Coalition vs Labor: comparing the cancer funding pledges

With an election due in the next few weeks both major parties have been staking out cancer funding as one of the major battlegrounds for voters’ hearts and minds.

On Tuesday, 2 April Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenburg delivered the Federal Budget with plans for investment in cancer imaging, PBS listings for oncology drugs and funding for cancer research.

Two days later Opposition Leader Bill Shorten delivered his response, including what he dubbed “Labor’s $2.3 billion Medicare cancer plan”.

Here’s a quick overview of the most relevant oncology elements from each.


  • $309 million for diagnostic imaging services, including 23 new MRI licences.
  • $70.8 million for regional cancer diagnosis, treatment and therapy centres.
  • Medicare Freeze to be lifted on various X-ray and ultrasound MBS rebates from July 1, 2020.
  • $331 million for new pharmaceuticals including osimertinib for NSCLC, venetoclax for CLL, nivolumab with ipilimumab for renal cell carcinoma, brentuximab vedotin for cutaneous T-cell lymphoma and inotuzumab ozogamicin for ALL.
  • $5 billion Ten Year Investment Plan for the Medical Research Future Fund, including $614 million for rare cancers and diseases, $605 million for clinical infrastructure and $150 million for stem cell research.
  • $84 million for carer respite.
  • $52.2 million to improve women’s health in areas such as ovarian cancer and endometriosis under the moniker National Women’s Health Strategy 2020-2030.


$2.3 billion commitment to slash out of pocket costs for cancer patients for scans, medical treatment, and specialist appointments, including:

  • $600 million to expand access to MRI machines and boost Medicare rebates for diagnostic imaging.
  • $500 million to cut cancer treatment public hospital waiting times via national partnership agreement with the states
  • $433 million to boost bulk-billing rates, provide three million free consultations from medical and radiation oncologists, as well as surgeons – over four years
  • $26 million investment in the future of clinical trials

The Labor plan was hailed by Cancer Council Australia as “a strong, landmark commitment to reducing the impact and inequities related to cancer.”

“The Opposition’s cancer care plan has the potential to be the most significant reform since the establishment of Medicare for helping to ensure government subsidies are stronger and better targeted to the needs of cancer patients,” said CEO, Professor Sanchia Aranda.

“Working towards the elimination of out-of-pocket for diagnostics and specialists’ services has the potential to not only reduce financial burden, it could also lead to significant improvements in clinical outcomes.”

However as the Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia (RCPA) pointed out, there has been no commitment to reverse the Medicare Freeze on pathology items for cancer tests.

“Whilst we welcome the intention to more adequately fund diagnostic imaging, oncology and surgery, it is important to note that none of these modalities actually diagnose cancer,” said Associate Professor Bruce Latham, President of the RCPA.

“100% of all cancer diagnoses are made by medical specialist pathologists and, despite the dramatically increasing complexity and expense involved in cancer diagnosis, MBS rebates for all pathology tests remain frozen.”

Professor Latham also noted that personalised cancer treatment requires molecular genetic analysis of tumour cells.

“Over 1,000 molecular genetic tests are in routine diagnostic use today but only about 30 of these items are covered on the MBS.  These tests are absolutely vital in guiding treatment choices, however, due to their cost are not accessible to all who need them” he said.

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