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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 3965


Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:22): On 1 February this year Medicare celebrated its 32nd birthday. Although this bill is a tax bill, which is dealing with the essential taxation arrangements which underpin and fund Medicare, at the heart of Medicare was a critical social innovation. That social innovation was directed at ensuring that Australia was different to so many other countries around the world where wealth inequality has a direct trajectory to health inequality. The reason why it was different was the genius of Whitlam and the genius of Hawke who put in place a system whereby we could fund a person's access to primary care through the general taxation system by establishing an additional levy upon wages—at that point in time around one per cent of wages—and ensuring that through a progressive taxation scheme we could fund the primary care and associated care needs of this country. Of course, it has expanded over the years, but at the heart of that social innovation was a scheme which made access to your GP and to other parts of the primary healthcare system available to all Australians.

This bill is necessary to ensure that the income thresholds continue to represent that progressive idea behind the scheme to ensure that we continue to adjust them, as the member for Fraser has outlined, to ensure that they cut in at exactly the right level. This bill is technical. It indexes the income thresholds below which Australians do not pay the Medicare levy or the Medicare levy surcharge. We have dealt with similar measures in previous years. It is a regular process that ensures that the most vulnerable Australians and those from the lowest end of the income scale are not disadvantaged, while maintaining their access to Medicare. Labor, therefore, supports the measures and will support it in both Houses.

The bill is a reminder to millions, maybe even to every Australian, about how important Medicare is to them. It is a devastating reminder to all Australians about the shameful record that this government has when it comes to Medicare. Unfortunately, the progressive measures in indexing the Medicare levy and the Medicare levy surcharge are well and truly outweighed when it comes to the rest of the government's record on Medicare over the last 2½ sorry years. We have lived through their attempts to dismantle Medicare through the introduction of a GP tax—marks 1, 2 and 3—and now the GP tax through the backdoor, being the freezing of Medicare rebates. When we consider the importance that is associated with this bill, we must also consider the things that are not in this bill and the other damage that the government is doing through its regressive Medicare changes.

In the time that I have left before we switch to another order of business, I would like to talk a little bit about pathology, because any one of the thousands of Australians who has needed a pathology test at one of the 5,000 collection centres around the country recently would have noticed the warnings that are being issued by the pathology sector. The pathology sector is not known for its radicalism. They are not known as radical supporters, particularly not for this side of the parliament, so to walk into a pathology collection service, or indeed many of the GP services around the country, and to see warning signs posted and petitions on the counter warning about the egregious cuts that are being made by this government, about to be implemented from 1 July this year—the reduction in Medicare bulk-billing arrangements—means people are quite rightly shocked.

At a recent mobile office in my electorate, I had person after person come to me and ask me to explain what was going on from 1 July this year and why there was a threat that they would no longer be bulk-billed for their pathology tests. Liesel Wett, the CEO of Pathology Australia, has said:

These unfair cuts would see patients having to pay for services from July this year.

She has pointed out, as constituent after constituent has pointed out to me, that if they have to pay the full up-front fee, then they simply will not have those blood tests.

For many people, not having a blood test may not be a critical threat to their health and wellbeing, but I can tell you that if you are one of the thousands of electors in my electorate who is suffering from diabetes, then having a regular blood test is absolutely critical. If laboratories decide that they have to implement this co-payment, we will see patients forgoing having their blood tests and people's illnesses will get worse. If you are undergoing a course of chemotherapy, you will be regularly required to have blood tests as part of your post-treatment care. It is these people who are going to be the most affected by these changes. As you know, if you are undergoing a course of chemotherapy then chances are you on leave from work and chances are your income has been severely affected by that illness, so it is hitting you at the most vulnerable time in your life.

For the life of me, I cannot see why the government is putting these changes in place. Constituent after constituent has said to me, 'This is a threat to us.' It is going to impact upon them. So when we look at the legislation before the House, which Labor supports—

The DEPUTY SPEAKER: Order! The debate is interrupted in accordance with standing order 43. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. Are there any statements from honourable members?