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Tuesday, 25 February 2014
Page: 792

Mr GILES (Scullin) (16:06): I am pleased to be able to make a contribution to this matter of public importance debate that deals with two very pressing matters: firstly, our response to issues of preventative health and, secondly, the way in which this government is conducted. I echo the comments of the member for Ballarat at the outset when she highlighted the importance of preventative health. I know from my own electorate that issues like obesity and diabetes are pressing and real concerns that cause untold costs to individuals who are affected and their families. There are also the much greater social and economic costs of these chronic conditions.

I also take this opportunity to acknowledge the many and very significant bipartisan achievements in the area of preventative health, as were outlined in the contribution of the member for Boothby. I think it is also important that we acknowledge here that many of these achievements appear to be under significant threat because there are some fundamental differences between Labor and the members opposite in the area of health.

This month we mark 30 years of Medicare, after it was re-established by the Hawke Labor government. Medicare is under threat, along with its core principle—our core principle—that access to health care should be based on need and not an individual's capacity to pay. The Prime Minister, a former minister for health, has described himself as Medicare's best friend in much the same way he has described himself as the best friend of Australian workers; I think in foreign policy he is best friends with lots and lots of people. There is a common thread across all of these 'friendships': they do not turn out very well for the other party, whether its foreign policy, health or, most grievously and most apparently, workers in Australia—particularly those who have lost their jobs over the life of this government.

Mr Ewen Jones: Have you met one?

Mr GILES: I have met plenty; I am not sure about you. The tragedy is there are nearly 70,000 people who are no longer working since your government was elected. One million jobs is a long way away.

We have the ongoing spectre of the GP tax—this ostensible savings measure. It looks like a savings measure, but we are possibly looking at a $2 billion impact, as well as the prospect of tripling waiting times in emergency departments. This is the antithesis of Labor's emphasis on preventative health. Preventative health is no longer a priority, despite impressive bipartisan achievements in the past.

I am deeply concerned that Medicare Locals are under threat under this government. They remain under threat, despite some weasel words in the lead-up to the election and more particularly despite the great record of achievement in linking people to primary health services and making a huge difference—certainly in the communities of north Melbourne and, I understand, right across this country. It is really telling, when we think about this government's commitment to preventative health, that of the 10 minutes available to the minister he might have spent at least one minute talking about his responsibilities. I am guessing, and I think I am being generous, but he spent 20 seconds on preventative health. This is in stark contrast to some of the later contributions, in particular that of the member for Boothby, who dealt with the serious and substantive matter that is before us today.

Public health professionals are making it very clear: the assistant minister is not capable of doing her job. Public health groups have made it very clear, and they are right to do so, that they have no confidence in the minister. There is no doubt that the health star-rating system should be reinstated. The two years of collaborative work—the sort of detailed, deep, bipartisan work involving states and territories, involving industry, consumer groups and public health groups—should be supported. It should be reinstated. Two years of work cannot be lost or buried under this unconvincing sophistry. These are extraordinary events from the point at which the website was made live on 6 February, prompting an immediate reaction by the former chief of staff and then, when that was not enough, by the minister herself. And what did we see by way of outcomes? We did see some consequences visited on the chief of staff, but only after a public servant, doing their job, was effectively punished. And it is important, despite what was said by the previous speaker. We have already seen Choice's work in using this system to inform consumers as to what can be deceptive assessments of products in the marketplace.

When this government was initiated, there was some debate about the titles adopted by ministers. But when we see the Assistant Minister for Health, the minister responsible for health promotion, we see a minister being anything but an advocate for those causes.