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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1687


Senator ABETZ (TasmaniaLeader of the Opposition in the Senate) (10:58): The Orwellian named Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2012 is the exact opposite of fair. It is grossly unfair besides being destructive of our health system. It will see Australian families that are already struggling with cost-of-living issues—from mortgage payments to rates to power bills—having to face a substantial increase in their taxation and health insurance premiums, and that includes pensioners. The politics of envy this bill represents is what you would expect from the Greens and, of course, that is why we are dealing with it. It is Greens policy, and the hapless ALP are dancing to their tune. This bill, like the carbon tax, represents another broken promise initiated by the Australian Greens.

As I said earlier in another debate, I wonder who wrote to the Hobart Mercury and said:

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

Just in case people do not know who it was, it was the same person who promised that there would be no carbon tax in this country, none other than Ms Gillard. As former Labor Prime Minister Mr Rudd has said, the people of Australia no longer trust her. They do not trust her for very good reason. And nor should they trust her or the Australian Labor Party and the Greens, because they have betrayed them and betrayed them grossly.

Let us have a look at some of the implications of this legislation. But before we do so, let us also have a look at Labor's new bright light in this place, the one they got out of mothballs because they could not find somebody worthy of being the Minister for Foreign Affairs. They had to get him out of mothballs because he did such a great job in the state of New South Wales as the Premier. Talking about New South Wales, Mr Carr, then Premier and now Senator Bob Carr, closed 4,820 hospital beds in New South Wales between 1995 and June 2004, representing a 20 per cent cut in the number of available public hospital beds. But true to form, what did Mr Carr say? He promised that he and his health minister would resign if they had not halved hospital waiting lists within 12 months. In his 10 years as Premier, public hospital waiting lists increased by 45 per cent, while the average wait for surgery nearly doubled.

That is what makes him such an appropriate person for the Labor ministry. You say one thing and do the exact opposite. That is what you need to prove to get a position in the Australian Labor Party ministry today. As state Labor governments shrink the public hospital system, as Mr Bob Carr's did, in attacking health insurance you are also attacking the public hospital system—make no mistake. As people leave private health insurance there is a commensurate increase in the demands on the public health system. As a result, those that actually need the public health hospital system will have to wait even longer. That is the perverse outcome of this so-called fairer measure. The poor in our community will now have to wait longer because of this so-called fairer measure.

Let us have a look at what this policy will do. There are millions of low-income Australians who have private health insurance. There are 11.7 million privately insured Australians. There are 5.6 million who have an annual household income of less than $50,000 and, of those, 3.4 million have an annual household income of less than $35,000. Each one of those people, each one of those families will face huge premium increases thanks to the Greens-ALP alliance. That is being foisted upon them under the name of fairness. It is not fair, it is not reasonable and it will further undermine our public hospital system. It is estimated that 1.6 million customers will withdraw from their private hospital cover completely and 4.3 million Australians will downgrade to lower levels of cover, with 2.8 million consumers withdrawing from their general treatment cover completely. What we see is a huge decrease in private health insurance and self-reliance for health needs.

What will that do? The public hospital system around Australia would have to cope with more than 845,000 additional treatments over the next five years as people withdraw from private cover. I know in my home state of Tasmania the Royal Hobart Hospital, the Launceston General Hospital and the Burnie hospital are already struggling to keep up with demand. Their services are already overstretched. As I talk to my colleagues from all around Australia the story is the same in every single public hospital. And Labor, because of their manic ideology of envy, have decided to cut support for private health insurance and throw another 845,000 cases into the public hospital system. What a great manoeuvre. This is where extreme ideology overtakes common sense and rationality. That is why this is another Greens-Labor alliance initiative.

Labor argue that they are somehow going to generate a saving of $2.4 billion over three years from this measure. Chances are that is right, but why would you believe any of their forecasts or any of their modelling? But let us take that at face value, because there is no doubt that set on the other side of the ledger is the huge increase in the public hospital system that over the years will basically equalise it out. As a result, in the out years there will be no practical savings from this measure, but there will be an increase in demand for our public hospital system and a reduction in self-reliance. This is simply another broken promise to the low-income earners, the ones Labor once championed. Remember the working families of Australia? They have now been turned into the worrying families of Australia because of Labor's policies.

(Quorum formed)