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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 1069


Mrs D'ATH (Petrie) (20:54): I rise to talk about the hypocrisy of those on the other side in the debate that has been going on in the chamber for some hours now and for the past two days in relation to private health insurance. Before I do, I have to comment on the grievance of the member for Bennelong. I can only assume that the member for Bennelong must be fully supportive of the actions of this Labor government in its investment in infrastructure, which has seen more investment in infrastructure since 2007 than the previous Howard government invested in 11 years.

Tonight, I wish to talk about health. We have heard many speakers from the opposition talking about the private health insurance rebate and the Medicare levy surcharge, feigning concern about working families and the health system. These are the same people who introduced a Medicare levy surcharge and then left the threshold unchanged for a decade. They did not index the threshold; they left it there so that more and more people were affected by the consequences of the Medicare levy surcharge. It took Labor coming into office to fix it—and in 2008 we did fix the indexation in relation to the Medicare levy surcharge—so it is hard to believe the rhetoric we are hearing from those on the other side in relation to the private health insurance rebate now.

I am quite happy to put on the public record that I support means-testing of the private health insurance rebate. To me it is what a responsible government does, a government which wants to ensure that it is implementing responsible fiscal policy and ensuring that the taxpayer's dollar is going where it should go. That money should not go to those who least need that assistance. I believe that means-testing private health insurance certainly ensures that funds not needed to assist those on the higher incomes can go back into the health system to be reinvested for long-term health infrastructure. We have not heard those on the other side refer to the Intergenerational report of 2010, published on the Treasury website on 1 February 2010, which said, 'The private health insurance rebate is the fastest growing component of the Australian government health expenditure, increasing by over 50 per cent per person in real terms over the period 2012-13 to 2022-23.' That is why that action is so important.

I do not want to spend the time I have talking just about that issue. I think it is important in this debate about health and which is the best party to take this country forward in health reform and investment to look at some history. If we look at what the Howard government did we find $1 billion ripped out of hospitals, which is equivalent to 1,025 beds; the capping of GP training places so that, at the end of the Howard government, six in 10 Australians lived in areas where there were doctor shortages; and the failure to deal with elective surgery waiting times. In the last year of the Howard government, 88,630 Australians had waited longer than clinically recommended for elective surgery. They also ignored rural cancer infrastructure, despite country patients being up to three times more likely to die than city patients within five years after diagnosis.

Compare that with what the Labor government has done since coming to power federally. We have delivered a $2.2 billion comprehensive package focusing on early intervention and coordinated care in relation to mental health, the largest ever. We are building 64 GP superclinics, including in the electorate of Petrie. We are upgrading 425 existing GP clinics across Australia. We increased hospital funding by $20 billion in 2008 and are increasing it by a further $20 billion from 2011. We have invested in 1,300 new subacute beds and support for 2,500 new aged care beds and, very importantly, we have invested in 22 regional cancer centres and 44 McGrath Foundation specialist breast cancer nurses.

This is very important. I am not in a regional area and I do not have one of these cancer centres. That does not mean that I as a federal member of this parliament do not believe that this is an extremely important investment for this country and for people who live in the regions. We all have a responsibility to provide those health services for people in the regions. This government has also delivered a GP after-hours advice line and more than 70,000 more elective surgery procedures in the last two years to slash hospital waiting list times, and there is ongoing investment. Locally, there is a lot that has been going on on the north side of Brisbane. The Prince Charles Hospital has a new 12-bay paediatric emergency department, 20 short-stay paediatric ward beds and specialist outpatient clinics. The Prince Charles Hospital is located in the electorate next to mine, the electorate of Lilly, but serves many people across northern Brisbane and beyond.

At the Redcliffe Hospital we have committed over $15 million to provide six new children's short-stay beds, four children's out-patient clinics and a dedicated child friendly waiting room. It is true that there are a lot elderly people living in the Redcliffe peninsula area. We have an ageing population but we also have a lot of young families. It is so important that we have health services that look at both ends of the spectrum. We are not just investing in aged care; we are also looking at what we need as far as paediatric services in the area go. We have provided $7 million for the construction of a renal dialysis unit at the North Lakes Health Precinct. The unit will include 12 renal dialysis chairs able to provide treatment to 48 patients every year.

We are investing in Medicare Locals. My new Medicare Local is officially launching one of their new satellite sites in North Lakes in the coming weeks. This Medicare Local will be able to bring together our primary and allied healthcare professionals so we have a much more coordinated approach to health services in our community and beyond.

One area that I am extremely passionate about, an area that I believe is under threat by the opposition, is the investment in e-health. It is extremely important that we have investment in e-health. We have heard about all of the positive outcomes that come from e-health, not just in the regions from being able to get specialist care and reduce the travel time for patients but also from keeping e-health records. When someone arrives at a hospital they may be unconscious and they may have a long health history. Those records will be there and doctors will be able to treat those people in a much better way. Because of the e-health system there will be less risk of a false diagnosis or the wrong medicines being given.

We have heard from the opposition that in funding their future health policies they will cut back on essential health services. They will scrap the GP superclinics that are yet to be built—I see the member for Mayo nodding his head. They will scrap e-health and scrap the after-hours GP hotline. They actually think this is a good idea. This is their way of funding health reforms for the future: just cutting existing services. We should not be surprised because that is what the Leader of the Opposition did when he was the health minister. He cut health services and took the funds elsewhere. He just shifted money. This government is shifting money away from providing a 30 per cent rebate for those who least need it and putting it into essential services elsewhere.

My grievance tonight is the hypocrisy of those on the other side in relation to the private health insurance rebate and, more importantly, the broader health debate and the investments this government is trying to make for the future—the ongoing negativity of the other side in just opposing any reforms in relation to health and further investment in this area. I know it is in the interests of the people in the electorate of Petrie and it is in the interests of people across this country to support the Labor government's reforms in health and oppose the actions and policies of the opposition to cut costs.