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Tuesday, 1 June 2010
Page: 4787


Mr GEORGANAS (5:33 PM) —I rise to speak in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2010. This bill proposes to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles and families in line with movements in the consumer price index, or CPI. This will be welcome news for many of my constituents in the electorate of Hindmarsh who are on low or fixed incomes. The Medicare levy low-income threshold for pensioners below age pension age will also be increased to ensure that individuals in this cohort will not incur a Medicare levy liability when they do not have an income tax liability. The increases will apply to the 2009-10 year of income and later income years. The government understands that cost of living increases hit low-income and fixed income Australians the hardest, so these threshold increases will ensure that the Medicare levy does not add to those cost pressures.

The Medicare levy is imposed at a flat rate of 1.5 per cent on a resident’s entire taxable income. However, low-income earners are not liable for the Medicare levy, consistent with the progressive nature of income tax. The low-income threshold in the Medicare levy surcharge provisions will also be increased to come into line with increases in the CPI so that a low-income family member will continue to not be subject to the Medicare levy surcharge. For example, in 2009-10 a couple where one partner had an income of $140,000 and the other had an income of $18,488—which had increased from $17,794 in 2008-09 in line with the movements in the CPI—would be above the Medicare levy surcharge threshold of $143,000. However, the low-income threshold in the Medicare levy surcharge provisions would ensure that the partner on $18,488, whose income increased in line with movements in the CPI, would not have to pay the surcharge assuming the couple did not have appropriate private patient hospital cover. The higher income partner would still be liable to pay the surcharge.

In my electorate of Hindmarsh there are more than 20,000 people aged over 65. To many of them the cost of living and the cost of health care are key concerns. For them it will be welcome news indeed that the government will continue to support them and continue to respond to the needs of people who have less capacity to pay but no less a right to access quality health services and health care in Australia. I note that similar amendments have been announced in previous budgets and have been supported by both sides of the House. I hope that that will be the case this time around as well. It is important to note that if the bill is not passed by 30 June 2010 affected taxpayers might have their tax refunds delayed or might need to have their assessments amended once it has been passed.

This amendment complements the Rudd Labor government’s historic health and hospital reform program, which is the most significant reform since the introduction of Medicare. To begin with, the government is investing $1.2 billion in training and supporting more doctors, nurses and allied health professionals as part of building a national health and hospitals network. This includes an additional $523 million investment in Australia’s nurses and these investments will ensure that our health workforce meets the needs of Australians today and the growing demand for health services into the future.

The Rudd Labor government is also investing $390.3 million to support almost the equivalent of 4,600 full-time practice nurses in general practice in a major boost to primary care never seen before. For the first time, GPs in urban areas will be eligible for funding to help employ practice nurses. More practice nurses will help take the pressure off GPs by providing clinical support in areas such as wound care and immunisation, managing recall and reminder systems and patient education in areas such as reducing alcohol consumption and quitting smoking et cetera.

The Australian General Practice Network has found that practices employing a practice nurse see more than 800 extra patients each year. With GPs then able to see an extra 3.8 million patients each year across Australia, patients will find it easier to get an appointment and easier to have access to these services. Annual incentive payments of $25,000 per full-time GP for a registered nurse and $12,500 per full-time GP for an enrolled nurse will be made available to eligible accredited general practices. By 2013-14, an estimated 4,537 GP practices will receive more funding, worth $31,500 per year on average, to make better use of highly skilled practice nurses.

The government will invest $103.1 million to better support nurses working in aged-care settings and to better support the current aged-care nursing workforce. These are just some of the things. The government will provide $59.9 million in incentive payments for existing aged-care workers to upgrade their qualifications and remain working in the aged-care sector. There will be $21 million to fund an additional 600 enrolled nurse training places and 300 registered nurse scholarships over four years for aged-care nurses to upgrade their skills in recognition of the increasing frailty of older Australians in aged care. There will be $18.7 million to trial new models of care to expand and improve the role of nurse practitioners in aged care. That will be building on the 2009 budget changes to provide access to Medicare and PBS for nurse practitioners. This investment will support greater access to primary health and care services for aged-care residents. There will be $3.5 million to explore regulation of personal care workers and assistants in nursing in aged care. This will assist in considering the inclusion of personal care workers in the National Registration and Accreditation Scheme for the Health Professions.

To better plan for the aged-care workforce needs into the future, the government will also provide $500,000 to conduct a research study of staffing levels, skills mix and resident care needs in Australian residential aged-care facilities and, as part of the Productivity Commission’s inquiry into aged care, examine future workforce requirements—which are very important—including the influences of supply and demand, and come up with the options to ensure the sector continues to have a suitably qualified workforce to provide the best possible care.

These measures, together with those announced in the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill, will assist in building our workforce, including the need to continue to provide high-quality care to our ageing population and the need for our allied health professionals in rural and regional areas, which have not been forgotten either. The government will provide $34.1 million for two new rural locum programs to give around 3,000 nurses and 400 allied health professionals the time to take leave. The government will also invest $6.5 million in providing 400 additional clinical training scholarships over four years for allied health students in rural and regional areas to provide more opportunities for those interested in working in the bush. Mental health is another area that the government is looking at as a priority in this budget. In the health and hospital reforms the government has committed to supporting and expanding the number of specialist mental health nurses. These are very vital changes and additional investment in Australia’s health workforce. They are an absolute necessity, together with the changes that we are making to the legislation. These will ensure that people have better access and better services all in place through this legislation.

I also mention an announcement made the other day through the Medicare offices that are around Australia. It was quite welcomed in my electorate where we are going to co-locate services in a particular shopping centre where there is a Medicare office. We are going to include the agency of Centrelink together with Medicare in an office in West Lakes. This is part of the Rudd government’s service delivery reform plan where more offices will have Medicare working side by side with Centrelink under one roof. Many shoppers at West Lakes shopping centre and residents from around the area in my electorate will benefit from the new co-location service which will give them better access to a whole range of government health and social welfare services from one convenient location, including their local Medicare office to deal with their Medicare issues.

 I suppose adding a Centrelink service to the existing Medicare service will simplify people’s dealings with government by giving them more control and better support and assistance when they feel that they need it. Importantly, there will be no job loss announcements as a result of this co-location. The site I am talking about currently offers Medicare services, which will be now joined with Centrelink services, and the number of staff is expected to increase to cater for the Centrelink services. More than 140,000 people in Adelaide’s north-western suburbs use Medicare office services. This is just another example of the Rudd Labor government delivering better health services for the people of Hindmarsh and better access to health services in and around Australia and especially in the electorate of Hindmarsh.