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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1507

Senator CAROL BROWN (3:20 PM) —I have to say that I am not surprised about the opposition opposing the Medicare levy surcharge initiative because the opposition has shown over a long period of time that they are completely out of touch with the community. The Medicare levy surcharge initiative is a welcome relief to working families. They have been unfairly hit by the surcharge. The surcharge has not been adjusted since it was introduced in 1997, so the announcement by the Treasurer tonight will be a welcome one which will see the Medicare levy surcharge threshold rise from $50,000 to $100,000 for a single person and from $100,000 to $150,000 for families.

Mr Deputy President, there has been no increase in the Medicare levy surcharge threshold since 1 July 1997, resulting in an unfair targeting of many families earning average incomes. The revised thresholds will now ensure that the surcharge is applied to those who are high-income earners. If the Liberal opposition think that a wage of $50,000 for a single person is the wage of a wealthy person then it is no wonder the Australian people have lost faith in them. The whole point of the Medicare levy surcharge was to encourage people who could most afford it to take out private health insurance. However, the previous government, as usual, failed to plan for the long term and it did not provide for indexing the threshold. Now we are seeing hardworking Australians being slugged a surcharge that was meant to target high-income earners.

The Labor government initiative will be a welcome relief for many families. I have to concur with my colleague Senator McEwen’s amazement at the Liberal opposition raising the issue of health, because they have a record they should be ashamed of. We have seen a drastic cutting of the health budget over the 11 years the previous government was in power and a failure to tackle the GP shortage. That is in stark contrast to what the Labor government is doing. Since Kevin Rudd and Labor have come to power, two health ministers conferences have been held in the spirit of cooperation that now exists between Canberra and the state and territory governments. Much has been achieved.

The first conference in February concluded with an agreement on the need for immediate reform of the national health and hospital system and the need for public performance reporting. These sentiments reflect what Kevin Rudd has been saying since prior to the election—that the health and hospital system in this country is not working as it should and that there is a pressing need for reform. This is why the Rudd Labor government has made reforming and improving our nation’s health system a national priority. Our government is committed to building a modern health and hospital system, equipped to meet the health challenges of the future, including an ageing population, the rising burden of chronic disease and the ever-increasing costs associated with medical technologies. That is why, prior to the election, the government announced a comprehensive, long-term plan for health reform in this country, including a $2.5 billion commitment to improving health and hospital systems for all Australians. As is the case with many other public resources, hospitals were constantly underfunded and ignored by the Howard government. Now, as a result of 11 years of neglect, the health and hospital system is in desperate need of a complete overhaul.

Before I finish, I would like to take up the point about tax on alcopops. The Labor government makes no apology for this tax, and the federal opposition should be ashamed of its attacks on this initiative. Binge drinking is a community-wide problem that demands a community-wide response. This government is determined to take a strong, comprehensive approach to tackling binge drinking in our community. We know that young people are particularly at risk and we know that alcopops are used to hook them on drinking when they are young. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I just make the comment, once again, that people should refer to people in the other place by their correct title. It is quite appropriate to mention ‘the Rudd government’ or ‘the former Howard government’, but individuals should be given their correct title, as in ‘the member for’, ‘the Prime Minister’, ‘Mr Peter Garrett’ or whatever. I make that clear.