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Wednesday, 28 May 2003
Page: 15192

Mr MURPHY (1:46 PM) —In response to the previous speaker I want to make it quite clear that I am here to support the second reading amendment condemning the Howard government's failures in its health policy as it relates to the Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2003. I support those elements not affected by the amendment, which provide a legislative basis for grants of financial assistance under the Australian health care arrangements. But I certainly join with the member for Perth, the shadow minister for health, in lamenting the inexcusable lost opportunity that the 2003-08 health care agreement represents.

This bill has been introduced at a time when states, territories and the Howard government are at war over health care funding in Australia. We all witnessed the outcome of last month's negotiations and it is of no surprise that every state and territory health minister in Australia has little or no confidence in the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. The state and territory ministers said they would continue to fight for the right of ordinary Australians to have affordable and accessible health care following the Howard government's decision to dismember Medicare, gut bulk-billing and cut real funding to the states.

It seems to me that only those of us who sit on this side of the House understand that any discussion about funding for public hospitals cannot be separated from the government's vicious attack on Medicare, particularly as it relates to its war on bulk-billing. The government's decision to contribute $42 billion towards the agreement for 2003-08 only continues the funding arrangements already in place for public hospitals. So it is outrageous that, again, the government has done nothing to stop the damaging and at times absurd buck passing between the Commonwealth and the states on health funding. It is the kind of indolence that forces Australians to question the government's commitment to health care in Australia.

Once every five years the Commonwealth has the opportunity to make structural changes to Australia's health funding arrangements. Before the last election the opposition sat down with state and territory governments to put in place a new approach to health care funding. Australia desperately needs a new approach to these arrangements. Labor proposed a partnership between the Commonwealth government and state and territory governments to maintain Medicare and a universal health system providing for all Australians and an end to the wasteful bickering about money, which has always taken attention away from how best to integrate health care to meet the needs of Australian patients.

Under Labor's proposals both levels of government would combine the agreed funds in joint accounts from which health spending would be drawn. Initially the proposal would have combined funding for hospitals, aged care, medical benefits and pharmaceuticals. Pooling funds in such a joint account would add transparency to the funding process and remove some of the barriers that prevent Commonwealth and state programs being flexible enough to meet patients' needs. In my view it is scandalous that after seven years the Howard government continues to show no interest in the structural reforms needed to end cost shifting between the Commonwealth, state and territory governments.

What are the states and territories and all Australians left with? I will tell you: more funding cuts for public hospitals. Australians understand this makes no sense and it is poor administration to be robbing Peter to pay Paul. That is why today I support the second reading amendment moved by my colleague the member for Perth and shadow minister for health condemning the government for its health policy failures. They include—let us make no mistake about this—the withdrawal of $918 million from public hospitals; the shamefully inadequate Medicare package which will result in time in bulk-billing only being available to pensioners and concession card holders, and families left to pay more for their health care; the government's decision to increase the cost of essential medicines by up to 30 per cent, hitting the sickest and the poorest; and, the government's refusal to review the $2.3 billion private health insurance rebate to ensure it provides value for money for consumers and taxpayers.

I thought that when people paid their income tax—they certainly get slugged in Australia—plus a 1.5 per cent Medicare levy, they were guaranteed a universal health insurance system. That is what Labor stand for and that is what we are trying to protect. Why should people on $32,000 or more be expected to pay an additional $10, $15, $20 or $25 when they go to the doctor?

Mr MURPHY —I hear the member for Corangamite interjecting—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Jenkins)—The honourable member for Corangamite, even though he is in his place, cannot interject. The member for Lowe will ignore the interjections.

Mr MURPHY —It is a bit hard. Although he is a nice chap and he lives in a nice part of the world, I cannot knock the interjection back, because he is a member of the government which is trying to dismember Medicare.

Mr McArthur —That is not true.

Mr MURPHY —You are. I can tell you about the feedback I have received in my electorate. In Lowe, where 93 per cent of doctors offer bulk-billing, overwhelmingly the people are telling me that they want bulk-billing to be preserved. You only have to go to the Central Coast—up into the member for Robertson's electorate or the member for Dobell's electorate—and you could fire a 12-gauge shotgun without hitting a doctor who offers bulk-billing. It is scandalous; it is outrageous. That, as you would recall, was at the heart of the Leader of the Opposition's reply to the budget, when he made it quite plain that we would be putting in an extra $1 billion to preserve bulk-billing—

Mr MURPHY —because Australians want bulk-billing. The member for Corangamite knows that in his heart. You will find that out at the next election when Simon Crean becomes the next Prime Minister of Australia.

Mr McArthur —Or Kim. Kim might be the leader.

Mr MURPHY —No, Kim will not be the leader. Simon Crean will lead the party to the next federal election. You can be sure of that.

Mr MURPHY —I have absolutely no doubt—I will give you an ironclad guarantee—that Simon Crean will be the Leader of the Opposition whenever the next federal election is called, which takes us up to, potentially, March or April 2005. And we will win the election, because the Labor Party stand for preserving bulk-billing and also oppose the outrageous attempt to increase HECS fees by 30 per cent. Australians do not want that. I had a demonstration in my electorate, on the Friday after the budget, in relation to Medicare, and people were falling over themselves in Burwood Road, Burwood, to sign the petition. They want the Labor Party, Simon Crean and Stephen Smith to save Medicare, and we will. You will find that out at the next federal election; make no mistake about it.

Mr McArthur —They want Kim, actually. They want Kim for leader.

Mr MURPHY —They will not have Kim. We all love Kim, and he has done a great job for the Labor Party. But he will not be the leader at the next federal election, whenever it is called. I can assure you of that. Simon Crean will be the leader, and—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Lowe will not allow himself to be distracted and will get back to the matter before the chair.

Mr MURPHY —I cannot ignore those interjections, because I am the Leader of the Opposition's parliamentary secretary.

Mr Crean —And a good one.

Mr MURPHY —I am very pleased to see that the Leader of the Opposition has come into the chamber, because you are looking at the next Prime Minister of Australia. Whenever that election is called, we will win it. We will win it on bulk-billing, on your outrageous attack on education and on your attempt to increase HECS by 30 per cent.

Mr Crean —And saving the Murray River.

Mr MURPHY —People are very concerned about the future of the Murray River. It is those areas—public health, public education and the environment—that will bring people back in droves to supporting the Labor Party at the next federal election. I have absolutely no doubt about that.

Government members interjecting

Mr MURPHY —I am trying to talk about the bill and about Medicare, which is at the heart of the budget reply speech given by the Leader of the Opposition. Saving Medicare will bring us back to government. I do not care when the election is. The Prime Minister can have a cynical election—

Government members interjecting

Mr MURPHY —I am going to take the opportunity, because the people of Australia are not stupid. We know the hidden agenda of the commercial media proprietors; they will get right behind the Prime Minister if the Prime Minister and Senator Alston can get the Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill through the Senate. The people are not stupid, and they will not fall for that. Neither the Democrats nor the Independents will support that bill in a cynical attempt to re-elect the Howard government. Whether or not the media ownership bill is a double dissolution trigger, and whenever the Prime Minister wants to call a double dissolution election, you can be sure that we will win the election and Simon Crean will be elected the next Prime Minister of this country.

People will say thank you to Simon Crean for saving Medicare and for saving students from a mortgage-like debt to get an education in this country. The people who are concerned about the environment will say, `Thank you, Simon Crean, for saving the Murray,' because if you do not have an environment you do not even have an economy. Make no mistake: Simon Crean will be the leader of the next government. He will be the next Prime Minister of this country, and I will be very proud to be his parliamentary secretary.

Mr MURPHY —You can laugh. The member for Paterson is bursting with laughter—

The SPEAKER —The member for Lowe will address his remarks through the chair.

Mr MURPHY —Mr Speaker, I cannot ignore the interjections from the government.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lowe may have difficulty, but the standing orders oblige him not to respond to interjections. He may, however, address anyone in the chamber through the chair.

Mr MURPHY —Mr Speaker, I am very glad to see that you are in the chamber and I thank you for the protection that you are offering here today. I am just making the point that Simon Crean will win the next election. I note that the Prime Minister has just come into the chamber. Whenever the election is called, Prime Minister, I want to assure you that my leader will be the next Prime Minister of the country. We know—

Government members interjecting

Mr MURPHY —I will not be having lunch with Maxine. But, if you think you can get elected to government by getting the two big commercial media moguls in Australia to support your Broadcasting Services Amendment (Media Ownership) Bill, we are alert to that—and so are the people of Australia, who do not think that a media proprietor should be able to own newspapers, television stations and radio stations in the one market. It is a very serious threat to the public interest and to the future of our democracy. Mr Speaker, I realise that we are getting close to two o'clock. I would like to talk about Sydney airport, Badgerys Creek and the state of health of former Senator Dr Malcolm Arthur Colston, but I realise I have to stop and I want to hand you over to the future Prime Minister of Australia.

The SPEAKER —Order! It being 2.00 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 101A. The debate may be resumed at a later hour and the member for Lowe will have leave to continue speaking when the debate is resumed.