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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 858


Mr ABBOTT (WarringahLeader of the Opposition) (15:14): Mr Speaker, I move:

That so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the Member for Warringah moving immediately:

That this House calls on the Prime Minister to explain why she has broken yet another commitment to the Australian people when she said that Labor was committed to maintaining the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate and in particular why:

(1) the Prime Minister is forcing six million customers to drop or downgrade their private health insurance cover by forcing up premium costs;

(2) in the face of rising cost of living pressures, the Prime Minister is adding over 10 per cent to the cost of premiums;

(3) the Prime Minister is not telling the truth when she says that this is about targeting rich people when half of all people with private health insurance earn less than $50,000 per year and over three million earn less than $35,000 per year;

(4) the Prime Minister is pretending that cuts to the private health insurance rebate will be good for the public health system when it will mean over 845,000 new procedures will be forced onto public hospital waiting lists that are already under pressure at a cost of $3.8 billion; and

(5) the Prime Minister is playing the class war card in a desperate attempt to fix Budget black holes brought about by waste and mismanagement.

Standing orders must be suspended because nothing is more important than securing the integrity of government and nothing is more important than protecting Australian families from yet another Gillard government rip-off. This is a government, and this is a Prime Minister, which has broken commitment after commitment, and now another commitment is going down the drain. This is why standing orders have to be suspended. We have had a string of them. We have had the broken promise to the member for Denison and we have had the broken promise on gay marriage. We have had, notoriously, the broken promise on the carbon tax and now we have—this is why standing orders must be suspended—the broken promise on private health insurance. The former Prime Minister wrote just before the 2007 election:

Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates.

This is why standing orders must be suspended. The former Minister for Health and Ageing, before the 2007 election, said on many occasions:

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

This is why standing orders must be suspended. Finally, the Prime Minister herself has said:

Your correspondent should have no concern that Labor will erode—

mark that word—

or abolish the 30 per cent rebate on private health insurance. Labor is committed to the maintenance of this rebate and I have given an ironclad guarantee of this on a number of occasions.

This is why standing orders need to be suspended. What is her excuse? Her excuse is, 'Oh, there was an election.' What she is trying to avoid is the fact that the government tried to break this commitment almost as soon as it was elected. This is why standing orders need to be suspended now.

In the last parliament there were some courageous Independents in the Senate who kept the government honest. I say—and this is why standing orders should be suspended—let the Independents in this parliament be just as honest as the Independents in the last parliament. That is the job of Independent members of parliament—to keep the government honest, not to allow the government to be dishonest. On the subject of Independents, I have a quote here describing the means testing of the private health insurance rebate as 'one of the most retrograde pieces of legislation that I have ever seen'. You might recognise that statement, Mr Speaker, because it is a statement of yours. This is why it is so important that standing orders should be suspended—so that the parliament can debate the importance of keeping governments honest and keeping families decently, not abusing them with yet another Gillard government rip-off. Standing orders ought to be suspended because the forgotten families of Australia have already suffered abundantly at the hands of this government. Look at the way prices have gone up since late 2007: power prices up 50 per cent, gas prices up 29 per cent, water prices up 46 per cent, health costs up 20 per cent, education costs up 24 per cent, rent 21 per cent, and we all know that interest rate rises under this government—and they are happening again—have added hundreds of dollars a month to the cost of mortgage repayments. And the carbon tax is coming. We all know the carbon tax is coming and that it will do such terrible damage to the families and industries of this country. And now yet another hit on the forgotten families of Australia. This is why standing orders must be suspended.

Two-and-a-half million people, who should have been able to believe this Prime Minister and this government, are to be ripped off. This parliament, and you included, Mr Speaker, has a heavy responsibility to keep this government honest. Every single member of this parliament has a responsibility to keep this government honest, to stop the 10 per cent rise in premiums that will take place if this goes through, to stop the hit on 3½ million people earning $35,000 a year or less, to stop the hit on the public hospital system that will have to do 845,000 more procedures as people abandon their private health insurance. It is a $3.8 billion hit on the public hospital system as a result of this Prime Minister's health tax.

This is why standing orders need to be suspended. We heard the Minister for Health in question time today talking about superclinics and nurses. Not a single dollar is going to be invested in the public health system as a result of this change. The reason why this government is slugging the families of Australia is that it will not tackle its own waste, because it is chronically incapable of tackling the waste, the mismanagement and the extravagance for which it has become a notorious byword. This is all about 'bodgying up' a surplus. That is what it is about. It is not about health. It is making up for the repeated waste, incompetence and dishonesty of this government. That is what it is all about.

What is at the heart of so much of what the government do? They hate people to succeed. That is why standing orders must be suspended. They hate success. They do not like people to succeed and, if people do succeed, they hit them. They hit them with the baby bonus means test that they promised was never going to happen but which happened. They hit them with the family tax benefit means test, which they said would never happen but which happened. They are hitting them, or about to hit them, with cuts to private schools. Mark my words; this is the next hit on the aspirational classes of Australia and it is coming like a steam train from this fundamentally dishonest and incompetent government.

Today—and this is why standing orders must be suspended—it is the private health insurance rebate promise that they are breaking. The politics of envy, the politics of the class war, belong back in the 1970s and the 1980s. Isn't it interesting that it should be trotted out again by this Prime Minister who, let's face it, when she is under pressure, goes back to her days as convenor of the Socialist Forum, the old Australian union of activists? She cannot help herself. That is what she comes out with whenever she is under pressure.

Make no mistake about this: this is just the beginning of the assault on private health insurance. This is just another foretaste of the assault on aspiration, of the assault on people who want to get ahead, that we will see from this government. This attack on the universality of the private health insurance rebate foreshadows—if the government's logic is to be believed—an attack on the universality of Medicare. That is what they will be calling 'middle class welfare' next. I predict that this Prime Minister will at some stage in the next few days come to the dispatch box and say, 'There will be no further changes to private health insurance under the government I lead.' She will be a liar if she says that. (Time expired)

The SPEAKER: Is the motion moved by the Leader of the Opposition seconded?