Wednesday, 16 July 2014
National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014; Second Reading
These changes would have a real impact on people's lives. I think, again, about unfilled prescriptions on top of the impact of doctors visits deferred or cancelled due to the impacts of the GP tax. I note the COAG Reform Council report that was released in early June of this year which found that 8.5 per cent of people in 2012-13 delayed or did not fill their prescription due to cost. In disadvantaged areas, such as some areas within the Scullin electorate, the figure goes up to 12.4 per cent and for Indigenous people it goes up to 36.4 per cent—over a third. The last time the Liberal government, the Howard government, increased the tax on medicines in 2005—by 21 per cent at that time—filled prescriptions for some essential medicines fell by as much as 11 per cent. That is what we are looking at—a real impact on ordinary people's health and a real impact on the health of the most vulnerable in our community.
These changes are, of course, part of an ideological campaign to get rid of Australia's universal healthcare scheme and create a two-tiered user pays system. I think of the minister's contribution in question time yesterday, which was very revealing in many respects but particularly when he spoke of bulk-billing as a safety net, fundamentally misunderstanding the universality of our present system which is so important to Australia's social compact.
Astonishingly, the changes which are before us go beyond the recommendations of the Commission of Audit. The changes that are proposed and that we are discussing in relation to the concessional co-payment go beyond that wish list of the IPA and the Business Council of Australia. That is just staggering even for a government so blindly ideological as this one. It is not only that the language of the Commission of Audit informed the budget; its recommendations have been found wanting by some of the ideologues opposite.
These price increases come off the back of cuts of $80 billion to Australia's public hospitals and schools, the GP tax and hundreds of millions of dollars being cut from preventative health, dental health and Australia's health workforce, including the nurses we spoke of yesterday who are of no interest, it appears, to members opposite and particularly the minister. So Labor does not support the changes contained in the legislation before us. That is true as the legislation sits, but it is particularly so in the context of the broader changes and impositions this government is putting on the Australian community—the taxes for visits to the doctor, the taxes on pathology and medical imaging visits and fundamentally the derisive attitude to preventative medicine, which should be at the core of our health agenda.
Since the budget, I am sure most of my colleagues and, indeed, some members opposite have been inundated with correspondence from constituents who are deeply frightened about what this budget will do to them and their families. Of all the issues that constituents raise with me, health is at the forefront of their concerns. The Scullin electorate has the highest bulk-billing rate in Victoria, and I am very proud of that fact. It shows the great work that is being done by a range of local doctors, Medicare Locals and others in the community to ensure that people have access to effective primary health care. People have an assured acknowledge and lived experience of universal health care. It means that when they get sick they do not have to worry about going bankrupt to get treatment such as in the US and in the fantasies of some members opposite and the IPA. Older constituents tell me they remember the time before Medicare. They remember the pain and the fear of being told they did not have enough money to get treatment that they, their children or other family members needed. Yet this is the vision those opposite are taking us back to. This is why the response in Scullin and across Australia has been literally overwhelming. So much for sustainability. Our health system is something I am proud of. I am proud to support it and to reject this legislation.