Tuesday, 2 June 2009
Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009; Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2009; Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Bill 2009
I am certainly pleased to have the opportunity to speak to the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2009 and cognate bills because, contrary to the titles, this legislation is not about fairer private health insurance at all. There are only two parties, the Liberal Party and the National Party, who will stand up for private health insurance in this parliament. The only people with the form and the track record of delivering for Australians through an incentives scheme to ensure that those who can afford to provide for their own private health insurance do provide for it are the coalition. We know that the great pretenders, who sit on the government benches, for quite a while ahead of the last federal election claimed to the Australian people, falsely, that they would stand up for private health insurance. The Prime Minister promised on 22 September 2007:
A Rudd Labor Government will retain the Medicare safety net as Australian working families have come to rely on it for help with their family budgets.
He also promised to not do anything to attack the 30 per cent rebate. But what do we see after only 18 months of the Australian Labor Party in government? We see the same ideological attack dogs in the Australian Labor Party going for the jugular of private health insurance and the Medicare safety net. We know that the Australian Labor Party have an ideological problem with private health insurance. I guess this was most accurately reflected upon by Graham Richardson, a former Labor health minister and a man who understands the importance of private health insurance incentives. After he lost office he remarked:
On Labor’s side, of course, they simply do not want to acknowledge that private health care matters. There is an ideological bent here that says, “Medicare is perfect,” which is ridiculous. “Therefore, it cannot be changed,” which is also ridiculous. “Therefore, nothing should be done about private health,” which is also ridiculous because the one thing they do not want to acknowledge is that private health insurance matters.
Those are the words of a former Labor health minister, a man who intimately understands the beating ideological heart of the Australian Labor Party. The government have dictated, under reforms and broken promises delivered in the last federal budget, that they will do what they can to effectively destroy private health insurance in this country.
For my constituents in Moncrieff this legislation is galling. About 55 per cent of constituents in my electorate have private medical insurance. About 72,000 residents in my electorate have private health insurance—that is, 16,000 families. Those people are taking the pressure off the public health system. We all know that in Queensland, thanks to the complete economic mismanagement of the Queensland Labor government, the public health system is very poor. I cannot possibly even estimate the number of times I have read in local media that the Gold Coast Hospital has been put on bypass because it simply cannot cope with the demand for the public hospital system. That is one of the key reasons the former coalition government had as a fundamental plank of policy the belief that Australians should be provided with the incentive to have private medical insurance if they can afford it, because on this side of the chamber we understand that every Australian in the private medical system eases the strain on the public system. Those opposite in the government never want to acknowledge that fact.
From speaking to my constituents and people as I move around my electorate I know about their sheer concern that, as a consequence of Labor’s changes and as a consequence of the bill before the House today, we will see thousands of people in my electorate alone pushed off the private health insurance system into the public system. So I say to all Gold Coasters: if you think you have a problem with the Queensland public health system now, if you think that the Gold Coast Hospital cannot cope with the demand on its services now, you have not seen anything, because under the Australian Labor Party’s reforms that are before this House today you are about to see a swamping of the public health system by millions of Australians across the board, who are, as far as I am concerned, going to effectively completely destroy the timeliness of public health, to the extent that it exists now.
In my own electorate there are some 2,771 people who are currently awaiting surgery at the Gold Coast Hospital. What is going to happen to those waiting lists, which the Prime Minister so earnestly promised ahead of the last federal election he would take care of? His words, ‘The buck stops with me,’ still ring in my ears. The Labor Party tried to pretend that they would not harm private health insurance, that they were a friend of private health insurance and that the Prime Minister had a plan to fix the public health system. And what do we see now? The proof is in the pudding as we see the Prime Minister has no plan. He has attacked private health insurance and is in fact going to make public hospital queues completely blow out. That is what the Australian Labor Party have proposed and are executing with these bills before the House today, which will ultimately cost thousands of people on the Gold Coast their private medical insurance.
At the margin, we know the Labor Party like to claim that they are simply changing the thresholds to ensure that only the wealthy no longer receive the subsidy—that only the wealthy no longer receive a rebate. That is the claim the Labor Party like to use, that is what their focus group tested and that is what the spin doctors are telling them: ‘Look, put that out there; let’s keep the whole class warfare thing going.’ That is the Australian Labor Party’s perspective: let us say that this is only about making sure that taxpayers do not subsidise the rich. But the reality is that as private health insurance has fewer people in it, premiums will go up and as premiums start to go up fewer people will have the incentive to stay in the private health insurance system. So we start a downward spiral similar to that the Labor Party last presided over, which saw private health insurance coverage in this country collapse to 30 per cent.
That is Labor’s form; that is Labor’s track record. I predict that will again be the consequence of this very myopic Labor Party policy. As more people leave private health insurance, premiums will increase and the more premiums increase the more people will leave. The more people leave, the more people will be on public hospital queues and the longer the waiting lists will be. That is an undeniable reality and a consequence of this policy change that the Labor Party has before the House today.
It is only the coalition that is prepared to draw a line in the sand and say we will stand up for private health insurance. The Labor Party likes to claim that the coalition does not have a plan or a policy. We could not have spelt it out any more simply for the Labor Party. This side of the House takes very seriously our commitment to private health and our commitment to the public system, which ultimately we are defending by standing up for the private health insurance rebate.
I notice the member for Brisbane laughing. Does he deny that as more people leave private health insurance the public hospital queues are going to blow out? Is that seriously the position put forward by the Labor Party? As a million people leave private health insurance and move to the public system, the public system is just going to cope remarkably, is it? No response. The Australian Labor Party know that their myopic policy is basically the same policy that destroyed public health in this country in the early 1990s. It is the same ideological gutting of private health that they are seeking to do by introducing this bill into the parliament today.
I will spell it out as indeed the shadow minister for health has spelt it out, as indeed the Leader of the Opposition has spelt it out. The Labor Party have a measly mouthed approach to policy—their so-called assault on the rich because it suits them to spin it that way. What the Labor Party should do is adopt the coalition’s proposal. As the Leader of the Opposition outlined in his budget-in-reply speech, we would offset the cost of this and retain the rebate in place and retain the Medicare safety net by ensuring that we increase tobacco excise by 12.5 per cent. This 12.5 per cent increase in the excise, roughly 3c a cigarette, is a positive health measure that directly addresses the single biggest cause of preventable death and disease in Australia and also ensures that adequate funds flow to retain the private health system as it currently stands. That is the only way; that is the only assurance I can give to the 72,000 people in my electorate who are going to be left hanging in the breeze as a result of the reforms that the Labor Party is putting forward. That is the only way that we can ensure that they retain their private and affordable coverage and that we do not see hospital waiting lists blow out under the Australian Labor Party as they have so many times.
These are bad public policy changes. The legislation is a gateway to Australia going back to a very flawed and failed public health system that turfs so many Australians, probably millions over the longer term, onto the public health system. In my own home state of Queensland the pathetic state Labor government has racked up $74 billion worth of debt and is having a fire sale of assets. Today the Queensland government announced the axing of the 8.5c fuel subsidy because they are so desperate for cash. That is the tier of government that ultimately has responsibility for the Queensland public health system. And this government is going to drive tens of thousands if not hundreds of thousands of people in my state onto the public system. It is an indictment on the Australian Labor Party. They should come clean about what they are doing and they should just confess that their ideological bent and pathological commitment to destroying private health insurance is nothing except a step in the wrong direction.