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Tuesday, 24 May 2011
Page: 4453

Mr NEUMANN (Blair) (19:15): I speak in support of the Tax Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2011. As the member for Capricornia and the member for Casey have said, this is quite a technical bill that has the support of both sides of the chamber. Certainly, when the Howard government was in power they did allow adjustments in relation to the Medicare levy and the Medicare levy surcharge every year, taking into consideration the CPI, except in 1998 and 1999, where there was a negative movement in the CPI. But I do not think there was a reduction in the surcharge or threshold levels.

As the member for Capricornia said, this legislation certainly allows people of middle- and low-income status not to fall into the trap of paying higher Medicare levies. That is of course important. A Medicare levy is imposed at a flat rate of 1.5 per cent on a person's entire taxable income. However, low-income earners are not liable for the levy and that is consistent with the progressive nature of the income tax assessment legislation.

It has not always been the case that those opposite have supported us in terms of health reform and Medicare. The member for Capricornia talked about the financial aspects for pensioners and low-income earners. I want to talk just for a couple of minutes on the health aspects of Medicare, because Medicare is integral to the health system in this country. Those opposite, as I said, have not always supported Medicare.

Former coalition Prime Minister, John Howard, infamously described Medicare as a rort. Certainly, when the forerunner of Medicare, Medibank, was introduced by the former member for Oxley, the Hon. Bill Hayden, the peak doctors' bodies opposed it tooth and nail and so did the coalition. We are pleased to say that they have now been converted to the cause of Medicare. This is a great Labor initiative of the Hawke and Keating governments. One of the proudest moments in that government's long and illustrious history of economic reform was when Medicare was brought in to help those who were struggling to meet healthcare costs.

But this legislation is part of a whole package, as the member for Capricornia said, in relation to what we are doing to assist low-income earners. Also, let us face it, we are investing massively in terms of health and hospitals in this country, with a 50 per cent increase in health and hospital expenditure, $16.4 billion by 2020; 6,000 more training places for doctors; 425 existing GP practices, including the Flinders Peak Medical Practice in my electorate which will get additional assistance; primary care infrastructure funding; 64 GP superclinics, including the Ipswich GP superclinic in my electorate; 22 regional cancer centres; 44 more specialised breast cancer nursing centres; and 24-hour online assistance to patients who are in need. That online assistance will be rolled out by July 2011.

Only Labor is committed to a public health and hospital system that is viable, world class and that actually cares for the needs of Australians. We have a long history of being committed to Medicare, a long history of being committed to public hospitals and a long history of being committed to helping those in need, the poor, the challenged, the weak, the pensioners and the low-income earners, and Medicare is part of that long history of Labor's commitment to those in need.