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Monday, 2 May 2016
Page: 4118


Mr HUTCHINSON (Lyons) (12:56): The element of the motion before the House today that I would like to focus on specifically is, as the member for Newcastle just referred to, pathology bulk-billing and the extraordinary claims that have been made. I will be tabling the Sonic Healthcare Limited half-year annual report in a minute—the member for Franklin can take her time to read that. Those on the opposite side, the Labor Party, have made a choice here and clearly they have chosen a multinational with an $8 billion turnover. I note today that shares in Sonic Healthcare are up 1.08 per cent to $19.63. They have had a successful run, most recently, I suspect, since those from the other side have been making extraordinary claims about incentives. No doubt this incentive was put in place by those opposite with good intentions. But here we are with $650 million in the pockets of multinational, profitable, publicly listed companies who's first priority is to their shareholders, not to the consumers of the services that they provide, which begs the question: what might be the alternatives if that is the way that they want to play cricket?

It is extraordinary to see the Labor Party standing up for big profitable multinationals in favour of consumers. This scare campaign is being run in my electorate and across the state of Tasmania. People coming in to have their pathology tests are being asked to sign a petition to say that an incentive that was put in place of between $1.40 and $3.40, depending on the respective schedule number, is going to require payments after 1 July of $50, $60, $70, $80, $100. This is extraordinary. They could cut their interim dividend for six months that is going to their shareholders—which has gone up by 3.8 per cent I note, and I will be tabling this report—by 0.1 per cent, and they could pay for this incentive payment that was made by those opposite.

My view of the world is that I try to be pragmatic about these things. I do not dispute that what those opposite put in place had good intentions. It was intended to increase the rate of bulk-billing. Guess what has happened? In four years, $650 million later, the rate of bulk-billing for pathology services has gone from 83 per cent to 84 per cent. If that is money well spent, I will give it away. Rather, we could have put the $650 million to the side and said, 'When you show us how you will increase your bulk-billing proportions, we will pay you a bonus.' I reckon I could have lived with that. I reckon the taxpayers of Australia could have lived with that. I think this could have been something that would have been considered. But the fact is that we have paid over $650 million over four years and we have not seen a demonstrable improvement in the rate of bulk-billing.

In my state of Tasmania, I asked this question—and again, I have put consumers first, not profitable multinationals. As a government, and as organisations that are providing these very important pathology services, maybe we should put the whole damn lot out to tender. Maybe we should go to these profitable, publicly listed companies, and maybe we should ask them to put their best foot forward on what they are prepared to provide services for—on the basis of, say, a 95 per cent bulk-billing rate. Maybe that would be an alternative. So I ask the question again of those opposite: do they support consumers, or do they support a scare campaign that is being run by profitable multinational companies whose first priority is to their shareholders, not to the consumers of their services?

I take this opportunity to seek leave to table the Sonic Healthcare LimitedASX Appendix 4Dand Half Year Report dated 31 December 2015.

Leave granted.