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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 866

Mr VAN MANEN (Forde) (15:51): In continuing on from my remarks prior to question time, I note that this group of bills is another example of the government breaking its word given to the Australian people. I was talking before about some of the concerns we have locally about the pressures that are already on our existing health system and how these measures are going to make that situation worse. In the Courier-Mail last week there was an article about parents of children with ear, nose and throat problems and the concern that they are being told to consider paying for private treatment. This is despite living in one of the more disadvantaged areas of South-East Queensland. The article notes:

Doctors in Logan, south of Brisbane are at a loss to know where to refer children which have ear, nose and throat conditions for public treatment.

The article states that Logan Hospital, which is located in my electorate, has approximately 1,000 children waiting to be seen. What kind of a place are we creating for our children, particularly those from disadvantaged families who cannot afford private health insurance? And this legislation is not going to make that problem better. It is going to make it worse because it is going to push more people into the public sector. Private hospitals currently treat 40 per cent of all patients in Australia. Medibank Private has predicted that some 37,000 members alone will drop their cover and 92,500 will downgrade. Over the next five years it is expected that approximately 1.6 million will drop cover and 4.3 million will downgrade. How is the public system, which is already severely strained, going to cope with the increased costs and pressure? At the end of the day, this becomes a blatant, cost-shifting exercise to transfer responsibility from the Commonwealth to the state public health systems.

The Queensland government has long been struggling to provide sufficient support for their health services, and shifting the responsibility onto the existing resources and staff will result in complete disarray and possibly even tragedy. We do not want to see in hospitals an increase in the incidence of people not getting proper treatment or being left in hallways as they wait for beds. These are all things which could possibly be made worse in light of the current proposed legislation. In addition, upward pressure on insurance premiums will force people to reduce their levels of cover.

For example, in an article in the Albert & Logan News, dated 6 October 2010, a mother was quoted because she had spent some nine hours in the emergency room at Logan Hospital after suffering a miscarriage. She was angry and frustrated that nobody had sought to provide her with any assistance during that time. More recently, there was the headline in the Sunday Mail 'Left lying in own blood, patient claims' about failure to get treatment at Logan Hospital. All in all these are current examples of a system under enormous pressure. That pressure is only going to be made worse by pushing people from the private sector into the public sector.

In this debate it is important to note that our doctors, our nurses and associated health workers are going to bear the brunt of people's frustration, angst and anger. Yet these are the very people who already seek to do such a wonderful job in our community. It is well known that they work long hours under constant pressure. We should be doing everything we can to ease those pressures, not make them worse.

The federal Labor government promised that we would not face this legislation but, as we have discussed numerous times, they have broken this promise again and again. This is the third time that this has been debated in this House. Labor always purport to seek to help the most disadvantaged and underprivileged, yet over time we see the reverse. Their very policies actually hurt those that are most disadvantaged and underprivileged, not help them. Given the cost of private health insurance if premiums go up, the many low-income earners who do have their own private health insurance will bear the burden of the increased premiums because of fewer people being insured privately. I would like to highlight this point by quoting from an email that was recently send to me by one of my constituents. The email reads:

We are very concerned about the proposed means testing of the private health rebate. As it is, the funds have all been regularly increasing their costs and causing us to wonder how much longer we can keep up the payments. Although we will not be immediately affected as our income is below the levels reported, we most certainly are aware that there will be a mass exodus from the funds which will force them to increase their costs further in order to compensate, this will have a further flow on effect and will force us out of private health insurance, to which we have contributed for 35 years.

We note that Labor promised not to touch the subsidy before the 2007 election and regard this as another broken promise.

The email went on to say that they found the government's plot to sell the changes to private health insurance, as stopping the poor from subsidising the rich, as both insulting and dishonest. The authors of this email went to the effort of making some comparisons to support their view, and I would like to note some of their observations, an area that I touched on earlier. If you are earning an income of about $30,000 per annum you are paying about $5,000 per annum in tax and Medicare levy. If you are earning about $60,000 a year, you are paying about $12½ thousand and if you are earning about $90,000 a year, you are paying about $22½ thousand. So you can see that as your income increases you are contributing significantly more to general taxation and also through the Medicare levy. When you have a look in detail at the argument that the poor are subsidising the rich, you see that does not hold any water. It is time this government's ideological bent, of saying that the rich need to pay more for this and more for that and that the poor and needy are suffering, was put away. The politics of envy does no good as to the future of this nation whatsoever. We in the opposition oppose these measures for very good reasons, as I have outlined. Whilst the government seeks to promote this as a win-win solution, I see it as nothing more than a lose-lose one for the individuals and families living in my electorate and those around the country. We oppose this legislation.