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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4452

Ms LIVERMORE (Capricornia) (19:11): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, I feel as if I am crashing your party. I hope that the member Casey and the member for Blair do not mind my making a contribution. Since I was in the Main Committee I thought I would stick around. As the shadow minister has said this is a very straightforward and technical bill but, like all Labor members, I never knock back the chance to speak on a bill relating to Medicare. It is one of our great Labor initiatives—something that we are very proud of as a party and as a government. Medicare is an enduring feature of our social contract in Australia, so any legislation that acts to preserve its integrity in what it is setting out to achieve is important even though it is a fairly simple measure.

Medicare is built on fairness and it is designed to be progressive. It aims to provide universal access to health care funded by a community-wide contribution to meeting the cost of that health care. This bill amends a number of pieces of legislation to increase the thresholds below which low-income earners and pensioners do not have to pay either the Medicare levy or, in some cases, the Medicare surcharge levy. So the bills increase those thresholds to take account of inflation and to make sure that those people who are pensioners or low-income earners who have not paid the Medicare levy in the past will not, by reason of inflation, be liable for it in the coming year.

I commend the bill to the House—the member for Blair is quick off the mark!—and I acknowledge that it has bipartisan support. I think it is worth just reminding the House that this is a measure that is consistent with the government's efforts to assist pensioners and low-income earners with the costs of living. In doing that, and two years on from the landmark budget of 2009, it is worth reminding the House that it was this government—in just our second budget; a budget that was delivered under the shadow of the global financial crisis—that undertook the ambitious $14 billion reform of the pension system. As a result, age pensions have now increased by $128 per fortnight and $116 per fortnight for couples. Those pensions are now indexed every March and September in a more generous and relevant way than they had been in the past.

I just thought it was worth mentioning, as we all join to support this bill, that this is just one more example of this government being in touch with the needs of pensioners and low-income people, taking these sorts of measures that address those cost of living expenses. We will continue to do that in our policies in the years to come.