Rapid review – Federal budget health announcements

By Clare Mullen, Executive Director, Health Consumers’ Council

Just by chance, I happen to be in Canberra the week before the Federal budget, and the week I take up my new role at HCC – an interesting time to be in the nation’s capital. I had time to read the transcript of Minister Mark Butler’s speech and Q&A session at the Press Club on 2 May. Below are some things I’m taking away.

The TL;DR* version? Different roles for nurses, midwives and pharmacists are coming; new approach to Medicare funding for primary care – including My Medicare coming; restrictions on vaping. No mention of the need for much more consumer involvement in these reforms.

  • we’ll see the introduction of My Medicare
    • there are no details yet, but it says patients will be able to register on the platform, with their preferred clinician
    • practices/GPs can also register
    • the aim is to enable more on-going care, less “transactional” care
    • over time, it will enable easier identification of patients who are going to hospitals upwards of 10 times a year and allow better targetting of resources to enable them to receive better care in primary or community care
  • we’ll see funding for longer telehealth consultations
  • there will be changes to workforce roles, with an emphasis on a more multidisciplinary approach to care freeing doctors up to provide the care that only they can provide
    • greater role for nurses and midwives – including a Review of Scope of Practice
    • greater role for pharmacists/pharmacies – including
      • free vaccines under the national Immunisation Program
      • access to opioid dependency treatment
  • The Minister describes these changes as “persistent evolution, not overnight revolution” and reiterated several times how these changes will take time.
  • He noted that there have been modest increase in spending on Medicare Benefits Schedule and the Pharmaceuticals Benefits Scheme – but a significant increase in hospital spending.

The Minister also announced well-publicised changes to vaping accessibility, including banning non-prescription vapes, and an increase in tax on cigarettes. He also noted the need to increase the number of doctors who can prescribe vapes to support smoking cessation. Funding from the tax increases will go towards programs to reduce smoking/vaping dependency. He commented that “our focus is not on the people buying, our focus is on the people selling”. He also said there are more announcements to come in next week’s budget.


Many of these reforms sound very positive for consumers. Consumers have long been calling for more time with their GP, more affordable/free access to primary care, and are ready to access care from other members of the primary care clinical team.

It’s clear that the design and implementation of these reforms are going to need a high level of involvement from a diverse range of consumers, carers and community members.

Local consumers influencing national reforms

Being in Canberra, I also took the opportunity to meet with local and national consumer leaders: Darlene Cox and her team at Health Care Consumers Association, ACT’s equivalent of HCC, and Elizabeth Deveny at Consumers Health Forum, the national consumer peak body. It was great to discuss our shared interests and challenges.

What is clear is that there is much more opportunity for WA consumers to be more involved in national health reform discussions. Elizabeth commented that there are often WA nominations for national working groups – but we can always do with more. We also discussed the challenges of very limited funding for consumer organisations, and the importance of continuing to make the case for more investment in building capacity and diversity in consumer leadership right across Australia.

I know that there are currently relatively limited opportunities for local consumer involvement in primary care – both through the Primary Health Networks (managed in WA by the WA Primary Health Alliance) and within local practices.

I will be writing to Mark Butler to highlight this and enquire about how this might be addressed in a way that ensures grassroots community perspectives are well understood as these reforms take shape.

Join us

If you’re interested in how consumers, carers and community members can shape health and healthcare, you can join Health Consumers’ Council WA and become part of a social movement in health. It’s free to join and you’ll receive invitations and updates about our work and other items of interest.

A white canvas with multi-coloured splashes of paint. The word together is across the canvas in capital letters.

[* TL;DR is internet shorthand for “Too Long; Didn’t Read”]