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Thursday, 15 March 2012
Page: 1900


Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:46): When question time interrupted my contribution on this, many Labor senators had come in to hear what I had to say about this particular bill. I see they have all left now and, for the record, there are two Labor people in the chamber. Clearly, they did not like what I was saying. I was reminding the people of Australia that our Prime Minister, Ms Gillard, the leader of the Labor Party, had said some time ago:

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

She may have been committed to it before an election, as she was committed to not introducing a carbon tax. Clearly, with Ms Gillard you cannot trust or take at face value anything at all that she promises. This bill that we are dealing with today is removing the private health insurance rebate of 30 per cent that Ms Gillard promised Labor was committed to. In a letter to a newspaper about a correspondent who had written about Labor and private health insurance Ms Gillard said:

Your correspondent … should have no concerns that Labor will erode or abolish the 30 per cent government rebate for private health insurance. Labor is committed to the maintenance of this rebate and I have given an iron-clad guarantee on that on a number of occasions.

We have learnt that with Ms Gillard her iron-clad guarantees and her solemn promises to the Australian public before an election mean absolutely nothing. I say to the people of Australia: how can you ever believe anything Ms Gillard might say or promise at any time in the future? It does seem to be a Labor leader's disease.

In my own state of Queensland we had the Labor leader Ms Anna Bligh, the current Premier—or Premier for another week or so anyhow—promising before an election some time ago that the 8c subsidy which Queensland motorists enjoyed on their fuel would never be removed. Immediately she got into power, she did the Labor thing, completely rejected her promise and removed the 8c subsidy. She also promised time and time again that she would not sell public assets. For example, she would not sell Queensland Rail, but we all know the history of that now. Labor actually sold the state-run rail service in breach of a commitment.

The relevance of that to this debate on the removal of the health insurance rebate is this: everybody knows that, once you remove that incentive, people will not be able to afford, and therefore will leave, private health insurance. Where are they going to go to get their health services? They will go to the public hospitals. In Queensland the public hospitals are already grossly overextended. Whilst the nurses and doctors at the hospitals do a fantastic job, they are held back by understaffing, underpayment, underfunding, no beds and huge queues in the hallways and on the ramps because of state government mismanagement. The way public hospitals are run is a standing joke in Queensland. Ms Bligh said recently:

What is absolutely clear I think now beyond any doubt, … is that this organisation—

Queensland Health—

in its current form has a culture that is so entrenched it won't be changed while it's kept in that form.

She went on to say that Queensland Health was in diabolical trouble. She forgot to mention, of course, that it was that way because Labor has been in power for 22 years in Queensland, bar a few months in the mid-90s. Ms Bligh also said that the Queensland Health corporate office had failed in areas like staff accommodation, information technology, financial controls and human resources. So, the Labor Party's answer to address these problems is to split up Queensland Health. Somehow, that is going to solve all the problems that have been created.

In a recent newspaper report Ms Bligh is quoted as defending what are arguably—and I do not think that even anyone from the Labor Party in Queensland would argue with me on this—the worst health ministers Queensland has seen, that is, Stephen Robertson, Paul Lucas and currently Geoff Wilson. Ms Bligh says that it is not their fault it has all gone bad, it is somebody else's fault. What happens with Queensland Health is never the government's fault and never the Labor Party's fault.

This legislation that we are debating today appears because the Greens and the Labor Party are one and the same these days—they are both part of the same organisation—and they both want to remove private health insurance. This means that more and more people in my state of Queensland will have to rely on Queensland Health for their health servicing. That fills me with fear and trepidation because I know how badly run Queensland Health is now under the Labor government, and it will get even worse when more and more people actually come into the system.

The litany of mismanagement in Queensland Health is breathtaking, although when you compare it with pink batts, dodgy school hall contracts, Green Loans that are then not Green Loans and solar panel rebates and subsidies that are cancelled ahead of time, perhaps it is not so surprising that Queensland Health is so mismanaged. The reason is quite clear, of course: you simply cannot trust Labor with money. Some of Labor are quite nice people but their experience in running business is usually that they went to university, they sat around the latte shops, they joined a union or they worked for another Labor politician, they had their seat bequeathed to them by a relative within the Labor Party and they came into parliament. Very few of them have ever had any real experience in real life. Certainly, you could count on one hand the number in this chamber—and I suggest on two hands the number in both chambers of this parliament—of those Labor Party people who have had any experience whatsoever in running a business and in financial management.

I suppose someone will say to me, 'Well, Senator Doug Cameron has been involved in business. He has been a director of one of those industry super funds.' I was not aware of this until I saw recently that the unions were actually suing some of the directors for the big fees that they get. Apparently it is a union thing that if you get money because you are appointed to boards because you are a union member that the money does not go in your pocket, it has to come back to the union. Some of the directors have not been—

Senator Edwards: Outrageous!

Senator IAN MACDONALD: It is outrageous, Senator Edwards. Apparently, some of the directors have not been playing fair; they have been pocketing the very big money that they get and not giving it to the unions. So the unions have sued them. That is a court case that I really want to follow through. But I am still waiting for Senator Dougie Cameron, who I read has been a director of one of these industry super funds, to tell me what board fees he got from that position. It would be very interesting to hear that. No doubt, he might come and tell me in his contribution. But he might claim that running an industry super fund is his way of getting business experience. If it is—and I very much doubt it—I suspect that the business members on those boards are the ones that run them and the union members just go along for the ride.

However, I digress from my point in that the removal of this health insurance rebate will increase enormously the burden on hospitals right throughout Australia. But as a Queensland senator I am very concerned that they will impose heavily on the health system in Queensland, which is almost breaking under the strain and which creaks its way through. Because I do not want this to be misunderstood, I repeat that the men and women—the doctors and nurses, orderlies and support staff—who support those hospitals do a fantastic job in difficult circumstances. The Labor Party has administered health to the extent that for—what was it?—three or four weeks the nurses could not even get paid. This is the system. Some of them tell me that they still have not been paid their full entitlements from that time. But it is not the minister's fault; it is not the Premier's fault and it is not the Labor Party's fault. It is always someone else's fault.

So I am concerned with this bill before us. On that point alone—and there have been a lot of very good arguments raised in this debate so far on why this legislation should be defeated—I call on Queensland Labor senators to cross the floor and vote against this. They know that this legislation, when passed, will throw extra burden onto a health system in my state of Queensland which is already unable to deal with the tasks before it. It is essential, I think, that I do call upon Labor senators from Queensland in particular to join us in defeating this bill so that the already overworked system in Queensland will not be further burdened because of the removal of the health insurance rebate.