House debates

Wednesday, 3 April 2019

Matters of Public Importance


4:00 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health and Medicare) Share this | Hansard source

This is a budget that hopes, when it comes to health, that the entire nation has some form of collective amnesia—that they forget what this Liberal-National Party government tried to do to health in the 2014 budget and the budgets afterwards. Every single time this government talks about health, we'll be reminding people about what they have done. They tried to introduce a GP tax—a tax that was basically premised on wanting fewer people to see the GP when they were sick. They then introduced it by stealth by freezing the Medicare Benefits Schedule for six long years, which has caused untold damage across the entire health system. People are now paying more out of their pockets to go and see a GP or a specialist in this country than ever before. That is the legacy of this Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. You now pay more out of your own pocket for your health care when you go to see a GP or a doctor because of the decisions that this government has made.

The other test that we set for this government was to in fact finally, once and for all, reverse its cuts to hospitals. It was their last chance, in the dying days of this government, to finally admit that they got it wrong on public hospitals. We saw in every single budget that the former Treasurer Scott Morrison, now our Prime Minister, handed down that he cut funding from public hospitals and funding from health. In his first—and hopefully only—budget as Prime Minister, he's locked in these cuts. There is a $715 million cut under the current funding agreement with the states, and if he is re-elected then billions more will be cut from public hospitals over the next five years. He is completely out of touch and he only cares about his big business mates. He doesn't care about our public hospital system.

He doesn't understand that his health cuts are hurting patients today. It means that people spend longer in emergency departments waiting for care for themselves or for their loved ones; it means people spend longer languishing on elective surgery waiting lists, often in debilitating pain or unable to work; or it means people are forced to travel far from home, leaving their loved ones and their support network, to get to a hospital that can provide the care that they need. It means that doctors, nurses and other hospital staff are expected to do more and more with less and less. That, in turn, compromises the quality and safety of the care that Australian people should be able to expect.

Right now, our hospital funding is barely matching population growth. It is not keeping pace with the needs of an ageing population or our growing chronic disease burden. It is why Labor knew, when we were in government, that the Commonwealth had to step up and do more. And step up we did, only to have billions of dollars ripped out of public hospitals by this government in 2014 and every single budget since, including this one. Yet there was not, as we know, an extra cent for public hospital funding to match Labor's commitments.

Bill Shorten and Labor, by stark contrast, will deliver a fair go for our public hospitals and the people across Australia who use them. We're reversing these cuts by making massive new investments with our $2.8 billion better hospitals fund. This was too little, too late—a health budget full of reheated announcements that don't even come close to making up for six years of Liberal cuts and chaos. We'll always welcome new investments in general practice, but this budget doesn't even come close to the $3 billion that this government cut out of the patient rebate, our Medicare system. It is a freeze that the Liberals first imposed in 2014, and now they're saying—just some six weeks before the election—that they might need to lift it. Australians will see this for exactly what it is; it is a cynical con job, a political tactic, not a genuine commitment to Medicare or our healthcare system. The rest of the budget, when it comes to health, is full of reheated announcements. There's very little new money and certainly no strategy, innovation or vision. In a few weeks time we'll see this government for what it really is, a government that cuts Medicare, and we'll see Labor for what it is, a government that invests in Medicare.


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