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Tuesday, 1 March 2016
Page: 2607


Ms HALL (ShortlandOpposition Whip) (12:46): The legislation we have before us today—Appropriation Bill (No. 3) 2015-2016 and Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 2015-2016—demonstrates the difference between the Turnbull government and us on the opposition benches. Rather than attacking people who are the most vulnerable in our community and ripping services out of the community, our approach to the fiscal challenge is to make multinational companies pay their fair share of tax, reducing superannuation tax concessions for millionaires, increasing the charges to tobacco excise, ceasing the emissions reduction fund—in other words, stopping paying polluters to pollute—and not proceeding with the government's new baby bonus.

The Shortland electorate is the seventh oldest electorate in the nation. It has the seventh highest number of people over the age of 65. The people of Shortland depend on government to deliver services. There are 19.8 per cent of the population aged 65 or over and many of those people are on fixed incomes. Many of them rely on their doctor bulk-billing for them. Many of them do not relate to computer technology and find it very difficult when they go to a Centrelink office and are referred to a computer or are handed a telephone and told to speak to somebody on the phone. People like—and expect—to be delivered the services they elect governments to deliver for them.

Unfortunately—very unfortunately—over the term of this government, in this parliament, services have been ripped out of communities. My office has been contacted by many constituents who are disturbed by the fact that when they walk into a Centrelink office they are greeted by a person with an iPad and directed to a telephone or a computer. They find this intimidating. They find the lack of service very hard to cope with.

Rather than setting up a system where special services are designed to ensure that older Australians can access information, payments and services they require, the government is putting in place barriers to prevent people, particularly older people, from accessing that information and getting those services. It is a government committed to small government, in the sense that it does not believe in service delivery. If they can outsource it they will. If they can cut it they will. And the cuts are directed towards the most vulnerable—those people who rely the most on government to deliver services.

Last Saturday I was at one of my local shopping centres. This Abbott-Turnbull government is seeking to close the Belmont Medicare office. The Howard government closed the Belmont Medicare office and Labor reopened it in 2009. Now we have another Liberal-National Party government and they are—again—closing the Belmont Medicare office. Service delivery has changed. The staff do not provide as much hands-on service as they did before—because of the directives this government has in place—but, every time I go up there, there is someone at the counter. Last time I entered that Medicare office there were 10 people lined up to use the computer. When they get into trouble they can get assistance in the Belmont Medicare office. People come from as far south as Gwandalan and Summerland Point. The alternative for them is either to go to Lake Haven or to travel all the way to Charlestown. For a person who lives in Swansea or even Belmont—two suburbs within the Shortland electorate that have a high elderly population—travelling to Charlestown means that if they are lucky enough to have a full licence—many have restricted licences—they have to drive to Charlestown or catch a bus. If they have a restricted licence, it is outside the area where they can travel.

I really feel that some of the decisions that this government is making are to the detriment of the people I represent in this parliament. It shows a lack of understanding. If we look at health and the measures that this government has put in place to encourage GPs not to bulk-bill, once again this has impacted on people in the Shortland electorate. It has created a situation where people are avoiding going to the doctor. Changes to the PBS have led to rationing of medication by people who are on low or lower or fixed incomes. It is very short-sighted, because in the long term it will increase health costs within the community. Countless constituents have contacted me about this particular issue. I have been contacted by numerous constituents about Centrelink and the failure to deliver services there. I have been contacted by countless constituents about the fact that doctors are being encouraged not to bulk-bill.

That has been further exacerbated by measures in the last budget that will lead to pathologists no longer receiving the bulk-billing incentive. I have in my hand a letter from Pathology Australia where they highlight the impact that this will have. In this letter Pathology Australia said that it will lead to a situation where only those Australians that can afford to have pathology tests will be able to have them. Currently there are no out-of-pocket expenses, but when that bulk-billing incentive is removed there will definitely be out-of-pocket expenses. It is very important to note that 100 per cent of all people diagnosed with cancer have contact with and need services from pathologists. This will only lead to Australians becoming sicker. I think those on the other side of the House need to take this back their party room. They need to consider a little more the impact that the changes that they are pushing through their party room have on people in their electorates. These are real people that are fighting to have the finances to get the services that they need to keep themselves healthy and to get treatments that they need from their doctors.

I believe that that is very, very important. Just to give you a bit of insight, last month was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month. The changes that will take place will have enormous implications for the costs associated there. A pelvic ultrasound will have a gap of between $10 and $101. A CT abdomen and pelvis scan will have a gap of between $48 and $145. That will impact on so many women. Ovarian cancer is a difficult cancer to diagnose, and if people are facing out-of-pocket expenses that will be a disincentive for them to have those tests.

The other thing that I would like to touch on quickly is education. This government has ripped money out of education and has failed to commit to the ongoing funding of the Gonski reforms, reforms that my local schools have told me have led to students improving their literacy and numeracy skills by two years. Labor has committed this year to funding the remaining years of the Gonski reforms. That means that all students in Australia will have equal access to education. It means that as a nation we will have a future. All students being able to access quality education means that as a nation we will be globally competitive.

Add to that our plans to provide 75 per cent of funding for vocational education to TAFEs. Add to that that we are moving away from the government's $100,000 degrees. These are all disincentives to undertake studies, particularly in the vocational education area, where people are being signed up by disreputable private colleges and incurring a debt of up to $20,000—I think that is about the highest that has come through my office—and then getting nothing for their money. They have been inappropriately signed up, because they were not up to the course they were being signed up for. On jobs, Labor has a plan for jobs. We will deliver real jobs on the ground. Saying that you are creating jobs and then, at the same time, having jobs going out of the economy is just unbelievable. That is what this government stands in this House and does all the time.

I have covered a lot of areas in my contribution to this debate. I would like to finish on this note: this government has no plan; Labor has a plan. Labor has a number of quality policies. At first, this government was going to increase the GST. It got a little bit hard, so it did not go ahead with it. In talking about negative gearing, the government is looking at retrospective negative gearing. When it comes to a plan for the future, all we hear is a Prime Minister that stands up in this House and uses fancy words. He talks about innovation and about being agile. His contribution to the debate in this parliament is nothing but waffle. The Australian people want action. They do not want waffle; they do not want fine words. They want a government that delivers services to them.