House debates

Monday, 2 May 2016

Private Members' Business

Universal Health Care

12:50 pm

Photo of Sharon ClaydonSharon Claydon (Newcastle, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I move that:

This House condemns the Government for its repeated attempts to undermine universal healthcare and drive up costs for patients, as evidenced by:

(1) its repeated attempts to introduce an upfront payment for visits to a general practitioner, including:

(a) a $7 co-payment;

(b) a $5 co-payment;

(c) a $20 co-payment; and

(d) the four year freeze on Medicare rebates;

(2) tearing up of the long term hospital funding deal agreed by all states and territories and endorsed by the Coalition in the 2013 election;

(3) the $650 million in cuts to Medicare rebates for pathology and diagnostic imaging which will force up the cost of scans and tests for patients;

(4) the $800 million in cuts to the health flexible funds which will force the closure of health organisation, including those providing support for drug and alcohol addiction, mental health and cancer support;

(5) abandoning the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health and abolishing the Australian National Preventive Health Agency;

(6) abolishing the Health and Hospitals Fund, cutting $1 billion reserved for essential health infrastructure;

(7) cutting more than $500 million in public dental programs and moving to scrap the Child Dental Benefits Scheme used by one million Australian children; and

(8) the Government's continuing plans to:

(a) raise the price of prescriptions by $5 for general patients and 80 cents for health care card holders; and

(b) cut the Medicare Safety Net.

As outlined in the terms of today's motion, this government—this Turnbull Liberal government—has been unrelenting in its efforts to undermine universal health care and drive up costs for patients across the nation. This is a government that has only ever seen health as a source of savings in the budget. Seemingly unable to imagine the long-term benefits of investing in the health and wellbeing of its citizens, health policy for this government is always about cuts and how best to disguise them. This government's relentless undermining of Medicare and universal health care in Australia has been widely criticised as bad policy, resulting in poor health, social and economic outcomes. Before members opposite launch into confected outrage, it is not just Labor that is concerned about this government's attempts to undermine Medicare; the Australian people are rightly incensed, as are the health experts, the doctors and the pathologists across the country, including those in my electorate of Newcastle.

It has been one health policy disaster after another for this government. Who can forget the multiple proposals for a GP tax imposing up-front co-payments ranging from $5 to $20 before the current four-year freeze on Medicare rebates that the AMA has aptly described as the GP tax by stealth. And it was this Liberal government that tore up the long-term hospital funding deal that was agreed to by all states and territories and which, indeed, they themselves endorsed in 2013. The resulting cuts have seen tens of billions wiped from the hospital budgets, including more than $150 million from hospitals that deliver vital patient care in the Newcastle and Hunter regions. Eight hundred million dollars has been cut from the Health flexible funds, which will force the closure of health organisations, including those providing support for drug and alcohol addiction, mental health and cancer patients. Last year a stay of execution of sorts was given to the highly valued GP Access after-hours service, which delivers care for people in the Newcastle and Hunter regions. Funding for the service was left out of last year's budget, but a strong community campaign forced the government to back down at least for the time being. I hope this year's budget is more considered and does not make the same mistake. This government has also abandoned the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health and abolished the Australian National Preventative Health Agency. Preventative health cuts stretch into Indigenous health, with funding cuts from the Deadly Choices program, which delivered health programs through the Awabakal Medical Service to Indigenous Australians in my electorate and the surrounding region.

The hypocrisy of this government was on full show yesterday as they announced funds for an Indigenous quit smoking program, having already stripped $130 million out of the Tackling Indigenous Smoking program back in 2014. Did they think that those earlier cuts would be forgotten? The Liberals have also abolished the Health and Hospitals Fund, cutting $1 billion reserved for essential health infrastructure and cutting another billion dollars from public dental health programs, and they have moved to scrap the child dental health benefits scheme. One of the cruellest cuts, of course, was the $650 million in cuts to Medicare rebates for pathology and diagnostic imaging, which will force up the costs of tests, X-rays and scans for patients everywhere.

The cuts to Medicare will force patients being treated for cancer and other serious and chronic health conditions to fork out thousands of dollars up-front for crucial tests. The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia have said that pap smear tests could cost women at least $30 up-front if these cuts go ahead. Decades of work to improve women's health will be put at risk because of these cuts. The financial burden on patients is significant. It is estimated that patients will have to pay up-front costs of $93 for an X-ray, nearly $400 for a CAT scan and up to $185 for an ultrasound. Then it multiplies—if you have a serious condition you require multiple, regular scans.

In just eight weeks, more than 500,000 Australians have signed a petition opposing these cuts. Last month, hundreds of Novocastrians came together with the shadow minister and me at a Save Medicare rally to tell Malcolm Turnbull: 'Hands off our Medicare'. Mr Turnbull's cuts to Medicare will hurt every family every day. We know that no matter what this government says you cannot trust them with Medicare and the health of our nation. The only way to save Medicare is to elect a Labor government.


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