Monday, 17 September 2007
Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007
It is interesting that, in the last seconds of the speech that was made by the member for Gellibrand, we were actually given some inkling of what Labor’s alternative policy is. We did not actually get the detail—though the member for Gellibrand had another 10 minutes of speaking opportunity—but we did get that they are going back to the Paul Keating system. In her opening statement on the Health Insurance Amendment (Medicare Dental Services) Bill 2007, the member for Gellibrand chose to mislead the House by attacking the Howard government for a piece of Keating legislation which, if she had been around at the time or observant she would know, was Labor government policy for four years.
The Keating legislation to which she referred was introduced with a four-year sunset clause. The Howard government did nothing to cancel that program; it cancelled itself by legislation which, if the member for Gellibrand had been present at the time she would know, was passed by a Labor government under then Prime Minister Paul Keating. So why not tell this House the truth? What substance is there in your rhetoric when you cannot even take the blame for your own actions? It was always possible for the Howard government to reinstate that program. As I recollect, it expired in the first three years of the Howard government. But what was the Howard government trying to do at that time? It was trying to save Australia from the ‘recession we had to have’. There was no money for people’s teeth; there was no money for anything. The government of the day owed $96 billion.
They lecture us now as to how they might spend the surpluses, which were generated, through a lot of political pain, by something that was introduced by the Howard government in difficult times. That is what the member for Gellibrand is talking about. I never stopped taking notes. She had to introduce the blame game argument—that is about as far as their policy initiatives go. You cannot blame the states. I was not around at the time of Federation, but I have read a lot about it. It was not the Australian government in its initial stages that decided that it would not have responsibility for dental treatment. That was a decision of state governments. They were the ones who said, ‘This is what you the Australian government’—the Commonwealth—‘can do.’ They had the power, and they kept dental treatment for themselves. They also retained income tax, but could not hand it over quickly enough during the Second World War. When Malcolm Fraser offered it to them, one of their luminaries, Mr Wran, started a public campaign about double taxation.
In the end, the Howard government had to introduce the GST—at great political cost, I might add—for very good tax reform reasons but also to prop up the states and give them some money. What did the Prime Minister say during that campaign? This is a response to the blame game argument—‘We are going to take the political pain of introducing a new tax regime so that there is a source of money, the GST, a growth tax, so that the states can meet their fundamental chosen responsibilities.’ Those responsibilities were not imposed upon them; they were chosen. And what were they? They were public health, public policing and education.
We have a potential federal minister, a shadow minister, explaining to us why there is some fault in a government that continues to try and restrict the exposure of the Australian taxpayer to something that state governments chose as their own responsibility. She says that we have a shortage of people and that that is all the Howard government’s fault. It is like the shortage of doctors. After the Hawke government implemented the original bulk-billing arrangements, they were so generous that one doctor was able to buy an AFL football team with the proceeds of his business. They were so panicked about that that they cut—