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Labor pledges to end Medicare freeze


The Turnbull government has dismissed as meaningless Labor pledges to end the Coalition’s six-year freeze on indexed increases to the Medicare rebate, but doctors have welcomed the policy.

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It’s Labor’s biggest spending commitment of the 2016 election campaign so far, costing the budget $2.4 billion over the next four years and $10 billion over a decade.

The policy will be funded through “announced improvements” to the budget, including not proceeding with the coalition’s baby bonus or tax cuts for big companies and caps to vocational training loans.

Finance Minister Mathias Cormann said Opposition Leader Bill Shorten’s pledge was meaningless because it wasn’t properly funded.

“He will continue to promise the world without being able to deliver,” Cormann told reporters in Canberra on Thursday.

Labor argues its policy, which would apply from January, is aimed at protecting bulk-billing rates.

But the government rejects that, citing data showing bulk-billing rates have risen from 75 per cent under Labor to 85 per cent under the Coalition.

Doctors have welcomed Labor’s pledge, saying it gives voters a clear choice at the July 2 election.

“Patients are the big winners from this announcement, especially working families with a few kids, the elderly, the chronically ill and the most vulnerable in the community,” Australian Medical Association president Brian Owler said.

Labor’s decision puts more pressure on the government, which faces a fierce campaign from doctors over its budget decision to extend the freeze by another two years.

Doctors accuse the government of introducing a patient co-payment by stealth, warning patients could pay up to $20 out of their own pocket to see a GP.

The Medicare rebate for a standard $50 consultation is $36.30 with extra incentives for doctors in eligible areas to bulk-bill pensioners, healthcare card holders and those aged 16 and under.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull takes his campaign to Macarthur, in south-western Sydney, on Thursday for the second time in a week.

He has announced the coalition intends spending $50 million on targeted works between Rosemeadow and Appin, improving safety for the 12,000 motorists who use the road to get into Campbelltown each day.

The upgrade will fast track development of thousands of new homes putting downward pressure on housing affordability for western Sydney families.

And as the campaign nears the end of its second week, security has been beefed up for more than a dozen MPs and their families.

More than a dozen MPs are being shadowed by armed Australian Federal Police officers following threats from “both homegrown terrorists and political activists”.


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