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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1092

Mr CHEESEMAN (Corangamite) (12:43): I rise to speak on the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 and associated bills. Labor is the very proud builder of a modern healthcare system. I think it is worth reminding the House that Labor has invested significantly in our healthcare system both now and when it was in government in the eighties, not only to make it fairer but also to put in place the capital to build a modern healthcare system that can treat people no matter what their individual backgrounds are and no matter how wealthy they are. Labor fundamentally believes that the healthcare system should be strong and should be capable of treating people no matter what their financial circumstances are. It was Labor that put in place the Medicare system to ensure that everyone can access the healthcare system when they need it.

To find a contrast with the efforts of Labor in office in building a modern healthcare system we need look no further than when Tony Abbott, the Leader of the Opposition, was the health minister in the Howard government. His agenda was to rip money out of the public healthcare system and make it harder for people to access the healthcare system when they need it. Labor is the proud builder of a modern healthcare system that enables people, no matter what their financial circumstances are, to be able to access high-quality treatment, whereas the coalition's approach has been to remove money from the healthcare system and deliver budget cuts which make it much harder for our hospital system to treat people when they need access to the Medicare system.

Labor has also invested substantially in ensuring people are able to access the hospital system in their local communities. Down my way we have invested very substantially in the broader Geelong area to ensure that we have a modern healthcare system. I am very proud of that record of investment that we have put in place. I see at the table my parliamentary colleague Richard Marles, who has advocated with me to ensure the government is investing in the local Geelong community. I think we have managed to secure substantial funds to improve our system. In the last budget we were able to secure a lot of investment for a modern cancer centre to help people who are dealing with cancer. It will be interesting to see whether the Baillieu government comes to the table and matches the contribution that we have made to ensure that that cancer centre is delivered. I will be talking to the Baillieu government about the importance of having a modern cancer centre in our area to support cancer sufferers.

The reality is that we do have very challenging fiscal circumstances. We have come through the global financial crisis and our economy is strong, particularly if you look at our economy in the context of how Europe and the United States are going, but for us to build that modern healthcare system that enables everyone, no matter what their financial background is, to be able to access high-quality care, we do need to put in place mechanisms to ensure that money is going where it is required. I certainly do not believe it is appropriate for people earning salaries perhaps as high as those of cabinet ministers or indeed the Prime Minister to get a tax break from the government for them to be able to buy private health insurance. That is middle class welfare. It is inefficient and it will mean that we are not able to invest at the bottom end and give everyone the opportunity to access affordable healthcare when they need it. These very important Labor reforms are about putting additional money into the healthcare system where it is required. It is required for families who are perhaps earning $50,000, $60,000 or $70,000. That is the approach that we have taken.

The opposition are saying no to this measure, as they have been saying no to most of the initiatives that this government has been taking. In my community in Geelong people do not believe that it is appropriate for people earning hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to get middle class welfare from the Commonwealth to help support them in having private health insurance. People are saying to me that there should be support for people taking out private health insurance, but it should be means tested. That is the approach that we have taken.

As I said earlier, it is Labor that has had a very long track record of building a modern hospital and health system. The reforms that we have put in place are important reforms. They are reforms that will make our healthcare system more sustainable, recognising that as we live longer our health needs become greater and we need additional money in the system to support people.

There are a number of initiatives that I might also inform the House about that I think are important, particularly in the Geelong context. I had the great delight late last year of attending the graduation of the first lot of doctors from the School of Medicine at Deakin University. It was delightful to see men and women coming out of the medical school who have a real passion for medicine and importantly have a real passion for the regions. I have worked, as has the member for Corio, very closely with Deakin University to help deliver the resources from the Commonwealth that are required for Deakin to train additional medical practitioners. We have both advocated strongly on behalf of the university. And I note, Madam Deputy Speaker, that you also have a Deakin University campus in your electorate—and I am sure you have been advocating as well on behalf of your community the important role that Deakin plays.

Over the last few decades the role of Barwon Health and Deakin University have become increasingly important to the Geelong community. The efforts that the Geelong community have put into Barwon Health, our hospitals and the university are leading to better health outcomes in our region. Again, it is through the efforts of Labor, and a strong Geelong community, advocating for a strong healthcare system, that have seen these additional resources being put in. But we do have to pay for it. We do have to ensure that the budget bottom line of the Commonwealth is strong and that we return the budget to surplus. And we should be removing, where it is not appropriate, middle class welfare—and certainly high-income earners should not be getting a tax break from the Commonwealth for them to be able to have private health insurance.

In conclusion, these bills are fair. They are appropriate. It has been a consistent position that we have held for a long time. People understand the approach that we have adopted on this. I encourage everyone in this House to vote in favour of this so that we do have a fair healthcare system that is sustainable and is providing resources where they are required, particularly for working families. I think that is very important. I commend these bills to the House.