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Monday, 19 March 2018
Page: 1537


Senator WATT (Queensland) (22:00): One of Australia's defining and proudest features is our support for and maintenance of a universal public health system. Unlike the United States of America, your access to good-quality medical care in Australia is not dictated by the sum of money in your wallet; it's simply dictated by your Australian citizenship and your entitlement to good-quality public health care. That is something that we on this side of the chamber have long stood for, whether we go back to the Whitlam government's introduction of Medicare or the continued efforts of Labor governments to both maintain and build Medicare and to resist attacks on it from the Liberal and National parties when they have been in government.

We know that the Liberal and National parties have a long history in Australia of undermining Australia's fantastic public healthcare system. From the very outset, they opposed the introduction of Medicare, and, at every chance they have ever had in government, they have whittled it away, making cuts to Medicare, attempting to privatise services and making good-quality public health care that much more difficult for most Australians. And this government is no different. We've seen it year after year impose cuts on public hospitals which have made health care in the public system not quite what it should be for all Australians.

What's worse, from a Queensland point of view, is that, right up and down Queensland, right now, Malcolm Turnbull's LNP members of parliament are backing every single one of his government's cuts to public health. In fact, they're supporting the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, in refusing to pay for procedures that have already been performed in Queensland hospitals. The Queensland government has estimated that, right now, the federal government here in Canberra owes Queensland hospitals close to $1 billion for services that have already been performed by Queensland hospitals. Not only is it cutting money into the future but it is actually refusing to pay its bills for operations and other services that have already been delivered. You would like to think that our LNP members of parliament from Queensland would actually be doing something about that, but, as usual, they are nodding and smiling as Malcolm Turnbull and his government take the axe to the public health system in Queensland.

What does that amount of money that is owed by Canberra to Queensland hospitals—$1 billion—amount to in practical terms? With that money, 622 more doctors could be employed in Queensland hospitals; 2,168 extra nurses could be employed in Queensland hospitals; and nearly 200,000 more medical procedures could be being performed in Queensland hospitals for Queenslanders right now. On top of the amounts that are overdue and owing by the federal government, there are more cuts to come under this government to Queensland hospitals. All up, between 2017 and 2020, there will be another $160 million cut in federal government funding to Queensland hospitals. This is the price of LNP members of parliament from Queensland who are more interested in toeing the line from Malcolm Turnbull and his government than in fighting for their communities.

I was in Rockhampton only on Friday last week, meeting with health workers who are directly affected by these cuts. In Central Queensland alone, which takes in the federal electorates of Capricornia and Flynn, the Queensland government estimates that local hospitals are owed about $39 million from the federal government for services that have already been performed in those hospitals. That's 25 doctors that could have been employed. That's 86 nurses that could have been employed. And that's over 14,000 extra procedures that could be being performed right now in Central Queensland if only the federal government would pay its bills.

On top of that, there is $6 million more in cuts coming for Central Queensland hospitals over the next three years as a result of cuts made by the Turnbull government and backed in by local MPs Michelle Landry and Ken O'Dowd. I heard from local health workers about the impacts this is having. It is placing even more pressure on their emergency departments, and patients are having to wait longer for elective surgery and operations—all because Canberra will not pay its bills and keeps cutting funding from Queensland hospitals into the future. It is incredibly disappointing. But yet again there is complete silence from local LNP members Michelle Landry and Ken O'Dowd, as they nod and do whatever Malcolm Turnbull tells them to do.

It's the same story up and down Queensland. The Cairns and Torres Strait health districts are owed, according to Queensland government estimates, about $76 million for surgeries that have already been performed, with another $11 million in cuts yet to come. What is the member for Leichhardt, Warren Entsch, doing? Nothing. The local hospital in Townsville is owed $66 million for services already performed and, in the future, they are facing another $11 million in cuts from the federal government. Despite the great efforts of local MP Cathy O'Toole in Herbert and her state colleagues, those bills remain outstanding. In Mackay, which is in the electorate of Dawson, held by George Christensen, the health district is owed $29 million by the federal government and has another $4.5 million in cuts yet to come. I've already mentioned Central Queensland—owed $39 million, according to the Queensland government, with $6 million more in cuts to come.

Even when you get down to the south-east corner of Queensland, where the LNP, let's face it, hold a lot of seats at the moment—and you would think they would be in there fighting for their communities—in the metropolitan north health district, which takes in the federal electorates of Dickson and Longman, the Queensland government estimates that the local hospitals there are owed $187 million for services already performed, and there are future cuts coming of $32 million on top of that. When you go to the other side of the river, in the metropolitan south district, the Queensland government estimates that their hospitals on the south side of Brisbane are owed $196 million in cuts, with another $29 million in cuts coming. Right down in the south of the state, on the Gold Coast, the Queensland governments estimates that it's owed $97 million for services already performed, with another $16 million in cuts coming from this federal government. And what are we hearing from any of the federal LNP members, whether it be the member for Dickson, the member for Petrie, the member for Bonner or the member for Forde? Absolutely nothing. Yet again, they take their riding instructions from Canberra and do nothing for their communities.

Queenslanders are speaking up. They have had enough. They expect their members of parliament, no matter what side they're from, to come to Canberra and fight for their communities—to fight for decent funding for public hospitals, to fight for decent funding for schools and to stop big tax cuts going to companies that are based in Sydney and Melbourne at the expense of proper services in Brisbane, Central Queensland, North Queensland and across the state. Instead, the LNP federal members of parliament from Queensland come down to Canberra, get their riding instructions from the Prime Minister, Mr Turnbull, and then return home and tell their constituents what they can get. It is not about seeing the member for Capricornia being the voice in Canberra; she, like so many of her colleagues, is Malcolm Turnbull's voice back in Capricornia, as is the case for every other federal LNP member from Queensland. It's about time they started doing their jobs. It's about time they started standing up for their communities and demanding the fair funding that hospitals in their areas need to ensure that their constituents continue to get good-quality public health care.

I can assure Queenslanders, whether they live in Central Queensland, North Queensland, western Queensland or the south-east, that federal Labor stand with them in wanting to make sure that we have the best public health services anywhere in the world. We will continue to demand those good public health services and we will continue to demand that this federal government puts in the funding that is required to make sure that Queenslanders get the very best medical care. If the LNP members of parliament won't do their job, Queenslanders can be assured that Labor members will come to Canberra and fight for every dollar that Queensland needs to provide good-quality medical care.