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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 853


Senator McLUCAS (QueenslandParliamentary Secretary for Disabilities and Carers) (17:43): I also rise to oppose the motion—perhaps we should call it a stunt—from Senator Fierravanti-Wells.

Senator Xenophon: Nothing wrong with stunts!

Senator McLUCAS: There is nothing wrong with stunts, Senator Xenophon. I think you got the prize today! But this is another stunt. If the motion were carried—let us be very clear about what this means—we would not allow the Senate to do what it is noted for, and that is to scrutinise legislation.

The upshot of this being carried would be that we would not debate a series of bills that have been passed by the House of Representatives. We would not be able to do what the Senate is noted for—scrutinise, amend, negotiate, and work with the crossbenchers to get a better outcome for the Australian community. I believe that the bills represent very good policy—great policy—but there are people in this place who have a different opinion. And Senator Xenophon has said as much in his contribution. This is a procedural motion—a procedural motion that would mean, if it were carried, that we would not debate significant changes to the private health insurance levies system in our country. Let us go to why the Liberal Party does not want to have a fulsome debate about this particular set of bills. We know that this legislation will save taxpayers $2.4 billion over the next three years or $100 billion over the next 40 years. We also know that the opposition leader had said that, if he were to become prime minister, the proposal that Labor is putting forward would be repealed. That is another $2.4 billion that he has to find in the forward estimates. It is another $100 billion over the next 40 years if these changes to the private health insurance rebate are not carried.

If we carry this motion we will not have the opportunity to refute the absolutely incorrect assertions that private health insurance membership will decrease. We know Treasury modelling estimates that, after these changes come into effect, 99.7 per cent of people will remain in private health insurance as a result of incentives such as the Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare Levy Surcharge. Any time there is a change to the way the premium subsidy works, we get railed by that side about how everyone is going to leave their private health insurance and that the public hospital system will be inundated. Can I say that that has never happened. That has not happened any time there have been changes to the private health insurance modelling even under previous governments.

The facts are that 90 per cent of lower income adults should not subsidise the private health insurance of the top 10 per cent of contributors. It is not fair, in our view, that a bank teller who is earning $50,000 should be subsidising the private health insurance of a banker who is taking home $260,000. That is not fair. I think if you go out there and talk to those wealthier Australians, they are probably a bit embarrassed that the people they are employing in their businesses are subsidising their private health insurance. It will not result, in my view or Treasury's view, in an exodus from private health insurance coverage. In fact, eight million Australians will not even be impacted; 2.4 million people will be; 930,000 of those will have their rebate reduced by 10 percentage points; and 780,000 will have their rebate reduced by 20 percentage points. We are talking about 700,000 of the wealthiest Australians who will no longer receive the rebate; 700,000 of the wealthiest Australians who currently have their rebate subsidised in many cases by the people they employ. This is a stunt of the first order and should be opposed.