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Tuesday, 28 October 2014
Page: 12225


Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (12:54): I strongly encourage members of the government to agree to the amendment. The contribution from the member for Banks was a disgrace: an absolute disgrace. It shows just how statistics can be manipulated. No wonder people distrust the Abbott government as much as they do. The member for Banks is a stark contrast to the previous member for Banks, who was such an honest and straight-shooting member of parliament. I would encourage him to go and talk to the health minister in New South Wales and to talk to the Premier in New South Wales, and see whether or not they believe that this government—the Abbott government—is actually ripping money out of the health budget. In actual fact it is over $1 billion a year that it is ripping out of the budget.

Listening to the member for Banks talk about returning the budget to surplus and investing in health, then in between the lines I got the feel of a member who is arguing in favour of a GST and a GST being placed on health along the lines of all the other things that this government has done. They promised before the election that there would be no new taxes—and I will talk a little bit about the GP tax in a moment—and now there is the possibility of a GST. You get the GP tax plus on top of that you get your GST. Really that is an absolute disgrace. No cuts to health? Well, I will be dealing with that in great detail as I go through this speech because this is a government that is cutting essential services. This is a government that is making cuts to health and making cuts to education. It is a government that has absolutely no commitment whatsoever to universal health care, which underpins our health system here in Australia.

It is a government of broken promises and a government that does not really understand health. The Prime Minister did not understand health when he was actually the health minister. When he was the health minister bulk-billing rates in the Shortland electorate were 60 per cent. Following the time since we had the Gillard and the Rudd governments in power, bulk-billing rates were not 70 per cent, not 80 per cent, but 82 per cent. So on one hand we had in the Howard government, when the current Prime Minister was health minister, a man that undermined the universality of our health system.

I think it is really important to make comparisons to health systems in other countries. In Australia, we spend about nine per cent of GDP on health, which is much less than the UK and much less than the US, which is the model that I am sure the Prime Minister would like to see introduced in Australia. I am thinking about the legislation that has been introduced by the health minister. Last week we debated dental legislation. The dental legislation was not legislation to ensure that all Australians had access to dental health; rather it was legislation to waive the debt that dentists incurred when they did not abide by the guidelines of the chronic dental health program. This government and the previous Howard government have an appalling record on health.

To get to the bill that we are talking about today, the Private Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 1) 2014: it pauses the income threshold which determines the tiers for Medicare levy surcharges and the Australian government rebate on private health insurance. Talking of private health insurance, that reminds me that this government, when in opposition, said they were going to remove the means testing from private health insurance. We have not seen that legislation in the parliament yet and I suspect we will not, which will be another broken promise. But I think it was a promise that was very sensible for the government to walk away from.

When we looked at the independent analysis before the last election and when the means testing was placed on the health insurance rebate, the detailed analysis predicted that in the first year 175,000 people would withdraw from private health hospital cover and a further 583 people would downgrade their private health cover. Over five years they predicted 1.6 million Australians would drop cover and 4.3 million would downgrade their cover. Now let us look at the facts: in fact, private health insurance is at its highest level ever and continues to increase despite the means testing. Just for the record, before the election the Health Minister asserted that this level of private health insurance would decrease. It was 46 2.2 per cent; now it is 47.2 per cent of Australians who have hospital cover—hardly a decrease.

Everyone knows that those on the other side of this House, those in government will manipulate every figure and will cut services to those people that need them. They have no compunction whatsoever about cuts and putting new taxes on those people that cannot afford them. The effects of this budget that still has not really passed through the parliament is that the budget savings of over $1 billion a year will be made off the backs of the most vulnerable Australians. And people who miss out on safety nets will now miss out on care. So if a person cannot afford to pay for their health care, what they will do will be go without.

This is a government that has wielded unfair cuts on so many Australians in this budget. It just shows its lack of understanding of the struggle that people have each and every day to pay their bills, to be able to afford their health care, to be able to buy their medicines and to be able to access the quality universal health care that has become the rule not the exception in Australia. I really believe that many of those on the other side cannot remember what it was like before there was Medicare, which morphed into Medibank, which morphed into Medicare. They cannot remember how people were constantly hauled before the courts simply because they could not pay their hospital bills or how people did not get the treatment that they needed.

The broken promises and the unfair agenda, the attack on people through this budget is phenomenal. We on this side of the House really strongly support health and medical research. We demonstrated this support when we were in government through commitments of more than $3.5 billion in health and medical research funding, including $700 million to upgrade the health and medical research facilities across the country. In actual fact, the Hunter Medical Research Institute was a beneficiary of that investment in health. It is a fine institution and the research that is being undertaken there is second to none. I would like to put on the record my congratulations to the Hunter Medical Research Institute. I know that they will continue to undertake cutting-edge research.

But what this government has done is give us an excuse the reason it is hitting Australians with a GP tax that will go into medical research. Those in the department did not even know anything about it until three weeks before and is sending medical researchers that should be undertaking research and working in their institutions to Canberra to talk to members of parliament to try and convince them that there is a valid reason to support the change. When questioned, they say, 'We are still working on the higher level aspects of it and we cannot give you any details whatsoever.' So there are absolutely no details about it. There has been no consultation. They did not consult with the Chief Scientist until afterwards then tried to blackmail the health and medical research sector into coming down to Canberra to support a very flawed proposal.

The savings are being made in an environment where the government is really making significant cuts to the health system despite what previous member for Banks said on the other side of the parliament. He is really holding the people of Australia in contempt by making those very flawed statements and he is also showing just the difference between him and the previous member for Banks, who was in there always fighting for the constituents that he represented in this parliament. Rather than fighting for his constituents, fighting for Australians the current member for Banks is making excuses.

The taxes on GP visits are also taxes on pathology and diagnostic imaging. We heard in this parliament over the last week just what sort of an impost those increases, those taxes will have on people. Those opposite have increased the cost of medicine and they have made changes to the pharmaceutical benefits safety net. All these cuts, all these changes are hurting people when they are sick, when they are vulnerable and when they need to look to the government to ensure that they are going to have access to universal health care. But unfortunately the Abbott government does not have that commitment to universal health care.

It is cutting $368 million from the National Partnership Agreement on Preventative Health. One of the first actions of this government was to get rid of the Preventative Health Authority, a body that was undertaking some cutting-edge work in the area of preventative health. The minister and the Abbott government as a whole do not understand that the biggest savings in health can be made in prevention. If people can change their behaviours, if they can undertake activities that will lead to better health outcomes, then our health spending will decrease. But, unfortunately, this government does not see it like that. That was funding that the states relied on for preventative health. That $368 million helped tackle obesity, smoking and alcohol abuse, and now it is gone.

Cutting $229 million from the dental Flexible Grants Program. Once again, that is an attack on dental health; once again, it will to lead to poorer dental health outcomes. Dental health cannot be looked at in isolation because dental health impacts on a person's overall health. Those on the other side of this House do not get that. Every area you look at in relation to dental health care this government is walking away from it. They have made changes based on lies about the sustainability of the health system—a system that is much more sustainable than the UK system, or the US system. This government would like us to replicate the US system, but no-one agrees with the government on these issues.

Professor Owler, the President of the AMA, said that these figures in relation to healthcare spending are not out of control and that there is absolutely no reason to introduce a GP tax. This government stands condemned for its attack on the health system. (Time expired)