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Greens promise billions for hospitals, Medicare

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The Australian Greens have committed to a multi-billion dollar boost to Medicare and hospital funding as part of a drive to increase investment in health.

Greens leader Senator Richard Di Natale told the AMA National Conference that his party would not only match Labor’s $2.4 billion promise to ditch the Medicare rebate freeze but would provide an extra $4 billion to restore Commonwealth funding for public hospitals, including providing 50 per cent of growth funding.

Senator Di Natale said the policies reflected the Greens’ commitment to universal and equitable access to health care, and an end to what he said was the Government’s “shameless exercise in cost shifting”.

Though opinion polls indicate the Greens stand no chance of forming government in their own right, they show that the election contest is finely balanced, opening the possibility the Greens could play a crucial balance of power role in forming the next government – making their views on health policy potentially significant.

In his speech, Senator Di Natale lambasted the Coalition’s cuts to health spending and detailed plans to increase Commonwealth support for hospitals, GPs, allied health workers and health services for Indigenous Australians and other disadvantaged patients.

“We should never be fooled, by those who see health as a cost more than an investment, into believing that cuts to the heart of the health system are a necessity,” he said, arguing that Australia’s spending on health was around the average among developed economies.

Senator Di Natale said that while it was important to ensure health funds were spent effectively, health expenditure would increase.

“As exciting new treatments become available and our country’s demographics change, we will need to spend more on health care to enjoy a better quality of life,” he said. “That, we believe, is a clear and legitimate choice for a wealthy nation to make. Spending more on health care is not unsustainable or irresponsible – it is a key priority and an investment we are luck to make.”

On the highly controversial topic of assisted dying, Senator Di Natale said the Greens believed patients should have “access to voluntary euthanasia and physician care for dying with dignity”.

The Greens leader said policies on Indigenous health, drug and alcohol treatment services and preventive health would be detailed later in the election campaign.

Adrian Rollins