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Wednesday, 25 June 2014
Page: 3901

Senator McLUCAS (Queensland) (15:12): I also take note of answers given by Senator Nash to my question to her today. I had to come back into the chamber today to ask a question about the impact of the $7 GP tax on patients who use warfarin, a medication that is required for many patients. While it is a very common drug in Australia, people have to have the appropriate blood tests on a very regular basis so they can be prescribed warfarin effectively and at the correct dosage. Again today, we did not get an answer to the question: 'Isn't it true that the $7 GP tax could add up to hundreds of dollars to getting this life-saving treatment?'

The minister said that it was a matter for practitioners, which is an intentionally misleading answer, and frankly the same answer as she gave to me last week. But the truth is that, if pathology and diagnostic providers bulk-bill, they not only lose the $5 out of the $7 GP tax but also lose their bulk-billing incentive, which currently runs at $6 for an urban setting and $10 for someone who is in a regional or remote area. There is no way that a practice can simply absorb that reduction in income. It is intentionally misleading for the minister to say, 'That's just a matter for the practitioners; they can just do whatever they want to do.'

The minister then resorted yet again to the 'budget emergency' story. She said that there were burgeoning costs in the health system. She referred to the total health budget many years ago being a certain amount and then compared that to the amount it is going to be in this year's budget. Yes, the population is growing; yes, health costs are growing; yes, people can get better services now; and, yes, it is more expensive to provide modern-day health services. But Associate Professor Brian Owler, the President of the AMA, predicted the minister would say this. In his opinion piece last week he said:

The health budget is not out of control. As a proportion of GDP, Australia’s healthcare spending has remained constant. In 2011 it was 8.93 per cent compared to the OECD average of 9.3 per cent. The proportion of this contributed by the federal government expenditure remains constant at around 41 per cent.

As a proportion of federal government expenditure, health expenditure has actually fallen—from 18.1 per cent in 2006-07 to 16.1 per cent in 2012-13.

It is an absolute fallacy—it is intentionally misleading—to say that Australia's health budget is out of control.

We have a fabulous health system in this country. We are not going to sit over here and watch while the government of the day unpicks the universality of Medicare, the fairness of Medicare and the ability of Medicare to provide quality health services to people wherever they live in Australia—because the people who will be disproportionately disadvantaged by this are people who live in rural and remote areas, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and, as I have said many times, the poor and the sick. Why would you tax the poor and the sick of the country to set up a future fund when we do not even know what that fund is going to do? The Department of Health did not have any notice or knowledge of this future fund until April this year—a month before the budget. This is not a planned, structured approach to delivering a health system.

Then I moved to the third part of my question. I gave the minister the opportunity to support her senior minister by answering this question: 'Does the government remain committed to the $7 GP tax?' Not once but twice she refused to answer that question. Minister Dutton said, 'We are not for negotiating,' when he was questioned about this—so Senator Nash did not support her senior minister. I want to know what is happening, what deals are being done and where we are going to end up with this tax. The health of Australians will suffer. (Time expired)