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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4214


Senator RYAN (VictoriaParliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Education) (15:34): Mr Deputy President Marshall, may I join others in congratulating you upon your election. I am now no longer required to refer to you as Mr Acting Deputy President! It is good to see a Victorian in the chair after the earlier comments about Tasmanians, even though we are of different persuasions.

What we have seen today and what Senator McLucas referred to in a series of questions is a contrived and confected scare campaign by an opposition that is desperate to find a cause. As Senator Abetz outlined in an answer to a different question, the Labor Party have misled the Australian people by telling them they terminated the carbon tax, by putting out brochures saying that they removed the carbon tax. They do not want to talk about that. They do everything they can to prevent those matters being brought to a vote in the Senate. They do everything they can to prevent the government implementing its agenda, so they try this confected campaign and this confected outrage about changes to Medicare that were announced in the budget.

What is the truth about Australia's health budget? Ten years ago, we spent $8 billion on the Medicare Benefits Schedule. MBS payments cost about $8 billion. Today they are $19 billion and, in a decade, they will be $34 billion. We all know that, as we get better with medical science and, as over the last 10, 20 and 30 years there have been medical treatments for conditions that were not available, our PBS and our medical system costs more because we are treating conditions we previously could not. But we also know that when something in terms of its spending increases by more than the government revenue base or by more than the annual inflation rate, as health spending has done year on year for as long as I have been in this place and indeed much longer under the previous coalition government, it requires each and every year billions of dollars to be reallocated from one government area to another. Because, if spending on health is growing faster than the government revenue base, you need to reduce spending elsewhere in order to maintain that rate of growth or restrain that rate of growth. Or you do what Labor did, which is simply borrow the money.

Growth in health spending per se is not a problem. For the same reason that the Hawke government introduced a co-payment for pharmaceutical benefits for those who had previously had free and unlimited prescriptions, introducing a small contribution from patients to access a service will actually make the health system more sustainable over time. From the confected outrage of those opposite, you would think we were introducing an American-style system where there were serious barriers to access. We have all had the tragedy of cancer in our families, but there are treatments for that that were not available a decade ago, let alone two or three decades ago. Asking people to make a small contribution to access public subsidies in the order of thousands of dollars that can extend and improve the quality of life is not unreasonable. It is done with safety nets.

I do not understand why it is with this most intimate of things, our own health, this thing that is most important to all of us—and I do believe those opposite share that view, although I do not share their confected outrage at these changes—we should say that we should never ask someone to make a contribution to their own health care. Why is it that when we talk about people going to see a doctor—for example, to access treatment, as in the example earlier of breast cancer—there is moral outrage at a payment to access certain treatments, but when you access pharmaceuticals like Herceptin, if you access life-saving medical treatments, it is okay to ask the patient to make a small payment? Somehow there is moral outrage at a payment for another purpose that will actually treat the same condition.

The Labor Party are in a desperate search for a campaign. All this government are doing is making the system sustainable in the long term. All this government are doing is saying that we think it is reasonable that people make a small, modest contribution to their own health care—after all, like all Australians, we agree it is so important to all of us.