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Tuesday, 13 May 2014
Page: 2421

Senator URQUHART (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (15:16): I rise on the motion to take note of the answers given by the Assistant Minister for Health, Senator Nash, from questions asked by Senator McLucas in relation to the cuts and increased taxes slated for the health portfolio in tonight's budget. It is clear from the answers from all coalition government ministers today that tonight's budget will be full of broken promises, increased taxes and overblown rhetoric around a budget emergency that is their own creation, and it will be full of cuts to health, education and community services that will hurt the most disadvantaged Australians.

If tonight's budget includes a GP tax, this of course will clearly be a broken promise. A GP tax could cost Tasmanians around $150 million extra a year and a co-payment for PBS medicines could mean an extra $40 million from Tasmanians being spent on medicines. Tasmanians are already some of the lowest bulk-billed patients in the country and we are already paying more for health care. Yet, if you break down these costs on an average per person basis, as those opposite so love to do, it is around $400 per Tasmanian per year. Of course, those on fixed and low incomes, age pensioners, disability pensioners, single parents and veterans may have to visit the doctor more than the average and may rely on prescription medications for pain relief, for blood pressure or for chronic illness. It is these people who have the lowest capacity to pay. It is these people who will be unfairly targeted in tonight's cruel budget.

It will be a budget full of broken promises, as Prime Minister Abbott seeks to find a way to pay for his overblown, unfair Paid Parental Leave scheme—a Paid Parental Leave scheme that will give $50,000 to very well-paid women to have a baby, a Paid Parental Leave scheme that will be paid for by cutting health services, by introducing a GP tax and increasing the co-payments for PBS medicines. This Paid Parental Leave scheme will overwhelmingly benefit very well-paid women while slugging those who happen to be sick with a tax while visiting the doctor and, on the way out, with an increase in the price of their medicine. It is a proposition that will hurt low-income Australians. It is a proposition that is so warped that it will actually discourage low-income Australians, as Senator McLucas said, from visiting the doctor and filling their prescriptions. It is a proposition from a Prime Minister and Treasurer whose priorities are so twisted that they have in fact doubled the deficit in just eight months. In just eight months, Mr Abbott and Mr Hockey have managed to add $68 billion to the budget deficit, create a so-called budget emergency by fiddling with assumptions and provide unnecessary grants to the Reserve Bank. They have not created a better Australia but provided a means to make severe cuts to health services and impose new costs on those least able to pay.

Last week, I met with senior staff from Tasmania Medicare Local to discuss their potential concerns with this budget. Senator Nash would do well to actually come to Tasmania and visit our Medicare Local before resorting to the talking points about duplication and waste. What I saw was an organisation that is extremely efficient at delivering primary health care across the state, keeping people out of hospital and providing e-health, after-hours general practice, population health research, mental health services and specific assistance for Aboriginal Tasmanians. The facts are that Tasmania's population is older than those of all the other states. Our population is ageing at a faster rate than other states. We have higher rates of chronic disease and the most dispersed population in the Commonwealth. Yet this Abbott government will tonight show no regard for Tasmania's health system difficulties. Tonight's budget will hurt Tasmanians in the hip pocket every time they get sick or every time their family gets sick. The budget will be full of the twisted priorities of Prime Minister Abbott and will not be about setting up the country for the future, as government senators said over and over during this question time.

This budget will take the Australian health system back to the pre-war era—that is, pre-war World War II—which was defined solely on your ability to pay, not if you were sick. The Australian community will not forgive this government for its broken promises on health and across the budget. Last week, I was contacted by a doctor in my home town of Ulverstone who said that she has previously worked in the US and seeing patients who had to pay was a dismal failure. She ended up diagnosing many advanced cancers— (Time expired)