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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1477


Senator BILYK (TasmaniaDeputy Opposition Whip in the Senate) (16:06): Today's matter of public importance is 'the government's refusal to learn the lessons of the election and stand up for Medicare', and this is a really important issue. The Australian people have a right to be disappointed in this leaderless, directionless government. They have a right to feel betrayed. Mr Turnbull is looking after his big business mates and not the real concerns of the Australian people.

As demonstrated in the election, the health care that Australians and their loved ones receive is an issue of immense importance—possibly even the most important. During the election campaign, the government failed to convince the Australian people that they were committed to public health care—and, after the government delivered $50 billion in savage cuts to the health system, no wonder Australian voters were sceptical. The government hysterically claimed that Labor's campaign to protect Australia's healthcare system was a Mediscare campaign and that they, the Liberals and Nationals, were fully committed to the Australian healthcare system. At least 27 times during the election campaign, Mr Turnbull said that he would never outsource Medicare.

That is why, yesterday over in the House, Labor gave the government the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a strong, public Australian healthcare system. But unfortunately the Liberal and National party members, including Mr Turnbull, voted against Labor's motion, which supported a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as a universal health insurance scheme for all Australians; to protect bulk-billing so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to and not only when they can afford it; to reverse the government's harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule; to reverse the government's cuts to pathology that will mean Australians with cancer will pay more for blood tests; to reverse the government's cuts to breast screening, MRIs, X-rays and other diagnostic imaging which will mean Australians will pay more for vital scans; to abandon the plans to make all Australians, even pensioners, pay more for vital medicines; and to develop a long-term agreement to properly fund our public hospitals so Australians do not languish in our emergency departments or on long waiting lists for important surgery.

So it is absolutely obvious: Mr Turnbull and the government members have failed to stand up for Medicare in the parliament. In the days after the election Mr Turnbull said:

We have to do more to reaffirm the faith of the Australian people in our commitment to health and to Medicare.

He went on:

We will work harder, much harder … I would like Australians to believe that commitment to Medicare is completely bipartisan.

But, yesterday, only 100 days after the election, Labor gave him the opportunity and he failed—absolutely failed—to commit to protecting Medicare. It would appear Mr Turnbull just does not care about ensuring all Australians have access to health care.

Australians did not trust the Liberals with their health care before the election, and they sure do not trust them now. The Prime Minister has admitted he has a problem with Medicare, but he has shown no interest in fixing it, with not one change of policy and not a single dollar of cuts undone—not one in 100 days. He has backflipped on the backpacker tax and he has backflipped on his ironclad changes to superannuation but, when it comes to cutting Medicare, he knows which side he is on. What else would we expect from a Liberal Party that is ideologically opposed to universal health care? It has always championed a two-tier American style healthcare system. This is a government which, for three years, has done everything it can to push the price of health care back onto Australian families.

Australians are proud of their healthcare system and the idea at the core of Medicare: that every Australian can get the care that they need when they need it. Medicare speaks for our distinctive Australian character and our egalitarian tradition of the fair go. But if the Liberals have spent the last three years trying to hollow out Medicare, taxing it, cutting it, eating away at its very foundations, then we are in trouble. They have been seeking to tear Medicare down, brick by brick, piece by piece.

The government's record on Medicare speaks for itself: cutting bulk-billing so 14.5 million patients pay more to see a GP. That is 14.5 million Australians who will have to pay more to see a GP because of the Turnbull government. The College of GPs recently found one in three GPs are already revising their business models because they cannot stay viable under the Medicare freeze, with out-of-pocket health costs increasing by 19 per cent under this government. I am from Tasmania, as are two of my Senate colleagues here in the chamber, Senator Brown and Senator Polley, and we know and have met with a number of doctors in Tasmania who now no longer bulk-bill due to the cuts by this government. This government's cuts are directly hurting Tasmanians in need, and those opposite should be ashamed of supporting them, especially the Tasmanian senators opposite.

The cuts the government have made to health have cut across all parts of the sector: bulk-billing, hospitals, pathology, dental and palliative care, amongst many other areas. Just last night I spoke in this place about the government's unwillingness to fund Palliative Care Tasmania, and on 12 September I wrote to the Prime Minister explaining the importance of the work that Palliative Care Tasmania does, urging him to fully fund it into the future or at least provide interim funding to cover it until the review of the Better Access to Palliative Care program. But, of course, I do not hold out much hope for that, because I know that those opposite do not care about the health of Australians, and they certainly do not care about the dying of Australians and making sure that Australians can have a good death.

The government are happy to pretend that they care about the healthcare system, but they have failed to convince the Australian people, because their actions show that they do not really care. We know that the government established a 20-person $5 million Medicare privatisation task force, and we also know that this government told the Productivity Commission to investigate privatising all human services, including Medicare. And we know that the government's decision to award the contract for the National Cancer Screening Register to Telstra adds to a string of evidence that they cannot be trusted to keep Medicare in public hands.

We have seen government cuts to pathology as well. During the election, the Liberals engineered a short-term political stunt to hide their pathology cuts until the polls closed. But rest assured: Mr Turnbull is as committed as ever to making Australians pay more for their vital tests, with confirmation his massive cuts to pathology remain a ticking time bomb. It is just not good enough.

This government remains determined to make cancer patients, and others with chronic health conditions, pay more for their vital tests, and the cuts could come into effect in only a month or two. It is my view, and the view of those on this side, that Mr Turnbull needs to drop these cuts entirely.

The government's cuts to bulk-billing incentives will impact vital pathology tests—including blood tests, urine tests, swabs such as pap smears, and biopsies. Combined with his cuts to diagnostic imaging, patients could be left with hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in up-front costs simply for vital scans and tests. Australians should be able to have the blood tests they need without being left hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

Mr Turnbull claimed to have learnt a lesson at the election, but the fact is he has not reversed a single one of his health cuts—not one. He has had 100 days; he has not reversed one. He will keep attacking bulk-billing and increasing out-of-pocket costs. It is about time that Mr Turnbull got his priorities right and started caring about the health of all Australians. He should stop making Australians feel that they were betrayed at the last election. He is so busy looking after his big business mates and not the real concerns of the Australian people. As I said, the health care that Australians and their loved ones receive is of immense importance—possibly even the most important thing we could be talking about.

During the election campaign the government failed miserably to convince Australian people that it was committed to public health care. Let's remember that it delivered $50 billion in savage cuts to the health system—no wonder most people are sceptical—and the government hysterically claimed that Labor's campaign to protect Australia's healthcare system was a 'Medicare' campaign. They went absolutely troppo—I presume it is parliamentary to use the word 'troppo'.

So many times during the election campaign did they point out how they are fully committed to the Australian healthcare system. They are committed to 'an' Australian healthcare system but, unfortunately, it is more like the American healthcare system. At least 27 times during the election campaign Mr Turnbull said he would 'never outsource Medicare'. But do not be mistaken, Mr Turnbull will outsource Medicare at the drop of a hat. At the drop of his top hat he will outsource Medicare. (Time expired)