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Wednesday, 14 March 2012
Page: 1696


Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS (New South Wales) (11:48): It is always a pleasure to follow my New South Wales colleague, Senator Doug Cameron, because, Douggie, you are always so predictable. If you want to talk about—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ludlam ): Senator Fierravanti-Wells, please refer to the senator through the chair.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Doug Cameron has a go at Senator Abetz for so-called ideological rubbish but I have to tell him that it takes one to know one.

Senator Cameron interjecting

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: What I meant by that, Senator Cameron, I will come to in a moment. First of all I want to talk about the ideological rubbish that you have just described which actually came out of Julia Gillard, then shadow Minister for Health. But I will come to that.

Senator Cameron, you are not staying here to listen or also to rebut, first off, the absolute lie that Senator Cameron just told about the Howard government ripping out a billion dollars. They keep coming into this chamber—

Senator Carol Brown: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Fierravanti-Wells, there is a point of order.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I withdraw that, and replace it by saying that what Senator Cameron said was wrong, misleading—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Order! Please resume your seat, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. Another senator is on her feet.

Senator Carol Brown: Mr Acting Deputy President, I ask that the Senator withdraw that reference to Senator Doug Cameron.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Senator Brown, if you were listening, I just did. I withdrew it twice, but obviously your mind is on other things.

First of all, can I just correct the wrong and misleading statements just made by Senator Cameron? According to the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, Australian government expenditure on public hospitals increased every year from approximately $5.2 billion in 1995-96 to over $12 billion in 2007-2008. And from 1995-96, annual spending on health and aged care by the Australian government more than doubled from $19.5 billion in 1995 to $51.8 billion in 2007-08. Therefore, it is wrong and it is utterly and totally misleading for Senator Cameron and other senators on the other side to come into this place and continually peddle this lie about this so-called ripping $1 billion out. Clearly, they do not know that the facts are in the detail provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare.

I now come to the 'ideological rubbish' that Senator Cameron was accusing Senator Abetz of. What Senator Abetz was doing was quoting from a letter to the editor of the Hobart Mercury on 2 September 2004 from Julia Gillard. Not content with that, Ms Gillard again wrote a letter to the editor of the Courier Mail on 23 September 2004:

Your correspondent Russell McGregor (Letters, Sept 15) should have no concern 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 of that on a number of occasions.

Signed Julia Gillard. What a joke! So, Senator Cameron, is that ideological rubbish? There is another letter to the Weekend Australian on 15 October 2005 from Ms Gillard:

On Thursday, 13 October, the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, asserted in parliament that prior to the last election, I had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate and he cited Mark Latham's diaries as proof of this proposition. Yesterday Matt Price reported this claim by the minister as if it were a fact (The Sketch 14/10). The claim by the minister is completely untrue and should not have been reported as if it were true. The truth is that I never had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate and, contrary to Mr Latham's diaries, do not support such a claim … 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.

Is that not an absolutely useless piece of drivel, because we know that everything this woman says is a complete and utter misleading fabrication? Here is another example. The woman is a serial liar, and of course we have seen this time and again.

Government senators interjecting

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Ludlam ): I request that you withdraw that statement and refer to the Prime Minister of Australia by her appropriate title.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: I will refer to the Prime Minister by her appropriate title and I withdraw my remark. She goes on:

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.

What an absolute joke that is. This is the same Prime Minister Gillard that told the Australian public, 'There will be no carbon tax under the government I lead.'

Then the cudgels were taken up by the then Minister for Health and Ageing, Nicola Roxon, who gave a speech to the annual conference of Australian Health Insurance Association in 2007, prior to the election. She rabbited on:

This is why we have committed to the current system of private health insurance incentives—including the package of rebates, the Lifetime Health Cover and the surcharge. Labor understands that people with private health insurance—now around 9 million Australians—have factored the rebate into their budgets and we won't take this support away.

There you go—Minister Roxon. Then she reiterates this on 23 September 2007 with Steve Lewis. She is asked a direct question about the rebate and she responds:

We've committed to it. We've committed to the 30%. We've committed to the 35% and 40% for older Australians. It's similar to the safety net. We know that many people rely heavily on the assistance that is now provided and would not be able to have private health insurance if that rebate wasn't paid. And lifetime health cover and others that go with it, we are committed to those. We understand that Australia now has a mixed health system, both private and public, and we need them both to be strong in order for the community to be able to get the services.

She is asked again:

So you will not wind back that 30% private health rebate, despite the fact that Labor has been ideologically opposed to it in the past?

Nicola Roxon responds:

No, we won't.

If that is not a lie, what is? It reminds me of the biblical reference that before the cock crows there will be three denials. Then we have Minister Roxon again on 26 September:

On many occasions for many months, Federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing private health insurance rebates …

The Liberals continue to try to scare people into thinking that Labor will take away the rebates. This is absolutely untrue.

Yet again, another lie. That is exactly what they have done. They are now taking it away. For a third time they are trying to take it away. Then you have Kevin Rudd buying in in a letter, which really was not worth the paper it was written on, to the AHIA on 20 November 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 …

Again, in a press conference on 25 February 2008, Kevin Rudd said:

The private health insurance rebate policy remains unchanged and will remain unchanged.

Senator Williams: You can't trust them.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Absolutely, Senator Williams, you cannot trust them—do anything, say anything. Nicola Roxon, Macquarie Radio, May 2008:

We continue to support the 30 per cent, 35 per cent and 40 per cent rebate for those Australians who chose to take out private health insurance.

In a speech to the Australian Health Insurance Association Conference in October 2008, Nicola Roxon said:

Private health insurance consumers will still be able to claim the 30 and 40 per cent rebate and the Lifetime Health cover incentives will remain in place.

Again, in the Age on 24 February 2009, she said:

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

But, as we know with Minister Roxon, it is say one thing and do another.

During Senate estimates it was revealed that, whilst Minister Roxon was busily giving these public assurances, behind closed doors she and other senior members of the Labor government were seeking advice on how to progress changes to the private health insurance rebates. Whilst they were publicly firmly committed to retaining the existing rebates, secretly they were working on plans to reduce and to scrap them. We know that Minister Roxon first obtained advice from her department on 12 January 2009. Advice on how to change the rebate had been sought by the health minister's office as early as December 2008. Treasury provided advice on means testing the rebate on 20 February 2009. At the request of the Treasurer, the Department of Finance and Deregulation provided advice on the same measure on 22 February and the Prime Minister's department did so on 23 February.

So there they were publicly, hand on heart, saying one thing but then busily behind the scenes doing something different. But what does one expect from this government? They have taken from their mentor, Graham Richardson—whatever it takes; whatever it takes. And on this occasion in relation to private health insurance, yes, it was good to go out and say one thing and convince people and then, when you get into government, do the complete opposite.

Let us look at what happened at the last federal election. I want to examine some of my duty seat areas. Let us look at Mr Melham's seat of Banks. Mr Melham has almost 63,000 voters in his electorate with private health insurance. The margin of people that would have made the difference in that seat—it is a 1.5 per cent margin—was 1,438 people. Did he go out and tell those people that this government was on the one hand promising that it was not going to touch private health insurance but that, on the other hand, 'We are secretly going to change this; we are going to break this promise'? No, he did not. If he had, one wonders what may have happened in that seat. No, he does not have a mandate, because the promise that was made before the last federal election was that the rebates would be left in place.

In Mr Murphy's seat of Reid there was the same situation. There are almost 64,000 people, voters, in his electorate who have private health insurance. Did he tell the 2,593 people that represent the margin with which he won the seat that he was going to do something different, that he was going to affect their cost of living, that he was going vote to do the direct opposite of what he and Ms Gillard and others had been promising? No, he did not. He did not go out and tell his constituents the truth. And with Mr McClelland in Barton it was the same thing. In Werriwa, with Mr Ferguson, it was the same thing.

Let me go to my own area in the Illawarra. In the Illawarra, there is Mr Stephen Jones, who seems to be more worried about same-sex marriage than the thousands of jobs that have been lost in the Illawarra as a consequence of the government's carbon tax. But of course that just goes to show where his priorities are. Before the last federal election, I did not hear him telling his almost 47,000 constituents in his seat of Throsby who have private health insurance that he was going to vote against it. Ms Sharon Bird has almost 60,000 people in her electorate of Cunningham who have private health insurance. But, of course, she did not tell them the truth. You can go through any other federal seat and you will find it is the same story all around.

What we see with these bills is another betrayal of the Australian people by the Australian Labor Party. You on that side do not have a mandate to pass this legislation. For many years all of you on that side—whether it be Julia Gillard, Minister Roxon or Kevin Rudd—have been spouting on about private health insurance and how you are going to protect it. Over many, many years, hand on heart, you have been telling everybody that you were not going to change it. This is only a very, very small example of some of the things that you have repeatedly told the Australian public. And what is the common feature of what you have told the Australian public? It has all been a pack of blatant lies. You have repeatedly ruled out any changes—

Senator McLucas: Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a number of points of order. I think we have indicated to the speaker a number of times that her references are inappropriate, they are outside of the standing orders and they are unparliamentary. I respectfully request that the senator be asked to refer to people in the other place by their proper title, as is the longstanding convention of this Senate. It does her and, more importantly, it does the Senate no good for us to be continually pulling apart conventions that have stood in this place for a long time. I also respectfully request that the senator be very careful in using language that would indicate an improper motivation of someone either in this place or the other place. And I respectfully and finally request that the senator take notice of the standing order.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: With respect to addressing people in this place and the other place by their correct title, Senator McLucas, you are right and I draw your attention to that, Senator Fierravanti-Wells. With respect to improper motives, unless they are actually attributed to an individual, it is not disorderly. But I will ask Senator Fierravanti-Wells to consider her language.

Senator FIERRAVANTI-WELLS: Thank you, Mr Acting Deputy President. If anybody in the other place or in this place takes issue with any of my comments then I am sure, Senator McLucas, that after your lecture they will have appropriate recourse through the standing orders. As I was saying, Prime Minister Gillard and other members of the Australian Labor Party have over many years repeatedly ruled out any changes to the private health insurance rebates. We are seeing now the breaking of that article of faith and the breaking of promises that they made to the Australian public on many, many, many occasions. Why should we be surprised at this from a government led by a Prime Minister that blatantly told the Australian public, 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead'? Now we have a carbon tax.

There is an old Mafia saying that the fish smells from the head. I have to tell you that I think this government smells and reeks from the head. You have a Prime Minister that is prepared to say one thing to the Australian public and then do the complete opposite. Doing so taints every member and every person who contested the election for the Australian Labor Party, and the last election is tainted with the same stain, the same lie that is attributed to the government. What they said they now have to live with. I look forward to the next federal election, when those opposite and their Greens alliance partners will have to give account to the Australian public for every policy, for every misrepresentation and for every misleading statement. Yes, for every lie that they have told to the Australian public they will have to pay at the next federal election.

In the various debates that we have had in relation to private health insurance—even yesterday when we were seeking to refer this matter to the economics committee for proper examination—where is the Treasury modelling that goes with this legislation? This government has made a series of assertions in relation to the effect of private health insurance. It claims that only 27,000 people will drop cover as a result of this measure. But we know from the Deloitte's analysis that in the first year 175,000 people will be expected to withdraw from private hospital cover and a further 583,000 people will downgrade their cover. Over five years 1.6 million people will drop their cover and 4.3 million people will downgrade their coverage. All of this will have an effect on the public hospital system. That is the reality. This government has not fixed the public hospital system and this legislation will only compound the problem.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Bilyk.