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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 874

Mr SIMPKINS (Cowan) (16:24): In my remarks today on the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2011 it is my intention to talk a little bit about the historical context in which we find ourselves, particularly with regard to matters of promises, which many other speakers have talked about, and health reform, even though I would say that this bill has nothing at all to do with health reform; this is the budgetary bill.

When we think back to the 2007 election campaign—and I think almost all members in the chamber fought that election campaign—we remember clearly what took place. Some of the things that the former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd—whether that title will apply to him again in the next few weeks I do not know—talked about was the end of the blame game, how there was going to be resolution of the conflict between the states and the Commonwealth, how everybody would start to get along better, how there would be great strides forward on health care and how, as was promised, if there was no resolution then there would be a Commonwealth takeover of public hospitals. That was very much part of the 2007 campaign, and it obviously gave the current government and the former prime minister a great deal of momentum. When you go to the front door of anyone's house and say, generically, 'What are your issues?' the default issues are without doubt health and education. Everyone says, 'Let's fix the health system.' So when that imagery was created by the Labor Party before the 2007 election—ending the blame game and fixing up the health system—everybody wanted to believe it, and I think it worked very well for Labor.

Within that context, an aspect of that campaign was the then Leader of the Opposition, Kevin Rudd—now former Prime Minister and current foreign minister—using a 'younger John Howard' image. As part of that, Mr Rudd and his then shadow health minister, Julia Gillard, were very careful in their addressing of concerns within the health industry and the private health industry. That leads us, as others have alluded, to the letter written by the former federal Labor leader and member for Griffith, Kevin Rudd, dated 20 November 2007, just shortly before the election. In this letter he was very clear on the matter of retaining the existing private health insurance rebate.

We talked in that election campaign about the fact that Labor was out to get the private health insurance rebate. They were going to make changes to it and we knew the consequences of that. At the time the Howard government was elected in 1996, we were in the situation where the proportion of Australians that were a part of the private health system was down to something like 33 or 34 per cent. Through the measures the Howard government put together that was elevated to something like 45 per cent, which took pressure off the public hospital system. In Cowan, some 75 per cent of residents in my electorate are covered under the private health insurance arrangements.

However, as I said, it was very clear that the image, the claim or, you might say, the promise that was put out there by Labor before that 2007 election campaign was that there would be no change. As a result the private health industry was fairly quiet on the matter and it did not choose to highlight any further concerns to the people of Australia, and that was another aspect that helped the Labor Party win government in 2007. This matter was addressed quite significantly in question time today, and the point was made by the current Prime Minister that the promises that were made about the private health insurance rebate were pre-2007 election, the point being that promise was made two elections ago. I note as well that the member for Dickson very clearly made the point when we approached the 2010 campaign that comments were on the record which indicated to Australians that there would be no changes to the arrangements for the private health insurance rebate. So the reality is—and I will move further into this bill soon—that the view and the perspective that was given to the Australian people was that their health insurance rebate was not going to be touched. How truly wrong that was.

It is important for me to say that the former minister for health is on the record as saying:

On many occasions for many months, Federal Labor—

this was before the 2007 election—

has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing Private Health Insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

As I have said, the letter from the Hon. Kevin Rudd to the Chief Executive Officer of the Health Insurance Association, Dr Michael Armitage, again very clearly states that federal Labor was committed to the private health insurance rebates. Unfortunately, as is so often the case in the last four-plus years, what is promised before an election bears little relationship to what takes place after the election. Yet we cannot blame the Greens for any of this of course! The socialist to communist fringe of Australian politics have always been complete and utter socialists. Their view of the world is that anyone who has done well in their life must only have done so due to the sweat of somebody else. So they are fully behind the redistribution of wealth and there are plenty in the government who probably subscribe to a similar view.

When we look at private health insurance circumstances we know that there are 10.2 million Australians who currently have private health insurance for hospital treatment. As I said before, 75 per cent of my electorate of Cowan—some 95,000 voters, citizens over 18, and their families—all believe that they want to make sacrifices in their lives in order to be able to afford private health insurance so that they will have choice in the future. A lot of people might say, and obviously it is also the government's view, that anyone on more than $80,000 a year and any family on more than $180,000 a year must be wealthy. But that is not the whole story, and I will go through that a little bit further. It is certainly the case that 75 per cent of my constituents are within the private health insurance arrangements. In fact, back in August last year we received letters from almost 2,000 of our local residents asking for the retention of the current private health insurance rebate. Residents such as Ken Roberts, Sarah Harris, Lee Davis and Barbara Brown, to name four of those almost 2,000, simply cannot understand why the Labor government is out to cut the private health insurance rebate. They see it as an attack on the hard-working and aspirational people of this country.

In just the last day or so I received an email from my constituent Mark Paulton. I will read into the record what he says:

We are a modest family of 3 with an income just over a gross income of around 180k pa. This is modest really when in context of Perth and the mining boom as you can appreciate.

Since labour have been in power I have seen appreciation for the working family dwindle and really encouragement now goes to those who aren't striving to better their income levels and raise themselves without support of the state. For example here are things that labour has introduced that has directly affected me and my family due this government thinking that a family earning over $150,000 is classed as a millionaire in their view:

1. Means testing of a family Tax Benefit A and B, Child Care Benefit and Baby Bonus … Loss of around $3500 pa

2. Flood Levy introduced … $1000

3. Means Test of Rudds stimulus package so not applicable to our income level … $1000

4. Carbon Tax Introduced $2500pa

5. No change to recent income tax threshold in line with inflation … $1000pa

6. Changes to Medicare and Obstricians fees for using their services … $2500

And now

… The loss and means test of the PHI rebate …$1000pa.

Consideration of not just the PHI rebate means test, it should be considered with all the other changes this government has done and this extra change not only is a burden in its own right, it's compounded by the fact that one has been levied on just purely because we are perceived to be millionaires. The total of the above is around $12,500 in changes that makes us worse off since labour came to office.

Is it any wonder that retailers are feeling it tough as well.

When you have 75 per cent of the people in Cowan concerned about this sort of issue, is it any wonder then that so many people in my electorate are concerned? When Deloittes did the analysis on the impact of the legislation it showed that they expected 175,000 people to withdraw from private hospital cover and a further 583,000 to downgrade their cover. The AMA shares that sort of viewpoint as well. The health insurance sector predicts that another 730,000 are likely to downgrade their hospital cover and 775,000 are likely to drop from ancillary altogether. Even the government's own Medibank Private has estimated that 37,000 of their members alone will drop their cover and 92,500 will downgrade their cover. That is thousands more than the government estimates will abandon private health insurance due to this bill—due to these measures that the government is trying to introduce today. One private insurance company is saying that they alone will lose more people to private health insurance than the government estimates will happen across the whole country. I ask everyone in this place: who do they think is accurate on these matters?

One of the specific points that has been made about private health insurance and these plans to take the rebate away from so many people relates to the pool base for private health insurance. The reality is that with each person that drops out of private health insurance the pool base gets smaller and smaller. Even if Medibank Private is the only insurer that loses people—which is not necessarily going to be the case—37,000 people will no longer be part of that pool base. All those people that the government claims it is trying to protect will also see their insurance premiums rise as the health insurance companies will have to try to make ends meet whilst continuing to provide services from a reduced number of insurance policyholders.

This legislation does represent a huge knock for those hardworking Australians who want to share the cost of the provision of their own health services—those people who believe that society does not owe them and that they should pay their own way where they can. They are just asking for that little bit of help so that they can take pressure off the public hospital system. I do not think it is too much to ask, particularly for those that pay the majority of the income tax in this country, that they should get that little bit of support. These are people that have been making sure that they are doing the right thing for this country as well as looking after themselves first and foremost and it is not wrong for them to get just that little bit of support. We reject this bill, we reject the premise behind it and we call on the government to get its act together and balance the budget in the right way by cutting its spending. (Time expired)