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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1867


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (13:32): I always think that the Australian people are very positive and are always looking for the bright light at the end of the tunnel. They have a positive outlook on the future of Australia, which is why they get so incredibly frustrated and disappointed that this Gillard-Rudd-Smith-Shorten-Carr-Greens-Independent Labor government keep giving the Australian people such bad policy. I had better correct that. I was referring to Senator Bob Carr and not Senator Kim Carr; Senator Bob Carr is clearly the smart one.

We have the Australian people in the situation where the government is continuing to foist upon them bad policy. It is happening time and time again. As I travel through mostly regional communities, there is a sense of a lack of confidence in this government that it can actually deliver anything properly for this nation. As somebody said to me the other day, 'This Labor government is choking this country,' and it is. It is doing it because there is so little good policy, substantive policy, that we see coming from the government. This private health insur­ance legislation is absolutely no different.

Isn't it interesting, colleagues, that on the other side of the chamber with the Labor government over there and in the other place, they are continuing to harangue the coalition and harangue the leader, Tony Abbott, about being negative and about saying no. If the government could at any stage give us some good policy for the Australian people, we would not have to keep saying no. The only reason we are saying no is because the government continue to give us such bad, ill-thought-through policy on the run. We only have to look at the private health insurance legislation before us to see yet another example of this.

It is just stupidity to take away the incentive and place an impost on the Australian people which is going to lead to them dropping their private health cover and is going to push them into the public system. That is just completely stupid. The public system is already completely overloaded. I take my hat off to the men and women, the doctors, the nurses and staff, in our public health system who work so hard in very, very difficult situations. But here we have a government that is planning on making it more difficult for those health workers, making it more difficult for the public system to cope because it is planning to put more pressure on that system through the people who are going to leave private health insurance. It is just completely illogical for the government to come up with a policy that says, 'We're going to make things even worse for the public health system.' The health system cannot bear any more; it is at stretched point. There is no doubt about that.

What else are we going to see? We see a deterioration of the risk pool. What is that going to do? That is going to increase premiums for those still remaining in private health insurance. The government come up with arguments that they think are appropriate for why this should be happening, but at the end of the day it is going to put costs up for those people who are going to remain in the private health system. It is interesting, isn't it? We often see the Labor government implying that private health insurance is for the rich. It is not. It is actually for people who are taking the opportunity to make sure that they have the financial support they need at times when their health is at risk. That makes sense, and that is why we brought it in in the first place. But this government is prepared to say that private health insurance is for the rich.

It is interesting: 5.6 million people with private health insurance have an annual household income of less than $50,000, and 3.4 million have an annual household income of less than $35,000. I know that the government will argue that that does not apply under the changes. But it does. By association, by those risks that are put in place, the costs are going to go up for people remaining in private health insurance, because of the critical mass of people who will now shift out of private health insurance into the public system. Those people will be affected, and they will be affected quite badly. So for the government to say in any way shape or form that those people are not affected is simply untrue.

When we look at the Medicare system and how it is going to be impacted by this, it is just extraordinary that the government clearly does not realise what the impact of this is going to be. I take Senator Xenophon's point that he made earlier about unintended consequences. I think that there are going to be many. Coming back to my initial point, the government is simply not thinking through policy properly. And, as Minister Conroy has just joined us, the NBN is a classic example of policy that has not been thought through properly—but I will get to that a little bit later.

I also just want to touch on another point that Senator Xenophon raised, about ancillary cover. This is the importance of allied health and the fact that the work has not been done to see what the impact is going to be from the resultant changes on those who have ancillary cover now. This is a real problem. It is going to be a real issue, particularly for regional communities, where getting access to allied health is a real problem, as my good colleague Senator Macdonald would know very well. So what impact is this change going to have on the provision of those services, particularly to people in regional communities?

I doubt that the government has an answer. Perhaps, if we have time, during the committee stage we may be able to get some kind of response from the government—perhaps a few moments here or there, seeing that they are keen on guillotining just about everything at the moment. But what impact is that going to have? I suspect that the government have absolutely no idea what that impact is going to be. I suspect that the government have not even considered it, because it has become quite obvious over many months and years of Labor government now that the government simply do not understand regional Australia. They do not understand the impact that their bodgie, ill-thought-through policies are having, particularly on our regional communities.

When we look at the changes and the direct analysis of what this is going to do, there are going to be 2.4 million people directly affected with the immediate increases in the premiums at 14 per cent, 29 per cent and 43 per cent in the respective income tiers for those under 65. Isn't that interesting? Reflecting on what I said before, I will just quote the shadow minister, Peter Dutton, because I think he put it very clearly: 'There are 12 million Australians who have private health insurance. It is not the playground of the rich, because, of that 12 million, almost six million people are on incomes of less than $50,000, and over time everybody's premiums will go up if you drive the healthy and the young out of private health insurance.' It says it all, really, and the government clearly do not understand that implication. They clearly have no understanding, even though the government owned insurer, Medibank Private, predicted 37,000 of their members alone will drop their cover and that 92½ thousand will downgrade.

I know that many of my colleagues have quoted the Deloitte analysis, but I think it is worth while doing it again. In the first year, 175,000 people would be expected to withdraw from private hospital cover and a further 583,000 to downgrade it. Over five years, 1.6 million will drop cover and 4.3 million will downgrade. Private health insurance premiums will rise 10 per cent above what they would otherwise be, there will be $3.8 billion in additional recurrent costs for the public hospital system and there will be $4.6 billion in revenue removed from the private sector as a result of consumers withdrawing and downgrading their private health cover.

How can anybody look at those facts and think that this is any kind of sensible, balanced, well-thought-through policy whatsoever? You cannot. You simply cannot do that. Again, the government in its inability to properly think through policy has come up with yet another dog. Why should we be surprised, colleagues? We have had years and years of shambolic policy from this government, and this is just another example.

I think it is worth while, for the benefit of the Senate and those who may be listening, running through some of those shambolic policies to show the form that the government has in its absolute inability to govern this country properly. Firstly—and I know that my very good colleague Senator Cash will know all about this one—Labor's failed border protection policies, which have blown out the immigration budget by around $4 billion over the last three years and where more than $5 million has been spent on preparing the government's abandoned Malaysian people swap deal. I have to commend Senator Cash for the work she has done in this area. Very few people understand it better than she does. But what a mess! What an absolute mess! And it is all the fault of this government. It changed a policy that was working. There were no boats. And yet now we see from this government an absolutely shambolic piece of policy that has resulted in the chaos that we have when it comes to our border protection.

And who could forget the Home Insulation Program, the pink batts? There was $2.5 billion mismanaged, with at least $500 million to be spent fixing the mistakes. Computers in Schools: a $1.4 billion blowout and way behind schedule. Green Loans and Green Start: $175 million for the Green Loans Program mismanaged and then eventually dumped, then replaced with the $130 million Green Start program that never started! The solar homes program: $850 million blowout and the program cancelled. The program was originally meant to cost $150 million. There was the set-top box program at an average of $350 a home, but interestingly—

Senator Conroy: Why do you hate pensioners? You voted for it, you hypocrite! You voted for it!

Senator NASH: Ah—good to see you have woken up, Minister. Just let me finish and we will come back to that later.

Let us have a look at Harvey Norman. Gosh, they are offering the same deal for $168. Hm, let's see: government, $350 a home and Harvey Norman, $168. It does not seem to really stack up that well, does it, colleagues?

Senator Conroy interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Pratt ): Order! Senator Conroy!

Senator NASH: Absolute mismanagement! And then we get to the Labor talkfests—

Senator Conroy interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Conroy, please come to order!

Senator NASH: Speaking of talkfests, we can see why they do that. Senator Conroy is having a good go from the other side. Labor's talkfests include the 2020 Summit for $2 million, the Henry tax review for $10 million, the tax summit for $1 million and the jobs summit, but with hardly any outcomes. Here are two the people of Australia were absolutely enamoured of: Fuelwatch and GROCERYchoice! Weren't they great? Remember those, colleagues? Fuelwatch was going to fix the problem! GROCERYchoice was going to fix the problem! Nearly $30 million was spent setting them up, and then what happened? Any good outcomes? Let me see. No. Oh, gosh. What happened? They were dumped—$30 million and they were dumped. I am sure there are plenty of people in regional communities who think that $30 million could have been much better spent out in the regions, but no; we had it for Fuelwatch and GROCERYchoice.

Then, of course, there is Senator Conroy's NBN. What was that? Was it $4.7 billion to start with, blown out to more than $50 billion? The other thing is: was there ever a proper business case to justify the spending? Let me see, colleagues. Guess what the answer is: clearly no. This is yet another example of policy on the run from this government, which is simply inept. It cannot run the country. I have people saying to me they just wish we had a grown-up government that was able to run the country properly.

We saw the absolute debacle of the live cattle export trade. The fact that the government, panicked and on the run, shut down the live export trade was absolutely appalling and an indictment of this government, and it was yet another example of the government's complete lack of understanding of regional Australia. I say to those on the other side that if they had been travelling around during the inquiry, talking to the people on the ground and seeing how that stupid, stupid decision affected people in their homes and businesses then they would know that they are simply inept.

In all of this, we also see the government promise 64 GP superclinics. They have delivered 19 and scrapped two in the process. Here is my particular favourite—this one I love. We were talking about waste, mismanagement and government being inept. The government sold the parliament­ary billiard tables for $5,000 and then spent $102,500 finding out whether we got true value for money. If that does not encapsulate the absolutely inept nature of this government and its absolute inability to run the country properly, I do not know what does.

What really gets to people is being lied to. They really are starting to get hot under the collar, because every single time they turn around something else comes out from the government that is yet another backflip, another lie or another untruth, and they are sick of it. These are people out there in the communities—particularly, as I say, in regional communities—that I am talking to and that are trying to bring up their children, run their families, homes or businesses and instil in their children good ethics about how not to lie, how to be straight and how to tell the truth, and then they look at this government and every single time they turn around there seems to be another untruth.

I know some of my colleagues have raised these already, but as examples of the fact that you cannot trust this government these are absolute corkers. When it comes to the private health insurance legislation, we look at the then health minister, Nicola Roxon, saying on 24 February 2009:

The Government is firmly committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates.

Mr Kevin Rudd said on 25 February:

The Private Health Insurance Rebate policy remains unchanged and will remain unchanged.

This is Mr Rudd again, in 2007:

Both my Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, and I have made clear on many occasions this year that Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

One perhaps thinks that if Mr Rudd had got a few more votes then maybe we would not be having this, but who would know? That is a story for another day that I suspect may well come back another day. Then we look at the now Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, saying back in 2005:

The truth is that I never had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate … For all Australians who wanted to have private health insurance, the private health insurance rebate would have remained under a Labor government. I gave an iron-clad guarantee of that during the election.

The difference between Tony "rock solid, iron-clad" Abbott and me is that when I make an "iron-clad commitment", I actually intend on keeping it.

Absolutely extraordinary. They are the words out of the mouth of the woman who is now the Prime Minister of Australia, who has put the private health insurance legislation in front of us today.

So how on earth can anybody across this country believe anything this shambolic Labor government says? They heard those words coming from the Prime Minister in 2005. Obviously she was telling an untruth, because we now have changes to private health insurance in front of us. What does that do for people? That twigs another memory and another recognition from before the last election which goes something like, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.' This is the Prime Minister of Australia, Julia Gillard. What are we having in about 109 days from now? A carbon tax. What is that carbon tax going to do? It is going to hurt every Australian, and it is going to hurt regional Australians harder than anyone else. It is going to hurt our farmers harder than virtually anyone else, with fuel, electricity, fertiliser and transport costs right across the board, and those farmers have nowhere to pass those costs onto. That is only a little more than 100 days away. We sit on this side of the chamber looking at the other side, at the government, every day and saying: 'You are appalling. You have no ability to run the country. You are completely inept.'

We see again with this piece of legislation in front of us the inability of this Labor government to properly think things through, to properly look at the consequences of its actions and to properly provide decent, sound, well-thought-through policy for the people of this nation. Colleagues, I tell you what: Australians around this country are fast, fast coming to the conclusion that this government is unable to run this country and it is time for a change.