Local, Independant and Effective

Hansard - National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014 - Consideration in Detail

Posted July 17, 2014


CATHY McGOWAN (Indi) (16:58):  Along with telecommunications, public transport, education and climate change, access to health, doctors and pharmaceuticals are some of the major issues that got me elected to this place. It gives me great pleasure today to stand and represent the people of Indi, who over the last two months have asked me to come to this place and ensure their voices are heard.

Following the budget, I undertook a budget impact statement around Indi. I asked the people of Indi what for them were the most concerning issues that I needed to bring to this place. Of all the issues that I mentioned above, health and access to affordable health care was the No. 1 issue. It matters more than almost anything else to people in rural and regional Australia, and why not? Because without good health, it is so difficult to do anything else.

There is another issue that comes with health and access to health in rural Australia, and it is about being sick. If you are sick in rural and regional Australia, it becomes very expensive.

It is not just a matter of going to the doctor; it is not just a matter of buying your pharmaceuticals, which we are discussing today; it is a matter of transport, getting access to the doctor or getting access to the cities where you need specialist care.

With transport comes the backfill: who is going to do your job at home when you are no longer there? With illness, there is also care: who is going to look after you and who is going to help you with your dependants—the other people whom you care for? Of course, there are the costs of drugs and doctors—and it all adds up. During the budget impact tour, I heard one particular story that brought this home to me.

This was the story of two brothers who lived 20 kilometres out of Wodonga. One of the brothers has cancer, and he is being cared for by the other brother, who is farmer. So, together, once a week, they have to go to Melbourne to access the specialist care that the brother with cancer needs. These young men, who are in their twenties, are not well off. The brother who is the carer is doing full-time caring, so he is without paid work. The brother who is ill is obviously unable to work.

They cope with our poor public transport in north-east Victoria and, once a week, they go down to Melbourne and then they come back. They spend the whole day trying to govern their lives around it. As they spoke to me in the supermarket, in the High Street in Wodonga, outside Coles, there were almost tears in their eyes as they tried to explain to me and have me understand the cumulative effect of what was happening in their lives, as one after another of these extra costs were loaded on them.

But the really sad thing was that they only had a limited budget, and there was no way known that they had more money coming into meet it. These were the health costs, the transport costs, the electricity costs—the energy costs that were coming in over winter and there were also all the other things that had to be done that made up their life—and they had no money left.

As they stood there, they said: 'Cathy, there's probably not much you can do. You don't hold the balance of power in the government, but could you take our voices to Canberra? Could you make sure that our voices are represented?' So I am really pleased today to be able to say on their behalf that I have brought their issue here, and I hope it is heard by my colleagues on all sides.

The final thing I want to say is that it is very unusual for me to stand up in this place and agree with everything that the member for Kennedy has said. Today I say: we are on the same page, Mr Katter. It is the effect of this legislation on chemists and pharmacists that is going to have the most long-term impact. I think this has to be what we call 'unintended consequences', because there is no way known that my colleagues opposite could deliberately set about destroying local businesses and taking away their profitability—which is exactly what the chemists in Wangaratta and Wodonga are saying to me will happen. So I hope it is a mistake. I hope that in the next budget we get to rectify some of this, as common sense comes in.

In bringing my comments to a close, I ask my colleagues opposite, particularly those who represent rural and regional seats, to give some thought over the next few months to what we need to do about this, because there are a whole lot of things coming together here. I ask that we pay particular attention to a rural and regional impact statement so that when the budget comes down next year we can actually look at it and understand the effect of all of its implications, and then we can take the action that we need to take. 

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