28 September 2021


SUBJECTS: Interstate Travel Exemptions; Carers Support; Bulk Billing; Constituent Work in Lockdown.

STEPHEN CENATIEMPO, HOST: Joining us on, well, I'm gonna say our regular political panel, but because she's so fearsome nobody is game to go up against her today, the Labor Member for Canberra Alicia Payne is with us by herself. G'day Alicia.


CENATIEMPO: Now I want to talk to you, we were contacted yesterday by Deakin resident Amanda McCormack who is a carer for her husband, who is suffering from cancer. Now she's been trying to get an exemption for him to travel to Tasmania to stay with family there for some respite care. You've had a chance to talk to Amanda, tell us what's happened and is there any outcome there as yet?

PAYNE: Thank you for forwarding Amanda's story on and I did have a chat with her last night. It's a really awful situation that this family are in where the husband is very ill with cancer and had been planning to travel to Tasmania, where his family are, to visit them and for some respite for Amanda, and they also have a young son. That travel request was rejected by the Tasmanian State Controller on Saturday. No, on Saturday they asked for more information, and then on Sunday, it was rejected, and he was supposed to travel yesterday, on Monday. So, it was not only rejected, but it was very short notice, and obviously a really disappointing situation and puts that family in a really difficult, difficult situation, you know. He's been very ill for many years, and Amanda has been caring for him. And it was very important to them that he be able to do that. 

CENATIEMPO: One of the things, we spoke to Jim Molan about a similar situation with a gentleman in his electorate. A Vietnam War veteran whose wife had passed away, he'd had both his knees replaced, he was suffering from prostate cancer and wanted to go and stay in Victoria with his two daughters. And there seems to be this thing, and this is not a, you know, it's not a political one side or the other because we're talking in Victoria, a Labor government has made your Liberal government but the bureaucratic answer seems to be saying no straight up, and then if somebody complains, we'll change our mind. It shouldn't be that we need to get you a Federal Member of Parliament involved to try and coerce a state government into doing the right thing.

PAYNE: Yeah, I do. I will say I don't have the expertise to make these decisions. You know, I'm not a State Controller. But I do feel it is very disappointing that where there are these really compelling, compassionate reasons that these exemptions can't be made, because it would seem that you could manage the COVID risk around a limited number of people traveling in extreme circumstances where they've got very good reasons to,  that that can be managed. And the other thing I think that Amanda's situation really draws attention to is the plight of carers in Australia who are doing incredibly selfless, loving, important work for those that they're caring for, and don't get a lot of support from the federal government. The caring that they do is, you know, worth so much to our economy, if they were paid, you know, it would be a fortune, and they have this desperate need for respite care and it's so hard for people to access. I held a carers forum with Emma McBride, who's our Shadow for Carers, earlier this year and it was really clear, just the desperate situations people were in just needing some support, to be able to, you know, get care for their loved ones so that they can keep on top of some other things or even just have a little bit of time for themselves, for their own mental health and well-being. So it's really something I think we can do better on.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, I think you're 100% correct. I guess, look, it's a difficult situation to manage. And it wouldn't matter who was in government, you'd never be able to get it 100% right. But we certainly need to do better. That's for sure. 

Now Canberra's National Health Co-Op clinics have been facing closure, but you've there's been a bit of a reprieve there. Talk us through that.

PAYNE: So the National Health Co-Op, which, for listeners, many people relied on here in Canberra because it was a bulk billing GP. I think you signed up as a member so you did have to pay initially, but then you can access bulk billing. And that had gone into administration a few months ago and now it seems some of the clinics are going to be run by new providers. Although we're still waiting to hear about some of the other locations around Canberra. And I guess it's also not clear whether it will be in that same format where it will be bulk billed. And what this really highlights is just how difficult it is to run a bulk billing GP clinic here in Canberra. This is something, you know, we actually have the lowest bulk billing rates of any capital city or jurisdiction in the country. And this is something Canberrans write me all the time about how difficult it is to access bulk billing. And this, again, is a Federal Government responsibility. We this year lost our rural loading, which was an incentive to GPs to bulk bill. Obviously, we're not rural, but we obviously have a problem with bulk billing that needs to be addressed. So Labor has called for a Senate Inquiry into this to come up with some solutions as to how we can really guarantee the supply of bulk billing GP's around the country, particularly in regional-rural areas and places like Canberra where there's obviously a problem in providing that.

CENATIEMPO: But, I get that in rural regional areas but in Canberra mean, surely, we should have the lowest bulk billing rates, given the average incomes that we have here in Canberra?

PAYNE: Well, that is a point, we do have relatively high average incomes. But that means that Canberra is a particularly difficult place to be on a low income or to be in poverty. And this is exactly one of those examples where we don't have ready access to bulk billing GPs, and we absolutely do need to have that. Every place needs to have a proportion of that so that people can access the healthcare they need. So that's why the federal government does need to do something about it.

CENATIEMPO: Yeah, okay. I don't deny that but having said that, I've spoken to a number of GPs who don't bulk bill but then tell me that most of their patients are bulk billed anyway because that's just the way things work in the end. So maybe there needs to be more, I guess, open communication about that from some of the GPs too. But I take your point about government action. 

Now do you have a decent coffee machine at home?

PAYNE: It's okay. I think the connoisseurs probably might not think it's fantastic. But we get by.

CENATIEMPO: You're going to need it tomorrow. Tell us why.

PAYNE: Tomorrow, actually not sure, I need it everyday.

CENATIEMPO: Okay. Yes, so do I. But you're hosting virtual, zoom coffee catch-ups.

PAYNE: Sorry, of course, yes. You had me there for a minute. Yes, absolutely. So normally in normal circumstances I host these coffee catch-ups regularly, all around the electorate, we go to one of Canberra's great coffee shops, and I just advertise that I'll be there and constituents come. And it's been a really good way to chat with people and also for constituents to chat with each other. Normally, you know, people come with an issue to raise but want to stay and hear what everyone else wants to talk about. So in lockdown I've been hosting them on zoom, to give people a chance to talk to me if they want to raise something and to connect with others. So I've got one tomorrow. I've got a whole heap of them scheduled in. You can go to my Facebook or my website, you can see where they are and you just zoom in. But yes, you do have to bring your own coffee. 

CENATIEMPO: Ok, It's a more responsible version of politics of the pub. I like it. Alicia, great to talk to you. We'll catch up again soon.

PAYNE: Thanks a lot Stephen.