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Thursday, 30 March 2006
Page: 126

Mr SOMLYAY (10:30 AM) —Health care is a vitally important issue to all Australians: it is particularly important to the elderly, it is important to our young families, it is important to my constituents, it is important to me, it is important to the Howard government, and I have no doubt it is important to the opposition and their constituents also. We hear it said quite often that Australia has a world-class health system. I believe we have world-class clinicians, but the Australian health system is coming under enormous pressure. It will be the major problem facing governments of all persuasions for a long time to come.

I see the Assistant Treasurer, the member for Dickson, is in the chamber at the moment. In the debate concerning the budget surplus—whether or not it should be used for further tax cuts and what sorts of tax cuts, or whether it should be used in infrastructure—I want to make sure that this issue of health is considered. There is a need for an injection of funds into the health system because it is losing its world-class status; it is becoming a system in crisis.

We have the example of the Beattie government in Queensland; it is an unfortunate example of how to mismanage your health system and the health dollar. Not only do we have the worst state government in the history of Queensland but we also have the worst management of the health system in Queensland’s history. The Queensland health system is in a critical state, with massive organ failure. The reason is that the Labor government have said to themselves: ‘We’ve got to cut health costs to fund the Premier’s PR machine and programs and fund good Labor Party projects like football stadiums. What we need to do is keep the health system brain alive and enlarge it with lots of managers, cost cutters and bureaucrats, but we’ll bravely and fearlessly cut costs and minimise our expenses on other vital organs.’ Those vital organs have been the doctors and nurses who actually provide the health care.

Any school student can tell you—well, maybe not, considering the Queensland education system; but any first-year medical student can tell you—that, if organs such as the heart or the lungs stop functioning, then the whole body dies and the brain with it. This is what is happening under the Beattie government in Queensland: no matter how many bureaucrats or consultants it hires, the state health system is convulsing and is on the verge of organ failure because of the government’s mismanagement.

In contrast, we have before us this small piece of commonsense legislation, the Health and Other Services (Compensation) Amendment Bill 2006. The Health and Other Services (Compensation) Act 1995 enables the Commonwealth to recover residential or nursing home care Medicare related payments once a compensation case is settled in a claimant’s favour. Those Medicare and related costs are included in the calculation of a damages payout, and the act ensures that the successful claimants do not double-dip by obtaining benefits, such as Medicare, as well as obtaining the equivalent costs built into the payout figure for the compensation claim.

This bill does not seek to change that situation. However, the original act includes provision for an advance payment option, or APO, which allows compensation payers and insurers to pay 10 per cent of the judgment to Medicare Australia, and the balance of the settlement then to be released to the claimant. In this way, claimants are not disadvantaged while waiting for the exact amount owing to the Commonwealth to be sorted out.

The reason for this legislation is that, when the original act was passed, the opposition and minor parties were a little nervous about the APO provision and included a sunset clause in section 33AA of the act. Unless that sunset clause is repealed, that advance payment option will no longer exist after 30 June this year, and compensation claimants will no longer have access to the majority of their compensation money at the time of judgment. Even after a judgment is handed down, they will still have to wait until the exact amount owing to the Commonwealth is sorted out before they can receive any money. We want to prevent that from happening.

As the Minister for Health and Ageing said in his second reading speech, of the 50,000 judgments or settlements reported under the HOS(C) Act each year, more than 80 per cent utilise the advance payment option. That means a lot of people will be disadvantaged if the sunset clause is not repealed. For battling families with personal injury settlements, this could be vital to their financial situation. The bill includes other minor technical amendments designed to clarify the intent of the act and provide a formal review pathway. Its main intent is to repeal the sunset clause on the APO provision. Although the opposition did not have the vision to fully grasp the concept of the AP option in 1996, hence their limiting it, now that the act has been operating successfully for 10 years, hopefully they can see that it will cause hardship to affected families if the sunset clause is not repealed before 30 June this year. I commend the bill to the chamber.