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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1190


Mr RAMSEY (Grey) (19:51): I rise to support the amendment moved by the Leader of the Opposition earlier today concerning the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011. The leader made the point that this abandonment of the solemn commitment to the Australian people by the government not to touch the tax rebates for private health was made soon after the 2007 election. The government has no mandate for this change in policy because in fact the last election was best described as a dead heat. In fact, the government won the negotiations, not the election.

Previously twice rejected by the parliament, this legislation has been brought back again by the government to test the House, despite the cast-iron guarantees of former Minister Roxon and Prime Minister Rudd prior to the 2007 election that they were totally committed to fully retaining the tax rebates. Even as late as 24 February 2009 the minister was saying that the government was firmly committed to retaining the existing private health rebates. Just 2½ months later the budget announced the abandonment of that commitment. It is inconceivable that, 2½ months before the budget, the Minister for Health and Ageing did not know what the intentions were.

This government has an appalling record of delivering on its promises. First, it was smaller things: GroceryWatch, Fuelwatch and laptops in schools for every student. Then came the bigger backflips: new taxes, starting with alcopops, AQIS charges, abandoning green loans and pink batts—which I must say they had to. Then came the really big ones: mining taxes and the most celebrated of all, the carbon tax, which has been abandoned twice, once in its abandonment and once again in the commitment not to introduce it. Then, of course, there was the abandonment of the commitment to the member for Denison on poker machines. In amongst all this we had the government turn its back on its electoral promise not to touch the private health insurance arrangements.

In the Grey electorate, surprisingly, almost half of its voters are covered by private health insurance—47.5 per cent, or 66,233 people. This is really quite remarkable, because there few places in Australia where a member of a private fund could expect less. There are just two private hospitals in the electorate: community based hospitals at Moonta and Ardrossan. There is a little history here. Both houses of this parliament supported motions condemning the South Australian government just last year for removing a small amount of public support for these hospitals, which only confirms Labor's ideological hatred of the private sector.

The fact that health cover is sold throughout my electorate at all is a telling statistic of people's general distrust in the ability of the public system to deliver when they need it. They retain cover because they are worried about the big issues in their lives: the complicated surgery, particularly elective, knees, hips and back operations and cancer treatments. The voters and consumers in Grey make a value judgment, even though they cannot access private hospitals on a regular basis, that they may need to go to Adelaide for these extensive services, to forgo much of the value of their private health insurance. Still, 47.3 per cent of them think it has value.

We know that, despite the government's promises to fix the blame game once and for all and to fix the health system, little has changed. Waiting times extend, queues get longer and key workers continue to burn out. Last week we had the extraordinary scene of the new Minister for Health, Ms Plibersek, dumping on the Tasmanian government during question time in response to a question from the member for Denison. I quote:

I can inform the House and those members who are interested that we will be requiring much closer oversight of the Tasmanian government's management of the health system in Tasmania. I think the saying might be 'We will be all over them like a rash' because this withdrawal of effort in elective surgery is very bad for the people of Tasmania.

She went further to rule out any Commonwealth takeover of the Tasmanian health system. Hang on! I thought there was a commitment to take the system over if the states did not perform, In fact, on 3 March 2010, not two years ago, then Prime Minister Rudd committed $30.7 billion to a takeover. Of course, that did not happen either. It is hard to remember something that this government has promised and delivered on, unless it is the error riddled, exorbitantly priced Julia Gillard school halls project.

The problem with this government is that it measures success in dollars borrowed and spent. It does not measure the outcomes or value for money. The Labor Party does not seem to get that, if someone chooses not to access public services, instead privately funding their personal access, it benefits everyone. It takes pressure off the public sector, it reduces costs, it provides choice and, most importantly, it fosters competition and raises the bar for all. Private health insurance is a demonstration, intentional or not, of individuals voluntarily taking a greater load. By comparison, these bills not only remove the taxation rebate for higher income earners but also impose higher penalties if they do not, supposedly of their free will, take up private insurance. It is a totally mixed message. The government wants the voters to insure, and it will effectively fine them if they do not, but it is not going to help them at all. In fact, it is going to make insurance much more expensive. The increase in the Medicare surcharge is just the latest example of a new tax.

It has already been mentioned in this debate that serious concerns at the level of dropout have been raised by industry and independent analysts. Deloitte expects 175,000 to drop out, 583,000 to downgrade and, over five years, 1½ million to quit private health insurance. Medibank Private's figures would tend to confirm these figures. This result can lead only to increased premiums for those who remain in private health insurance and increased demand on the already stretched public sector. Deloitte estimates a 10 per cent increase in premiums. I have just listened to the member for Lyne wax lyrical about this move to remove the taxation rebate and quote the head of Ramsay Health Care. I hope he is right, because if he is not the sector will be destroyed. It is worth throwing our minds back five or six years to the wine industry forecast for that industry. Perhaps Ramsay Health Care does not have the answer to every equation affecting private health insurance.

I spoke earlier about Labor's failures and abandonment of promises. One thing is consistent, though: everything costs money and the government is sustained by borrowing billions. This move by the government is a grab for cash but, much worse than that, it will cause irreparable damage to our private healthcare sector, and this will lead to similar damage in the public sector. For that reason I support my leader's amendment to the second reading, which calls for the government to delay the introduction of this bill until after an election has been called.