Monday, 2 May 2016
Private Members' Business
Universal Health Care
What an extraordinary display! To quote Shakespeare, he 'doth protest too much,' quite frankly. Obviously, the member for Lyons is concerned about these cuts in his own electorate and in Tasmania. And so he should be because, with a federal election due in coming weeks, we all recall the current government's promise on the eve of the last federal election of 'no cuts to health.' It is a very definitive statement, I would have thought. Of course, since that time we have seen them tear up the health funding agreement that committed 50 per cent of growth funding for the efficient price of our hospitals. This is already starting to impact in Tasmania, as the additional funding of $300 million for Tasmania's health system that we secured when we were in office—actually when the member for Sydney, who is right here beside me, was the health minister—starts to run out at the end of this June. We have the state government already making significant cuts to the Tasmanian health system in preparation for this. Indeed, the Parliamentary Budget Office has suggested the health funding cuts over the forward estimates to be $1.15 billion, just in Tasmania. For the Royal Hobart Hospital and the southern health services, that means a cut of $600 million—to one hospital in southern Tasmania and its services.
We have even had our state Premier and our state health minister stand up and say that these cuts are disgraceful. They have at least said that. They have not actually argued for much of the money back. I was very disappointed when our Premier came back from his meeting with the Prime Minister and said that he had an additional $54 million from 2017 to 2020—when he has had $1.1 billion taken away. It does not take much to do the maths to say that we are more than just a little bit short. What it has meant in Tasmania is that at the moment we have more than 27,000 Tasmanians currently waiting on outpatients' lists to see a specialist. So they have not yet even progressed to the waiting list for elective surgery; they are still just waiting to see a specialist. There are 27,000 Tasmanians sitting on those lists, and some of them are waiting for a very long time indeed. To see a gastroenterologist, the wait at the moment is 850 days in my home state of Tasmania—to get in to see a specialist in the public health system there is a wait of 850 days. It is not good enough. Those opposite should be ashamed of these cuts. They should be ashamed of the impact they are having right across the country, but particularly in my home state of Tasmania. We all know that the way you keep people out of hospital and off these lists is with preventative and primary health care. That brings us to the important role that GPs play in the health system.
This motion specifically talks about the two attempts by those opposite to introduce a GP tax—a co-payment for people to pay when they go to visit a GP. They finally saw sense after a very long campaign indeed, particularly by GPs and other health professionals around the country, when it became very obvious that this would mean that people would not seek the health support that they need. They would then, further down the system, get sicker and cost all of us more. They decided that they would not do that. But what they have done is freeze the Medicare rebate for seeing a GP. What that will mean is a GP tax by stealth. We are already seeing an impact, in local communities, with people trying to get into GPs. We have already had GP clinics—last time they talked about their GP tax—saying that people rang up and cancelled their appointments because they could not afford to go to the doctor. What we do not want to see in this country is a situation where the health care of Australians is determined by somebody's credit card, not by their Medicare card. We need to make sure that all Australians, no matter where they live, no matter their illnesses, can seek the health care that they need, right across the country.
This motion also goes to the issues that you talked about, in terms of pathology and bulk-billing, and what the member for Lyons got so upset about that I referred to at the beginning. I attend pathology on a regular basis. Every time I go in there, they talk to me about the concerns they have with bulk-billing, the bulk-billing incentive and their patients. The concern is that people will not get—