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Monday, 3 June 2013
Page: 4862

Mr JOHN COBB (Calare) (19:52): I rise to speak on the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment (Base Premium) Bill 2013. This bill gives effect to changes to private health insurance that were announced in Mid-Year Economic and Fiscal Outlook 2012-13. Furthermore, a bill removing the rebate from lifetime health cover loadings was introduced in the last sitting week of last year but has not been brought on for debate. This current bill was only introduced in the last sitting week. It is being rushed through the parliament without giving the opposition time to consider it properly through normal processes.

But we know that this is partly to cover, quite obviously, for the government's woeful—that is being polite—and totally inept economic management, which has seen them turn $70 billion in assets and a $20 billion surplus into rolling deficits and debt now pushing through the government's own $300 billion debt ceiling. I hate to repeat myself, but there is nothing else you can do in this situation: due to Labor's economic incompetence, there is now a budget emergency which they are trying to plug with a raid on private insurance. The effect of the current bill is that the government's contribution to an individual's private health insurance rebate would be indexed annually by the lesser of the consumer price index—CPI—or the actual increase in the premium charged by insurers. This will not only force up the cost of private health insurance further but add significantly to the complexity of the product, and it will be administratively difficult for any future government to implement.

The effect of this change will not be felt by individuals or the health system for some time, as it will not commence until April 2014. However, the effect of the government's cut from means-testing changes has yet to be felt, with over $1.2 billion in premium prepayments in June 2012 as people sought to avoid the financial consequences for one financial year or more. The lifetime health cover changes have not passed the parliament and will also have a detrimental effect on coverage if passed.

The cumulative effect of these measures is likely to have a significant impact on private health insurance coverage and increase demand for public hospital services in the years ahead, which will require a response from any future government. It is common sense. It is just like public schooling and private schooling. Private schooling and private health take out the cost to government of looking after education and health. The more you hurt the private sector, the more you force people to depend upon the public, the greater the cost to the taxpayer and the more inefficient the service is. It is just a rolling stone. However, we all know that the Labor Party hate private health and private education and will do anything they can to see the back end of both. Whether it affects the nation's prosperity or the efficiency of the system does not seem to be something that affects them. The lifetime health cover changes have not passed the parliament and, as I said, will also have a detrimental effect on coverage if passed.

This bill adds immense complexity to the private health insurance system. It is the third savings measure to private health insurance introduced by the Labor government and will again force up the costs of premiums. The Prime Minister and other members over many years have ruled out any changes to the private health rebates. In a letter to the Australian Health Insurance Association in November 2007, the member for Griffith said:

Both my Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon, and I have made clear on many occasions this year that Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

Through means-testing changes and announcements since then, Labor has repeatedly broken its promise on private health insurance.

I spoke in 2012 about the devastating effect the government's change to means-testing would have on my electorate of Calare, and here I am again speaking on the government's continued meddling with private health. We all value our health—those in the bush especially, as we do not have the same access to health care as our city counterparts. We have to look after ourselves because, should we get sick, there are a number of hurdles to overcome even before we get to a hospital. When I was president of a rural representative organisation, New South Wales Farmers, we made the decision that we had to go after health, because what was the point of having a successful farm or a successful situation in regional Australia if your health were not good?

There are so many instances from 2005 right up to 2009 when this government—including when it was in opposition—repeatedly made pledges that it would not do the sort of thing we are faced with today. But the daddy of them all is one that the current Prime Minister made in a letter to the editor of The Weekend Australian on 15 October 2005, where she gave the current Leader of the Opposition a big serve about changing his mind on something. In response to claims by the then minister that she wanted to knock off the private health insurance rebate, she said:

The truth is that I never had a secret plan to scrap the private health insurance rebate …

She is having a go at her previous leader Mr Latham here. She says:

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.

Given that we all remember 'no carbon tax under a government I lead', possibly we should not be surprised that once again the 'rock solid, ironclad guarantee' of the current Prime Minister is worthless and that she is doing her level best to destroy private insurance.

Debate interrupted.