Greens leader addresses NAC meeting

 

Giving all Australians access to good-quality primary healthcare should form the cornerstone of the nation’s health agenda, the leader of the Australian Greens, Senator Richard Di Natale, believes. But healthcare is the one topic largely being ignored by the major parties heading into this year’s Federal Election, the Senator says.

Addressing a meeting of the National Advisory Council (NAC) at the APA office in Melbourne in late February, the Senator welcomed the invitation to speak and discuss what he considers to be the most pressing healthcare concerns ahead of the poll.

‘It’s always worth starting off a conversation about healthcare with a conversation about what it actually means to invest in people’s health. The conversation always starts with “this is how much we’re spending, we’ve got to rein it back, healthcare spending is unsustainable”. And that tends to be the debate we have in the Australian parliament but what we don’t actually talk about is what are we getting for that healthcare? What are the values that we, as a society, want to represent? How do we ensure those values are reflected in our parliament?’

‘Most people, when you ask them if they would prefer to see investment in 12 submarines built for the Defence Force or in a hospital system they can access without fear of upfront costs, or in being able to go and see a GP or physio or allied health practitioner when they need to see one, they always make a decision about what their priorities are—and they are not usually reflected by the government’s priorities.’

Presently the priorities of the country’s two major political parties on the campaign trial do not include healthcare, which the Victorian Senator and former GP believes is indicative of a disconnect between politicians and the electorates they represent.

‘Health is really nowhere on the national agenda, it’s not really being discussed. It’s interesting that … the most important thing on what people will use to decide at the next election is healthcare. It’s almost always issue number one or two, and yet we are hearing almost nothing about what both parties’ plans are for healthcare in this country.

‘The reality is we’ve got a reasonable health system but it could be a hell of a lot better. And we know where the best investment in healthcare is, it’s in prevention and primary care. When it comes to primary care, everybody is better off if people have access to good primary. It’s got to be the centrepiece of what we do.

‘Physiotherapists are linchpins in our primary healthcare system. You are trusted healthcare professionals, an incredible piece of the healthcare puzzle; often when people think of physio they think of athletes having treatment for musculoskeletal conditions. What they don’t think enough about is the work you do in keeping older people fit and active and being able to live productive lives in their homes. That’s one of the things that is critical if we’re going to ensure that we reduce the pressure on the healthcare budget but more importantly, ensure that people can stay at home for longer. Because that’s what most people want to do.’

Addressing the NAC for the second time within 12 months (he spoke at a NAC meeting alongside Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in February 2018), the Greens leader said his party made a commitment at the

2016 Federal Election—and will do so again in the lead-up to this year’s election—that access to high-quality, free healthcare is their priority. This includes a plan to improve Medicare through the introduction of an Independent Preventative Health Commission, increased funding for mental health services and decreasing hospital wait times.

 

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