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Wednesday, 28 May 2003
Page: 15138


Mr LINDSAY (9:40 AM) —This morning we have heard the shadow minister for health and ageing indicate to the parliament that health will be the most significant issue until the next election. In this second reading debate on the Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2003, which is designed to appropriate $42 billion to public hospitals—a massive increase in funding for our public hospitals—the shadow minister, who is making health the most significant issue until the next election, was able to speak to the parliament for only 22 of the 30 minutes allocated to him.


Mr Truss —And he had to pad that out, too.


Mr LINDSAY —Minister, I agree with you; that says it all. What sort of importance does the Australian Labor Party place on the most significant increase in public hospital funding in the life of this parliament ever, when they can only speak for 22 minutes—and they oppose the government all the way? I guess the Australian public's message to the Australian Labor Party is: be constructive or move out of the way and let the government get on with the legislative agenda that it has so successfully been able to carry out over the last seven years.

I am very interested in the opposition's amendment to this bill. The first part of it says that the opposition condemns the government for withdrawing $918 million from public hospitals over the next four years. If you listened to the shadow minister you would probably have some sympathy with what he was saying, but it is what he did not say that was most significant. I have heard Australian Labor Party state members around the country saying the same things, because I guess they have got to hang something on their scare campaign. What they do not say is that the federal government is offering a huge increase in real terms over the amount of money that public hospitals got this year, the year before and the year before that.

If you look at the amount of money that has gone to public hospitals this year, you will find that there is a significant real increase for next year—and the year after and the year after that and the year after that. But Labor's story is that this government is cutting $918 million from public hospitals. Both statements cannot be right, and I invite anybody who is listening or watching today to have a look at the figures. They are in black and white, they are in the budget papers, and they indicate that the Commonwealth is making significant real increases over and above inflation every year for the next five years to public hospitals.

I see also that the amendment condemns the Howard government's unfair Medicare package. But look at what the opposition has proposed; look at what Simon Crean proposed in his budget reply. I will tell you what he proposed for regional Queensland and rural Queensland. He proposed that we should be second-class citizens when it comes to Medicare. Why is that? The reason is that, under Labor's policy, doctors in capital cities will get an incentive payment provided they bulk-bill 80 per cent of their patients. But what is the percentage figure for regional cities such as Townsville? Doctors have to bulk-bill only 75 per cent of their patients. And for rural Australia it is only 70 per cent. What Labor is saying is, `We don't care about the regions; we don't care about cities like Townsville and the people there. We care about the major metropolitan cities. We want more people bulk-billed in major metropolitan cities than in rural and regional Australia, and we're going to provide an incentive so more people are bulk-billed.' What kind of a policy is that, when the Australian Labor Party says to rural and regional Australia, `You are second-class citizens'? I for one am not going to stand for that, and I will tell everybody that I can get to hear me that that is the policy of the Australian Labor Party. It cannot be allowed to continue. It will be rejected by the people of Australia, and it just shows the hypocrisy of this amendment that has been made to the bill today.

The third amendment proposed condemns the Howard government's decision to increase the cost of essential medicines by up to 30 per cent. On the face of it, you would say that, if that is true, that is pretty rough. But you cannot trust the Australian Labor Party. You have to look behind what they are saying. They are saying that we are asking pensioners, for example, who are now paying $3.60 for a prescription to pay an extra $1. But we are capping that at 52 prescriptions, so the most that can be paid is an extra $52. Pensions consume tens of thousands of dollars worth of medicines every year, paid for by the Commonwealth of Australia, and the federal government is asking pensioners to pay just another $1 per prescription. Why are we doing that? The Labor Party think, `Golly, we are on a winner here: we have saved the pensioners from paying an extra $1.' Do you know what they have actually done by blocking this in the Senate? And it makes me extraordinarily angry. I want all the pensioners in Australia to know that, by blocking this in the Senate, the Labor Party are denying low-income earners the ability to have access to the most up-to-date medicines. People who are not in the low-income category can afford to pay for the medicines themselves, so they are okay. By blocking this in the Senate, the Labor Party have not hurt the people who are better off; they have hurt the people who are less well off. What sort of a policy is that from the Australian Labor Party, who purport to represent the battlers of this country? Effectively, they are saying, `We are going to do you in the eye, and we are going to claim credit for it. Aren't we good? We have saved you having to pay $1.' Yes they have, but they have stopped them from getting the most up-to-date medicines. I think that is a pretty rough deal for pensioners.

The fourth amendment proposed refers to the government's refusal to review the $2.3 billion private health insurance rebate. The private health insurance rebate has worked magnificently. I heard the shadow minister saying that more and more people are being forced back into emergency departments and that public hospitals are groaning. The truth is that they are not. In Townsville, the hospital's emergency department is seeing fewer people than it saw previously and the hospital has fewer beds occupied than it did previously. The private hospital system is taking a significant part of the load now. Nationally, I think the figures are something like private hospitals 48 per cent and public hospitals 43 per cent, but I would stand to be corrected on that. The figures do show that the private hospitals are taking their fair share and more, and doing it very efficiently indeed. That is the benefit of the private health insurance rebate.

Labor do not seem to understand that there is a benefit in taking the pressure off the public hospitals. But, more than that, it encourages people to contribute to the cost of their own health care. The private health insurance funds do not just get the $2.3 billion; they get the contribution from those who are insured. That is money that the hospital system would not otherwise have had, and it is a very significant amount of money going into our hospital system. It makes me quite angry to think that the Labor Party would even consider withdrawing private health insurance, because that would just thrust all of those people back on to the public system and it could not cope. What's more, it would see the loss of the contribution that people make to the cost of their own health care. The country could not stand it. I utterly reject the amendments to this bill proposed by the opposition, and I will certainly be very direct in standing up and voting against them when the motion is put.

This $42 billion that we are moving to appropriate brings with it some concerns with the Labor state governments. What the Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2003 is doing for the first time—and I think it is fabulous, and I commend the Minister for Health and Ageing and her people for bringing this bill to the parliament—is saying to the states, `We'll sign, provided you sign and you guarantee to match in full the Commonwealth's rate of growth year by year.' We are asking the state governments, who run the public hospitals in this country, to match the Commonwealth's increases. What could be fairer than that? And who is opposed to it? The Labor state governments. Why are they opposed to it? I guess you have to look at their budgetary record.

As the Treasurer correctly pointed out, you have to look at the fact that the state governments have been extraordinarily good at introducing new taxes year by year and running deficit budgets—a far cry from what the coalition government does federally. We are funding unexpected military operations, massive increases in homeland security and massive increases in health and education, yet we are giving tax cuts and ending up with a surplus. How good is that? But look at the state governments: they cannot afford to match the Commonwealth's real increases in health expenditure for public hospitals. What is wrong with their budgeting system? In Queensland, the Beattie government is now raiding all the statutory corporations to get money. That is an extraordinary move to prop up the budget. At some stage, the Queensland government is going to come to a crashing end. You cannot just go on raiding hollow logs year after year, because they will end up with nothing in them.

We are also asking the state governments to be accountable for the money they spend in the public hospital system. In the past we have seen that, when the Commonwealth provides an increase, some state governments siphon off that money and there is no way of telling that it was siphoned off; it gets spent in some other area of the state budget. The states have been taking Commonwealth money and spending it for purposes other than the public hospital systems. Is it not eminently sensible and reasonable that the Commonwealth require the states, as a condition of the health care agreement, to sign up to being open and transparent about where they spend their money? Surely that is reasonable and sensible. So we have two conditions on this $42 billion available to the states now for public hospital funding over the next five years: the states have to match the Commonwealth's increase and they have to be open and transparent.

What does Queensland do? The first thing they do is say, `We utterly reject these new conditions,' and they will not sign. For the people of Queensland, if the state government do not sign, the result will be that Queensland public hospitals will lose $851 million. We will probably see the Beattie government stand up and very proudly say, `We are not going to accept dictatorship from the federal government,' but they will not mention that Queensland has lost $851 million. How sad is that? All we ask Queensland to do is just confirm to us that they have spent the money on hospitals and match our increases. It is an extraordinarily reasonable request, but Labor in Queensland are just rejecting the federal government's very generous offer.

What is that going to do to my patch in Townsville and the Townsville General Hospital? Do you know what is happening at the moment? Last Saturday, I had a husband ring me really distressed. He said to me, `I am just beside myself; I do not know what to do. My wife has a very serious form of breast cancer. I have been to the Townsville hospital and they have said: `We are sorry, we cannot accept you. Go somewhere else.' The reason they could not accept that particular patient—and I think we all know how distressing that is, particularly in the case of breast cancer in a woman—is that the hospital system is not properly managed in Queensland. In fact, it is appalling. It is turning people away. In Townsville, we have a level 6 hospital—the best in the world basically. It is the newest in the state. The facilities are fabulous and the staff are wonderful and caring, but they are turning the patients away. Hello? Have we forgotten why hospitals are there? Hospitals are there for patients and we turn them away. How could that be? This is the state government and a public hospital turning patients away.


Mr Truss —And withdrawing their funding.


Mr LINDSAY —And they are withdrawing their funding. Do you know what else is happening in the Townsville hospital? These things are happening across the hospital; there is story after story. The staff have laptop computers and the hospital management are withdrawing 150 laptop computers from the hospital to save on the maintenance charges. The staff at the hospital use modern technology because all the imaging is now on the network. If you do an X-ray somewhere—you do not even have to do it at the Townsville hospital—the doctor, nurse or whoever needs to call it up can do so. As a cost-cutting measure they are withdrawing 150 laptops; I cannot believe it. At a time when everybody is increasing their use of technology, the Townsville hospital is withdrawing it. Surely, Mr Beattie, that is a reason why you should be accepting the Commonwealth offer. You should be rushing to the Commonwealth government saying, `A 17 per cent increase over and above inflation in funding for our public hospitals is a great deal.' I just ask Mr Beattie if he would please reconsider.


Dr Southcott —He doesn't have to.


Mr LINDSAY —He doesn't have to; you are right. In the last five years of the agreement prior to the one that we are debating now, Queensland got a total of $5.9 billion. In the new agreement that is proposed to the parliament Queensland will get, if it accepts the Commonwealth's offer in full, an extra $2.1 billion—taking it up to $8 billion. So they will get an increase from $5.9 billion to $8.02 billion. That is a great deal for Queensland public hospitals, but the Labor Party in Queensland says, `No.' I cannot believe that that would be the situation. I see that the emergency waiting times at the Townsville hospital—parliament might be interested in this—


Dr Emerson —They would be pretty bad—


Mr LINDSAY —They are bad; they are awful.


Dr Emerson —because bulk-billing patients are flooding into the public system.


Mr LINDSAY —No. I remind the member for Rankin of standing order 55.


The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The honourable member for Rankin will cease interjecting, the honourable member for Herbert will ignore the interjections and the minister will help the chair.


Mr LINDSAY —I thank the Deputy Speaker. The member for Rankin should look at the figures for patients going to the emergency department of Townsville hospital. They have fallen, not risen. But if you look at the performance of the emergency department—these figures were published in the last couple of months—less than three-quarters of category 2 emergency patients were attended to within the required time of 10 minutes. They are just not meeting their time targets. However, the most disturbing figures were for those category 3 patients who were deemed to be urgent and must be seen within 30 minutes. Only 50 per cent of those patients were seen within the required time. The public hospital in Townsville is in crisis and it is in crisis because the state government will not provide the necessary financial resources to provide services to patients. The patient has been forgotten in all this. That is appalling and I am not going to stand for it. I note that a local Labor member in my electorate, the member for Mundingburra, was very critical of me in the state parliament. I am happy to take that on board. (Time expired)