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
All along, Labor have had a track record of hating private health insurance. They did go to the last election, as the member for Dunkley indicated, promising that there would be no change to the arrangements for private health insurance. But why are we surprised when we now see the Labor Party break a number of promises they made to the people of Australia? The people of Australia must be getting a bit cynical now. They were sold a pup. They were given an expectation and that expectation is not being delivered on. When we see this class warfare and politics of envy and so on operating within the government, it is frightening. Only yesterday the unions floated the idea that the salaries of company executives should be limited by government decree. I am not sure how you would do that, but it certainly does not encourage the best, brightest and most capable to remain working in Australia.
It has always been the Labor Party’s philosophy to bring people down to a common denominator. We are seeing that in private health insurance changes and in what the unions are proposing in relation to how company executives should be remunerated. That is sad. I guess it comes back to the fundamental philosophies that define the Labor Party and the coalition. The Labor Party’s view is to legislate to do all things to make people equal with one another. The coalition, on the other hand, believe that we should give everybody the opportunity to be equal. It is a fundamental difference in our philosophies, because people are not equal. People will always be different. You cannot make people equal when they cannot be equal, but you can give them equal opportunity. You can allow them to do well and you can support those who do not have the capacity to do well. That is what the Australian Labor Party should be thinking deeply about.
Many people are also very concerned that the Rudd government promised to fix the hospital system, particularly in my patch in Townsville in North Queensland. Now there is a lot of money coming out of the health system—I will explain that in a moment—to pay for Labor’s reckless spending, but that is putting pressure on the health system, which is already groaning under the weight of to few beds, too few health professionals and so on. I am reminded that the Prime Minister made a commitment to the Australian nation that, if the health system was not fixed by 30 June this year, he would take it over from the states. The 30th of June is going to be a very interesting day because the health system is not fixed, and I would take a bet that there will be another broken promise at the end of this month—that the Prime Minister will not move to take over the hospital system. Again he will disappoint all Australians, whom he gave such a great expectation to in relation to this issue.
The beauty of private health insurance is that it gets people paying a component of their health costs. People will voluntarily pay a significant sum of money towards the cost of their hospital cover, which means that the government does not have to meet that cost. Throwing people out of the private health insurance system imposes higher costs on the public hospital system and on the government. It is a lose-lose situation. I am reminded that many of the people with private health insurance in Australia are pensioners. They scrimp and save at times in their lives when they really need private health insurance. Effectively, the government is taking a measure to increase the cost of private health insurance for those people who really need private health insurance to access private hospitals. It is a very bad measure all round.
We will also see that the people who drop out of private health insurance because of this measure are those who are least likely to want to use the facilities of a private hospital. People who are most likely to use the facilities of the private hospital will remain privately insured. All that means is that you will lose the healthy ones and keep the less healthy ones and premiums will rise to cover the cost of the less healthy cohort who remain in private health insurance. Can’t the government see that? Can’t they see what they are doing to pensioners who keep private health insurance as a necessity? Can’t they see that they are putting premiums up for pensioners? No, it is ideological; they do not want to see it.
I have a major private hospital in my electorate which is not for profit—which means that it is not for loss. The private hospital concerned needs a critical mass. If the percentage of people with private health insurance in the Townsville population drops below a critical level—a scenario which is likely to happen when the Rudd government makes these changes to private health insurance—the hospital will run at a loss. What will that mean for my people in town?
It should be borne in mind that hospitals in regional Australia offer a wider range of services than would otherwise be available in a hospital in a capital city. That stands to reason. They have to because there is not a high concentration of population to support specific specialties which you can access in a capital city. Some of the specialist health services provided by private hospitals in regional Australia have to be subsidised by other services. The regional hospital offers a wider range of services because the alternative is to put the burden back on the public system, to send patients to Brisbane—it is only 1,000 kilometres away—or, worse still, simply not offer the specialised health services.
The hospital concerned has a specialised health procedure called brachytherapy, a form of radiotherapy where radioactive seeds are inserted, or placed inside, or next to an area requiring treatment to knock off a cancer. It is commonly used very successfully to treat localised prostate cancer. It is available in Townsville, but if this legislation proceeds the way it looks as though it will proceed, the service will no longer be subsidised by other services and we will lose that service in North Queensland. So the Rudd government does regional Australia in the eye yet again. It is very unfortunate.
People living in regional Australia do not deserve to be treated as second-class citizens when it comes to the provision of health services. I am concerned that this will be the case when more pressure is put on the private health insurance system and people opt out of private health cover. There are nearly 70,000 adults in my electorate and 52 per cent of them have private health insurance. It is going to be very interesting to see where that number drops to under this particular measure. It will just mean bigger queues at Townsville Hospital, more frustration and longer waiting times. That will be a bad outcome.
The changes we are debating tonight have been acknowledged by the Australian Private Hospitals Association as a clear breach of election promises made by the Rudd government. I do not think there is any doubt about that. Even the Labor Party would admit that it is a breach of an election promise—they have to. The APHA state:
The changes will lead to a system that is confusing, complex and costly for those millions of Australians who take responsibility for their own health care costs.
On the subject of broken election promises, there is a standout one in Townsville relating to my defence community. The Rudd government promised that Townsville and Darwin would be the first to receive a defence family health clinic. And $33 million was promised. You know, we still do not have one. There are trials being run in other centres but not in Townsville or Darwin and there has been no commitment to start up a family health centre for defence families in Townsville. So we now have a double whammy: we have defence families who are privately insured with the not-for-profit insurer Defence Health. They have been let down by the government’s promises in relation to private health insurance. They are also let down by the government’s promise, not fulfilled, in relation to the family health centre at Lavarack Barracks. I am very disappointed for my people in Townsville. I am very disappointed that the Rudd government has taken this attitude.
I finish where I started. Labor hates private health insurance. The ideologues and the unions believe that we should have a socialised system—a one size fits all. It does not work. It is bad for the country and it removes the choice that people should have in relation to their health arrangements. I will be voting against this measure.