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Monday, 18 October 2010
Page: 496


Mr GEORGANAS (6:13 PM) —The National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme) Bill 2010 is another example of the government making great strides in the reshaping and delivery of a new and remodelled comprehensive and affordable health system for Australia. This bill goes to the cost-effective and affordable delivery of our beloved PBS well into the future. The future of the scheme has been under a cloud of rising costs, as has been our overall health system. There is no inflation like health expenditure inflation and the PBS alone was forecast to increase by some 40 to 50 per cent over the next several years. This is an increase that could not be sustained across the board and it would suggest a health system that, while dearly loved by Australians of all walks of life, if left untended could become unaffordable in the not too distant future. The compromise of our health system, Medicare and the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme will not be accepted by Labor, the creators of Medicare.

The focus of the bill before us is the weighing down of the cost of the pharmaceuticals purchased under the PBS. Through the work of the minister with the industry group, Medicines Australia, this government delivers in this bill pricing reforms and administrative changes that improve the PBS listing processes. It cuts the red tape and will achieve highly significant savings over the years ahead. This bill enshrines the agreement between industry and government while delivering the significant additional price benefits for the Australian public. The price benefits will be through the PBS, but individual members of the public may also find that they can access certain courses of medicines more cheaply.

This bill goes to the government’s delivery of more with less—more benefit for our health dollar and less wastage of expensive medicines. The bill sees greater downward pressure on the cost of a greater number of drugs. This will be achieved through the PBS’s price averaging mechanism, expanding from its current application to 162 medicine brands to some 1,600 brands—a 1,000 per cent increase—with substantial consequent savings. It must be noted that these reforms will in no way diminish a patient’s access to necessary medicines and nor will they in any way diminish or interfere with a medical practitioner’s ability to prescribe PBS medicines that are clinically appropriate.

This is simply another example of this government’s drive to reform the health system and to meet the need of a growing and increasingly ageing population of Australia for a health system that will deliver affordable health care through the decades ahead. There is no greater example of this drive, of Labor’s capacity to plan and deliver systemic and affordable reform for the benefit of all Australians, than the national health and hospitals reform plan. It commenced in the term of the previous parliament, and the reform agenda and the drive for superior outcomes and better efficiencies with our limited health dollar continues.

We have seen the agreement between the government and states and territories as well. We have replaced eight separate health systems with a single National Health and Hospitals Network, combining all public hospitals, GP services and related services. We have dedicated one-third of GST revenue previously paid to the states and territories for the Commonwealth to take majority financial control and to control the entire network and invest this revenue in health and hospitals. We have elevated small, local hospital networks to be in charge of their own service delivery. All of this is achievable through the greatest shake-up of our health finances this nation has probably ever seen. It is deliverable by the Commonwealth through ending the blame game and the tireless abdication of funding responsibility and cost-shifting that has been a feature of the health system for far too long. It is achievable through the goodwill of the states and territories, who have agreed to end the games and enable the Commonwealth to take 60 per cent of funding responsibility for public hospitals and to take over full responsibility for GP and related services provided outside of hospitals.

The government is most intent on making substantial improvements in the funding of health services and in health service delivery. But there are always a few spoilers. While we are reshaping the remedial health landscape through the PBS pricing mechanism and hospital reform program, there are of course areas where the government has had its reform and improvement of the health system stymied by the opposition. One might have thought that this parliament, due to the outcome of this last general election and the agreements that appeared to be made prior to the forming of this government, would be a little more constructive that the last. One might have thought that a little more weight would be put on debate and decision making to judge legislation on its merits. Regrettably, the reflex of opposition for opposition’s sake, irrespective of rational thought, appears to remain the position of many in this House.

Two areas of opposition for opposition’s sake will immediately come to the minds of members present. What is the point of reshaping the hospital system to reduce patient suffering if one does not even bother to try to prevent the suffering in the first place? I am talking about the preventative health agency. The Minister for Health and Ageing has now long been in pursuit of Australia’s first ever preventative health agency—an agency dedicated to preventing the public’s need for emergency departments and surgery theatres, an agency dedicated to relieving the pressure that has long been on our public hospitals and an agency dedicated to maintaining the health and thereby the wellbeing of all Australians. Such an agency is common sense. But that makes it, as we have seen, directly at odds with the opposition. While it is common sense to anyone you might speak with, the opposition simply does not get it. It is like water off a duck’s back.

Similarly, the current Leader of the Opposition while Minister for Health and Ageing repeatedly refused to have the Commonwealth participate in dental care. As Minister for Health and Ageing, he preferred to watch hundreds of thousands of principally elderly Australians suffer with troublesome dentures and decaying teeth, suffering deteriorating dietary habits due to the lack of healthy teeth with which to eat properly. Clearly treatable dental problems grow and expand into nutritional problems, causing the most frail in our community to become even more susceptible to viruses and other illnesses. As it was in the previous government in which Mr Abbott was a minister, now it is under Mr Abbott’s opposition—opposition to preventative health, opposition to dental care, opposition to the reduction of preventable decay and the onset of entirely preventable, unnecessary and avoidable disease.

The government stands by the commitments it made to the Australian people prior to the last election. In the bill before us we have just one element of the government’s ongoing commitment to delivering superior, affordable health care for all Australians—an important element in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. I am very pleased to be able to support the measures of this bill and the ongoing benefits that will accrue to the Australian public by its passing. I commend this bill to the House.