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Issue #1623      January 22, 2014

Perth rally to save Medicare

On a sweltering hot afternoon 150 people rallied in the shade of Stirling Gardens in the CBD of Perth to protest the federal government’s Commission of Audit proposal to levy a co-payment for bulkbilled GP visits.

The rally was organised by the Curtin University Guild and Emma Norton from the Guild was the MC for the event held on January 11.

The event was also well represented by banners and members from a number of blue and white colour unions including the Australian Manufacturing Workers Union, CFMEU, United Voice and Community and Public Sector Union/Civil Service Association.

The first speaker was Jane Rawls from the Doctors Reform Society who said, “The proposed budgetary saving would hit those hardest who can least afford it – those on low and fixed incomes.” Though pensioners would be exempt added Rawls, “People who are cancer sufferers and with mental health issues would also be hard hit as these people needed a lot of primary care and would deter them from seeking the care that these illnesses require.” If the imposition of the levy means that they begin to come only when they are in crisis then this would overload the public health system.

Rawls, who is a doctor, said that she could foresee the “bureaucratic nightmare it would become and inevitably open the door to further increases in the levy.”

Dr Rawls added that part of the solution involved more resources being allocated to preventative health care and health promotion and address causes such as homelessness and mental health issues.

Greens Senator Scott Ludlam addressed the rally to remind people that the levy would be a roadblock to looking after a person’s health and amounted to a fundamental attack on accessible health care which would affect the most vulnerable in our society.

Western Australian ALP Senator Sue Lyons said, “There is so much to be angry and upset about this proposal – especially when one considers that when the ALP government of Prime Minister Gough Whitlam attempted to introduce the legislation to establish Medicare in 1975, it was rejected three times by the Liberal controlled Senate. They were then no friends of universal health care and continue their attacks today”. Lyons recalled bringing up her children during the subsequent eight years of the Fraser Liberal government and the social and economic cost that this put on bringing up her family. Lyons called on those in attendance at the rally to “spread the word out in the community” as it would only be “a wave of community support that would save Medicare and the public health system.”

Carolyn Smith – WA branch secretary of United Voice, which has many members employed in the public health system, told the rally that unions are sometimes the only barrier to an unwanted change – a change which would lead to the average family not being able to afford primary health care. “Today,” added Smith, “it is getting harder to find bulk billing doctors which puts pressure on the emergency departments of public hospitals.” There was also the suggestion made in the days after the announcement of the proposal for the levy for bulk billed GP visits that the levy or a fee could extend to visits to public hospital emergency wards.

Emma Norton, from Curtin University Student Guild, summed up the feeling of many at the rally when she said that this attack by Abbott was a demonstration of the very worst of neo-liberalism. However, Norton did not spare the ALP from criticism when she said that the Gillard (ALP) government set the pace on these attacks with cuts to payments to single mothers in the early part of 2013 and showed that they were part of the same agenda as the present government.

The Communist Party of Australia calls on workers and the community to defend Medicare and the public health system but also that scrutiny needs to be applied to private health insurance and health service companies which were directing the debate and influencing public policies on the issues of Medicare, the levy and rebates for those taking out private health insurance.

Next article – Cutbacks threat to legal services

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