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Tuesday, 13 March 2012
Page: 1612


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (18:38): Those who assert they support the public hospital system, those who assert they support access to health services for the underprivileged and those who assert the provision of first-class health care as a policy priority should be voting against this Orwellian-named Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2012. Let us make no mistake: this bill is not fair, conceived as it is in the time warp of class warfare and gestated in the womb of destructive envy. This bill will, like everything Labor does, make the bad public hospital situation even worse.

Logic dictates that if government deliberately removes the incentives for people to privately insure and look after themselves, and take responsibility for themselves in matters health, there will be fewer people doing so. In short, there will be fewer people privately insured because as the incentives are removed so is the affordability and inclination. Having fewer people insured means that the risk of those insured is spread over fewer people and as a result premiums will rise, forcing even more out of private health insurance. As people are disincentivised or unable to insure themselves, reliance on the private sector diminishes. As reliance on the private sector diminishes, so reliance on the public sector commensurately increases.

Due to years of Labor neglect and incompetence, the public hospital system is in disarray. The first-line service providers should not be faulted; indeed, they cannot be faulted. But the system, the incompetent administration, can and does deserve to be faulted. To these overstretched services will be added not hundreds nor thousands but, regrettably, hundreds of thousands of people as they too seek refuge in the public hospital system. Waiting lists will balloon out even further as a result of this measure. Government should have the vision to encourage people to look after themselves. Self-reliance is a great virtue. Self-reliance should be encouraged. Self-reliance needs to be encouraged. Reliance on government or the public purse—in other words, other people's purses—leads to an unmotivated people. Reliance on government leads to dullness in a society. Vibrancy, the desire to progress and the desire to achieve will be stifled.

There will be those who say: 'Why bother with private health insurance? The government will provide.' And there will be those who say, 'Why bother to be self-reliant because the government simply penalises you?' This bill is bad policy. It hurts the aspirational and chokes the great virtue of self-reliance. This bill is bad policy because it will deny those who genuinely need the public hospital system for more equitable access as the queues grow.

Let me also deal with the ugly class warfare mentality built in the past on the tried and failed socialist dogma of equal low-class service for all and the politics of envy, so clearly enunciated by Labor and Greens spokesmen on this issue. As the Greens-Labor alliance struggles to be trusted and believed by our community, it seems that they and their spokesmen will simply repeat the distortions in the hope they will eventually be believed. I remind the Greens and Labor senators that the simple repetition of an untruth does not change its inherent characteristic of untruthfulness, no matter how often it is repeated.

Let us debunk this oft-pedalled myth by the Greens-Labor alliance that under the current system the apprentice will subsidise the health care of the millionaire. Let us just stop and examine that proposition. In doing so, we will observe the deliberate falsehood that it represents. The person earning a taxable income of $1 million pays a Medicare levy of one per cent, amounting to $10,000, despite being privately insured. His insurance will cost, one assumes, thousands of dollars on top of the $10,000 Medicare levy. What that person then gets in return by way of a rebate can be counted in the hundreds of dollars for his $12,000, $13,000 or $14,000 contribution to health care. Now let us go back to the apprentice. On a first-year apprentice's wage, that apprentice would not even be paying a Medicare levy. So why this dishonesty by cabinet ministers from Labor, who repeatedly go out, night after night, on the evening news and on the talkback programs, peddling this falsehood, peddling this myth, hoping beyond hope that they will not be exposed?

We as a coalition will continue to expose this falsehood because it deserves to be exposed. That Labor senators do not even know that first-year apprentices, who earn about $18,000, do not even pay the Medicare levy shows how out of touch they are with the earnings of an apprentice. The Labor Party once upon a time was the proud custodian of the tradespeople of this country. Most of the people who represented the Labor Party actually had a trade under their belt. Nowadays there are more people with a trade under their belt sitting on the coalition side, and that is why we know some of these things which Labor ministers and cabinet ministers have lost touch with. But, despite the incontrovertible evidence, Labor senators and Greens senators will, I predict, get up one after another and regurgitate the untruths fed to them by the factional bosses.

Let me acknowledge that the millionaire is likely to retain his private health insurance. But what about the families, the ones Labor desperately does not want to talk about, which are battling with cost-of-living pressures and battling with the proposed carbon tax and now private health insurance rebates? For them, the rebate is a huge incentive to remain self-reliant. As they struggle to pay off a mortgage, educate their children and pay their power bills and rates, private health insurance will become a possible victim, especially if their health is relatively robust.

As these low- or non-claiming members drop out of private health insurance, the premiums for pensioners will increase—by an estimated 10 per cent above normal increases. This notion that pensioners will not be impacted by the proposed change is as wrong as it is disingenuous. As I doorknock, I am constantly astounded by how many pensioners volunteer that they scrimp and save to pay their private health insurance, usually on a fortnightly basis, as their security blanket. The peace of mind afforded by private health insurance is something they appreciate.

Senator Feeney: I doubt it.

Senator ABETZ: What they do not appreciate is politicians—like Senator Feeney's interjection just then—messing with the scheme. I know the public reaction in my home state of Tasmania, where we have a surprisingly high rate of self-insurance. Labor, the Greens and the Independent member for Denison will be judged and judged harshly for this short-sighted yet far-reaching emasculation of our health system through this bill.

Like so much of the Greens-Labor agenda, this bill is based on a broken promise. Ms Gillard wrote in my local newspaper:

I grow tired of saying this — Labor is committed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.

This is another Labor broken promise, like the carbon tax, like the definition of marriage. You go through the issues: time and time again, Labor is the party of broken promises to the Australian people.

Debate interrupted.