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Thursday, 15 May 2014
Page: 3933


Mr LAURIE FERGUSON (Werriwa) (16:07): I rise to speak on the matter of public importance. It is no accident that on the front page of today's Sydney Morning Herald is a photograph of one of my constituents—one of the people that might once have been described as 'Howard's battlers', people that are socially conservative but have doubts that they are getting anything out of the Australian system. She was visiting a medical centre and the article was focusing on the question of this $7 impost. It is not surprising, because in Reid 96.2 per cent of doctor visits are bulk-billed. As earlier speakers have indicated, this change is created through a confected propaganda campaign about a crisis. It is worth noting that the total health expenditure in the United States—which those opposite want to emulate and where they think that there is something to learn—is 17.7 per cent of GDP and in Australia it is 9.5 per cent. So, while Clinton and Teddy Roosevelt and a whole lot of other people have been fighting for a system like Australia's for virtually a hundred years, those opposite want to destroy ours despite the fact that the health spending to GDP ratio is nearly two times higher over there.

If we just look at government expenditure on health we notice that, as a percentage of GDP, we are the 10th lowest of the 33 OECD countries and we are the lowest amongst the wealthy countries. I was here when Costello used to carry on, making comparisons between Australia and the Central African Republic and Botswana. I agree with him: the people we should be comparing ourselves to are the First World. We see from those kinds of figures that in actual fact the GDP expenditure by this country on health is very low, yet those opposite are using this contrived crisis to try and destroy this system.

In terms of general government expenditure, I am indebted to the member for Fairfax for photocopying documents showing that in 2013 Australia's government net debt as a percentage of GDP was 13.5 per cent compared to 73.5 per cent in the advanced economies. So those opposite are manufacturing this so-called crisis to justify the destruction of Medicare. We have heard earlier that the issue is not just the $7; it is the fact that there are now financial disincentives for doctors to bulk-bill. This is also, of course, accompanied by an $80 billion attack on health and education in general—abandoning agreements that were made with the states. Is it any wonder that state conservative governments are now denouncing those opposite for what has occurred, because their systems are going to be under very real pressure?

Another indication of the way in which those opposite have manufactured statistics to justify this comes from our old friend in the Commission of Audit Mr Shepherd, who alleged that there were 11 doctor visits per Australian per year. When that was actually looked at, a variety of statistics indicated otherwise. The figures from Medicare show that there were 128 million visits to GPs last year, giving a population average of 5.6 visits. The National Health Performance Authority, an independent agency, put average doctor visits at between 2.4 and 7.4. So in actual fact the statistics are wrong in regard to the level of visits. The allegations of abuse of the system and of people using doctors for social visits are not a reality.

I do not think we should necessarily restrict ourselves to the views of the opposition on these matters. I want to quote a few perhaps more independent and respected authorities on the impact of this policy. The Royal Australian College of General Practitioners said, 'The government has failed to meet its promised commitment to those in the community with the greatest health needs.' They further commented: 'The government is seriously compromising every point of access to the Australian healthcare system.'

Another eminent organisation known to the member in the chair, the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, has alleged that the real danger is that many of the poorest rural patients will choose not to see a doctor for preventative health care. That will be the outcome: people who have children with health problems are going to decide not to visit; people who have conditions that are not at the moment chronic will have those conditions become chronic as they are untreated. That is the intention of these people: to basically make sure that people do not use the system and to undermine it on all fronts.

Finally, I want to comment on the attacks on young people. I note two things that are going to be affected in my electorate: the massive cut when those opposite force young people to live without payments while at the same time attacking the rail system, which is so vital in my part of Sydney, because people buy houses cheaply there and sacrifice travel time. Those opposite are basically going to massively strip back rail expenditure in the country while at the same time making it harder for those that possess a car to get to work through increased petrol charges—basically impoverishing them as much as possible.