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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 828

Mr MORRISON (Cook) (13:10): I rise to speak on the measures that are outlined in these bills—yet again. This is not the first time that this government has sought to force these measures on this House. Here we are again having the same debate. The government simply does not seem to get the point. I rise to speak on these bills because our position on these bills has been a matter of faith for the Liberal Party for a very long time. We have always sought to encourage and reward people who seek to take responsibility for themselves and to support those in their family and around them in their community and other places. These bills are very much an attack on that notion of self-reliance in our community.

More significantly, though, is that these bills before us again show that it is another day under this government and another Labor deceit. This is another broken promise thrown on the scrap heap along with the infamous words we all know so well in this place—and, more importantly, which are known well beyond this place—that there would be no carbon tax under the government the Prime Minister led. That is a reality, and the promises that were made to the Australian people prior to 2007 have also been broken in the way the carbon tax pledge was broken by this government. Minister Roxon said in a release prior to the election when she was the shadow minister that:

… Federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing private health insurance rebates …

She did not say 'some' or 'one' or 'two'; it was a categorical statement on all of the existing private health rebates.

She claimed:

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

Clearly this is a total breaking of that pledge to the Australian people. Those who sit in this place and like to think that they hold the government to account and keep them honest should oppose this bill if for no other reason than to make this government understand that you cannot go to an election and make a promise of this nature and then so flagrantly and blatantly walk away from it on the other side of an election. For those who sit in this place who like to hold themselves up as pillars of virtue in ensuring the credibility and integrity of this chamber, in holding government to account they must oppose this blatant deceit by the government in bringing these matters before this House. Clearly, Labor’s word and its promises to the Australian people mean absolutely nothing, as demonstrated again in these bills.

Here we are today faced with yet another attempt by the government to means test the private health insurance rebate—a measure the parliament has already rejected twice. These are dishonest bills. Contrary to the position being put, including by the former speaker, abolishing incentives for private health insurance is not about more funds for health. That is not what it is about. That is not what is being provided for here. That is the spin that they want to put on it for the Australian people, but it is not what is being provided for. Abolishing incentives for private health insurance, which these bills of this government propose, in breach of their promise, is about taxing Australians more. It is about taxing Australians more, yet again, to pay for the waste and mismanagement of an incompetent and failed government. The health tax we now have in the form of this bill, the carbon tax and the mining tax are all about this government reverting to its old Labor type of taxing and spending. We see it yet again in the nature of these measures. Nothing is safe from this government's wrecking ball. People will pay a price for a carbon tax that they do not need and certainly do not want, because their Prime Minister deceived the Australian people. The bill before us would not only put more pressure on the budgets of Australians, who are already doing it tough under this government's policies; it would also put further strain on our public health sector, which is already pushed to the limit, a problem which this government pledged to solve.

Should these changes come to pass, Australians will be faced with a choice of struggling to pay for health insurance, which many cannot afford, or being forced into a queue at an increasingly overcrowded public hospital as a result of these measures because this government has, once again, gone back on its word.

Our health system is finely balanced. I note that the former Labor speaker, the member for Shortland, said the government does want to rebalance it, in another effort of this class-envy struggle that it fabricates and perpetuates in this place but that has no place in this country. Those days went long, long ago.

The reason for what the government describe as their 'great departure' has long departed. They sit continually on this notion of class warfare and envy. They need to move on. Those days have passed. Australia is a different society today where people can actually move forward, take responsibility for themselves and their families, provide for themselves—and they should be encouraged to do so. That is the Australian way and it is being objected to in this bill.

The private and public sectors are inextricably linked. They depend on each other to meet the needs of our community. This is an important part of our health system. We do not just have a public health system, and neither do we just have a private health system. One thing that has been very successful in this country, although not perfect, has been the nature in which we have fostered the development and investment in both parts of our health environment. It is important that we have people operating on the private side of the healthcare industry and in the provision of health care as well as they operate on the public side. A change of this magnitude to the cost of private health insurance cover will only drive people out of the doors of private facilities and onto the waiting lists in overstretched and under-resourced public sector facilities.

In June last year, Minister Roxon said the proposal would only affect 'in the order of hundreds of thousands' because the means-testing plan was scaled. Three days later, it was revealed that more than 2.4 million Australians with private health insurance would be forced to find up to $935 extra a year for their premiums if the means test for the 30 per cent rebate were passed. That is certainly not negligible or minimal, as this government has claimed.

One in four of the 10 million Australians who have health insurance will be slugged by this measure. Perhaps the minister should take another look at her spreadsheet. In the order of 2.4 million people will be directly affected by these changes. They will face an immediate jump in the premiums by 14, 29 or 43 per cent, depending on their income tier.

This is typical arrogance from a government that clearly does not care about Australians who make an effort to look out for themselves—people who work hard to set themselves up for life and who make sure they can take care of their families when accidents happen or illness strikes. It is not just those on higher incomes who will feel the pinch of these hikes. Deloitte predicts that health fund premiums across the board will rise by 10 per cent for all those who are paying private health insurance. Public elective surgery waiting list times will surge by 400 per cent. This bill will have very real consequences for millions of Australians.

In 2010, private health funds contributed $12.4 billion in benefits towards the health care of 11.7 million Australians who held some form of private health cover. In my own seat of Cook, in Sydney's Sutherland shire, 72 per cent of residents are covered by private health insurance. That is more than 100,000 people in my electorate who are supported, assisted and provided with some relief from these measures. They do not ask for much and they are not asking for anything to be changed. They just want a fair go. They do not want this government continuing to whack them at every opportunity through some sort of class-envy driven agenda, which likes to somehow stereotype people in electorates such as mine or in other places as being rich, or things of that nature. It is just not true. More than 100,000 people in my electorate will be impacted by these changes.

Measures such as the private health 30 per cent rebate and the Medicare levy surcharge make private health insurance more affordable. They achieve two goals: easing the strain on wallets for those who choose to set aside money to look after themselves when they get sick and easing the burden on our public hospitals.

In my electorate, along a main road in the shire there are two hospitals that sit opposite each other at a set of traffic lights: Sutherland Public Hospital on one corner, Kareena Private on the other. I think this is symbolic of the way our public and private health systems work together. These two hospitals are seemingly independent of each other. They stand alone, yet they meet the healthcare needs of my constituents and service the growing demands of an ageing population in my electorate. They become inter-reliant. It is a finely balanced equation.

Private hospitals currently treat 40 per cent of all patients in Australia. Private hospitals perform the majority of elective surgeries. But if premiums leap and rebates are slashed and people cannot afford to meet those changes, something will have to give. People will literally cross the road, cross The Kingsway, to go from Kareena Private Hospital to the Sutherland Public Hospital.

Last year I was at the opening of some new facilities at Kareena Private Hospital. One point was made by the company that runs that hospital: the high level of private health insurance that exists in the Sutherland shire means they can make a positive business decision to continue to invest their private resources in improving the facilities and infrastructure for healthcare needs in my community. It is that high level of engagement and take-up of private health insurance in the shire that leads to that, and that is what is at risk.

The member for New England has been pointing out in regional areas that this bill threatens the operation of private facilities in attracting the specialists and others into regional areas because of the existence of private facilities. That is not just true in the bush; it is also true in the shire. It is true that, where there are high levels of private health insurance take-up, companies are more inclined to invest in increasing the level of infrastructure in private health facilities that are available to these constituents.

At the end of the day, this bill will mean more people sitting on seats in public emergency rooms rather than being in private hospitals. More people will take up beds in wards and places on waiting lists because they have no other choice. And our public hospitals will struggle to meet the demand. We are not just talking about one or two people. Deloitte found that, as a result of means testing, 1.6 million Australians would exit their private hospital cover over five years compared with Treasury estimates of just 25,000. Another 4.3 million will be forced to downgrade their level of cover, and the public sector will experience $3.8 billion in recurrent costs.

I received a letter from one of my constituents who is at the end of her tether. She is a single person earning over the threshold and she has sat down and done the sums like many responsible Australians have. She tells me that if her health insurance was to go up by much more she would have no choice but to drop her membership as she simply could not afford it. She writes:

… even though I am on what most would consider a good income, when you are the sole earner paying a mortgage … there is often no 'fat' in your budget to accommodate such increases.

She goes on to say:

I feel that I am working hard, contributing income tax, paying off my own home and paying for private health insurance. All these things ensure that I am not a burden on the state now or in the future. If health insurance premiums are increased so dramatically I will not be able to maintain the insurance and will have to give it up.

My constituent works in the public health sector and says very clearly:

I don't wish to add myself to an already overstretched system. However, if it comes down to being able to afford a roof over my head, the insurance will have to go.

These are real people doing it tough, and all they get from this government is another slap in the face.

Treasury estimates claim that savings from the means testing will equate to $1.9 billion over four years but, if you apply the basic principle of cause and effect, people exiting the private system en mass can only head in one direction. Deloitte estimates that the increased demand for the public hospital system over four years will cost $2.4 billion, so by the fifth year the total costs from this bad policy will exceed and outweigh the projected savings, something fairly common in tax increases that this government introduces. In estimates last year, Medibank Private revealed that for its company alone 37,000 customers would likely drop their private health cover because of the means test. Repeating this pattern across the nation's other 38 providers makes for a very grim picture.

Australians are living longer than ever before and preventative health has become immeasurably more important. Our healthcare sector needs to be more than just reactive. Making good lifestyle decisions is now critical. It is important to be proactive and have regular checkups, to be able to visit the dentist, the physio, the optometrist or the psychologist as needed to prevent problems developing down the track. This is just as important for the individual as it is for the society that cares for them. Preventable diseases account for almost 20 per cent of Australia's total health costs, and private health insurance has played a vital role in ensuring Australians have access to preventable health advice and services to save both pain and money in the long run.

This is what will be affected by the bill that is in front of us. This is what is at risk. This government has come into this place to introduce an envy driven measure simply to try to raise some cash to fund its ever-increasing blowouts. In my shadow portfolio alone, blowouts on border protection are almost $4 billion and counting. I do not think people should have to give up their private health insurance simply because this government cannot manage its borders, its finances or anything else.