House debates

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

Second Reading

8:37 pm

Photo of Alex HawkeAlex Hawke (Mitchell, Liberal Party) Share this | Hansard source

I rise tonight to speak on behalf of the 76 per cent of electors within my electorate who have private health insurance. I take this legislation before the House tonight as something that is very serious for those people and indeed for people with private health insurance around the country. This legislation and the series of legislation that we are seeing before the chamber day after day in this place goes to the question: what kind of society would we like to see in the future here in Australia? And, to ask that question in the area of health: as a parliament today, what kind of society do we envisage in the future and what kind of system will take care of the future health needs of so many Australians?

It is bills such as the wrongly titled Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 and the cognate bills that we are debating here tonight that to me form part of a great problem for us: this government unequivocally hates private health. That is a big problem for Australia’s future, because private health is an integral part of the system that we have created here in Australia that provides us with such a great standard of living and will continue to sustain so many people in the future. We have avoided so many of the problems of the United States of America and other countries not just because we have a Medicare or public health system but because we have a recognition that private health is so important and because those people who can pay for their health insurance continue to do so. That is why legislation such as the legislation before us tonight is so retrograde—it undermines the system that has provided us with such great-quality health care. It is legislation that will see a diminishment of private health in Australia, that will make it harder for people to sustain their private health arrangements and continue to maintain their current level of health care.

As one of the youngest members here, I can report to this House that, anecdotally, the first reaction of the friends and people I have spoken to, upon hearing on budget night that the government proposed to change the rebate system for private health, was: ‘Well, if it’s going to become more expensive, I’m going to drop my private health insurance. I’m going to lower the amount that I pay to cover myself. I’m going to seek a cheaper form.’ That will undoubtedly be the reaction of many people. Once the government penalises those who have made arrangements for their own health care, that will be a common reaction. That will, of course, mean a greater load on the public health system—a greater load on those who can afford it least.

The member for Fadden quite rightly pointed out that not many members of the government have spoken in relation to this legislation. I think he made some excellent points about why that was. I want to record that I think it is quite right to say that very few members of the government are willing to show their faces here today in this chamber to support private health. After visiting recently in my electorate the North West Private Hospital, which is due to open in October, I can confirm that this fantastic facility, which has 10 state-of-the-art operating theatres, is perhaps going to be one of the most beneficial medical facilities in western and north-western Sydney. I can tell this House that not one state or federal health minister was willing to come and open this facility.

My understanding is that the facility cost a mere $145 million—$145 million for a 170-bed hospital with 10 state-of-the-art operating theatres—and was fully equipped for just an additional $90 million. To me that seemed a surprisingly small amount of money, so I asked the health facilitators, the operators of the joint venture, that have provided this wonderful facility within my electorate: could this be done in the public sector? They advised me that they did not believe there could be a way of building such a state-of-the-art facility within the public sector for less than double the cost.

I record that here tonight just to note that we ought not to view private health as some sort of enemy of the public health system. We ought not to view those people who seek to make arrangements for their own health care as somehow problematic, as causing us an inconvenience or as seeking to undermine the public health system. Indeed, they are not. The people who choose to have private health insurance to pay for another form of health care are assisting the public health system. They are making it easier for people to get ahead. They are providing us with a system where people who cannot afford their own health care can get the treatment that they need.

So legislation such as today’s, which seeks to penalise or treat in a punitive way people who have made provision for themselves, is, of course, retrograde legislation. It will not advance the cause of health care in this country. It will take it backwards. I think all members of this House, if they were being up-front, would acknowledge that, if we saw a diminishment of private health, we would also see a diminishment of the public health system. Any measure, therefore, which helps private health will also help the public system. That is one of the great ironies and the great warning signs that we need to take note of in this place.

When we think about this legislation and why we are here tonight, it is very important to note that we are here as a result of a broken promise by the government. For many months as a new member of this place I heard the trumpeting of the government about how they had met all of their election commitments and the continual paying out of John Howard as someone who somehow did not meet his election commitments, who did not deliver on what he promised. And yet here we are tonight, after so many promises and complete guarantees from the Labor Party when they were in opposition about this health insurance rebate system. It is absolutely galling that we find ourselves in this situation, with the Labor Party directly breaking an election promise, an election commitment, to the Australian people.

It is all the more important that we note tonight that the Prime Minister, when he was opposition leader prior to the election, committed on several occasions to the private health insurance rebate. He made that clear. In a letter to the AHIA on 20 November 2007, he wrote:

Both my Shadow Minister for Health, Nicola Roxon

who is now the minister for health—

and I have made clear on many occasions this year that Federal Labor is committed to retaining the existing private health insurance rebates, including the 30 per cent general rebate and the 35 and 40 per cent rebates for older Australians.

This is not the only example. I will not take up the time of the House with all of the examples, because they are numerous.


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