Health

Anne Ruston to become health minister if Coalition re-elected, no details on her replacement until after election

South Australian senator Anne Ruston will take over as health and aged care minister if the Coalition is re-elected, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced.

Senator Ruston, who currently holds the role of Families and Social Services Minister along with Women’s Safety Minister, will replace Greg Hunt, who is retiring from politics after the upcoming poll.

Mr Morrison said her role in social services made her the right person to replace Mr Hunt as Australia deals with the ongoing issues of the pandemic.

“Anne’s experience as a senior minister managing a complex portfolio touching millions of lives makes her the right pick to help guide Australia’s health system out of the pandemic,” he said.

“I know she’ll bring that ability to understand complex issues, and her compassion to the health portfolio.”

Senator Ruston said she was honored to be given the role, should the Coalition be re-elected.

“Healthcare has been a part of my life ever since I was born, as my mum was a nurse in our regional town, which also gave me great insight into the vital role country hospitals play in the lives of their communities,” Senator Ruston said .

“I look forward to the opportunity to deliver our government’s commitment to a healthier Australia and will continue to prioritize medicines, mental health and medical research.”

Questions about Medicare support

Opposition Leader Anthony Albanese said Senator Ruston’s appointment sent a “very bad message” that if the Coalition was re-elected it would make cuts to Medicare.

“Anne Ruston has made it very clear that she wants to take the universal out of universal health care,” he said.

“She has made it very clear that, if we have an election of the Morrison government, we will see more cuts to Medicare.”

Labor pointed to a number of comments Senator Ruston made in 2015 where she said the spend on Medicare was unsustainable.

Senator Ruston’s comments came just after the government dumped a controversial policy to introduce a GP co-payment which would see people charged extra for going to the doctor.

“Notwithstanding that, even though we have made the decision not to pursue this particular policy, it still needs to be recognized that Medicare in its current form is not sustainable into the future without some change being made,” she said at the time.

When asked about the comments today and what changes she would make to Medicare, Senator Ruston pointed to the current strength of the economy.

“It is a strong economy that affords the supports that Australians rely on,” she said.

Anne Ruston addresses the media at a lecture in a courtyard
Social Services Minister Anne Ruston speaking in the Prime Minister’s Courtyard on November 10, 2020.(ABC News: Luke Stephenson)

She was also asked why, given our debt levels were higher than they were in 2015, Medicare would not still be considered unsustainable.

“I think our policies as they relate to healthcare and economy are all clearly laid out for everyone to see going forward,” she said.

“We have laid out a budget coming forward to show Australians what we are proposing … and part of it is making sure that we have a strong healthcare system which is able to support Australians.”

Mr Morrison said GP co-payments were not the Coalition’s policy and would not be introduced if it were to win the election.

Mr Hunt’s retirement from parliament leaves a vacancy within Cabinet, with reports Senator Hume, fellow Victorian senator Michael Sukkar and West Australian Ben Morton are frontrunners to move up into cabinet.

Mr Morrison said he would not announce who would take Senator Ruston’s old portfolios until after the election.

Promises on both sides for diabetes funding

Turning his attention to health, Mr Morrison will also announce a $273 million funding commitment to give Australians with type 1 diabetes subsidized access to continuous glucose monitoring devices.

The small wearable devices help people with diabetes monitor their glucose levels day and night and can cost up to $5,000 a year.

Currently only some Australians, including people under 21, concession card holders and pregnant women are eligible to receive the device at no cost through the National Diabetes Services Scheme.

Under the new changes, from July 1, an extra 71,000 Australians will have access to continuous glucose monitoring and Flash Glucose Monitoring devices for a maximum cost of $32.50 a month.

Mr Morrison said the commitment would make it easier for people with type 1 diabetes to go about their daily lives.

“Type 1 diabetes is an insidious condition that cannot be prevented and costs Australians thousands of dollars each year,” he said.

“Our plan for a strong economy means we can invest in life-changing equipment for diabetes patients and make more medicines cheaper for more Australians.”

Labor has promised to match the funding, with Shadow Health Minister Mark Butler saying the party has “a proud history of bipartisan support for new diabetes technology.”

A man with slicked back brown hair wearing a suit and tie with a stern look on his face
Mark Butler says Labor would have all 50 of its GP clinics up and running by mid next year.(ABC News: Nicholas Haggarty)

Labor promises GP clinics by next year

Mr Butler also said Labor was committed to establishing 50 urgent-care clinics by mid 2023 if it wins the election.

The opposition has pledged to set up bulk-billed clinics around the country to deal with minor emergencies and take pressure of hospital emergency departments, something the Australian Medical Association has criticized as a poorly thought-through idea.

The clinics will be based on existing GP surgeries and Mr Butler said he had been inundated by general practices interested in taking part.

“If we are elected we will have them up and running next year we want to see them up and running in the next financial year beginning 2023,” Mr Butler said.

Mr Butler said the services would be open seven days a week from at least 8am until 10pm “when we know the vast bulk of these minor emergencies take place and it is fully bulk-billed”.

Mr Albanese confirmed the timeline to have the clinics up and running was next year, but avoided answering how they would be staffed and how many staff would be needed.

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