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Thursday, 5 December 2013
Page: 995


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:22): I too would like to take note of the disturbing bits of information that dribbled out of the Assistant Minister for Health's resistant response to questions today about cuts to health and threats to the health and wellbeing of the community, particularly in regions such as the one I live in.

The coalition has already outdone itself on broken promises in three weeks here in the parliament. It has broken its ironclad commitment to quarantine health care from cuts. It is broken. They have broken it already on a number of occasions. This is from a Prime Minister and a minister who told the Australian people that they were going to be a government of grownups. They are pretty stingy grownups, from what we have seen so far—and ones who do not care about the health outcomes of ordinary people in communities like the one that I come from, the Central Coast. This is from a Prime Minister who told the people of Australia that they would be a 'no surprises' government. It would have been better to say, 'We'll be a "no delivery" government.' Surprise, surprise. The Liberal Party have not kept their promise and I fear that things are going to get worse and worse.

Senator Nash revealed on Wednesday that the government has moved to cut $1.6 million in funding to an important healthcare advisory body—the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council. When I look around me I do not see fewer and more easily-resolved drug and alcohol issues. How can it be that this august body can be so summarily dismissed—after a promise that there would be no cuts under 'the government I lead'? The government broke this promise despite its reassurance to the department that their funding would be secure until July 2015. This government has turned its back on the real victims of drug abuse in this country, and that is every family, every worker, every person who loves and cares for somebody who finds themselves caught up in the issues and problems that drugs and alcohol can present.

When called to the benches of power, the coalition has shown nothing more than ignorance about health care, ignorance about the effects of drugs and alcohol in this country and ignorance and dismissal of its own election promises. Senator Nash has thrown out a valuable healthcare body, and this move effectively erases decades of corporate knowledge. Those are not my words but the words of the former Liberal MP, the board's former president, the very honourable Dr Mal Washer—a man universally respected across the aisles of this place and a man known as the 'doctor of the parliament'. He is a man who even helped me out on one occasion when the air conditioning got to be a bit too much for my very gentle eyes. A great man. This is the man the government refuses to receive health advice from. But this is not the end of the hypocrisy of those opposite. The government has indicated, and the senator has restated today, that there are a number of other programs it wishes to review. Indeed, she said today that they are assessing all of the government programs.

In making the case for cutting the Alcohol and Other Drugs Council the minister tried to distance herself by saying, 'This body was Labor waste.' If the minister had any appreciation of the facts about this body she would know that it has existed since the days of Prime Minister Menzies. Since 1966 the council has been advising successive governments on drugs and alcohol, and I do not see the problem going away. For the first time in nearly five decades, it will no longer be able to do its important job.

And there is more we should be concerned about. What other bodies does the senator have on the chopping block? She certainly did not want to say today. Everything we heard from Senator Nash confirms that the health community should be very worried. And when health professionals in my community tell me they are concerned about more cuts coming down the line, I have to be concerned for the people on the Central Coast and in the electorates that I represent in this place—and I am concerned. We had the confirmation—organisations under review. We have had the claims repeated today.

Medicare Locals could be under serious threat. Let us not forget that Minister Dutton made some comments that he was going to cut them. It is a fallback position to say 'we are going to review them.' On the Central Coast this wonderful agency is delivering absolutely vital primary healthcare services to people in ways that were never, ever offered before: a mobile X-ray machine that goes to people in aged-care facilities; diabetes care; children's care; food programs; Partners in Recovery, building connections around people suffering from mental illness; and so much more. All of that is to be cut by a government going back on its promises. (Time expired)

Question agreed to.