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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1479

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (16:17): I am absolutely amazed that the Labor Party would raise for debate the issue of Medicare, after the disgraceful lying campaign conducted by the Labor Party and their union mates at the last election when union thugs were standing at the pre-poll queues. They picked their mark—older people, frail ladies. They would rush up to them and say, 'The Liberals are going to abandon Medicare.' This continued on and on. It is an outright and complete and absolute lie that the Labor Party will forever stand condemned for.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: I stood next to a CPSU lady who was doing this, after she had threatened an elderly person. When I said to the elderly person: 'Excuse me madam, what you've just heard is a complete fabrication. The government is not selling Medicare,' the CPSU lady said to me, 'You're bullying me.' I say this because of those opposite now. I said, 'Hang on, I'm bullying you? I am simply talking to this lady and telling her the truth.' The CPSU lady said, 'You're bullying me. You're standing in my space.' I assume that is the new union way. If someone challenges them, particularly if they happen to be a female, the retort is: 'You're bullying me.' In this case, the bullying was being done by this CPSU lady picking on vulnerable frail people and telling them abject and absolute lies.

In debates such as this it is always useful to have a little bit of fact. What you heard from the previous Labor Party speaker, Senator Bilyk, was a congregation of lies, mistruths and misinformation. Let me give you the real facts. The coalition government is investing $22 billion in Medicare, which is over a billion dollars more than last year. That will increase to nearly $26 billion additional in 2019-20. Again to put the lie to the comments made by the previous speaker, bulk-billing rates are the highest they have ever been ever. GP bulk-billing rates are at over 85 per cent compared to when Labor was in power—the people who proposed this MPI. When they were in power the average rate was 79 per cent. I will repeat those: under the coalition we have an GP bulk-billing rate of 85 per cent and under Labor it was 79 per cent.

In the last financial year, across Australia there were 17 million more bulk-billed GP attendances than in Labor's last year in office. I will repeat that because those listening to this broadcast might want to have the facts rather than the lies that were told by earlier speakers: there were 17 million more bulk-billed GP attendances compared to Labor's last full year in office. More people than ever are seeing a general practitioner, a doctor, without having to pay anything.

To continue with some factual input into this debate, I will talk about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which was mentioned by the previous speaker. I mention that because I am particularly proud of the way our government has listed new medicines for cancer, including melanoma, for cystic fibrosis and for a cure for hepatitis C. Many of these medicines would have cost people tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars a year, but we have been able to list them, so now they cost only $38, or $6 for a concession script.

I was particularly involved in the hepatitis C campaign, as was my colleague Senator Dean Smith, who took a lead in it. I have a relative who had hepatitis C who went through 48 weeks of sheer agony in an old form of possible treatment. For him, I am pleased to say, it did work. But he went through agony—he and his family and his children. The government has since allowed onto the PBS this new treatment, where you take one pill for 12 weeks, and it is almost a guaranteed cure.

I was told, when the pharmaceutical companies were coming to me, lobbying to get this onto the PBS, that the treatment would have cost—they were a bit coy about the actual cost—somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000. That was the cost of this drug. You can now get it, thanks to the coalition government, for just $38, and for those with hepatitis C it is almost a cure.

In addition to that, in the coalition government's first three years, 1,000 new medicines were approved for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and that is worth some $4.4 billion. Can I just compare this—I remind you: 1,000 in three years under the coalition—with Labor's last three years, when there were 331 new medicines on the PBS.

If you had taken any notice—and I am sure not many people did—of the previous speaker, you would think that the health system was in chaos. But, there we are: under Labor, 331 new medicines in three years on the PBS; under the coalition, three times that.

Not only are more medicines available; they are now cheaper. In an Australian first, the price of a large proportion of expensive combination medicines and patent-protected drugs on the PBS have reduced by as much as $20 under the coalition. On 1 October this year more than 2,000 medicine brands treating common conditions dropped in price for millions of Australians.

I have to say: the Liberal and National parties are the only political parties with a plan. Our economic plan will enable us to pay for Medicare, so that Australians can continue to receive the health care they do now and into the future. Can I just emphasise that. Labor will talk about these things. They will throw promises around, as they are good at doing, but they never have any concept of how they are going to pay for it.

Under Labor—and this is a historic fact—the economy goes backwards. Taxes go upwards, and Australians suffer. You have to have a change of government every now and again to get the economy back on track. Why do we want the economy back on track? We want it back on track so that government can be in surplus and can spend money on what Australians want—and that is, a decent health system, which they never got under Labor. All congratulations go to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Sussan Ley. She has done a wonderful job.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator IAN MACDONALD: These members of the Labor Party are arguing with me—1,000 new medicines under the coalition, 300 under Labor. Come on! Let me have the argument. There are 17 million more people getting GP services free under the coalition than under the last year of Labor. Argue with those facts, and see where they go.

Under this government we care about health. We care about Medicare. We will continue to invest in Medicare to the benefit of all Australians, and we will do that because we are getting the economy back on track and can afford it as a nation.