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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 909


WYATT ROY (Longman) (19:06): I rise to speak to the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 and related bills that are before the House. The intent of the bill is to reduce the private health insurance rebate and increase the Medicare Levy Surcharge for those people who opt out of private health insurance, because it will become prohibitively expensive without the rebate.

It is a fundamental right of all Australians to expect that they will receive quality health care. It is the coalition's view that this is best done by giving people choice in the form of access to affordable health care providers, thereby relieving the pressure on the public health system. It is the coalition's view that access to health care should not be ideologically driven, and it should not be socially engineered. But that is precisely what is happening with this legislation.

There are a few issues here. One is that the Labor government is philosophically opposed to the notion of choice. The second is that the Labor government is scrambling to balance its books before this year's budget and it needs to find the dollars where it can. The third is the impact that this legislation will have on the hard-working people of my community of Longman.

When the coalition government introduced the private health insurance incentives that Australians currently enjoy it increased the ability of many households to choose. In fact, private health insurance coverage increased from 34 per cent of the population to 44 per cent. More Australians have more choice now. Those Australians who do not have private health insurance can access the public system.

But those of us who have gone through the public health system for care have seen firsthand the pressure it is under. There is no denying that much needs to be done to improve the public health system. It is fortunate that we are not holding our breath for delivery on former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's promise to fix the public health system and end the so-called blame game once and for all.

However, imagine what the pressure on the public health system is going to look like if Australians already labouring under soaring cost-of-living pressures decide to jettison their private health insurance because they simply cannot afford it. Some 2.4 million people will be affected by the increased cost of private health insurance. For those in the first income tier, premiums will increase by 14 per cent; for those in the second tier, premiums will increase by 29 per cent; and, for those in the third tier, premiums will rise by a huge 43 per cent. The Labor government claims that the impact these changes will have will be negligible. It claims that only 27,000 people will drop their private health insurance and that this will result in only 8,500 additional hospital admissions.

That is not what Medibank Private is saying and it is not what Deloitte is saying. Medibank Private has predicted that 37,000 of its members alone will drop their cover and a further 92,500 will downgrade. Deloitte's analysis indicates that 175,000 people will dump their private health insurance and 583,000 will downgrade in the first year alone. Over five years, it is expected that 1.6 million people will drop their private health insurance and 4.3 million people will downgrade their cover.

What does this mean for allied health services—physiotherapists, for example? There has been no talk about the impact this legislation will have on ancillary cover, which is so vital to ensuring the continuing viability of the allied health sector. This legislation represents a removal of choice for Australian families. It is ideologically driven by a government which does not support Australians being able to decide what is best for them. And for what possible benefit? Family budgets are under pressure and the public health system is under pressure. These measures are only going to make those pressures worse.

Apart from ideology, the Labor government could have only one other reason for introducing this legislation—it is desperate to claw back some of the money it has squandered in reckless spending on failed programs. To do so, the government is attacking private health insurance. What other explanation can there be for yet another litany of broken promises from this government? On 27 September 2007, just before the 2007 election, the current health minister said that Labor rejected what she called 'the Liberal scare campaign around the private health insurance rebates.' She said:

On many occasions for many months, Federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing Private Health Insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

It is crystal clear now—crystal clear that this was just another promise made just before an election and destined for the wastebasket of this Labor government's electoral opportunism.

What is really important to me is the effect that this legislation will have on my community of Longman. As I have said on numerous occasions in this place, life is getting harder for the families in my community and they are doing it really tough. The price of everything is going up—electricity, water, food, fuel, car registration and the public transport that so many working families in my community rely on to access the city where they work. It is getting more and more difficult for the hardworking members of my community to make ends meet.

Yet again, this high-taxing and recklessly spending Labor government is determined to make the lives of ordinary Australians harder. And this legislation will do just that. Many members of my community have contacted me, increasingly angry about the fact that this Labor government is not acting in their best interests. It is destroying confidence, spending recklessly and taxing and taxing and taxing.

But there is another issue here and that is the effect that an exodus from private health insurance will have on health services in my community. The hardworking medical staff at the Caboolture Hospital do a fantastic job, but they need more resources. Demands on local health services are already too high for the infrastructure that is available and demand will only increase with population growth. Waiting times, unrealistic nursing workloads, insufficient funding and the services available to mental health patients are among issues that are raised with me all the time.

During the last election campaign, issues around the Caboolture Hospital were among the greatest concerns expressed by the people of Longman. Just recently, a distressed father of a young baby wrote to me to say that he had had to wait for 12 hours before his child could be seen. The locals in my community deserve to be confident that, when their child has a raging ear infection after hours, they are not going to have to wait most of the night to be seen. When you are taken by ambulance to the hospital with an acute emergency, you should not be 'ramped' or redirected to another hospital across South-East Queensland.

According to the Department of Health and Ageing, the population in my region is expected to reach some 200,000 people. However, at the moment the underresourced Caboolture Hospital has 187 beds available and 21 bays in the emergency department. It is estimated that, to meet the demand of the growing population, 600 beds and 52 emergency bays will be required to service the region by 2026. According to the AMA the Caboolture Hospital is operating, on average, at over 100 per cent occupancy, showing significant overstrain of capacity. A safe occupancy rate is an average of only 85 per cent.

The expansion of the Caboolture Hospital is of fundamental importance to the people of Longman. Everyone in the community wants it to happen—the locals, the medical staff at the hospital. It is one of the keys to growing our region and making it a desirable place to live. But with this legislation, even if the people of Longman were to see a long awaited expansion of the hospital, the increased pressure placed on services because of the increased number of people no longer able to access private health care would negate the benefits of any expansion.

This legislation represents yet another betrayal of the trust of the Australian people. We are getting used to it now with this Labor government, but that does not make it right. The price of private health care will increase for so many families at a time when they are already struggling to balance their books. The exodus from private health care will place additional pressure on an already overburdened public health system. In my community, I know that the many families who have contacted me regarding soaring costs of living will jettison their private health cover because it will be unaffordable for them. The pressure on the Caboolture Hospital will become even worse than it already is, causing even more distress for my community. In conclusion, that is why, as a member of the coalition, I will not be supporting these bills.