With the May 21 federal election fast approaching, it can be tricky to know who is most deserving of your vote.
What do each of the candidates have to say for themselves on key topics affecting you and your community? For what do their parties stand?
We at ACM Far South Coast don't profess to have all the answers, but we have endeavoured to seek insight from Eden-Monaro's candidates on four key questions affecting this region.
Each candidate was sent the questions last week, with the same deadline to respond and same word limit.
This week we sought answers on questions regarding the sustainability of local councils, and the challenges facing our aged care and health system.
Next week will be responses on Housing Affordability and the Environment.
The questions asked:
1. Council sustainability
Rural and regional councils are on the front line in trying to meet the needs of their communities but since 1975 the Federal Assistance Grant - something councils rely on as untied money - has halved. What would you do to improve the sustainability of councils in Eden-Monaro like Bega Valley Shire Council?
The health system and health staff are under enormous pressure: Aged Care, Mental Health, Bulk Billing in rural areas (and the lack of) and the sustainability of rural GP practices are major issues. How will you address these challenges?
Disappointingly, not every candidate has responded yet, but the answers received from those who did are below, presented in the order candidates will appear on the ballot.
The Sustainable Australia Party supports restoring and indexing the Federal Assistant Grant to local councils during the next term of government. The Federal Government has effectively abrogated its responsibility in this area by collecting increased income tax revenue from higher population growth (a result of federal immigration and other policies) while failing to fund state and local governments to put in place the appropriate infrastructure and services as required. In other words, the Federal Government collects the taxes while the costs are left to State and Local Governments.
The Sustainable Australia Party will prioritise trust, transparency and democracy in governance, particularly to help stop corruption. This will help ensure governments are accountable and responsive to community needs and expectations; not those of political donors and other vested interests.
The Sustainable Australia Party health policies are designed to achieve healthy and long-living Australians, supported by an innovative and universal health system. Australia should look to promote holistic wellbeing and preventative health care through education and healthier lifestyle choices, including:
As the former Mayor of the Bega Valley, I am acutely aware of the challenges facing rural and regional councils. As Mayor, I frequently spoke up, calling for reform in the way councils are funded. I have continued this advocacy in Parliament as the Member for Eden-Monaro.
Our local councils do so much for our communities and in our region our councils have been putting an enormous amount of work into disaster recovery and mitigation. The fact is, rates will never cover the costs of what local councils deliver for our communities and it is incumbent on the Federal Government to provide additional financial support.
A Labor Government will focus on the long-term financial sustainability of Local Government through increases to grant allocations, including fair increases to Financial Assistance Grants. This is a commitment embedded in our National Platform.
We will also re-establish the Australian Council of Local Government to improve advocacy and ensure there is a dedicated body to align priorities between the two levels of government.
The Morrison Government has repeatedly cut and undermined Medicare, including cutting rural and regional bulk billing incentives. The result of the government deliberately running down Medicare and general practice is that with people are presenting at emergency departments because they have no alternative.
I have been vocal about the GP shortages affecting our region and I am proud that Labor initiated the Senate Inquiry into GP shortages in regional Australia.
Scott Morrison's government has neglected aged care. This has resulted in the closure of two aged care facilities in Eden-Monaro, and in older Australians not receiving the care they deserve. The crisis in aged care is not new. My mum worked in aged care at a local facility for the last 15 years of her career, so I know that these problems have been around for years - the pandemic simply highlighted the neglect. Labor will take practical measures to fix this crisis, including registered nurses on site 24/7, better food, more accountability and integrity in aged care providers, and a pay rise for aged care workers.
At present, local Councils receive less than 1% of taxes received by the Federal Government, half of which is tied to specified projects. My goal, as your elected member of the House of Representatives, will be to raise the untied Federal Assistance Grant to 3% of Federal tax income plus additional funding for specified projects.
Councils will then have the funds to maintain roads and provide services in a more-timely manner without going into debt. This will avoid excessive Council rates rises to make ends meet.
I will negotiate with the NSW Government to relax restrictions on how Councils can operate. This will allow Councils more flexibility in the provision of services and the allocation of their funds, flexibility in the application of building codes and zoning rules to suit local needs and a better ability to respond to local community requests.
I will support and promote Council initiatives to reduce waste going in to landfill through a Recycle, Reuse and Repair program. I would support the construction of viable community Green Sheds under this program.
Aged Care is a Federal Government responsibility. The Aged Care Royal Commission found that Aged Care had been underfunded for the last 24 years under the major parties, and called for $10 billion to be spent per year on Aged Care infrastructure and staff. The recent budget allocated only $3.3 billion. My goal is to change the budget funding to ensure appropriate funding is available to address these issues.
My vision is for Medicare to be reviewed and updated, making bulk billing more accessible to those who need it, particularly in regional areas. Denticare and Mental health are essential medical services and need to be included in Medicare.
GPs, and other medical staff, provide more comprehensive services to the community in rural areas, yet this is not recognised under the current health system. I would propose an incentive scheme to attract and retain medical professionals to regional areas. I will work to open more Medical Centres in smaller communities.
I will also address the need for ongoing face-to-face Counselling services in Eden Monaro. Online counselling may have been appropriate during Covid lockdowns, and is better than no counselling at all, but it is not as effective as a face-to-face consultation.
Local governments right across Eden Monaro are vital to building safer and stronger communities. That is why the Federal Government supports them through the Financial Assistance Grant Program.
It is factually incorrect to suggest that the Federal Assistance Grant has halved, or even declined, since 1975.
While the Financial Assistance Grant program runs under Commonwealth legislation, funding is provided to state and territory jurisdictions to provide them with a degree of discretion in determining council allocations. This reflects the reality that states and territories have primary responsibility for the financial sustainability of local governments, and know the realities within their jurisdiction.
Funding under the Financial Assistance Grant program is untied, allowing councils to spend it according to local priorities. Since 1974-75, the Australian Government has provided local governments with $64 billion in untied funding through the Financial Assistance Grant program.
The Commonwealth has committed $2.8 billion in funding to local government through the Financial Assistance Grant program in 2022-23.
The Australian Government provided over $5.0 billion in funding to local government in 2021-22, including:
The Morrison Government is continuing the program, which will provide year on year increases and an estimated $13.4 billion to local government over the period 2021-22 to 2025-26.
More people right across Eden Monaro and Australia are now seeing their doctor without having to pay.
Bulk billing is at 88.8% of all visits to the GP. It was 82.2% for all visits to the GP under Labor. Bulk billing rates are 6.6% higher under the Coalition than under Labor.
This means under the Morrison Government, almost nine out of 10 visits to the GP were provided with no out-of-pocket cost for the patient.
More than 152.2 million bulk billed GP services were delivered in 2020-21 - 46.4 million more than in 2012-13. In total, more than $27 billion in total Medicare benefits were paid in 2020-21.
The Morrison Government has made Medicare subsidised telehealth services permanent, enabling over 435,000 telehealth consultations in Eden-Monaro funded through Medicare since the start of the pandemic.
Since we came into government, more than 2,900 new or amended medicine listings worth $16.5 billion have been added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. We are also lowering the cost of medicines by reducing the PBS co-payment by $10 - reducing cost of living pressure.
Just this week, the Morrison Government announced a significant rural health package of that invests $146 million in new funding to support greater access in rural and regional Australia. This includes $87 million to provide additional workforce incentives to GP's and allied health professionals in rural Australia.
We have made record investment in aged care to help the 27,644 senior Australians living in Eden-Monaro. This investment will deliver more home care places, more funding for aged care centres and increases in the amount of time nurses and carers spend with residents.
The recent rate rises in Eden Monaro demonstrate the strain that local councils are under to provide services in the face of rising costs and following climate change fuelled disasters. Halving the Federal Assistance Grant forces Councils to apply for government grants causing an inability to properly plan infrastructure needed and resulting in the blatant pork barrelling (or corrupt allocation of public money) that we have seen over the last few years. Obviously the Federal Assistance Grant needs to be increased and linked to CPI so that councils are able to plan and fund their communities properly.
The pandemic has revealed how important a properly funded health care system is. The Greens will make dental and mental health care part of Medicare, and reinvest the private health rebate back into the public system so we can slash wait times and remove out of pocket costs.
In Aged Care we will phase out for-profit providers, introduce staff to resident ratios, increase wages and improve conditions and training.
As an ex-councillor of Queanbeyan Council I know the significant contribution Councils make to their local communities.
If elected I would lobby the government to increase the Federal Assistance Grant, particularly for regional and rural councils because they face greater challenges than the metro councils.
I would also work with the Bega Valley Shire Council to help them improve their financial sustainability through regional service delivery or collaborative procurement, and I would help them promote more efficient and improved service delivery through innovation.
If elected I would develop a meaningful relationship with Councils throughout the Eden Monaro electorate, and I would like to regularly meet with senior Council staff and Councillors to find out what I can do to help them maintain and enhance their capabilities and relationships with their communities.
The aged care crisis is a national disgrace and the federal government needs to ensure that older people are treated with respect and dignity in residential aged care. I would lobby for higher wages for the aged care sector so we can reduce the shortages in aged care facilities.
I would lobby for research into why there are escalating rates of mental health issues in Australia. We need to find out why the rates are increasing so we can develop policy and programs that will help reduce the incidence of mental health in our communities.
Treating the symptoms is not enough - we need to find out why mental health issues are on the rise and then we need to come up with meaningful solutions that will change the trend.
Encouraging GP's to move to regional and rural Australia is a complex and difficult thing to do, but the federal government needs to be use more ingenuity if they are to attract doctors and medical people to non metro areas.
If elected to parliament I would put pressure on the government to do more to fix the GP crisis in regional / rural Australia. I would also work with medical peak bodies to come up with innovative ways to attract doctors to regional Australia.
Although not all candidates responded yet to our questions, here are links to their respective Facebook pages for readers wishing to do some more digging on their policies and platforms.
Boyd Shannon, Pauline Hanson's One Nation - no details able to be found
I have worked as a journalist since 2005 and am now Editor of Australian Community Media mastheads in Bega, Merimbula and Eden
I have worked as a journalist since 2005 and am now Editor of Australian Community Media mastheads in Bega, Merimbula and Eden
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