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
The titles of these bills, which refer to ‘fairer’ private health insurance incentives, prove beyond doubt that just because Labor says something does not mean it is true. The truth of the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 and related legislation is that it is going to slash the rebates that are available to families and individuals. It is going to slash those rebates from 30 per cent down to 20 per cent, from 30 per cent down to 10 per cent and from 30 per cent down to zero. This legislation shows yet again that in this budget Australians are paying the price for Labor’s reckless spending. This is a government that has lost control of the budget. It has lost control of the finances and we have a debt that is mounting at exponential levels on a daily basis. So we have before us this legislation, which is solely designed to try to attack private health insurance and to attack those who have sought to take some responsibility for their own healthcare needs and reduce a burden on the public system for the benefit of the whole system. These are the people the government is seeking to attack in this budget and by this measure in particular. They are the new ‘Rudd rich’, as the Prime Minister might want to refer to them—the groups of people he now deems unworthy of any support or any recognition of the sacrifices they make or the costs they incur. I note in particular that the income levels in this measure mean it will impose an even greater burden on my home city of Sydney, where incomes are, frankly, higher. They are higher because costs are higher. The cost of living in a major city like Sydney is higher; therefore the burden of this initiative will fall even more heavily on families in Sydney than in most parts of the country.
The measures in this legislation represent the second wave in Labor’s assault on private health insurance. We saw the first wave of that assault come in last year’s budget, when Labor sought to adjust the thresholds. This legislation is not about the global financial crisis, as the government would have you believe. It is not even about the Australian recession, which the government do not seem to want to talk about. They want to talk about global factors but they do not want to talk about the real situation here in Australia. What this legislation is all about is Labor’s hatred of private health insurance. As the previous speaker, the member for Mackellar, and all the other speakers on this side of the House have argued so well, this is all about Labor’s hatred of private health insurance. It is in their DNA. It is in their platform. It is in their policy. It is in their statements. It is in their words. It is in their deeds. And now we are going to see it in their debt. This is what the Labor Party stand for. Even though they promised they would do something differently, and even though they put that in writing, we should really not be surprised as we see this second wave of the assault come upon us.
There is a real difference between the coalition, who sit on this side of the House, and those who sit on the government side. Around health, the different is that when the coalition look at how health should work in this country we look at all elements of it. We look at the role the private sector can play. We look at the role the public sector can play. On this side of the chamber, we do not look overseas, with pining, towards other systems. We think the system we have here is pretty good. It actually gets the private and the public sectors working well together. Those on that side of the House look to the United Kingdom and pray for the day when they have complete public control of health, right across the board, and they have doctors, nurses and everybody answering to the almighty Prime Minister. That is not a system or a vision for health that we share on this side of the House.
The vision we have for health is of an environment where the private sector, the independent practitioners and the public sector all work together to provide an effective health system and where there is a system of incentives which enables people to take on responsibilities for their own health care. In government we provided for that environment. We provided the encouragement for that environment. That encouragement was in the form of a system that included the 30 per cent rebate, the Medicare levy surcharge and Lifetime Health Cover. Over the period of our government, particularly from the commencement of those initiatives, and from the time we left office, the take-up of private health insurance rose from 30 per cent to 43 per cent. In my electorate, that figure today is 72 per cent. That does not surprise me because my electorate of Cook, in Sydney’s Sutherland shire, is made up of people and families who have made a habit throughout their lives of trying to take responsibility for themselves and their families and trying to support others around them. They carry their own weight and they also seek to carry the weight of others. It is an electorate where people have started small businesses and worked hard for a living, and as part of that ethic they see a responsibility to have private health insurance. These people are being punished by this government through these measures.
As a result of the measures we introduced and our encouragement of that type of system, more than half of hospital procedures today are done in private hospitals. So the actual attempt to encourage a system that moves us away from private hospitals into public hospitals defies belief. Despite those opposite trying to advance the argument in this debate that there will be no decline in private health insurance take-up, as we heard earlier from one of the government speakers, Treasury claims that 25,000 will drop their cover. That is the government’s number. That is not the opposition’s number. It is not the number that is coming from the health insurance industry. That is the number that is coming from the government. With a decline of at least that number—it could well be more—we will see an increase in premiums. That will especially affect older, senior Australians, particularly self-funded retirees, who have spent their life paying insurance premiums and who will be hit with higher premiums as a result of these measures and the flow-on of the impact of others falling out of the system.
It will also put increased pressure on our public hospital system, as the member for Mackellar noted. Waiting lists in New South Wales hospitals currently stand—at the end of March—at 62,890. That compares to 58,839 just 12 months ago. As at the end of March, there are 1,152 people waiting at Sutherland Hospital in my electorate, and just across the river, where many Sutherland shire residents go for surgery, there are 1,197 people waiting at St George Hospital.
The Rudd government was the government that said it was going to fix public hospitals. It was going to end the blame game, and it was going to fix public hospitals—and it was going to do all of that by 30 June this year or it would take it all over. It would take it all to a referendum, the buck would stop there and it would bite the bullet. That is not what we are seeing from this government but I should not be surprised because this is not the only promise that has been broken by this government when it comes to these matters. On 20 November, as we just heard, in a letter to the Australian Health Insurance Association, the then Leader of the Opposition and now Prime Minister said, ‘We will maintain the existing private health insurance rebates.’ It was in black and white. He even put it in writing. It is interesting to note that, prior to the budget, its chief executive, Michael Armitage, had said:
We can only hope, like all Australians, that he is going to honour that part of his promise. But I guess one will have to wait and see.
Well, they did wait and see and that was false hope. Like all other Australians, we see that it is false hope to put your trust in a government that would so freely and brazenly break a promise that it so freely gave prior to the election, even going to the point of putting it in writing. On 26 September the now health minister said:
On many occasions for many months federal Labor has made it crystal clear that we are committed to retaining all of the existing private health insurance rebates. The Liberals continue to try and scare people into thinking Labor will take away the rebate. This is simply untrue.
Once again we see that the government have no ticker for the truth. They have broken this promise and they are breaking other promises. In the budget they are breaking promises in relation to the Medicare safety net, particularly in areas that I have highlighted already in this place relating to IVF treatment, obstetrics, ultrasounds, cataracts—and the list goes on and on. The Deputy Prime Minister even had the gall to obtain the signatures of more than 1,300 citizens saying that that was a cruel measure that should be stopped. I even learnt today that the now Treasurer also had a petition to go with those of the minister for agriculture and the minister for small business. The have all tabled submissions and they have all rolled over and broken their promise.
The Prime Minister says the buck stops with him. The only bucks the Prime Minister seems to be accumulating are borrowed bucks for his budget black hole and deficit. This is a budget that has been dripping with spending—some 28.6 per cent of GDP, the highest on record—and this is the measure that they think they need to put into this budget. The coalition do not want to add one more red cent to Labor’s debt and deficit, so we put forward a constructive proposal to increase the excise on tobacco by 12½ per cent to pay for the cost of the government not having to go forward with this measure. But once again they were not interested. The Rudd government’s approach is: ‘It’s our way or the highway. We’re not interested in discussion. We’re not interested in having any engagement, whether it is on this legislation or any other bill before this House.’ It is an arrogant approach to government, which the people of Australia are waking up to. They are now seeing both faces of this government and they are seeing both faces of this Prime Minister and they do not like what they are seeing. We do not like what we see in this bills package and we will not vote for it.