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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4857

Mr EWEN JONES (Herbert) (19:30): I rise to speak on the Private Health Insurance Amendment (Lifetime Health Cover Loading and Other Measures) Bill 2012 and the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment (Base Premium) Bill 2013. In the late 1990s I was working for a finance company in Townsville and I was a single dad. I had private health insurance for my children. When I remarried and my two daughters were joined by their brother and my son, my teacher wife took 12 months off work to be a stay-at-home mum. We maintained our private health insurance. We were certainly not flush with funds and we certainly did it very tough, yet we made the decision that we wanted choice and certainty in our family's health matters. We needed to ensure that if something happened we would be able to provide. We went without a lot at that time, but we ensured that what was important to us was retained.

The 30 per cent rebate was an essential component of that, although I had to pay a levy for 10 years because I was late getting on. I do not say this to make me sound hard done by, or seeking martyrdom; I am using my personal experience as an example of all the mums and dads out there who want to take responsibility for their own health and that of their families and who are being well and truly belted by this government. Out there, away from the latte-sipping, Vespa-riding, black-skivvy-wearing, inner-city trendies, there lies a nation full of people trying to get ahead and provide for themselves.

This bill seeks to amend the lifetime health cover, or LHC, loading on private health insurance. LHC was introduced by the Howard government as part of reforms that significantly increased private health insurance coverage when it came into effect on 1 July 2000. In fact, this measure helped raise the number of people with private health insurance by 75 per cent, from 6.1 million to more than 10.7 million. Lifetime health cover is a loading on private health insurance payments that is applied at a rate of two per cent for every year that an individual is over 30 when they take out hospital cover. A cap of 70 per cent is applied. It was brought in to get younger people into private health insurance and to maintain their health cover. Currently the government pays the private health insurance rebate on the value of the total premium paid by the policy holder, including the LHC loading component. This new measure, if passed, will take effect in April 2014.

The second component of the bill ceases direct claiming of the private health insurance rebate through the Department of Human Services. This is known as the incentives payment scheme. This will take effect on 1 July 2013. These measures will add $386.3 million to the $2.8 billion taken out of private health by this government from means testing the private health insurance rebate. Put this with the $1.6 billion cut to hospital funding in Labor's MYEFO and you can see just what this government thinks of health.

That this measure was not in the budget last year but was brought in as a knee-jerk reaction to MYEFO tells me everything I need to know about this government. The thing that really gets to me about this is that this is not about health. This is not about equity. This is not about fairness. This is not some altruistic or ideals driven argument. We are debating this bill because the Labor-Greens-Independent government cannot balance its books. This government has lost control of the nation's finances, pure and simple. This government will do anything to anyone to keep power for as long as it can. Just look at from where they have come:

I would like to read into the Hansard part of a letter from the then shadow health minister and our current Prime Minister, Julia Gillard, who wrote in The Weekend Australian on 15 October 2005:

On Thursday, October 13, the Minister for Health, Tony Abbott, asserted in parliament that prior to the last election, I had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate and he cited Mark Latham's diaries as proof of this proposition. Yesterday Matt Price reported this claim by the minister as if were a fact (The Sketch 14/10). The claim by the minister is completely untrue and should not have been reported as if it were true. The truth is that I never had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate and, contrary to Mr Latham's diaries, do not support such a claim ... For all Australians who wanted to have private health insurance, the private health insurance rebate would have remained under a Labor Government. I gave an iron-clad guarantee of that during the election. The difference between Tony "rock solid, iron-clad" Abbott and me is that when I make an "iron-clad commitment", I actually intend on keeping it.

Put that with 'There will be no carbon tax under a government I lead' and you get the sincerity of that claim.

What Townsville people are telling me is that they are sick to death of trying to get ahead in this world when, at every turn, this government wants to drag them back down. What is wrong with wanting to do better? What is wrong with wanting to look after yourself and your family? Why is it that, bit by bit, this government sucks that will from hardworking Townsville families? This is another broken promise from this bad government. How can anyone out there take their claims seriously about education and disability, with the bulk of the money coming sometime way out into the future, when they can barely go a week without backflipping and amending and blatantly breaking their collective word.

This government dresses up these things as getting at the 'rich'. There are more than 50,000 people in my electorate alone with private health insurance. There are 3.4 million people in Australia with private health insurance who live on an income of less than $35,000. There are 5.6 million Australians with private health insurance who have household incomes of less than $50,000. Hardly rich!

Let me give this government a lesson in pub economics. If you make it tough for people with substantial disposable income, they will eventually drop off because they have options. They can pay for their dental work when they need it. They can pay for their knee operations when they need them. What will eventually happen is that these measures will increase the burden on those people least able to choose other options. If left untended, this will eventually see the collapse of the system. And where to from there? Straight to the public hospital.

Before I get to the stress on public hospitals, I would like to raise a couple of points about private health insurance in the regions. I live in Townsville, a fantastic city of some 190,000 people. We service the greater north and west of our state where some 580,000 people live and work. We are the major centre; all the centres around us, whilst fiercely proud and independent, are towns of fewer than 20,000 people. Towns like Charters Towers, Ayr and Ingham are all great communities, but they are under stress to keep vital services which form the fabric of their community and offer jobs. If there is a significant drop in the numbers of people taking out private health insurance, then that will put stress on the dentist, the optometrist, the physio and all other allied health professionals in these communities and increase the pressure on the hospital system. If they close, it will not only be the loss of the service but of a couple of jobs, and another trip to Townsville for the services. That, my friends, is how a town dies.

Now, this will not happen overnight and certainly, with Noeline Ikin as the next member for Kennedy it will not happen under her watch. But, if this government continues to ignore the regions of North Queensland and regions like North Queensland, then surely they will stand back, with the Greens and Independents, and let this happen. Again, this budget and this bill are not about health. This is about the budget emergency in which the government finds itself. This is about shifting costs. By forcing people out of private health insurance, they are going to raise the level of activity inside the public system.

So the Townsville Hospital will be asked to provide the services for people who can no longer afford private services. How much extra is going to the public hospital system? Absolutely nothing—not one red cent! So elective surgery lists go up and the wait becomes longer. Forget about seeing a public dentist. The health minister saw that off last year when she ripped over a billion dollars out of the health system with the Chronic Disease Dental Scheme. This health minister then pulled $100 million from Queensland Health, after it had been committed. Now she has charge of another attack on health and on choice.

Only a coalition government can live within its means. Only a coalition government can go to this upcoming election with any credibility on health. We will cut the red tape in the sector and we will get more funds to the pointy end—to the patient. Remember them? Remember when we had patients and they were important?

We as a nation and a confederation of states need to look at how we are doing things and how we can get better outcomes. We need to be more focused on allied health and keeping people healthy, not reacting with money for machines that go 'ping'. We need to keep people out of the hospital system. We need better cooperation between public and private hospitals to make better use of the skills and equipment we have in each system. The public system is fantastic at high-end, delicate and technical surgery. It has a great capacity to provide critical services in intensive care and transplant surgery and the like. Townsville's Paediatric Intensive Care Unit is a perfect example of the high-end care which makes the Townsville Hospital such a great facility. And I am proud to say that the Campbell Newman government made that a promise at the last election, then brought it forward and actually introduced it. The previous state Labor government, which made so much of health and lost so much money with the payroll debacle, would not do it.

But there can also be no doubt that the private system can drive our dollar further when it comes to elective surgery and outpatient services such as radiology. If we could get a perfect match of the services and not duplicate them, as happens now, we would go a long way to getting our health system on track.

We must look at ways of getting our students better trained and with more time in clinical areas. Again, Townsville is perfectly placed to offer such a model with James Cook University's School of Medicine and Dentistry and school of allied health. If we could properly integrate the roles of the teachers, mentors and students with a properly funded and allocated regional model, we will end up with a better outcome for all.

We have over $130 billion running through the health system nationally, and the best this government can do to bring some balance is to attack people with private health insurance. Surely, we are better than that? These are the very people who should be supported. Instead, this government walks past and pretends not to notice them.

I oppose this bill and will do everything I can to bring a fair go back to the people of Townsville with private health insurance. I thank the House.