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Thursday, 28 June 2018
Page: 4317


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (12:40): I rise to indicate that Labor supports this bill, the Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2018. The bill amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to implement the following changes: an increase of the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families, along with the dependant children-student component of the families threshold, in line with movements in the CPI; the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset, along with the dependant child-student component of the family threshold in line with movements in the CPI; and the Medicare levy surcharge low-income threshold in line with movements of the CPI.

This measure applies to the 2017-18 income year and later income years. The measure was announced in the 2018-19 budget. This follows the practice of doing so annually, as per the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Act 2017, passed last year. This is a regular process. It ensures that the most vulnerable Australians are not disadvantaged while maintaining their access to Medicare, our world-class universal health system.

I just want to make a few brief points. The cost of seeing both GPs and specialists has hit a new record under Malcolm Turnbull, and the Medicare data reveals this. Australians are now paying more than ever before for their health, up to nearly $47 out of their own pockets to see a GP. This is almost a $4 increase since Malcolm Turnbull's pre-election promise that no-one would pay more to see a GP. Out-of-pocket fees to see specialists have soared even higher, up to almost $88, an increase of more than $12 since the election. In some jurisdictions, the average out-of-pocket cost of seeing a specialist has now soared to well over $90. I note people in the chamber today, Australians here to hear the debate, would be living that experience of an increase in out-of-pocket costs on the watch of this government that continues to spruik its Medicare credentials.

The fact that the Minister for Health is out in the media trying to trumpet a statistic of GP bulk-billing rates shows just how out of touch he is. The Australian people are too smart to fall for his spin. They know that the cost of going to the doctor has risen; it's just a fact of life that's been inflicted on us by this government. That's why, sadly, so many Australians are delaying going to the doctor—delaying taking themselves and delaying taking their children. Elderly people are delaying taking the good advice of doctors to keep them well because this government has put it out of reach for too many.

Official Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show that one million Australians delay or avoid seeing their GP each year due to cost—one million! And another 1.7 million Australians are skipping specialist appointments. Yet the Liberals make the laughable claim that Medicare has never been stronger and that their commitment is rock solid. Well, if this is a rock solid commitment that is better than ever, we can't afford this government any longer! In fact, Mr Turnbull is so out of touch, he is yet to lift any part of his damaging Medicare rebate freeze.

Rebates for GPs, specialists and allied health services all remain fully frozen, and the freeze won't be fully lifted until 2020. As a result of this freeze Mr Turnbull is cutting $2.2 billion out of Medicare over the next four years on top of the savings that he's already banked. These are costs that are transferring to the hip pockets of hardworking, ordinary Australians. Whether it's making Medicare more expensive, cutting public hospitals or putting health insurance profits before patients, Mr Turnbull can never be trusted on health. Labor created Medicare, and only Labor will ensure that Australians can access the health care that they deserve.