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Tuesday, 14 February 2012
Page: 1215

Mrs MIRABELLA (Indi) (21:40): I rise to support the second reading amendment to the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 moved by the Leader of the Opposition. This government legislation is very simple. It kills two birds with one stone. It allows those dinosaurs, those outdated class warfare warriors who have kept their true colours hidden for such a long time, to get what they want and at the same time it helps a desperate, divided, directionless, shambolic government to try to claw back some money to pay for their gross extravagance and mismanagement. They are going to gut $2.4 billion out of the health system. And why? Because they have always actually wanted to do it. They have protested too much over the years, claiming our predictions that they would do exactly what they are doing today were so wrong. The Prime Minister in a previous political incarnation was absolutely sick of having to repeat the Labor Party's commitment to not cut the private health insurance rebate. We all know they were misleading statements.

The member for Bass interjected yesterday when this debate was proceeding in this chamber. He yelled out: 'Middle-class welfare!' and 'Support for the rich!' He was speaking the truth for so many members on the other side. The reason it is an easy get is that their blind ideology has clouded their perception of the real world, of the Australia of 2012 and of the fact that there are over 11 million Australians who are covered by private health insurance. They have conveniently tried to use good old-fashioned class warfare to excuse gutting the healthcare system of $2.4 billion. What do you expect? How else are they going to try to find the money to fill the big black hole of the record debt and deficits that they have delivered over the last four years? They are still borrowing $100 million a day. They have to find the money somehow to make up for all the money wasted on the pink batts fiasco, in a very dangerous manner; on the overpriced schools halls, which ran into billions of dollars; and on the cheques—do we remember those stimulus cheques?—that went to dead people. So it does kill two birds with one stone.

What it will mean is that, whether you are a young family, or a young couple planning to have a family, and you are trying to have access to what you believe is the best possible care by taking out private health insurance, or whether you are an older Australian quite anxious about getting access to the right treatment, to timely treatment, in the latter part of your life, and you are trying to get that bit of security that we know so many people have when they take out private health insurance, then you, and many more Australians who try to plan for contingencies, are going to end up paying higher premiums for your private health insurance, if you can even afford to maintain your insurance premiums in the first instance. We know that every dollar of funding provided for the private health insurance rebate saves $2 of costs that are then paid by private health insurers. We know that over 10 million people in Australia have private health insurance for hospital treatment. In my electorate of Indi, which is a comparatively low-income electorate, many people in the north-east of Victoria choose to have private health insurance. Despite the fact that they face very challenging household budgets, people in Indi do maintain a very high level of private health insurance, particularly because there is restricted access to bulk-billing and specialist services—and this applies to so many other rural and regional parts of this country. In my electorate more than 48,000 people are covered by private health insurance.

I have been inundated by so many people in my electorate and elsewhere who are feeling bombarded, absolutely oppressed and at their wits end with the rising cost of living, the rising cost of energy, the spectre of a carbon tax and the increase in costs to their basic living with the flow-through that will occur, including with energy. Every time they switch on the light and every time they open the fridge, they know that costs will go up. They are trying to be responsible; they are trying to do what has always been the Australian way—take responsibility and plan for a rainy day. This government is crushing the aspirations and the freedom of Australians to plan and live their lives as they see fit.

What is crazy about what the government is proposing is that we know we are going to end up with a worse public health system. We are going to end up with worse public health outcomes. It is short-sighted, politically opportunistic and driven by an out-of-date, out-of-touch ideology of hatred and, dare I say it, that nasty chip on the shoulder.

Here we have a Deloitte report that has looked at some of the impacts of this legislation. We see that, over a five-year period, 1.6 million consumers will withdraw from private hospital cover and a further 4.3 million will downgrade. Deloitte also concluded that a further 2.8 million consumers will withdraw from general treatment cover and a further 5.7 million will downgrade. As consumers withdraw and downgrade from the public health insurance system, we will see premiums rise. It is as simple as that. That is what will happen. It will become much, much less affordable. We will see families, couples, individuals and those older Australians who have planned for their future have the choice taken away from them about what sort of healthcare security they can have, because it will be absolutely unaffordable.

As more and more people withdraw from private health insurance cover, what will happen? Well, the inevitable. There will be a greater burden on the healthcare system, on hospitals in the public sector. We have heard the figure time and time again in this chamber during the debate, and I will repeat it: we will have an additional 845,000 separations needing to occur in public hospitals between 2012 and 2016 as a result of changes to the means-testing of the rebate. What would possess a government that purports to look after the social welfare and the health needs of Australians and that purports to care about so-called working families to be so short-sighted as to burden the public health system in such a way? There are already problems out there, in every state—we know it; we see it. Yet this insane ideological drive that we know has been at the heart of the Labor Party for such a long time is driving this.

Of course, we know that the money taken, gutted out of the health system—$2.4 billion—is not going to go back into health. It is fascinating when you look at what the Labor Party has said. Sometimes—often, actually—political parties make claims, make assertions and make analyses about what their opponents are saying, are doing, will do or have done. That is a natural part of our competitive political system. It must be highlighted: every single time a political party protests that it has been painted in an unfair light and feigns outrage it should be reminded of the hypocrisy and the deception in which it has engaged. It is not just about the carbon tax; it is not just about the promise to Mr Wilkie; it is not just about the promise to the car industry, which was then gutted by $1.4 billion; it is not just about the promise not to challenge Kevin Rudd; it is about something that goes to the heart of the health and welfare of so many Australians—health. Do we remember when the Prime Minister said that she was 'sick and tired of being asked over and over again about Labor's commitments to private health insurance.' Of course she was sick and tired of being asked over and over again, because in her heart of hearts she wanted to gut it. We know that. The more we find out about this Prime Minister, the more we know that, in her heart of hearts, she is a cold, calculating, Machiavellian, ruthless politician not just to her own but to the people in the Australian community she considers as class opponents. She does not understand that fundamentally she is pitting herself against the majority of Australians. She is pitting herself against what it is to be Australian: to have a go and to aspire to better services, to a better life, to better opportunities and to safer health opportunities for you and for your family. We heard her say in parliament in 2006:

… the minister for health today claimed that I am opposed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. This is not true. The minister for health has in fact himself on an earlier occasion conceded on national television that support for the private health insurance rebate is now bipartisan policy. I use his own words against him.

How clever was that. A Liberal minister said it, so it must be true. I wish the Prime Minister would apply that principle today: belief in the words of Liberal politicians. That way she would get more sense and a more accurate reflection of reality, not some weird made-up land on top of the Faraway Tree, where she seems to spend so much of her time.

We know that the leader of the Labor Party, their former shadow minister for health, made statements in favour of the rebate. Do you know why? They said whatever they needed to in order to get rid of a political problem; to get rid of constituents who were concerned about private health insurance. As Graham Richardson said: 'whatever it takes.' If it means perpetuating a lie, a deception, say what you need to say to get elected. Do what you need to do, do over who you have to. That is the mantra and that will be the political epitaph of Julia Gillard. (Time expired)