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Monday, 22 September 2014
Page: 10059

Mr CLARE (Blaxland) (21:20): Of all the terrible things in the budget—and there are plenty of them—I think the $7 tax to go to the doctor would have to be the worst. We in Australia have one of the best health systems in the world. One of the reasons we have one of the best health systems in the world is that if you get sick you know you will be looked after, regardless of how rich or poor you are. Making people pay $7 to go to the doctor throws a grenade into that system. It means that people will decide whether or not to go to the doctor based on whether they can afford to rather than on whether they are sick. I know this because I can see it having an impact in my electorate even before it has been introduced.

In the week after the tax was announced in the budget, visits to the doctor in my electorate dropped by about one-third. That is the advice of local GPs in my electorate. Why did this happen? It happened because people thought the tax had already started. Doctors had to send out emails to their patients telling them that the tax had not started yet. Seven dollars does not sound like a lot of money to some people, but it is a lot of money to a lot of people in my electorate. If you have got a few sick kids who need blood tests and X-rays, the costs can ratchet up quickly. These costs affect the decisions that people make.

One mum came into my office and said that she has three kids and that if the three kids get sick she will take one to the doctor and get a script and share it amongst them. That is a real story. That should put dread into the hearts and minds of any thinking member of parliament. This is a tax that will encourage people to make bad decisions like that. It will discourage people from going to the doctor. That is what the purpose of this tax is. The budget papers indicate that it is expected that money will be saved from one million fewer visits to the doctor every year. By putting people off going to the doctor, it means that sick people will just get sicker.

And where will this hurt most? The answer to that question is Western Sydney. My electorate in Western Sydney has the second-highest bulk billing rate in the country—98.2 per cent of visits to the doctor in my electorate are bulk billed. That means that when you go to the doctor the only thing you pull out of your wallet or your purse is your Medicare card. That is the case right across Western Sydney—the top 10 bulk billing electorates across Australia are all in Western Sydney. That means that this tax will hit Western Sydney harder than anywhere else. The Prime Minister claims that Western Sydney is the new Liberal Party heartland. Well, this is how he repays Western Sydney—with a tax that will hurt them more than other parts of the country.

There are a lot of reasons the budget is unpopular—the cuts to health, the cuts to education, the cuts to the pension, the doubling of university degree fees. But this is the big one. In the last few months I have been holding street meetings across my electorate, encouraging people to sign a petition against this tax. Whenever I do that I get a queue of people lining up to sign the petition. I already have more than 1½ thousand people who have signed this petition, and before I table it there will be more people who will sign it as well. People are angry about this. They are worried. They do not like it. This is a tax that is as popular as anthrax. It is little wonder that we heard nothing about this before the election. Health care is a right; it is not a privilege, and it should not be thought of as a privilege for people who can afford it. Australia does not want a healthcare system like America's, where it depends on how much money you have. If you are sick, you should be looked after—whether you are rich or whether you are poor. This is a bad tax. I urge the government to listen to the people of my community, to listen to the people of Western Sydney, to listen to the stories of people right across Australia, and to ditch this bad tax.