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Tuesday, 15 October 1985
Page: 1274

Senator WALTERS(9.56) —What an extraordinary speech! I was very interested to hear Senator Robertson say tonight that he would continue to talk against the recreation air fares not being exempt from the fringe benefits provisions. Indeed, he believed that it was very unjust that they should be included and that he would continue to talk about them. I wonder whether he will have the strength of character actually to vote against them. I shall be following that very clearly, because he has told us tonight that he has spoken to his constituents and spoke against it in the party room and tried very hard for them. But the whole strength of Senator Robertson's position is how he votes on that issue. We shall be interested to see whether he crosses the floor to vote according to his convictions.

Senator Robertson —I will cross probably as often as you will. I have not seen you cross on the funeral one.

Senator WALTERS —I have crossed the floor, as Senator Robertson well knows, on the referendums Bills and voted against my Party, because I believe that that was extremely important to me, and I had the courage of my convictions. I shall be interested to see Senator Robertson following the courage of his convictions when we come to vote on that matter. I was also interested to hear Senator Richardson tonight say-and it was completely false-that we had done nothing against tax evasion in the seven years we were in power. He knows as well as any other member of the Senate that until John Howard's legislation was introduced there had been no legislation regarding tax evasion. We introduced bottom-of-the-harbour scheme legislation that put an end to tax evasion-indeed, to the extent that the present Minister for Trade, Mr Dawkins, when he was in Opposition said: `Tax evasion is dead, it is no longer an issue'. Yet now Senator Richardson claims in this Senate that we did nothing to do away with tax evasion. It was completely immoral for a senator to stand in this place and carry on in that way. Tonight I intend to debate just one of the Bills with which the Senate is dealing this evening in the taxation package and I refer to the Medicare Levy Bill 1985. I shall confine my remarks mainly to that area.

Senator Robertson —We are not surprised.

Senator WALTERS —There is enough on the Medicare Levy Bill that will keep me going for the next 25 minutes. The only area of honesty in the whole of this debate tonight is that Medicare levy has been put in the taxation bracket, because that is exactly what it has become. It has become taxation-nothing more, nothing less. The fact that it is meant to be a levy paid on our health is just a farce. We have been told that the levy is no longer to have a ceiling-that that ceiling has been abolished from 1 July this year. Members of the public who are now above that ceiling will be paying as levy one per cent of the total of their taxable income. This is why I say that the levy is now part of the taxation laws of this country. It is no longer merely a levy. Taxation has gone up one per cent.

This Bill also includes the increasing of the threshold below which people will no longer pay any of the levy. I welcome that increase because people on the lower incomes would find that one per cent very difficult to pay. As I say, removal of the ceiling really relegates the levy to an increase in taxation. Of course, that is another broken promise. We were told that that one per cent levy would not be increased. It was increased following the abolition of the ceiling. We must not forget that Dr Blewett said that Medicare would be funded by a one per cent income tax contribution and that the levy would not be raised. He has not raised the levy; it is still one per cent, but that one per cent does not cover and was never intended to cover Medicare. Indeed, the levy raises only $1,280m. But the cost of Medicare, according to estimates recently discussed by the Senate Estimates committees, is close to $3,700m. So the one per cent levy just covers about a third of the cost. Of course, the rest of the money comes out of Consolidated Revenue.

It was a complete fraud at the time for the Minister to say that the levy would cover the cost of Medicare. He did not intend it to, he knew it would increase, and it was a convenient statement at the time. The total health care bill is well above that. Commonwealth outlays alone, leaving out what the States pay, in 1985-86 are estimated at $6,700m, an increase of $587m or 9.6 per cent in one year. that is well above the inflation rate. So our health care costs are going up quite considerably. What percentage of those costs does the levy now pay? That is very hard to come to. I have not yet received from the Department of Health an answer to the question I asked on the total expenditure, State and Federal.

What has been the result of this wonderful scheme? We have had beds closed. We have had long waiting lists in public hospitals. Nurses and doctors have been on strike. Doctors have resigned. Dr Blewett told us that it was a wonderful scheme. It is certainly not a wonderful scheme. I will quote from the Medicare pamphlet that was delivered to all our homes. Dr Blewett said:

The Medicare card will cure one of your biggest headaches. Very soon this card will cure just about everything that worries you about Health Insurance-the cost, the complications, the inconvenience and all the other headaches.

What a statement! Clearly that was wrong. People have headaches. They are worried about the cost of health care and that cost keeps going up. Let us look at why the beds in the public hospitals are closing. They are closing because there are no nurses to service those beds. The nurses have been leaving the profession because they have been overworked and they cannot stand the strain and pressure they have been put under because of the Government refusing to pay fully the costs of the public hospitals. We have long waiting lists in all the public hospitals. I will cite just a few of the figures we have. Again, the Department of Health has not given me the answer to the question I asked in the Estimates hearing. I hope it comes before we go into the Committee of the Whole. I asked what the waiting lists were in the various States.

I know that on 4 October in my home city of Hobart 2,105 people were waiting for elective surgery. That figure was up from 800. Eight hundred people were waiting for elective surgery before Medicare started. Now 2,105 people are waiting. In Victoria in September it was claimed that 25,700 people were waiting for elective surgery. We do not know what the numbers are in the other States and that is why I have asked the Department of Health to get them for me. We do not know what the figures are for South Australia, but the hospital administrator there says that the waiting lists are very long and are causing much concern. In New South Wales Dr Howarth, who is secretary of the branch of the Australian Hospitals Association, says that the waiting lists and waiting times are both increasing and that the public hospital system does not have the capacity to cope. He said that some patients will have to wait a long time for elective surgery and that we need to talk about it openly. So why are these other States-South Australia, Western Australia and New South Wales-not telling us the figures? There is not the problem in Queensland because it has always had a free hospital system. My State is willing to say what its waiting list is and so is Victoria, but these other Labor States are not willing to put forward their figures. I wonder why.

Let us look at the nurses on strike-the next problem Medicare has caused. In Victoria the nurses have been awarded a 9 per cent increase. In Tasmania our nurses are being paid 9 per cent less than original income of the nurses in Victoria. What will happen to their wages? Will they go up by 18 per cent to keep in line with the wages of Victorian nurses? If they do not I can assure honourable senators that there will be such an outflow of nurses from Tasmania to Victoria that we will not be able to run our hospitals at all. Will the Commonwealth Government meet the costs of these sorts of things? In New South Wales doctors resigned because they were treated so poorly by Dr Blewett and this wonderful scheme which was introduced because of a fraudulent claim that two million people were uninsured. That was the reason we were given for the need to introduce Medicare. In Estimates hearings I asked whether that two million people included all the Queenslanders who already had a free hospital scheme and were able to go to the out-patients departments and hospitals for nothing. I was assured that yes, the figure did include all the Queenslanders. It also included members of the defence forces. Neither Queenslanders nor members of the defence forces needed medical cover. That fraudulent claim was given as the reason for the need to introduce Medicare.

We said at the time Medicare was introduced that it would create a tremendous problem for the hospitals, that people would seek further unnecessary services. Indeed, that is the situation at the moment. In 1982-83-again this information was given to the Estimates Committee-the number of services was 96 million. By 1983-84 the number of services had increased by 14 million. There are now 110 million services and the figure has continued to go up. Last year there were 113 million services. So we find that the situation we warned about has developed. We warned that there would be overservicing and people would be seeking services which previously they considered to be unnecessary. We find that this year it is anticipated that medical benefits payments will increase by 11 per cent, or $255m. These are the costs resulting from Medicare.

However, there are many other areas of great concern. I mentioned them in a previous speech on the Medicare levy, but I believe they need repeating because the Government seems to ignore completely the fact that there are so many anomalies in the areas of payment of the levy by families. Senator Maguire, who spoke about the various family types, said that single income families with two children would be exempt from the levy if they had an income of $15,564. What he did not say was that there were anomalies and I sincerely hope the Department looks at these because they ought to be fixed and it would be simple to do so.

Let us look at the various types of families on $16,000 a year. A single person on $16,000 pays a $160 levy. A married couple with one income of $16,000 pays the same levy-$160. A single income couple on $16,000 with one dependent child pays the same levy-$160. A couple with no dependants, one on an income of $8,000 and the other on the same income of $8,000-which makes a combined income of $16,000-pays a levy of $10 less a year; they pay $150. I have no idea why that should be, why a two-income family on $8,000 each pays less than a couple with one dependent child on the same family income. Why should a family with a child pay more than a couple without children? I would like some answers from the Minister and I would hope he could get them from the Department.

Another couple with no dependant children, one on an income of $10,000 and the other on an income of $6,000-their income still totals $16,000-pays only $100 levy. That couple with no dependent children pays only $100 levy while a couple with one child pays $60 more. Let me go further. Take a couple with no dependent children on an income of $9,000 and $7,000. Their combined income still totals $16,000. What is their levy? It is $90. They are paying only $90 while a single income family with one child pays $70 more. It seems incredible that this situation has arisen.

If one goes further one finds that a married couple with a single income of $16,000 and two children pays a levy of $87.20. Another couple with two dependants-one parent on an income of $8,000 and the other on an income of $8,000-pays the same levy, $87.20. Another couple with two dependants-one parent on $10,000 and the other on $6,000-again pays $87.20. We have these anomalies that I previously brought to the attention of the Department. The Department is well aware of them but the Government is doing nothing and the Department is, of course, completely unconcerned that these anomalies occur. A single income family with a dependent child pays more than a couple who have no dependent children. I believe that the anomalies should be looked at.

As I have said, Medicare is a complete shambles. Its cost is going up. The Government has decided that it will brazen it out and that it will not increase the levy. It will attempt to continue to defraud the public into believing that the levy pays for Medicare when, at this stage, it is not covering a third of its costs. I ask the Minister whether he will answer later in the debate the queries that I have regarding the anomalies. I believe they deserve an answer. The people of Australia need to know that the Medicare levy is at least a fair and equitable way of health insurance. (Quorum formed)