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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4860

Dr JENSEN (Tangney) (19:42): Private health insurance is vital to the efficient functioning of Australia's health system. In my electorate of Tangney, 95.7 per cent of voters are covered by private health insurance. Of these, 87.3 per cent have hospital treatment insurance.

Carbon tax, mining tax and now cuts to the private health insurance rebate: simply put, Labor is mounting massive cost-of-living pressures on all Australians. Private health insurance is not just for the rich but rather for those who want to be assured of access to effective health care when they need it most. There are 5.6 million people with private health insurance, who have an annual household income of less than $50,000, and 3.4 million who have an annual household income of less than $35,000.

The changes to Lifetime Health Cover increase premiums for those affected by up to a reported 27.5 per cent on 1 July 2013. This will hit lower income Australians hard. Lower income Australians will be forced to choose if they can afford private health insurance. They may decide to wait and only take out hospital insurance when they need it and have time to prepare. But what if they need it for an emergency and have no time to wait? It makes basic economic sense that the government provides a rebate incentive to promote to all Australians access to private health care as a preventative measure, just in case they need it.

Abolishing the Lifetime Health Cover rebate may appear to save money initially, but it will not save money in the long term. Instead it will cost government. People will be deterred from taking out cover and as a result be more reliant on government assistance for their health care. Removing rebates will place more pressure on public hospitals, which are already struggling with $1.6 billion slashed from hospital funding in Labor's Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook. Public hospital beds have already been closed. In operating theatres, delays to elective surgery are already occurring. We cannot afford for more people to flood the public health system.

How did we get to this day—a bill that makes doing the right thing, acting responsibly and buying private health insurance more expensive? There is only one answer. That is Labor mismanagement and a litany of waste and debt. Because of that debt, we now have a budget emergency. We need to stand up for Australians facing rising costs of living. We do not like the changes to private health insurance. We definitely do not like them. What we have got to do is carefully weigh up the real state of the budget, and then we will be in a position to say when we might be able reverse these changes, but we are not making a commitment on time, because our budgetary position is in crisis because of the mistakes and mismanagement of this government, which everyone is having to pay for. It is well documented by economists and commentators more eminent and learned than me that this bill will hit low-income Australians hardest. They will be disproportionately affected.

So let us all just stop for but five seconds to consider what is really in discussion here, and that is the cost of having a minimum of certainty. Labor is making it more difficult for people to opt in to private health insurance. How can this be in the national interest? To me, this clandestine bill has a face, and her name is Jane. Jane is a constituent of mine. She likes to bake on a Sunday morning, go to church and volunteer as a lollipop lady at the local school. Jane is aged and, as of last month, alone. Jane came to Australia from England with her husband, on a 410 retirement visa. In the years since they have been here, they have been hit hard by the difficult exchange rate and the never-ending cost-of-living increases. But they had about enough to make ends meet. Jane's husband died, and his pension stopped. She now has to find new cover and a new provider. She is not entitled to Medicare, nor does she want it. She is a woman of the war. She is a survivor. But even survivors break down. That is what happened in my office just the other week. Jane fell apart when retelling how she might not be long for this earth as she does not have the money anymore and she cannot afford the health insurance. Having health insurance is a requirement of her visa. Where is the foresight or provision for people like Jane?

This is unquestionably an attack on private health insurance. This is undoubtedly an attack on the aged—an increase to premiums by an average of 10 per cent and in some cases by up to 27 per cent. This Labor government seems completely unwilling and unable to see the huge pressures on many millions of Australians. The pressures of increasing prices and rising unemployment are having a significant deleterious impact. And the government is making things more difficult, not easier. When people do the right thing and show personal initiative and responsibility, they should be rewarded not punished. Where is the incentive? Labor, typically, seek to reward indolence and irresponsibility. They seek to grow the handout culture. Liberals are not about handouts. Australians do not want handouts. They want the government to get their hands off their wallets. And maybe a hand up would be nice. But mainly just get your hands off—hands off our money. Stop spending recklessly. Start planning and start living within our means. That is the only way we can fix this budget emergency.

So it is time to back in government a party that is mature, responsible and will reward the responsible—hope, reward and opportunity. The currency of politics is trust and hope. With Labor, the Australian people have no trust and certainly no hope. How can they, when the Prime Minister serially misleads and has a spending addiction? The government of Australia is undermining faith in the institution of private health insurance. It is structurally undermining the institution, one could speculate, so as to grow the inefficient public system—a system that, by the way, is woefully ill prepared to deal with the expected increase in volume directly due to this bill.

However, there is hope. The coalition gets it, in terms of understanding the very real cost-of-living pressures that ordinary Australians are feeling. These families need to know that the coalition will work tirelessly to fix the Labor mess and end the budget emergency. When the budgetary emergency has ended, the coalition can then roll back the myopic and miserly measures being proposed here in this private health insurance amendment bill. Make no mistake, the rebate is a part of the DNA of the coalition. He who has health has hope. And he who has hope has everything. The coalition will return hope, reward and opportunity if elected on 14 September. Know the day and know the hour when hope rises again—a new morning for all Australians.