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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1604


Senator FEENEY (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary for Defence) (18:06): I rise to oppose the motion seeking to refer the—

Senator Williams: Let the Senate do its job.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Boyce ): Order! Senator Williams, please do not make any interjections. Senator Feeney, please ignore the interjections.

Senator FEENEY: I do try, Acting Deputy President. There is no justification for these bills to be referred to the committee, despite what Senator Fierravanti-Wells just set out in her speech of confected outrage. These bills have been debated extensively over the past three years with all of the issues comprehensively considered and examined. This motion is nothing more than a cynical attempt by the coalition to prevent these bills passing through this chamber prior to their proposed commencement date. I said in my very first speech to this place:

In health we need to end the scandal of three billion tax dollars a year being handed over to the private insurance industry—a handout that has done nothing to reduce the pressure on our public hospitals. For all this vast subsidy, the proportion of Australians who have private health cover rose during the Howard years only from 34 to 44 per cent. And most of the new purchasers were well-off people who bought a cheap policy to avoid the government’s tax surcharge. That is to say, the private health insurance industry has been grown with conscripts not volunteers.

It is our very firm view that these bills will ensure that low- and middle-income earners will no longer subsidise the private health insurance of high-income earners. Despite the misleading claims that members of the coalition have made throughout this debate and again today, the rebate will remain unchanged for low- and middle-income earners. The private health insurance rebate is the fastest-growing component of health spending and it is unsustainable. Over 10 years its real cost will increase more than 50 per cent.

The changes proposed by this government will save $2.4 billion over the next three years and $100 billion over the next 40 years. So one wonders why the coalition are opposed to a measure that ensures that our tax dollars are spent in the most effective way. The real reason the coalition are so opposed to these bills is that they have never met a billionaire they do not want to give a handout to. And we see this riddled throughout their policies.

Senator Nash interjecting

Senator FEENEY: I see Senator Nash gnashing her teeth as she hears my remarks, but one might very well remark that, given the recent advice and interactions between her Senate leader and a notorious billionaire, one can see my point proven again and again. The continued passage of these bills should not be held up because of the coalition's ideological desire to hand over taxpayers' money to those who are most able to look after themselves.