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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1481


Senator POLLEY (Tasmania) (16:26): Well, let's really put some facts on the table. We know that the coalition government have a record that will never be beaten—as a government that historically have always made cuts to health. Going right back to the Howard era, one of Tony Abbott's last acts, when he was the Minister for Health, was to cut $1 billion out of health.

What do we have now? We have the worst health minister that this country has ever seen—the worst health minister. We have a health minister who sits in cabinet with no authority. She is a minister for health and a minister for ageing, and what has she done? Absolutely nothing. They went to the last election with not one ounce of credible policy when it comes to ageing. But let's stick with the issues that are before us now.

We can look at Medicare. Yesterday marked 100 days—100 long days—since this government was elected, and they have neither stopped nor dropped any of their cuts to health and to Medicare, further highlighting their inability to have learnt anything at all from the federal election.

The Liberals in my home state of Tasmania are still in shock because they lost the federal seat of Bass. It was won by Ross Hart, the new Labor member for Bass. Why did he win? He won because the Australian people, in particular the Tasmanian people, understood that Malcolm Turnbull and his government cannot be trusted when it comes to health. Ross Hart won that seat from a member who had continually voted against the interests of his constituents.

We went out and campaigned on the issues that matter to the people of Bass and to the people of Tasmania. They know, first hand, that we have the oldest population, the quickest ageing population and, unfortunately, in Tasmania, some of the worst chronic illnesses affecting our people. So we value Medicare.

But we know that those on that side of the chamber want to undermine Medicare. It is in their DNA. It is in their core belief system. They do not support a universal healthcare system. If they had their way, we would go down the same trail as the Americans, where only those who can afford it have access to good health care. Those on that side of the chamber have always had the view that your credit card should determine whether or not you get good health care in this country.

We have seen, under this government, an increase in the cost of private health insurance. It is getting to the point where there are more people dropping out of private health care because they cannot afford it. Unfortunately, people need that care the most as they get older. The problem is: as you approach retirement age, if you are on the Australian pension you cannot afford to take out private health insurance. Those in this country who are most vulnerable deserve the protection of the Commonwealth government. That is the very least that they should be able to rely on this government for—to provide them with the best health care possible.

We know that those on that side cannot be trusted. They have learnt nothing at all from the results in Tasmania where we took three seats from the Liberals. The three amigos had to leave town, as I have spoken about many times before in this chamber. We have also seen that this is a government which refuses to listen to the community. We know that it is going to cost all Australians more money to have a pathology test. For those people who are living with and fighting cancer, it is going to cost them more to have their pathology tests. For myself and my colleagues Senators Brown, Urquhart and Bilyk, we know, coming from Tasmania, what Medicare means to our people. It is shameful that the Liberal senators in this chamber from Tasmania will not stand up, cross the floor and support the Tasmanian community to ensure that it has the health care that it deserves.

As Senator Bilyk said previously, why should somebody have to pay $300 up-front to have an MRI? This is someone who has already had brain tumours. That is a burden. We need to ensure that people get the best care that they can as soon as they can. A parent should not have to have a choice between whether a mother can go and have her Pap smears or put food on the table, or pay the school fees. These are fundamental rights of all Australians. We know on this side that Mr Turnbull has not been the Prime Minister that the Australian people thought they were voting for. In fact, I think he is best known in the community—from the conversations that I have on a regular basis—as the 'Prime Minister for thought bubbles'. If he sees an idea floating through the sky in a bubble, he will grab it and have a go at it. That is not the sort of leadership that we need in this country. Why should Australian pensioners and those who are most vulnerable have to pay more for vital medications?

We had Senator Macdonald here with his usual ramblings and babbling on that he does, accusing people of bullying people at polling booths. He ought to have a look at his own backyard first. He is one of the worst culprits in this chamber of bullying other senators, particularly women on this side of the chamber. We know, as I said before, that it is in the belief system of those opposite—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT ( Senator Back ): Senator Smith, on a point of order?

Senator Smith: I understand that it is the custom and the tradition to make—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Your point of order?

Senator Smith: Senator Polley should remove those remarks that she has made about Senator Macdonald bullying women. They are untrue.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, can I invite you to withdraw that comment and then continue your remarks.

Senator POLLEY: I will continue my remarks.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Would you withdraw that comment?

Senator POLLEY: I am not going to withdraw the remarks because he does come into this chamber and bully women.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, with respect, you did reflect on a colleague in the Senate.

Senator Carol Brown: Withdraw.

Senator POLLEY: I withdraw.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Thank you very much.

Senator POLLEY: Let us get back to the real issue before the chamber—that is, as the Australian people know, the Turnbull government cannot be trusted when it comes to our health system. We know that Medicare is fundamental to ensuring that all Australians have access to the best health care possible. We have been envied around the world for our health system. Whether you look at the United Kingdom, the United States or Canada, we have always been up there as the world leader. That is under threat because, as we know, the Turnbull government will do all that they can to undermine Medicare. We know their agenda is to privatise Medicare—we know that. That is why we will always stand up and protect Medicare. We know that those in the other place had the opportunity yesterday to support the position that Labor put before the House to ensure that Medicare could never ever be privatised. But what did we see? We saw the government members vote against that.

Senator Macdonald made a contribution that claimed that we were over here scaring people into believing that the health system was in crisis. Well, that is exactly what is happening in the Royal Hobart Hospital today. That is exactly what is facing the people at the Launceston General Hospital in my home state. They are in crisis. Leading into the federal election, we had numerous doctors at the Launceston General Hospital threatening to walk out. We had them reducing their hours. They are in crisis. We have an incompetent minister in the state parliament, Mr Ferguson, who has no idea how to resolve the health issues that are confronting the Tasmanian community.

So it is the responsibility of Minister Ley and Minister Ferguson to ensure that our hospitals are functioning and are provided with the resources that they need to deliver the best outcome for all Tasmanians. We should not have 92-year-old women dying in a storeroom. We should not have 91-year-old men on the floor because there are no beds. We should not have our elderly Australians not being treated with respect and not having access to the best health system that we can provide. It is an indictment on the Turnbull government. It is a disgrace for the Turnbull government. It is a disgrace that the minister responsible for this area, Minister Ley, does not have the capacity to deliver what they went to the election with to ensure that Australians have the health system that we can all be proud of. It is damning on this government.