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Wednesday, 31 August 2016
Page: 160

Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (16:06): Thank you very much, Deputy Speaker Coulton, and can I commend you on your elevation to the chair. I am very pleased to speak on this debate about the Prime Minister's lack of leadership. One of the starkest examples of the Prime Minister's failure of leadership is of course his failure when it comes to Medicare. Just days after the election, panicked by the message that was sent to him by the electorate, the Prime Minister said, 'We have to do more to reaffirm the faith the Australian people in our commitment to health and to Medicare.' I note particularly his use of the term 'do more', not 'say more and more and more'—we already know that he gets a gold star for that—but 'do more'.

Two months after the election, what have we seen? Absolutely nothing. There has been no change in policy, no change in direction. He is all over the shop when it comes to dealing with the absolute mess they have made of health. As we saw in question time, it does not look as though that is going to end any time soon.

The Prime Minister said after the election that he has learnt his lesson on what people expect of his government when it comes to Medicare. Well if you believe that, there is a bridge over Sydney Harbour that I have got for sale. I mean, really? You saw in question time his complete inability to actually say any one of the cuts to Medicare that he is reversing.

The Prime Minister, like his health minister, wants to blame everyone else for the problems that they have created—for the fertile ground they have created when it comes to people's distrust of them when it comes to health. Far from being nimble and agile they have bound themselves to the same policies and the same tired old Liberal Party rhetoric. We saw the ridiculousness during the election campaign of the health minister saying that she did not support the freeze on the Medicare Benefits Schedule but that Treasury and Finance made her do it. Well now we have almost got the Prime Minister saying exactly the same.

This Prime Minister is all talk and no action. He knows that he has got a problem when it comes to the continuation of the freeze on Medicare but is incapable, or it would appear simply unwilling, to actually do anything about it. The problem is that many Australians seeking to access their GP or their specialist cannot afford to wait for this Prime Minister's dithering. They cannot afford more cuts in health to pay for your mistake. As is being highlighted this week with Michael Marmot's Boyer lectures, we have growing health inequality in this country and everything this government and this Prime Minister have done is making it worse. There is growing health inequality and every single one of the policies introduced by this government is making inequality in health worse.

Far from learning the lessons on Medicare, this government is committed to freezing the Medicare Benefits Schedule for six years until 2020, after the next election. That is not a freeze; as rural doctors have said, that is an ice age. It is a GP tax by stealth and it is doing exactly what the government wanted to do and have been trying to do since the 2014—put a price signal on visits to your doctor and to your specialist, leading to poorer quality and less affordable access to health care.

They want to increase the cost of prescription medicines for everyone, including concession card holders. We already know from pharmacists across the country that compliance is a major issue when it comes to medicines, and you want to make this worse. They want to cut bulk-billing incentives for pathology on 1 October, which will leave no incentive or mechanism to enable bulk-billing for vital blood tests to continue to be available; cut bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging on 1 January 2017, which again will provide no mechanism to ensure that these vital scans are affordable; maintain public hospital cuts at a level that is simply not sustainable for our public hospitals; abandon funding and targets for emergency department waiting times and elective surgery; and cut the Medicare safety net—a mechanism that tries to provide some easing of the costs of health care for people who because of the nature of their illness and circumstances have higher healthcare needs. Those are the policies that you have tied yourself to—every single one of them.

The Prime Minister was unable in question time today to say which of those cuts they were reversing. Which one is it? If they have learnt their lesson when it comes to health care, they will be reversing those cuts. There is a test for this Prime Minister. Unfreeze the Medicare Benefits Schedule, properly fund our public hospitals, do not proceed with the cuts to bulk-billing incentives for pathology and diagnostic imaging, do not slash the Medicare safety net and stop pretending—you did actually want to privatise the Medicare payment system—and actually tell us how you are going to make sure that the public sector can continue to deliver it.