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Wednesday, 25 November 1998
Page: 642

Mr HORNE (4:05 PM) —I do wish to participate in this MPI debate. Actually, I wanted to participate in the debate earlier but, unfortunately, the member for Boothby and his colleagues voted to gag the debate and prevent all those people on this side from talking about health and the provision of health services to the people in the electorate of Paterson and every other electorate who are now being forced to wait extraordinary amounts of time for things like cataract surgery so they can see, so they can read the paper and so they can drive their car and get to work. Or perhaps some of these people are wanting to have a hip replacement or a knee replacement so they can go about their everyday life and do their own shopping. Perhaps they are wanting some other minor type of surgery that is necessary.

Maybe it is about the Commonwealth dental health program, from which the other side cut $92 million. That prevented people in my electorate having urgently needed dental health care that would have allowed them to eat ordinary foods rather than having to drink soup through a straw. But let us be quite clear what the government does stand for because no-one else, apart from them, understands their convoluted thinking.

Dr Southcott interjecting

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Nehl) —The member for Boothby has had his turn.

Mr HORNE —Thank you very much for supporting me, Mr Deputy Speaker. Let us just go through some of the history of this particular legislation. I would like to go back first to 1996. I know too well I was not here—I had a bit of time on the sideline—but I do particularly remember the Prime Minister's statement after 1996 that he wanted to lift the standard in this place.

Well, the members of the government have had that opportunity today. As the member for Boothby correctly says, this is the first piece of legislation of this parliament where members of the government and members of the opposition could really get their teeth into an issue that people of Australia feel strongly about. I support one comment that the member for Boothby made, and that is that health is a very important issue to the people of Australia.

I would be quite happy for the member for Boothby and for the minister for health to come to the Paterson electorate at any time and meet those people who are now being denied urgent health services because of the waiting lists in the public hospitals and explain to those people just how this piece of legislation is going to shorten the waiting list for them, because they will not be able to do it. They will not be able to guarantee that $1 will be spent on public health as a result of this legislation that is going to cost the taxpayers of Australia $1½ billion.

What do we get from that? We get the answer that the Prime Minister gave today that, for the princely sum of $1½ billion, the coverage of people by private health insurance will go from 30.3 per cent to 33 per cent of the population. They will be covered by private health insurance as a result of this legislation that you have approved today. But what did you vote against? The shadow minister moved an amendment that you voted against. Let us have a look at what that amendment said:

That all words after "That" be omitted with a view to substituting the following words:

"the Bill be withdrawn and redrafted to provide for:

(1) increased funding for the public hospital system;

That makes it quite clear what the government stands for: they do not stand for increasing funding to the public health system. If you had supported that, you would have voted for it. It is all right for the member for Boothby now to say, `No, that is not what I meant,' but that is not the way he voted because that is on record and will be shown up. He voted to object to increased funding for the public health system. The amendment goes on:

(2) measures to promote efficiency in private hospitals and control costs;

So he voted against that too. He does not want those measures to be put in place. The third point in the amendment that was moved by the opposition reads:

(3) measures to make health insurance more attractive by providing private patients a single hospital bill and insurance to cover the cost of hospital and medical services so that patients don't face large out-of-pocket costs.

Many references have been made to my coming back here. I can assure all members who have represented an electorate and lost their seat that if they do want to get back here they should get around and talk to the people and find out what the issues are about. I like to think that one of the reasons I came back is that I knocked on tens of thousands of doors and I met lots of people.

I met lots of people who were not being serviced by the health system. What they could not understand was why the government in its first term promised something like $1.4 billion to solve this health fund scheme, yet the fees kept going up. Apart from paying more fees, what happened when they went to hospital? They had an operation and then they were slugged with the higher costs. What made it strange was that people who may be in the next bed, who may be operated on by exactly the same surgeon, who got exactly the same service and who were covered by Medicare did not have to pay those extra costs.

I know that the government hates Medicare. They attack Medicare at every opportunity. But one of the things that the member for Boothby has completely and conveniently overlooked is the fact that when you pay your Medicare levy it is not a flat rate, it is a percentage. So the more you earn, the more you pay. That is until you get to $100,000 when there is a one per cent surcharge.

And, like the member for Boothby, I will declare an interest. I have private health insurance too; I have always had it. You probably pay the surcharge—no, I don't think you do because you have private health insurance. Let us just look at the one per cent surcharge on an income of $100,000 where you can have a choice: you can have private health insurance and pay out maybe a couple of grand a year, or you can pay the $1,000 surcharge which is one per cent. If, on the other hand, you have an income of $200,000 then you can either pay the two grand surcharge or two grand private health insurance—you can get out of it. Anyone earning over that amount will obviously elect not to pay the surcharge and will take out health insurance—they save money.

What is this government going to do to those people? They are going to give them an automatic rebate. They are not going to improve health services for those in need, but they are certainly going to give a rebate to those high earners that are already working the system to their own advantage.

Dr Southcott —You are confused.

Mr HORNE —I know I am confused. I am confused by the actions of people who have come out of the medical system, who have worked in public hospitals, who know the lack of services that exist there, who know the demand for the services and who are prepared to come in and support this piece of Hippocratic—it must have been a play on words; I know he has given the Hippocratic oath—this hypocritical piece of legislation.

I would have thought that a Prime Minister and a government that talks about battlers and that is prepared to give service to the battlers would make sure that service is delivered to the battlers. But that is not what this piece of legislation is about. This piece of legislation is purely about looking after the wealthy. I am more than happy to go back to my electorate and tell the people there like me who have private health insurance, `No, I don't support giving people like me a rebate.' I support the battlers waiting for urgent surgery so that they can get on with their life but who are told, `Come back and see us in 12 months.' I have met people who have been waiting three or four years to get dental care. I suggest that the member for Boothby slip out and take an Aspro or some other form of medication. The point is that services are not being delivered now and the government cannot assist that.

I appreciate the fact that any speech we hear today is going to be politically motivated. So let us ignore the politics of it for a minute and go to someone who often writes in the columns and does not always support our side. As a matter of fact, I have heard him quoted quite often by the Prime Minister. Let us talk about Ross Gittins's column today in the Sydney Morning Herald. It identifies a number of the problems with the current legislation that we have been debating. He says:

The problem, as years of propaganda have schooled us to believe, is the ever-declining number of people with private insurance.

The Prime Minister has told us today that $1.5 billion will increase participation by 2.7 per cent. What do the states want? They want $750 million, which is half of what the government is proposing, to solve all the states' health problems. But this government is not even prepared to do that. Imagine all the people in Coffs Harbour lined up waiting to get into the hospital there. We could solve their problems with half the amount of money. Mr Deputy Speaker, I would like you to join with me some time and look at the people in Maitland and Port Stephens who need health care. It has been denied, for half the amount of money that this government wants to spend.

But what is happening to the cost of fees? They are rising at three or four times the rate of inflation. That is part of the problem. The government is throwing this vast bucketful of money. Can members comprehend what $1.5 billion is? I cannot, and most Australians cannot. Between 1993 and 1996, Deputy Speaker Nehl and I canvassed very strongly for the Pacific Highway to be constructed in a proper fashion between Sydney and Bris bane to make it safe. That is about the sort of money that will do that. It is going to be spent over 10 years, though. We are talking about $1.5 billion each year over a 10-year period. We are talking about $15 billion. What can you do with $15 billion? If you only give the states half of that to solve their health problems, you have $7.5 billion to save. You can build five Pacific Highways from Sydney to Brisbane with that money, and those opposite claim that they are all about financial management. This is not financial management.

We are seeing one of the greatest bits of waste that this country has ever had presented to it by an irresponsible government. It is a government that does not know how to govern. It is a government that surprises me. When I came back here, I thought, `What is it going to be like to sit in opposition? What is it going to be like to have a government with its flag up giving us the policies?' All I have seen from this government is that it wants to attack the Labor Party. It is still talking about Paul Keating, Graham Richardson and Ros Kelly. But the ministers are sitting opposite. That is where the people who make the decisions reside. Can they make them? No, they cannot. They certainly cannot make the right ones. There has been no greater evidence than this piece of legislation.

Today will go down in history as a day when this government had the opportunity to support the ordinary people of Australia. It had the opportunity to spend money on a public health system to give service. It had the opportunity to give service to people who have private health insurance and to make sure that the bill reflected their needs. It failed. That is the shame of today. The member for Boothby, as I said, is more than welcome to come to Paterson with me. He can bring his ministerial mate. I would love to see him because I have thousands of people lined up who want to know why they cannot get the health service that their lifestyle urgently demands and which the government consistently refuses to give them. (Time expired)