Monday, 2 May 2016
Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2016; Second Reading
Before question time, I was speaking on the importance of considering the equity measures contained within this bill, which adjusts the threshold—the point at which the Medicare rebate cuts in—against the inequitous measures that have been visited upon Australian people as a result of this government's attacks on the Medicare rebates for pathology and the attacks that this government has made in relation to the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.
Despite what the minister said during question time, the fact is that this government is slashing $1 billion out of dental care—that is right, $1 billion from dental care—in this country. It is a figure which has been confirmed by the minister herself. On ABC News online on 23 April, a spokesman for Ms Ley confirmed the $1 billion cut. The government is abolishing Labor's Medicare based dental scheme for children under the age of 18. It is a surprise to all of us on this side of the House that we have not seen members on that side of the House come up and apologise for the cuts and the problems that are being visited by their government upon people within their electorates.
I have been looking at the figures. During question time today, the minister said that a million children—that is right, a million children—have enjoyed the benefits of Labor's child benefits scheme and a million children will no longer have the benefits of that scheme because the government has closed it down. I have had a look around the country to see where children are who have been relying on this means tested, tightly targeted scheme, which is benefiting kids, many of whom would probably have never been to a dentist before in their life. I looked at the postcode of 2250, a postcode which takes in the members for both Robertson and Dobell. I found that 31,309 children have accessed the child dental benefits scheme over the years of its existence within the electorates of both Robertson and Dobell. I am not surprised that we have not seen the members for either Robertson or Dobell come into this House and say anything about the operation of this scheme, because what we know is that in closing down the child dental benefits scheme somewhere in order of 31,000 children are going to be forced to join the public dental scheme—a scheme which has at the moment somewhere in the order of 12,000 children already waiting in New South Wales to access public dental care.
I looked at the figures for postcode 2259, which falls exclusively within the electorate of the member for Dobell, and 29,657 dental services have been accessed over the life of the scheme. The member for Dobell has not had a peep to say about her government closing down the scheme. All I can say to the electorate of Dobell is that it is a good job that we have a great candidate in the form of Emma McBride, who is campaigning very tough and very hard in that seat to ensure that she becomes the next member for Dobell. I am confident that Emma McBride has the interests of those 29,000 children who have been accessing the child dental benefits scheme, in heart as she approaches the task of the election campaign.
In the electorate of Page, where there are around 28,500 children who have accessed the child dental benefits scheme, I went looking around to see whether the current member for Page has had anything to say about this. He has had absolutely nothing to say about the fact that his government has closed down the scheme. This is a surprise, because if you think of the impact of the closing down of the child dental benefits scheme will have, it is going to fall more harshly upon people in regional Australia than anywhere else. It is in regional Australia where Labor's scheme, which provided up to $1,000 over a two-year period to have access to the services of a private dentist—it is precisely in regional Australia where these services are needed the most, because it is a lot harder for people in these areas to be accessing the public schemes, which are so heavily oversubscribed.
It is a good job that we have a great candidate in the form of Janelle Saffin, who knows the electorate well. She is a fierce campaigner of regional Australia and regional health who will be standing up for children in that electorate as well. The member for Gilmore had a bit to say before question time about the benefits that the government's new scheme was going to have for people in her electorate. She said that it was going to be a huge help for people in the electorate of Gilmore. If this is a huge help, I would hate to see what it would be if there were a problem for the people of New South Wales and Gilmore.
As I said prior to question time, the waiting lists in New South Wales are so long and so great that Premier Mike Baird has refused to even issue average waiting times. In every other state around Australia there are waiting times published, by the public dental scheme, so that people know when they enrol or when they make an appointment how long it will be before they have access to that public scheme. With over 116,000 adults—that is, adults alone—and 12,000 children on the list, in New South Wales, those in the member for Gilmore's electorate are going to be behind a lot of people in a very long queue before they have access to the public scheme.
You have $1 billion worth of cuts, you have the scheme opened up to everybody, you have got over 116,000 adults and 12,000 kids on the scheme in New South Wales, and the member for Gilmore thinks that this is absolutely beaut. It is a good thing that we have a great candidate in Fiona Phillips, who is down there in Gilmore, putting the health interests of people in regional Australia first.
There you have it. You have a government that introduces measures, which adjust the threshold at which the Medicare rebate kicks in—a provision which Labor supports. We support it wholeheartedly, but it has to be viewed against all of these other egregious changes that have been made from the GP tax proposals, the GP tax by stealth, the changes to pathology bulk-billing and the changes to the child dental benefits scheme. We are well and truly in a deficit when it comes to health and health care under this government.
In summing up today, firstly, I would like to thank those members who have contributed to this debate. The Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2016 amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners in line with increases in the consumer price index. Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum. I commend this bill to House.
Question agreed to.