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Tuesday, 11 October 2016
Page: 1487


Senator CAROL BROWN (Tasmania) (16:50): I rise to speak on the matter of public importance, submitted by Senator Gallagher, on the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare. We have had some contributions from government senators here today, and they certainly have supported Senator Gallagher's motion by the fact that they have failed to heed the lessons.

Before I go on to some of the substantive issues that have been raised—not so much by the previous speaker, Senator Smith, who ranged all over the place—let's have a look at what the federal government's record on health has been. Mr Turnbull's record includes extending the freeze on Medicare rebates to six years, which is forcing out-of-pocket costs up. In my home state of Tasmania, during the election campaign, if you went to any of the GP surgeries or any of the clinics that people came to see me and talk to me about—I went to a GP surgery as well—there you could see in black and white in the surgery's or clinic's reception area a letter advising their patients that their fees would be going up because of the freeze. That is what it said, in every GP clinic that my constituents came to talk to me about. That is fact. It is not made up but fact.

Another thing the Turnbull government tried to do was abolish the Child Dental Benefits Schedule. If it is abolished it would push five million children onto a very, very long public dental waiting list. And that is still on the books with this government. They tried it before, in the omnibus bill, and it had to be taken out after pressure from the Labor Party. That is another fact. That is what this government are trying to do.

They also ripped $650 million out of Medicare by slashing bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology. Do not take my word for it that that is what they are doing; let us look at the facts. That is why the pathology companies were running a campaign during the election. That is why the radiology officers were running a campaign throughout the election. That is why Mr Turnbull, during the election, backed down on it, but he certainly has not taken it off the table—his actions in recent times tell us that it is well and truly coming back. We heard from Senator Polley and Senator Lambie about what that will do to costs for people who are seeking those services. Thirty extra dollars for a pap smear. That is what your government is pushing onto the Australian community.

By all means do not accept that people out there in the community are awake to what you are doing to Medicare and with the cuts to health—don't accept it; I know you have an inability to accept that—but you should go back and talk to your constituencies. In my home state of Tasmania we saw Medicare as one of the biggest issues that people were talking to us about in terms of how they were going to vote. It was based on the freeze and the extra charges, the out-of-pocket costs, that would be coming through GP clinics. It was about the Child Dental Benefits Schedule. It was about the slashing of bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology. And it was also about the other cuts to health programs that this government has inflicted on the Australian community.

Senator Polley talked about the fact that in my home state of Tasmania voters in Lyons, Bass and Braddon elected three very, very good, outstanding members of the Labor Party as their new representatives. They did that, and one of the main reasons they did that was because they wanted to see Medicare protected. So what have we seen in the last few days? Only yesterday we saw Mr Turnbull vote against a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as the universal health insurance scheme for all Australians, vote against a guarantee to protect bulk-billing so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to and not only when they can afford it, and also vote against reversing the harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare benefits scheme.

Senator Smith talked about scare campaigns. It is a 'give me'—I know you quite like me, Senator Smith, but it is a 'give me'. I will not even mention $100 legs of lamb. I will not even mention Whyalla. But I will mention this: just recently we had the power outage situation in South Australia—very sad to see that happen—and what did we see? Straight away Mr Turnbull was in there blaming renewables, trying to start a huge scare campaign on renewables. And what did we then have? Dr Hewson—do you remember him, Senator Smith; I am sure you do—who said, 'Australia needs more renewables, not less.' I do digress, but these people are the kings of scare campaigns.

The matter of health and the matter of Medicare are far too important to let this government get away with what they are doing: bit by bit stripping away measures to support people when they need medical assistance. In my home state of Tasmania just recently we had an emergency in the Royal Hobart Hospital. It was an emergency that was a level 3 red status, which is the highest that it can go. It basically meant that there was a lack of beds at Tasmania's main public hospital. This is because more and more people are turning up to emergency services because of the pressure that they are under regarding the cost of going to the doctor. This government should not be let off the hook. (Time expired)