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Monday, 7 July 2014
Page: 4216

Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (15:39): Deputy President Marshall, congratulations on your elevation. I rise to take note of the responses of the Assistant Minister for Health to questions asked without notice today. I can inform the Senate, particularly the Assistant Minister for Health, that her response today was once again completely uninformative. The responses we received were once again a repetition of tired and worn-out lines from a minister who seeks to hide from the scrutiny to which this government does not want to be exposed. The assistant minister seems to believe that, if she keeps repeating the same lines over and over, those lines, by the very uttering of them, will somehow protect her from the avalanche of outrage crashing down on this government. But the people of Australia are awake to this government. They have, in the nine months since Mr Abbott assumed the prime ministership, been exposed to the reality of the web of lies that those opposite repeated ad nauseam before the election. Any currency those lines ever had in that election has completely evaporated. Remember, Deputy President, the new Prime Minister Tony Abbott, only 24 hours before the last federal election, on 6 September 2013, said there would be 'no cuts to education, no cuts to health, no change to pensions, no change to the GST and no cuts to the ABC or SBS'.

What we heard in the assistant minister's response was weasel words certainly, but weasel words that reveal a determination to push forward with a budget of broken promises to tax the sick. Why are we being subjected to these weasel words? It is because more experts are coming out against this government's policies, and weasel words are all the government have left to sell. They have nothing substantive to say, as each one of their key platforms is quickly being eroded by expert opinion and public sentiment. They keep on the offensive about the former Labor government, but they fail to realise the pain that they are set to cause everyday Australians. The questions addressed to the Assistant Minister for Health today were on that very topic—the pain they are causing, figuratively and literally in this instance.

What we are already seeing and being told by our local doctors all across this country, and indeed by the AMA, is that people are refusing to seek the medical attention that they may need. The fear of being unable to pay this GP tax has Australians running away from their doctors and doctors worried about their patients. Researchers from the University of Sydney are the most recent experts to come out against this tax. They have answered all the questions that the minister continues to refuse to answer. What do we know now? We know that the average patient with type 2 diabetes will be $121.49 worse off each year with this new tax. Patients with worse cases can expect to fork out an additional $150 per year. We can see these examples in other demographics too.

Some conservative estimates of what average Australian families will have to face include the following. A young family with two parents and two children under 16 years of age will pay $184 more per year on average for care and medications. Today, the minister refused to even acknowledge that fact, simply saying, 'I'm aware there are a range of opinions.' Being aware of a range of opinions does not absolve her of the responsibility for the policies that she wants to implement that are designed to hurt the sickest in our community. Self-funded retirees aged 65-plus years with no Commonwealth concession card will pay an additional $244 per year because of what this government wants to implement. An older couple with concession cards will pay an additional $199 per year on average. The minister might call this a modest contribution, but to the people of New South Wales and in the region where I live that is no modest contribution, and it is a disincentive to seek health care.

This is not just a single hit on the sick but a sick tax, literally taxing the sickest people in our community every time they need to seek medical care, every time they have a blood test, every time they need some pathology test, every time they need an X-ray or every time they need any other form of diagnostic imaging. Breast cancer fears will be put aside by mothers trying to look after their kids and putting their needs first and the costs of their families ahead of their own care. The chronically ill must be feeling even worse now than they might expect from their illness, as they are subject to the punishments of this bruising and cruel government, punishing them for being sick, punishing them for having an illnesses, punishing them every time they seek health care or diagnosis, punishing them for acquiring a chronic disease or for failing to be born or remain healthy enough and perfect enough to avoid the need to go to the doctor. This is a sick government. It is a sick tax that they are proposing and Labor will be fighting it all the way, to preserve access to Medicare. That is part of the fabric of this country.