House debates

Tuesday, 22 June 2021

Grievance Debate


6:40 pm

Photo of Madeleine KingMadeleine King (Brand, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Trade) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak about Medicare and the terrible way the Morrison government treats some of the most vulnerable Australians. Labor built Medicare and we will fight to protect it. I want to fight to protect it because I believe that everyone in Australia should be able to get medical treatment regardless of their bank balance. In a little more than a week, the Liberals are going to do what they've been doing for so long: make more cuts to Medicare. The Morrison government is planning on making almost 1,000 sneaky changes to the Medicare Benefit Schedule, and those changes will come into effect on 1 July, mere days away. Patients around Australia are facing the prospect of having life-saving surgeries being cancelled or being landed with huge bills they never expected.

And it's not only the Labor Party raising strong concerns about these dreadful cuts. The Australian Medical Association has warned about the rush to make sure of the changes and the fact that they cannot be implemented without major disruptions to the provision of health care to countless Australians. People don't trust this government on Medicare because they know the Liberals record on Medicare. In 1983 the Liberals opposed the introduction of Medicare and then they planned to dismantle it over four successive elections—1984, 1987, 1990 and 1993. And then, in 2014, they cut $17 billion from Medicare and proposed a $7 tax to visit a GP. That was the 2014 horror budget which set out the GP co-payments. In 2015 they cut almost $1 billion from Medicare. In 2019 they cut bulk-billing in suburban communities around the nation, including in parts of my electorate of Brand in Western Australia. Under this government it costs people in my home state of WA almost 30 per cent more to see a doctor now than it did in 2013.

We know what these Liberals really want: they want to privatise Medicare. How do we know? Because they have said it. The health minister, Greg Hunt, is even on the record in this parliament—in his first speech, in 2002—saying he would like Australia to move to a US style healthcare system. About 30 million Americans have no healthcare coverage. I hear the nightmare stories all the time from my friends in the US. Is this the vision the government has for Australia's healthcare system? You can never trust the Liberals on Medicare. Cutting Medicare is in their DNA, and it is everyday Australians who will pay the price. Only Labor will save Medicare.

We know that the Liberals don't care much for Medicare—it's obvious—but it's also clear as day that they don't care much for the age pension. In my electorate of Brand there are 16,000 age pensioners—people who have worked hard their whole lives and are doing their best to get by in retirement. They deserve our respect. These 16,000 people in the cities of Rockingham and Kwinana are rightly worried about what this government has planned for them next. Many of these pensioners manage their money very well. They budget carefully and know where every cent goes. So you can imagine how they feel when they hear about the Morrison government's plan to force them onto the cashless welfare card. They are angry and they are worried. They are offended that this government thinks they cannot control their own finances. It's an unbelievable kind of paternalism that we are seeing emerging in this country. Under this dreadful plan a pensioner will have 80 per cent of their pension on a card that will limit what they can spend and where they can spend it. That's right, the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, the man who has spent hundreds of millions of taxpayers dollars on sports rorts, jobs for mates and dodgy land deals, wants to control how pensioners spend their precious money.

Pensioners know what this could mean. A roast dinner at the local club? Out of the question. A glass of wine down at the local bowlo? Banned. A lotto ticket on the weekend? No way. Pensioners won't even be able to take out cash to buy birthday presents for their grandkids or put a $5 note in a birthday card. It's absolutely shameful. In Rockingham the cashless welfare card bans people from spending at the Leisure Inn. So no more counter meals at the Swinging Pig if you're an age pensioner that this government wants to put on the cashless careful card. That popular weekly treat for Rockingham pensioners is on the chopping block under this government. How do we know this? Because it's on the government website, which lets us know where cashless welfare cards are banned from use. How do we know this government wants to expand the cashless welfare card program? We know it because they keep floating the idea and they don't rule it out.

As social services minister, Senator Anne Ruston talks about the need to have a conversation with the Australian public about broadening the card. She says she sees the card becoming more universal—that's code for forcing pensioners onto this card. We know the government right now is working with the banks to expand the card. We know there are a growing number of businesses right across the country, including in Brand, that are listed on the Indue website as part of this scheme. The government has the power to do this. It's already is in legislation. This is legislation that Labor voted against.

Pensioners absolutely have the right to be anxious about this. They know they cannot trust the Liberals when it comes to their pension. That's because the Liberals are the party of pension cuts. Before 2013 election, they promised no cuts to pensions, but then in every single budget they've tried to cut the pension. The Prime Minister himself has been behind every single one of these cuts or attempted cuts. As the Minister for Social Services, he tried to cut pension indexation, which would have meant pensioners would be forced to live on $80 less a week within 10 years. He cut $1 billion from pensioner concession support designed the help pensioners with the cost of living. Morrison also axed the $900 seniors supplement to self-funded retirees receiving the Commonwealth Seniors Health Card. He tried to reset deeming rate thresholds, a cut that would have 500,000 part pensioners made worse off. In 2015 he cut the pension of around 370,000 pensioners by as much as $12,000 a year by changing the pension assets test. As Treasurer he tried to cut the pension to around 190,000 pensioners as part of a plan to limit overseas travel for pensioners to six weeks. He also tried to cut the pension for over 1.5 million Australians by scrapping the energy supplement for new pensioners. The Prime Minister has also tried for years to increase the pension age to 70, meaning Australia would have the oldest pension age in to developed world.

Last week Labor's member for Barton moved in the House an amendment calling on the government to rule out cutting pensions again. Guess what? The government voted that down. All of this has occurred during a period in which the costs of living have risen. Pensioners have never done it tougher. It really is disgraceful and unbelievable. The behaviour of this government and the minister in seeking to cover up the reporting of plans for pensioners is equally shameful.

The social services minister herself actually went onto the member for Richmond's Facebook page and started to troll her all because she was standing up for pensioners. The member's electorate office also received a call from a senior ministerial staff member in the government demanding she take down a Facebook post about the cashless welfare card. This is a party that speaks about freedom of speech, but there they are trying to restrain members representing their community. The member for Richmond, of course, refused to do so. She will not be silenced, and I will not be silenced when it comes to standing up for the age pensioners of Brand.

The age pension is a proud Labor legacy, introduced by the Deakin government in 1908. Labor will continue to oppose cuts to the pension, and we will oppose always this awful plan to force pensioners onto the cashless welfare card.

A division having been called in the House of Representatives—

Sitting suspended from 18 : 48 to 19 : 15