Dr Hambleton, Doorstop on NDIS and work-related self-education expenses

1 May 2013

Transcript: AMA President, Dr Steve Hambleton, Parliament House, 1 May 2013 

Subject: National Disability Insurance Scheme; work-related self-education expenses

STEVE HAMBLETON:       Look, the AMA first of all notes the Government's response to funding the NDIS. We're very pleased that the Government has actually made an announcement that actually permanently funds the NDIS going forward. This is something the AMA absolutely supports.

It should be, as the Productivity Commission announced an insurance system. An insurance system is where we share the expenses, and making it through a Medicare levy actually allows Australians all to share those expenses. This is something that's going to be good for the whole of Australia – whether you have a disability, you know someone with a disability or, indeed, you end up with a disability, because it could happen to any one of us.

So it's very important that's it's funded appropriately, it's funded for the long term, and we can make sure we can look after those disabled people because we can get some of them back to work and that will be good for this country. So we're happy to support that.

Also I'm here to talk about the tax deductible expenses. I’m happy to take some questions if you want to talk about the NDIS initially.

QUESTION:  The Prime Minister's hinted, well pretty much pulled out introducing legislation to up the Medicare levy until after the election. Do you think that's giving some of the most vulnerable Australians false hope?

STEVE HAMBLETON:       Well, look, I think the announcement today does give us hope that we are going to get a solution so we can deliver something that we much need in this country. First world countries are often judged by how they treat their weakest and the disabled people in this country really have had a raw deal. So no, I don't think it's false hope, I think there's bipartisan support for the NDIS. It needs to be set up as an insurance system and if we do it via the Medicare levy then the majority of people will contribute and that defrays the cost for all of us.

QUESTION:  Have you sought any assurances from the Coalition as to how they're going to fund it?

STEVE HAMBLETON:       Well, we'd urge the Coalition to look at this very very seriously because this is something that's very popular with the Australian people and we know that individuals have already said they're prepared to contribute and I think the Coalition needs to hear those messages loud and clear.

QUESTION:  It was only on Monday that Julia Gillard said that all options were back on the table and then yesterday it was flagged that this levy could be increased. Do you think that there has been enough conversation about doing this?

STEVE HAMBLETON:       Look, I think there were some early thoughts that this was going to be money raised through the courts. That's not what the Productivity Commission intended. They intended it as an insurance system. So we're glad that the funding has been found in a mechanism that actually does distribute the costs across the widest possible base.

QUESTION:  Are you happy with the level of consultation that the Government's - has there been any consultation...

STEVE HAMBLETON:       Well, we always encourage the Government to consult. The AMA always stands ready to consult with government to provide input and in fact that's one of the reasons we're here today – to talk about the other things the Government's doing in relation to self education, expenses for doctors. I'm happy to talk about that.

Now, the Government's proposed changes for tax deductions for work related expenses,  we are very concerned about. There was no consultation with the AMA about this issue and the Government seriously underestimated the impact this will have on medical training, on the rural medical workforce, the ability of doctors to actually keep themselves up to date. The level that this change has been set at doesn't even allow a student to get to gain his speciality. It certainly doesn't allow specialists to stay at the front of the wave. And we have one of the best health systems on the planet and we rely on our specialists, our GPs and our students being able to keep their education up to first rate levels.

The AMA's had over 4200 responses to its online poll, an unprecedented number. Many of these doctors are saying they simply won't be able to access the education training that they need to keep themselves at the crest of the wave. The major impact of this is going to hit the students. It's going to hit rural areas. It's going to hit the subspecialty areas where training simply isn't available in their local backyard. Our doctors have got to travel to capital cities. Our doctors have got to travel overseas to get this education. This is legitimate education expenses for the benefit of the people of Australia to keep us at the cutting edge of medical care in this country, and it's seriously underestimated.

Now the Government has offered to consult after the event. They should be consulting before they make these decisions. They seriously underestimated the impact of this issue and it must be reversed.

QUESTION:  Can I just go back - sorry, so did the Government actually consult to you about the Medicare levy to pay for the NDIS?

STEVE HAMBLETON:       No, we weren't consulted about that but it's something that the Productivity Commission actually recommended. That would be a broad based government paid system. But no, the AMA wasn't consulted about raising the Medicare levy.

1 May 2013

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