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Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Page: 14565

Dr LEIGH (Fenner) (10:11): Thank you, Deputy Speaker, for clearing the House of those not focused on the important issue of the Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2019! Labor will support the bill as we do each year. It is a bill which amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and the A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase: the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families, along with the dependent child/student component of the family threshold, in line with movements in the consumer price index; the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families eligible for the SAPTO, along with the dependent child/student component of the family threshold, in line with movements in the CPI; and the Medicare levy surcharge low-income threshold in line with movements in the CPI. It applies to the 2018-19 income year and subsequent years. That follows the practice of doing so annually to ensure the most vulnerable Australians aren't disadvantaged, while maintaining their access to our world-class universal healthcare system.

I want to make a few points as we're looking at the issue of Medicare and the impact on our health system. As my colleague the member for Ballarat, who is in the chamber, noted this morning, the 2019-20 budget has locked in the Prime Minister's cuts to public hospitals in a too-little too-late health budget full of reheated announcements that don't make up for six years of Liberal chaos. As Treasurer, the Prime Minister cut hospitals in every budget he wrote, and as Prime Minister he's locked them in.

For six years the Liberals have prioritised an $80 billion tax handout for the top end of town over Medicare, schools and hospitals. The Prime Minister has refused to restore the $715 million he cut from hospitals under the current funding period. He's persisting with his plan to rip billions more out of hospitals over the next six years. Patients will suffer because the cuts will lead to longer emergency department and elective surgery waiting times and force them to travel further for treatment. Only Labor will deliver a fair go for Australia by reversing these cuts and making massive new investments, with our $2.8 billion Better Hospitals Fund.

While we always welcome new investments in general practice, this budget doesn't come close to making up for the five-year rebate freeze that has ripped $3 billion out of Medicare. This is a freeze that the Liberals first imposed in 2014, and now they are promising to lift it to match Labor's long-held commitment a mere six weeks out from election.

The Australian people, who have had to put up with increasing out-of-pocket costs and long wait times, are too smart to fall for their spin. They know the cost of going to the doctor has risen. They know they're waiting longer than they should for elective and emergency surgery, and that's why many of them have been delaying going to the doctor. Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that one million Australians delay or avoid seeing their GP every year due to cost. Another 1.7 million Australians skip specialist appointments, yet we have this laughable claim that Medicare has 'never been stronger' and that their commitment to Medicare is 'rock solid'. The track record is that the Liberals cannot be trusted with health. Whether it is making Medicare more expensive, cutting public hospitals or putting private health insurance profits before patients, Prime Minister Morrison cannot be trusted on health. Labor created Medicare and only Labor will ensure Australians can access the health care they deserve.

We support this bill, which is largely a product of convention rather than passion on the part of those opposite. But the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government poses an existential threat to our valued and cherished universal health care system. Only Labor will protect Medicare.