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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 879


Ms O'DWYER (Higgins) (16:48): I rise today to speak on the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 and related bills—the government's latest broken promise and latest attack on aspirational Australians. This is an issue that goes to the very heart of my electorate of Higgins. My electorate is full to the brim with aspiration.

When I stood here for the first time in this place just over two years ago, I referred to the thread that binds the people of Higgins together, that thread being aspiration—whether it be young couples renting for the moment but desperate to own their own homes; whether it be families wanting the best for their children, scrimping and saving to provide them with the best opportunities in life; whether it be small business people, rolling up their sleeves, taking a chance and creating jobs; or whether it be older residents who have worked hard throughout their lives, whose accomplishments prove what can happen when you dare to pursue your ambitions.

Yet this government does not believe in aspiration. It does not believe, as we do, that the best path to our collective prosperity involves giving individuals, families and businesses the freedom, opportunity and encouragement to build and secure their own futures. It does not believe in self-reliance. It is ideologically opposed to encouraging people to work hard, to save and to contribute to their own health care.

This bill is all about penalising individuals and families. It goes to the heart of cost-of-living pressures that families and individuals are already increasingly facing. This bill will increase the cost of private health insurance while at the same time do nothing to decrease the pressure on the public health system. Far from it: the changes that the government seeks to make today will increase the pressure on the public health system.

Seventy-seven per cent of my electorate have private health insurance. That is around 83,258 people, based on the current ABS statistics. Each of those people will be affected, either because their rebate will be taken away in full, because it will be decreased or because their premiums will ultimately rise because of the significant number of people who will drop out of the private health system. Even the remaining 27 per cent of my electorate who do not currently have private health insurance will be affected, because the public health system will come under increasing pressure.

It is instructive to look at the number of people who will be directly impacted when tier 1 of the government's legislation kicks in. In my electorate of Higgins, about 21 per cent of singles and seven per cent of couples will be directly impacted. I think it is telling that the lights have gone out in this chamber, because this legislation is a demonstration of how the lights have gone out on this government and how this government have ultimately been incredibly deceptive in the comments they have made about the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate across the years. It is useful to look back at what this government have said about the 30 per cent rebate—a rebate that was brought into effect by the coalition government, by the then Minister for Health and Aged Care, Dr Michael Wooldridge, to ensure that we could have affordable and sustainable health care for all. It was to provide Australians with choice, to encourage people to be self-reliant.

Let us go back and look at what the current Prime Minister, who was then shadow minister, said about the private health insurance rebate. She said that she would give an ironclad guarantee that there would be no change to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. She said that she was so sick of saying it that she would ensure that there would be 'an ironclad guarantee' that there would be no change. All of us in this place know exactly what the Prime Minister's promises are worth. Only days before the last election, the Prime Minister made another promise—that there would be no carbon tax under the government she led. She broke that promise to the Australian people and she broke her promise as shadow minister for health not to rip away the private health insurance rebate.

But it was not just the Prime Minister who made this assurance to the people of Australia. At the election in 2007, the shadow minister for health, the member for Gellibrand, explicitly stated that federal Labor had:

… made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing private health insurance rebates.

In the media statement released during the campaign, she stated:

The Liberals continue to try to scare people into thinking Labor will take away the rebates. This is absolutely untrue.

That is what she said: 'This is absolutely untrue.' She went on to say:

The Howard government will do anything and say anything to get elected.

Doesn't that take the cake? It turned out that it was the shadow minister for health who would say anything or do anything. This is a very interesting statement from the member for Gellibrand. It has to be one of the most duplicitous statements ever made by a shadow minister with respect to a government policy, ranking just after the Prime Minister's famous remark—her famous broken promise—about a carbon tax.

It went on. Kevin Rudd, who was then the Leader of the Opposition, also made some incredibly explicit promises in relation to the private health insurance rebate. He said, in a letter, which I have here today:

Both my Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, and I have made clear on many occasions this year—

This is in 2007—

that Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

Federal Labor will also maintain Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare Levy Surcharge. Labor will maintain the existing framework for regulating private health insurance, including the process for full approval of premium increases.

The Labor government have again broken their promise. In fact, before they went to the 2010 election, they brought forward changes in the 2009 budget which saw a broken promise on private health insurance—a private health insurance broken promise which will affect every single Australian and, most particularly, all of those Australians who currently hold private health insurance. It will affect not just those whom the government claim will be directly affected—those on higher incomes—but every single person who holds private health insurance, because their premiums will rise as people drop out of private health insurance.

The government have said that we should not be worried about the people who drop out of private health insurance. They say that it is a minuscule number. They say that, for their savings of upwards of $1.9 billion—which they now say is over $2 billion—very few people will drop out of private health insurance. This does not stand up to scrutiny. Private health insurers have conducted their own research and asked Deloitte to provide a report on the number of people who would be anticipated to drop out of private health insurance as a result of the proposed changes. The report said that, over five years, up to 1.6 million Australians will drop their cover, which is pretty radically different from Treasury's estimate of around 25,000 people. Not only that but, according to this report, up to 4.3 million Australians will downgrade their cover over five years. This will see an increase in premiums—the cost of health insurance—of upwards of 10 per cent. This means that the cost of health care in Australia will increase.

Australians who are battling cost-of-living pressures right now ask themselves: 'Why? Why is this government so committed to ripping away choice for Australians? Why are they committed to raising the cost of private health insurance?' The government claim this is because they need to find savings. But let us look at the government's record. They have the worst economic record of any government in recent history. They have delivered in their four budgets deficits that add up to $167 billion, which of course means that Australians for generations to come will be paying off the subsequent debt that the government are racking up. Already we know that the cost of the government's borrowings will impact Australians—every man, woman and child—by $6,000. This is a government with a terrible record; a government that has needed to increase the gross debt ceiling from $75 billion to $250 billion.

Warnings abound in our national papers every day that this government is on the path to economic destruction through its waste and mismanagement. It must stop. While this government says it needs to rip out around $2.4 billion from the private health insurance rebate, it has wasted more than $1 billion on pink batts and more than $1.5 billion on trying to correct the mistakes made under that program. This government has managed billion-dollar blowouts in mismanaged programs such as border protection. There has been a blowout of over $1 billion in that policy alone. This government has also wasted billions of dollars on the Julia Gillard memorial school hall projects. A number of school halls and infrastructure projects have not been managed well and there has been an incredible waste of taxpayer dollars. While the government has presided over such waste and mismanagement, it claims that it needs to rip money out of private health insurance.

The only reason this government is pursuing this action is that, ideologically, it is opposed to private health insurance. It is opposed to people saving and providing for their own futures and it is against choice in health care. It is now on its the third attempt to dismantle the private health insurance industry in this country. I stand against this, as do the people of Higgins. The people in my electorate of Higgins are vitally opposed to these measures and I will continue to fight for private health insurance that will allow Australians to directly participate. This government should hang its head in shame for taking one policy to the 2007 election and then the 2010 election, but then breaking that promise. This government cannot be trusted to maintain its promises; it cannot be trusted to maintain the health care of all Australians. This legislation should not stand.