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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2419

Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (15:05): I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Assistant Minister for Health (Senator Nash) to questions without notice asked by Opposition senators today relating to health funding.

The questions that were directed to Senator Nash today gave her the opportunity to restate the commitments made during the election campaign by the then opposition leader, now Prime Minister. I asked Senator Nash to restate Prime Minister Abbott's commitment that there would be 'no cuts to health' and that there would be no new taxes. Those are words that the now Prime Minister said over and over during the election campaign.

Australians will be concerned that Minister Nash did not take the opportunity given her to reconfirm those election commitments. She did not say that there will be no cuts to health in tonight's budget. She did not say that there would be no new taxes. That opportunity was given to her and Australians can read that for what it actually is. Repeated requests from our Manager of Opposition Business for her to answer the question were not heeded. She did not say there would be no cuts to health. She did not say that there would be no new taxes. So it is reasonable for people to expect that tonight's budget will see a co-payment to attend the GP and also, potentially, a co-payment to attend the emergency department. That is policy designed because they know that as soon as you charge people on low incomes to go to the GP, with a co-payment, there will be an increased attendance rate at our emergency departments. This will be an absolute broken promise from Mr Abbott, who said there would be no cuts to health.

During the election campaign Mr Abbott also said that there would be no surprises and no excuses from this government. I suggest that in tonight's budget we will see a lot of surprises and a lot of excuses. Mr Abbott also said, 'This government will do what we have said we will do.' Mr Abbott said there would be no cuts to health. Well, we will see. He said there will be no new taxes. The truth is that a co-payment is a new tax. It is a new tax on attending the GP. Any cuts to Medicare Locals in the budget tonight will be a broken promise. Mr Abbott said absolutely clearly that there would be no change, no cuts, to Medicare Locals.

We know, from the research internationally, that if you put a co-payment on attendance at a GP the result will be lower attendances for preventative health scans. The people who should be most encouraged to go to the doctor will not be going to the doctor. We know there will be more attendances at emergency departments. So essentially it is just shifting the cost on to the states and territories. We know that there will be increases in chronic illness, with more cost to the health budget in the long term. Frankly, there will be lesser health outcomes for Australians.

Neither did Senator Nash take the opportunity to back up the bizarre reasoning of Mr Abbott's hand-picked adviser, the Chair of the Commission of Audit, Mr Tony Shepherd, when he said that Australians visit the GP 11 times a year. He also said he did not think we were that crook. I am not surprised, frankly, that Senator Nash did not back that up. Mr Shepherd exposed himself, when he made those comments, as a person who is certainly not a health economist. It also shows that in devising the audit report the group, under his chairpersonship, took no advice from those who do know: the health economists of our nation. It is of great concern that the government in the design of their budget has taken advice from someone who can do a division sum, who can divide the number of GP visits in the year by the population of the community. That is not the way you devise good health policy. That is not the way that you make good health policy for the future of our country.

Mr Abbott was wrong when he said, when he was the health minister, that the government of the day was the best friend that Medicare had. Tonight's budget will show once again Mr Abbott's ideological opposition to universal health care—health care that provides health equally to those who need it, irrespective of the size of their chequebook, so that anyone can attend the doctor when they need to. Tonight's budget will be a test of this government's ability to hold to their election commitments. (Time expired)