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Wednesday, 16 March 2016
Page: 2128

Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (15:30): I have to say to Senator Wong that it is really not all that remarkable, because in estimates I asked an even simpler question about the Minister for Health. That was, since she took over responsibility for aged care, how many aged care facilities had she actually visited? The minister at the table was not able to answer that. Not even the department could. To have them come up with an answer to a question about who has made that decision about the programs and which programs are being cut is probably a bit too difficult for this sneaky, tricky government.

It needs to be put on record yet again that this government's record on health is abysmal. Quite frankly, it is appalling. They will only ever see health as a source of budget cuts. That is quite evident. As far as health is concerned Malcolm Turnbull, the Prime Minister, is even more disastrous than Tony Abbott ever was.

During question time yesterday Senator Nash said that this government is increasing funding to hospitals. What an absolute lie! Go to the budget papers—in the budget papers presented by this government you will see, on page 7, that they have cut $57 billion from public hospitals. That is what Mr Abbott had in his budget when he was Prime Minister. On top of that, we have seen that the Prime Minister, Malcolm Turnbull, has added a further $2.1 billion extra in funding cuts.

No wonder the states are finding it hard to manage their health budgets, when this government, quite clearly, is starving them of funds. We know that that has been part of a strategy by this government to starve the states and territories of funding, which was then going to put pressure on the states to agree to increasing the GST. That is what that was about.

But the essence of this debate is about Australians' health. As I said, Mr Turnbull's cuts to health are actually far worse than those that were brought down by Mr Hockey when he was Treasurer, before he was thrown under the bus by his colleagues here in this chamber and by the Minister for Finance. Mr Turnbull, in fact, has turned out to be worse than Joe Hockey and Tony Abbott when it comes to funding health in this country. Despite promising new leadership and a 21st-century government with a ministry focused on the challenges of the future, Malcolm Turnbull has in fact ripped another $650 million out of Medicare by slashing bulk-billing for diagnostic imaging and pathology. Just think about the consequences and effect that that one act alone will have on the Australian population. It is devastating. There will be women who will not go for their regular mammograms. There will be Australians who will think twice about having their regular tests. We all know in this chamber, because we have spoken about it on numerous occasions, that a lot of Australians have to undertake regular blood tests. We know that some of them will think twice about it, because already their family budgets are stretched. If it is a matter of whether mum goes to have her blood test done this week or not, more likely than not she will choose to put that off, because it might be the case that she needs to provide schoolbooks for her children. That is another further attack by this government, cutting assistance to Australian families.

Cutting the crucial health workforce training program by $595 million is an outrageous attack. Then go back to aged care. My colleagues often say, 'When you speak in this place, everything comes back to aged care.' The reality is that the cuts around health affect older Australians more, proportionately, than they do the younger generations. That is a fact. The reality is that we know what they have done in relation to the aged care sector workforce. They made a lot of plans and commitments but delivered nothing. They said they would have an audit. How long did we wait for that audit? Now it has disappeared. Recently I put out a media release with Shayne Neumann, the shadow spokesperson on ageing, suggesting that perhaps the Minister for Health could get herself a GPS and maybe that would help her find the audit.

Further cuts have had a real impact on the Australian population. They have ripped another $146 million out of health prevention and eHealth programs. These are two extremely important programs that are very important to the Australian population.

We then continue with Mr Abbott's $1.3 billion hike in the price of essential medicines. Let us not forget that. It is all part of health. Then we look at Mr Abbott's $260 million attack on the Medicare safety net. Then we go to another $2 billion cut in a four-year freeze on Medicare rebates for GP visits. We know what they tried to do last year, when they wanted to put a GP tax on the Australian people by wanting you to pay an extra amount to go and see your GP. First up, you have to be able to get in to see a GP—that is the first issue. Once again, it is attacking the essential services of health, access to a GP, access to pathology testing and access to diagnostic imaging. All are fundamentally important when it comes to providing health. It is a fundamental right of all Australians to have access to good health care.

Now we learn that they go even further. They have not even stopped there. I do not know whether they throw in six steak knives with this, but this government has also been working on privatising Medicare payments. We always know that if they cannot dismantle Medicare in one action then they will go for the back door. They will keep trying, because they fundamentally do not believe in universal health care. They do not believe in Medicare—not one little bit.

We know that this government is renowned for saying one thing and doing something completely different. We recall that before the last federal election the mantra of Mr Abbott, his colleagues and those in this chamber was, 'There'll be no cuts to health, there'll be no changes to the pension and there'll be no cuts to education.' And we have seen that for the 2½ years of this government they have done nothing but cut, cut, cut when it comes to health in this country. We also know that, once again, the kids of Australia are being attacked. If it is not about child care, if it is not about cuts to education, now they are trying to kill off Labor's dental scheme for kids in this country.

These things are all very serious, but there is another danger lurking out there when it comes to the health system in this country. That is the deal that has been done behind closed doors with the Greens to change the electoral systems to elect senators to this place. After the next election, if the Australian community judges that they should return this government to government benches and we see the Senate controlled by this government, then there will be no-one who is able to stop the further cuts when it comes to health. There will be no-one, because they will have the numbers in this place and they will control it. I, for one, do not want to go back down that path. I was here under the Howard government when they had control of the Senate, and we saw them railroad through one piece of legislation after another.

Now at least we have a house of review here. When you have Independents, the Greens, the crossbenchers, the Labor Party and the Liberal government, you should be able to negotiate your legislation through this chamber. But what we have seen now is a rubber stamp for a government that is hell-bent on attacking Australians through the health system, through the pension and through education, wanting to put $100,000 degrees on the table for our young people going to university. This is what this government is truly about. But fundamentally, if you are going to make these changes to health and make these cuts, then the minister should be able to come into this chamber and justify and name the programs that the government is making these cuts to. The Australian community and this chamber deserve nothing less. At least be up-front. At least be honest.

If Mr Turnbull does get control of both houses of parliament after the next election, then the GST will increase, and that will mean that there will be a GST on everything. Last year we were able to—with the crossbench—put enough pressure on them, so they have put it in the bottom drawer. But that draw is still open, because if they win the next election they will march in here with control of the Senate and they will increase the GST and put it on everything. Every time you go to the doctor, every time you have a pathology test, every time you have diagnostic imaging, every time you go to the grocers and buy fresh fruit and vegetables, there will be a 15 per cent tax on that. That is what is in store for us.

Senator Seselja interjecting

Senator McKenzie interjecting

Senator POLLEY: Those people who want to interject now—I love it when they interject, because they know it is the truth. We know that those on that side who purport to represent rural and regional Australia are city dwellers. They come in here and tell us falsehoods, and now they are trying to justify the cuts to health. All you have to do is look in the budget papers and you will see it in black and white. Mr Turnbull has added a further $2.1 billion worth of cuts to health in this country. That is the truth of the matter. The minister comes in here, as she did yesterday in question time, and totally and utterly misleads this chamber and denies that there have been any cuts, but the reality is that we have budget papers, and we on the side of the chamber have read them. Obviously, not even the Minister for Health and those who are representing the Minister for Health have bothered to read it, because they would see it in black and white, so it is not about whether or not you take my word for it.

I want to turn now to the effect of the budget cuts on the health system of my home state of Tasmania: $57 billion has been cut out of hospitals, started by Mr Abbott, when he was Prime Minister, and carried on by the current Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull. The repercussions of these cuts will be felt in every state and territory. With elective surgery lists growing and hospital beds and wards being closed, unacceptable waiting times for these services will get longer. We have already had the AMA come out with its concerns. The AMA is not a natural ally of ours, on this side of the chamber. Like the GPs who came out and rallied against the GP tax, now we have the AMA being quite up-front about the fact that these cuts are going to hurt ordinary, everyday Australians. That is the AMA.

The figures that were released yesterday also show that the Tasmanian health system will be worse off by $2.7 billion. That is the truth. The state of Tasmania has a Liberal government that has come out and pleaded with this federal government to put more money back into the health budget. The premier and the health minister in Tasmania have been calling on their federal colleagues to return the money. It is not a Labor state government saying that; it is a Liberal state government that have been saying it—and it is all over the media today, if you would care to go and check the Tasmanian papers—because they know that the impact of these cuts will be felt dramatically in Tasmania.

The senators on the other side always listen to me when I am talking about aged care and health—I am sure they do; they probably take notes—so I am sure they all understand that Tasmania has the fastest ageing population in this country. So these health cuts are going to have an enormous impact on my community, and I will not sit in this chamber and allow a minister to mislead and, quite frankly, lie to the Australian community about the cuts that are going to have a detrimental impact on them.

Let us look at an example. I would have thought that those opposite, particularly Senator Bushby, would be interested. I am sure he would have read the newspapers which reported that, in February in the Royal Hobart Hospital, a 95-year-old woman was left lying on the floor waiting for hours and hours to be seen by a doctor. Surely even those hard heads on that side of the chamber would acknowledge that a 95-year-old woman or any Australian should not be left lying on the floor in a hospital waiting to be seen. That is unacceptable for a nation that is as rich as we are. It is a shame on this government and it is a reflection on the state Liberal government of Tasmania, who have not been strong enough in standing up to this government.

But, then again, what would you expect from this Premier of Tasmania? Just yesterday the Premier of Tasmania said in a heated debate that the Leader of the Opposition should go and slit his wrist. That is the level of debate in this country that we see from the Liberals. They say one thing and do something completely different. A week after launching a campaign in relation to the increase in suicides, we had a premier, not a minister—

Senator Seselja: Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. I have resisted, but the point of order is on relevance. I am not sure where Senator Polley is going now, but I do not think it is relevant to the debate, which was begun by Senator Wong.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, do you wish to speak to the point of order?

Senator POLLEY: Yes. Quite frankly, I am very much relevant when it comes to health and the reputation of this government when it comes to funding and the pressure they are putting on a state government.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: The motion before the chair is to take note of the response from the minister. It is difficult for me to determine total relevance when I do not actually have in front of me the original question that was asked, but I do understand that Senator Polley and other senators have been arguing to make a case on why the response was unsatisfactory and why the information was needed for these reasons. So I will let you continue on, Senator Polley, but I will remind senators that they do need to remain relevant to the question before the chair.

Senator POLLEY: Thank you, Mr Deputy President. The point has been well made here in the chamber. They are interjecting over something that was said by the Premier of Tasmania, which was reported in the newspaper and which is relevant to the issue of health, the funding of health and the pressure that this government is putting on states when it keeps cutting the funding. A cut of $2.7 billion from the Tasmanian health budget over the next four years is an enormous amount of money—and it is unacceptable.

We need to ensure that pressure is kept on this government when it comes to the effect that their cuts are having. These are real effects. The impact of these cuts will affect people's decisions as to whether they choose to have their blood tests and whether they choose to have a CAT scan. Unlike those of us in this place, some people really do not have the money to spend on these extra costs.

Senator Bushby: The funding is going up every year.

Senator POLLEY: I would have thought that Senator Bushby would have a better understanding of the Tasmanian community and the level of concern that is in that community when it comes to health cuts. If he cannot speak up in his own caucus to support his state colleagues, that is something that he will have to deal with. But, as I said before, I for one am not going to sit by and allow this government, without being challenged, to continue to cut health funding, because those cuts affect everyone in this country.

For a woman who has suspected breast cancer, the cost that she will have to meet upfront is $554. There are a lot of families across Tasmania and the rest of the Australian community who would not have that sort of money—and I am surprised that those on the government side who are in the chamber would not appreciate that. These are the real implications of the savage cuts the government is making when it comes to health in this country.

Government senators interjecting

Senator POLLEY: We can go on talking about the rest of the cuts. We can talk about your agenda for trying to dismantle Medicare. I am quite happy to talk about that day in, day out. Only last month we had before us motions on ovarian cancer, and a lot of people spoke and supported those motions. Before this year is out, 1,500 Australian women will have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. There is no screening test and no method of prevention, and it is very hard to detect. So the last thing that we want is for women to not go and seek assistance if they have concerns.

We do not want women's, men's or children's health to be put at risk because they or their parents do not have a big enough credit card. We know those opposite are all about credit cards when it comes to health and education, but we on this side will never inflict on the Australian community the situation where the provision of health in this country is determined by the size of your credit card. We will not do it. We will not just stand by and let this happen. We will always bring to the public's attention the concerns that we have with the attacks on health. (Time expired)