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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1205

Mr HARTSUYKER (Cowper) (20:54): We have a health system in this country that depends on the interface between the private and public systems. Without the private sector the public system could not cope with the demand for services. Without the public sector there would be no safety net to ensure that all people get the medical care they need and deserve. We have a system that uses a combination of price signals and waiting lists to regulate its operation.

The reality is that the members opposite have a pathological hate of the private health insurance system. The Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 represents a step in their quest to dismantle private health insurance. They want to ensure equity by herding everyone into a public system that just will not cope. That may sound illogical, but this is Labor ideology at work. This represents just another broken promise from a Labor Prime Minister who cannot be trusted. When she was shadow health minister she repeatedly stated her support for private health insurance and the private health insurance rebate. She said:

The truth is I never had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate.

In 2004 she said:

Labor is committed to the maintenance of this rebate and I have given an iron clad guarantee of that on a number of occasions.

Later in 2004 she said:

I grow tired of saying this—Labor is committed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate

And this deception is not limited to our current Prime Minister. The former shadow health minister, the member for Gellibrand, said in a media statement on 26 September 2007:

Federal Labor has made it crystal clear it is committed to retaining all existing private health insurance rebates.

Let me move on to the current prime ministerial aspirant, the member for Griffith, who as opposition leader in a letter to the Australian Health Insurance Association before the 2007 election said:

I have made it clear on many occasions Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebate.

How much clearer could Labor be? How much more blatant could the deception be? The Australian public have a right to be outraged. Just as the Australian people could not trust this Prime Minister with regard to the carbon tax and just as the Member for Denison could not trust this Prime Minister with regard to gambling reform, there can be no trust with regard to the issue of private health insurance.

What will the impact of these changes be? According to a study by Deloitte, commissioned by the Australian Health Insurance Association, called Economic Impact Assessment of the Proposed Reforms to Private Health Insurance, the figures are quite stark. Some 4.3 million consumers over five years will downgrade their degree of cover, which means less income for the private health insurance funds. Some 1.6 million consumers over five years will withdraw from their private hospital cover. The burden will shift to the public system. And what will that burden be? According to the study by Deloitte, it will be some $3.8 billion over five years. The real concern with this proposal is that it is nothing more than a reduction in the health budget. It is effectively withdrawing $2.4 billion from the current health budget and imposing a cost on our public health system of $3.8 billion.

I know many people in my electorate are very concerned by these changes. Many people who struggle to pay their private health insurance premiums are concerned by these changes. Many people who are worried that they will no longer be able to make those payments are very concerned about the increases in their private health insurance premiums. That is what this is going to do. We are going to see an exit from the pool, particularly by those healthy Australians who may feel it is something they can do without in the face of these changes and the increased costs they would otherwise bear. We will lose many healthy individuals whom the system depends upon to balance out the premium costs. So private health insurance is certainly under threat from these changes. The private health insurance system is also vital to attracting medical professionals to regional communities because they depend so often on a mix of public and private patients. If they lose their private patients, there will be insufficient work to maintain their practices in regional areas. What does that mean? It potentially means an exodus from regional areas by specialists. It potentially means a closing of private hospitals. It potentially means a loss of services in regional and rural areas. Who is going to suffer most from this? Is it the alleged rich or the alleged aspirationals that the Prime Minister is so keen to slug? No, it will be the most vulnerable who will be most hurt by this. It will be the elderly. It will be the poor. It will be the people who cannot afford to travel to a major metropolitan area to receive these services. They are the ones who will suffer most. It will not be those with the capacity to pay. It will not be those healthy Australians who will take the risk rather than pay the exorbitant costs which will be imposed as a result of this government's withdrawal of the private health insurance rebate. It will be the very people this government claims they should be protecting who will pay the price for these changes.

What will be the further result? It will be a blow-out in the public hospital waiting lists. It will be longer waits for elective surgery. It will be staff in our public hospitals under greater stress. It will be a run-down in the public system. Despite the best efforts of the staff and despite the best efforts of local communities to support their hospitals, many of our public hospitals are bursting at the seams. Many of our public hospitals are struggling to cope, yet we have a Labor government that is determined to wind up the pressure on our public hospital system, pull $2.4 billion out of the budget and not put a cent in. It is effectively a cost shift from the federal government to our state governments. It is effectively an abrogation of responsibility by the federal government to assist and encourage people into private health insurance. We saw in the past the catastrophe that can occur when private health insurance levels fall too low. The coalition government was able to address that primarily through the measure that this government is so intent on unwinding. The private health insurance rebate was a major tool in restoring the take-up of private health insurance. It is clear that it is those that the Labor government claims to represent that will be most adversely affected by these changes.

In my local electorate of Cowper I have a very fine private hospital, Baringa Private Hospital. It does a great job. It does a very heavy elective surgery workload. It provides outpatient services. It is the epicentre for a very large workforce of specialists. All of this is possible because of the dual system we have, which is heavily dependent on private health insurance. It is a great assistance to the Coffs Harbour Base Hospital in delivering services in what is a growing area with an ageing demographic and many people who are dependent on the public system.

If you were to lose your private health insurance, you may well lose your private hospital. If you lose your private hospital, you may well lose your specialists. If you lose your specialists, you lose the local provision of services and that is a bad outcome for all people in regional Australia. Having to travel 500 kilometres to Sydney is a bad outcome for the people that I represent. Having to go without procedures is a bad outcome for the people I represent. If you live in a regional or rural area, the sad fact is that it is likely that your medical outcomes will be inferior to those in metropolitan areas, despite the great work of the staff in regional areas. There are a range of reasons for this, such as people's reluctance to seek treatment when they are in a regional area and have to travel to metropolitan areas, but this winding down of services in regional areas can only make the matter worse.

It will be interesting to see how the Independents finally vote on this, whether they actually stand up for the people that they represent, whether they actually support the people in their electorates and support the services that the people in their electorates deserve. It will be interesting to see whether the member for Lyne, despite his words in the chamber tonight, will finally heed the words of the people who were actually demonstrating at his office against his possible move to vote for this legislation. It will be interesting to see what he does. Will he support his local electorate? Will he support the people who sent him to Canberra or will he sell out to a Prime Minister who cannot be trusted? Will he sell out and pass this legislation? He will be judged, because the people of the North Coast will be watching the member for Lyne. He has disappointed them before on the carbon tax and he has certainly paid a heavy political price for that. I fear he is going to disappoint them again in relation to private health insurance. We will be waiting and we will be watching because we expect, as people who live on the North Coast, that North Coast members support the sorts of services that people on the North Coast rightly deserve.

It is vital that these bills be opposed. It is vital that the private health insurance rebate be retained. It is vital that the Independents find it within themselves to support their local services and not support this Prime Minister. I certainly will be opposing these bills. They are bad for regional and rural Australia. They are bad for health services. They are bad for the very foundations of our health system and they are to be condemned.