Byron Bay GP Mike Belich, who is taking legal action to challenge a Medicare ruling that could force him to leave his home, his family, and his patients.
Byron Bay GP Mike Belich, who is taking legal action to challenge a Medicare ruling that could force him to leave his home, his family, and his patients. Cathy Adams

Byron GP battles red tape

BYRON BAY GP Mike Belich could be forced to leave his family, his home and his patients under a retrospective Medicare ruling that would force him to practice in the bush for the next 10 years.

Last week, Dr Belich launched legal action in the Federal Court against a Medicare ruling classifying him as a former overseas student, despite living here since he was a child. If upheld, the ruling would force him to work in a remote area for the next decade.

“It is just absurd,” Dr Belich said. “My family moved here from New Zealand when I was 14 years old and I received a HECS bill like any other Australian citizen.

“I've lived and worked in Byron for four years now and this is my home. I'm immersed in the community and I've bought a house with my partner.”

Aside from not wanting to move, Dr Belich's partner is also unable to leave the Northern Rivers for family reasons.

Dr Belich has thousands of patients and treats hundreds with chronic conditions, including drug and alcohol dependency, where he believes the relationship between physician and patient can be critical to recovery.

In a classic bureaucratic Catch-22, Dr Belich said he was unable to apply for permanent residency when his family first moved to Australia because New Zealanders were already considered residents.

He officially became an Australian citizen while at university. However, according to Medicare, he began his studies as an 'overseas student' and that status could not change.

Dr Belich said Medicare had got it wrong.

“I believe Medicare's interpretation is outside the intention of the law,” he said. “I've been fighting this for five years and without a Bill of Rights to protect us, or ministerial intervention, I had no choice but to take legal action.

“I know of another 100 doctors originally from New Zealand in a similar situation and one of them has lived here since two years of age.

“In any job you have to be happy where you live to serve well. This is my home, I have roots here now. I want to stay.”

SHOULD DR BELICH BE ALLOWED TO STAY AT BYRON? Phone 6624 3266 or SMS 0428 264 948


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