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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4782

Mr NEUMANN (5:05 PM) —I speak in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2010. I come from a working-class family in Ipswich, and we thought when I was growing up that the provision of both education and decent health care was absolutely vital. My local member of federal parliament during most of the time that I was growing up was Bill Hayden, who brought in Medibank over the objections of doctors and the Fraser coalition government. He brought in many reforms. Medibank gave working-class people, people on low incomes, pensioners and others their first opportunity to access a decent healthcare system in this country. It was long overdue. Medibank was a great initiative, but it was gutted and effectively neutered by the Fraser government. Medicare, which was brought in by again a Labor government in the 1980s during the Hawke-Keating years, was absolutely vital.

We want to make sure that people on low incomes who cannot achieve financial security and are in a position where they need decent health care but cannot afford it are provided with quality care in our health and hospital system. I am pleased with what we are doing in the budget both nationally and in my area, which I will talk about very briefly. I am also pleased that this housekeeping bill, which makes a difference to people’s lives financially, has been brought forward once again this year. The Medicare levy is imposed at a flat rate of 1.5 per cent on a resident’s entire taxable income. We want to make provision—and I think there has been a bipartisan approach to this—for people on low incomes not to be liable for the Medicare levy.

We have a progressive tax system in this country. It is not a regressive tax system when it comes to income tax. We want to make sure that people who have what economists would call low economic status are provided for in terms of their costs for health and hospital care. Medicare is a great Labor initiative. I am pleased that the previous, coalition government undertook the adjustments every year, except, as the member for Farrer said, in 1998-99, when there was a negative movement in the CPI. The legislation proposes to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families, lining them up with movements in the consumer price index. The legislation also proposes to increase the Medicare levy low-income threshold for pensioners below the age of eligibility for the age pension to make sure that this group of individuals will not have a Medicare levy liability when they do not have an income tax liability. As the legislation makes plain, increases apply to this income year—that is, 2009-10—and future income years.

This is an important change because it means that people do not have to pay the levy if they are low-income earners and there will be more money in their pockets. It means that they will be in a position to afford to pay for the necessities of life, such as food and clothing for themselves and their children. It is important to make sure that they have extra income in their hands to do those sorts of things. The provision of health care and making sure that Medicare operates successfully, efficiently and effectively is crucial to people not just nationally but locally in my area. As federal members of parliament, I am sure that all of us have had people come to us from time to time in relation to Medicare and, certainly, in relation to private health insurance and other issues. How we treat people on low incomes in a decent way, by providing adequate services in terms of primary health care and hospitals, says a lot about where we are at as a country, in the states and in our communities.

What the government is trying to do with respect to building the National Health and Hospitals Network for the future adds to a lot of the legislation that we deal with every day in this place, including this legislation. Creating the National Health and Hospitals Network, which the Prime Minister often says is funded nationally but run locally, will be important. Making sure that Medicare is strengthened is also critical for our health and hospitals system.

Each year we see budgets in this place and money is rolled out. The Rudd government is delivering an additional $2.2 billion over four years for better access to more doctors and GPs. Those GPs engage with Medicare every day in their practices. This unprecedented amount of support for Medicare is critical in my community, which has a shortage of doctors. We have had that shortage for quite some time. The provision in the budget will help my community. Additional doctors, more subacute hospital beds and additional aged-care beds will also make a difference.

The legislation before the House is quite minor, but, like so much legislation, it will make a difference to people’s lives. It will make a difference to low-income earners and pensioners, and they are the ones we should care for the most. As a Labor representative I always believe that we should care for those in need, those on low incomes and those who are struggling. That is because of the experiences that I had in my household when I was growing up, and certainly many others on this side of the House had those experiences as well. I dare say that some on the opposite side of the chamber had those experiences as well. This important legislation might be housekeeping legislation, but it will make a real difference in people’s lives by putting money back in their pockets, and that will make a difference to my community. I support the legislation.