we have a more dynamic and a more competitive economy.

SHIRLEY: Are there industries that the government had in mind here thinking this has to be brought in small business advocates, other groups, consumers need to be able to directly get into the ACCC and say "this has to be looked at". I'm wondering whether it's the airline industry, supermarkets, those sorts of things that forced your hand, in a way, as a government here?

LEIGH: Well, if you look at the industries that attract the most consumer complaints, they're things such as supermarkets and airlines. This might be raising an issue around, for example, drip pricing, where airlines consistently add on fees, or it might be something in the small business space, looking at problems of small businesses being paid on time by larger firms. This allows those issues to be brought forward to the regulator and for the regulator to have a hard look at those problems. Of course, people can raise issues directly with the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, and they receive over 100,000 complaints a year. But this allows these systemic complaints to come forward as well and that may allow a focus on systemic misconduct.

SHIRLEY: The way this will work is there will be designated complaints or designated groups. You’re inviting applications from consumers, small businesses who would like to become a designated complainant? How will you choose them and what process do those people have to follow?

LEIGH: We'll go through an open and transparent process, and I would imagine that the groups that are chosen would be household names. That's in the interests of the government. We want to make sure that these are organisations that are prominent in the community, and which have good oversight of competition and consumer issues. We need to make sure that we've got an environment in which more startups can thrive, and which consumers get a fair deal. There's been a lot of frustration in the supermarket space about people not getting a fair deal, whether that's suppliers or consumers, which is why the competition watchdog has been asked to do a deep dive into supermarket pricing over the course of the next year.

SHIRLEY: This will be an interesting process to follow and the impacts of the results will hopefully be positive. Andrew Leigh is the Assistant Minister to the Treasury. He's also the Federal Member for Fenner and he's with us on ABC Radio Canberra and I guess it goes to the heart of competition, bulk billing. If you don't mind me saying, Dr. Leigh, because in this industry and in this area, there is a real worry that there's not enough competition and that our bulk billing is so low partly because of that. Also that you and a few others are sitting in a very safe Labor seat. What's your response to that exchange between our two senators yesterday afternoon?

LEIGH: Katy Gallagher is absolutely right and she's speaking as somebody who's a former ACT Chief Minister, and a former ACT Health Minister who has worked very hard on these issues. The nurse-led walk-in clinics are an important way of taking pressure off our emergency rooms and allowing people to walk in with just their Medicare card. You don't need a credit card if you're walking into a nurse-led walk-in clinic and they're helping to provide direct primary health care. There's also been a lot of work done by the ACT Government to make sure we bring more doctors to the ACT. But we are the jurisdiction with the highest incomes in Australia and so that makes it harder to attract bulk billing doctors than in other parts of the country.

SHIRLEY: Now this texter just says, "Go David Pocock. Come on, Katy, 15 years and it's gotten worse.” How much logic is there to that to be fair, Dr. Leigh?

LEIGH: Look we recognise that there is a huge challenge in bulk billing. Mark Butler, the Health Minister, has made clear that primary health care is in its worst shape…

SHIRLEY: Especially in Canberra, though. And the ACT. A huge challenge in the ACT especially. Would you agree with that?

LEIGH: Well, a huge challenge here. Other parts of the country also face significant challenges. Tasmania has relatively low bulk billing rates. By contrast, Western Sydney has held up, so there is patchiness across the country. I don't think that's got anything to do with electoral boundaries, but we recognise that after nine years of Coalition neglect, that there are big issues in making sure that we get bulk billing back on track. Labor built Medicare. Labor stands by Medicare. Labor on Medicare's 40th anniversary wants to make sure that Medicare works for everyone and bulk billing is a huge priority for us as a Government.

SHIRLEY: Dr. Leigh, really appreciate your time on those issues. Thank you.

LEIGH: Thanks so much, Adam.

SHIRLEY: Dr. Andrew Leigh, who is the Assistant Minister to the Treasury. He's also the Federal Member for Fenner.

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  • Toby Halligan
    published this page in What's New 2024-02-16 12:51:42 +1100

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Cnr Gungahlin Pl and Efkarpidis Street, Gungahlin ACT 2912 | 02 6247 4396 | [email protected] | Authorised by A. Leigh MP, Australian Labor Party (ACT Branch), Canberra.