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Monday, 30 May 2011
Page: 5198


Dr SOUTHCOTT (Boothby) (17:51): What can we say? This is another Labor budget, another deficit budget, another budget which adds to growing government debt. Despite all the government's rhetoric, this was not a tough budget. It is a budget that has all of the wrong priorities for Australia. Constantly saying that it was a tough budget, constantly repeating those words to the public, will not make it true. The Prime Minister was right when she described it as a traditional Labor budget. It is. It is a budget with big deficit, big debt and more taxes. It is a traditional Labor budget. It is another deficit budget.

The Labor Party, incredibly, have not delivered a budget in surplus in the last 21 years. We even have a member of this House who has never seen a Labor budget surplus in his lifetime. The Labor Party have not delivered a budget surplus since the Hawke-Keating government did in 1989-90. It requires a special sort of genius to deliver four deficit budgets in a row during a time of a resources boom and during a time when the economy has been growing. The deficit for 2010-11 will be almost $50 billion. Net debt will now peak at $107 billion. What this country needs is a safe pair of hands guiding our nation's finances. The Treasurer has broken another record. We should give him a medal. He has managed to beat Keating's debt record of $96 billion in 1996. Debt will peak at $107 billion.

The coalition paid off Labor's debt last time and will pay it off again. This government is borrowing $135 million a day, and its interest alone will be $7 billion a year. The total interest paid on that debt over the next four years will be $26 billion. That is $26 billion we do not have to spend. How many hospitals could $26 billion have funded? How much infrastructure could have been bought for $26 billion? The worst part is that the carbon tax is not even included in this budget, so this budget is built on a false premise. The carbon tax is expected to add $11½ billion to household budgets, which is going to add further to pressure on the cost of living.

There are a couple of points in this budget that I want to focus on—first of all, the government's attempts to wind back the private health insurance rebate. In every one of the four budgets delivered by the Labor Party so far, they have attacked private health insurance and those who hold private health cover, and they are persisting with their plan to wind back private health insurance. The private health insurance rebate was originally introduced by the coalition government in 1999. Labor's proposals to means test the rebate has been twice rejected by the Senate and yet the government are introducing it again. They just cannot let this go. The Labor Party hate private health care. They are pursuing this as an ideological argument. They have not really thought about this at all. The importance of private health insurance is that it takes pressure off the public system. It provides people with choice but importantly it takes pressure off the public healthcare system. Within five years, this move will be budget negative and within five years it will be costing more than it saves.

Recently, the Australian Health Insurance Association commissioned a report by Deloitte which shows that the cost due to increased public healthcare system demand will be $2.4 billion over the next four years. It is going to end up costing everyone. Private health insurance premiums are estimated to rise more than 10 per cent over and above the annual premium rises. This is on top of the 15 per cent, 30 per cent and 45 per cent cuts in the rebates for people on different incomes. In the electorate of Boothby more than 70,000 residents have private health insurance. More than 73 per cent of households in my electorate of Boothby hold private health insurance. This is a budget which is no good for them. This budget measure is an attack on every single one of those households.

Mental health is an important priority. It has been really good that mental health has been at the centre of the debate in federal parliament. That is in no small part due to the leadership shown by the Liberal Party on this issue. It was the $1.9 billion package announced in the 2006 budget when the Leader of the Opposition was the health minister which led to improvements in the way that GPs and psychologists were rewarded for spending time with their patients with mental health problems. And through Pat McGorry and John Mendoza, the opposition developed a very good mental health policy, which we took to the 2010 election. The Labor Party's policy at that election was appalling. They showed complete neglect of mental health.

This is an issue where the Liberal and National parties have made the running. We have put up good ideas and the government have responded. But their mental health budget measures are really an illusion. It is like a lot of things with this government: it looks good but by the time you kick the tyres and have a look under the bonnet, you find out it is another lemon. When you look into the budget papers, you realise that what was described is not what you end up with.

In 2011-12, the Gillard government are providing $47.3 million in new funding for mental health. But, unfortunately, in that same year they are also cutting $62.8 million from existing mental health programs. In year 1, giving with one hand and pulling back with the other, there is actually a drop of $15½ million dollars in funding for mental health. This is hardly following through on the Prime Minister's promise that mental health would be a priority in their second term of government. Unfortunately, over the next four years of the forward estimates, after taking into account the budget cuts there is only $583 million in new money. It is nowhere near what was announced in the budget. The majority of their big spend on mental health is old money rebadged with a new name. It is about a third of what the coalition promised for the same period. Their truthful commitment is hardly the $2.2 billion dollar headline figure that the Minister for Health and Ageing has been putting about. The worst part is that the majority of the mental health funding is promised not now, not next year, but in five years time. This is towards the end of the next government's term. The coalition committed $1.5 billion at the 2010 election, and we announced another $430 million more recently.

There is another aspect of the funding for mental health which I think is very short-sighted. These are cuts to general practitioner funding for mental health. Anyone who knows anything about mental health will realise the importance of having it dealt with by a general practitioner in the first instance. A lot of mental health can be dealt with very adequately by a GP. Budget day was a sad day for patient care in general practice because what the government did was rip $580 million over four years out of mental health programs coordinated by GPs. General practice is the universal access point for health care nationally. Most people have a medical home which is their GP, and it is very important for continuity of care that people do have a medical home and that they do have one GP who can coordinate their health care. GPs are best placed to identify and work with patients due to their recurring contact and due to the fact that they have known a patient often over the life and perhaps are caring for the whole family as well. Dr Pesce, the former president of the AMA, has agreed with this position. He said, 'Family doctors are the preferred entry point for mental health care.' The government has dramatically devalued the role of the family doctor in managing community mental health. The RACGP have stated that around 70 per cent of patients will consult with their GP when they are first noticing problems with their mental health. To date 17,000 GPs across the country have undertaken additional mental health skills training.

The MBS rebates for GP mental health plans have been cut by half. This measure alone will strip $405.9 million away from GPs over five years. Under the new budget measures, the rebates will be reduced from the current $163.35 to $85.92 for consultations lasting between 20 and 40 minutes for those practitioners who have completed mental health training. This rebate will be dropped to $67.65 for GPs who have not completed the mental health training.

The government have also slashed the number of allied health treatment services available to patients under the Better Access initiative. This measure strips $174.6 million over the next five years. Under this reduced initiative, patients are only allowed to access up to six subsidised mental health services through the MBS, with an additional four subsidised services for those who need it. This is down from a total possible of 18, a cut of almost half. The majority of the funding for mental health is to now be distributed by Medicare Locals. It is still unknown how effective this will be.

GPs are still unsure how these bodies will operate or how effective they will be. I urge the government on this issue to properly consult with the general practice organisations, the RACGP, the AMA, the AGPN and GP Registrars Australia, before the implementation of these damaging cuts to mental health funding provided by general practitioners. It will be detrimental to patients. It is something which has worked very well, I think, since the Better Access program was introduced in 2006. This is a very short-term and short-sighted measure by the government.