Senate debates

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 [No. 2]

Second Reading

5:07 pm

Photo of Guy BarnettGuy Barnett (Tasmania, Liberal Party, Chairman of the Scrutiny of Government Waste Committee) Share this | Hansard source

I stand proudly today to oppose the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 [No. 2]. I note some of the comments from Senator Sterle and his rebuttal, in part, of Senator Bushby. I know that Senator Bushby’s contribution to this debate has been clear and concise and forthright in standing up for the important balance between private health and the public health system.

In the last 24 hours—and I want to concentrate on this—we have seen the Prime Minister fly into Tasmania and go to the Labor Party’s election campaign launch for the state of Tasmania to support Premier Bartlett. You can understand why he would want to do that and why he would be down there. The fact is that his plans for public hospitals in Australia, and specifically in Tasmania, are simply a hoax. For example, Labor’s promise in Tasmania to buy back the hospital in Hobart has been shown up to be an election hoax with no substance after the government failed to provide any details of the plan upon questioning in the Senate today. It is just ridiculous that the Prime Minister would even consider making that announcement, or that the Premier David Bartlett would consider making that announcement yesterday.

Premier Bartlett’s announcement is based on a cruel hoax. We have three states—Queensland, New South Wales and Victoria—that are not supportive of, or at least have very serious questions about, these plans. The Prime Minister says he has to take it to COAG to get it through. You have already got some concerns, not to mention those of Western Australia. You have only the South Australian and Tasmanian Labor governments that are saying, ‘Yes, it sounds like a good idea’. The Premier announced yesterday a re-election pitch: a $565 million proposal to buy back the Hobart Private Hospital. That was his plan. We are talking big bucks for the Tasmanian government’s position and their plans for hospitals in Tasmania, and specifically in Hobart.

It would appear that there has been no discussion whatsoever with the Hobart Private Hospital and its owners, Healthscope. In fact, Healthscope’s chief medical officer Michael Coghlin was reported in today’s Mercury on the front page as saying that the company would not comment on how much it would cost to sever the contract. But he confirmed that the government would be expected to bear the entire cost of funding an alternative site, constructing a new building and even covering lost earnings during the transition.

We are open to those discussions but the bottom line for us, which is not negotiable, is that our future must not only be assured but be enhanced.

That is the response from Hobart Private Hospital. I understand the government is expecting that the cost to break that contract will be in the order of $80 million. That is a lot of money, but what did the former premier, Paul Lennon, say about the cost to break that contract. He is on the record. In fact, I have got here a government media advisory from Friday 10 March 2006 from Paul Lennon MHA, Premier. What does he say about the cost of breaking this contract with Healthscope? In the second paragraph Mr Lennon said the previously secret details of the 1998 contract confirmed that relocation of part or all of the Royal Hobart Hospital would require taxpayers to find a commercial buyer for the site or build and fit out a new hospital for Healthscope at an estimated cost of $150 million. It is amazing that that is on the public record and yet Premier Bartlett has not been able to come clean and advise the Tasmanian people exactly what plans he has and what cost those will incur for and on behalf of the Tasmanian people.

It is also interesting to see what else has been reported in today’s media about the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday. He said that the Rudd government’s health reforms would result in fewer bureaucrats over the next decade. It is quoted that Labor guarantees the jobs of all Tasmania’s valued health public servants. That is what the Premier, Mr Bartlett, said. Yet, on the other hand, the Prime Minister said something completely different—in fact, the opposite. In Hobart yesterday, the Prime Minister was not prepared to make the same promise as Mr Bartlett—that is for sure—because he had made an opposite or totally contradictory promise in recent days on the mainland.

Mr Rudd said the detail in Tasmania still needed to be sorted out over time but ‘we make no apology for the fact that we want overall less health bureaucracy and more frontline services’. What is it to be? We do not know because the devil is always in the detail. The government mucked it up. They fluffed it with respect to the insulation program. They could not get the detail right. The whole program was faulty and botched from the start. How are they going to run and properly operate our public hospitals? It beggars belief.

I consider—and the Leader of the Opposition has said so—that this is simply a health hoax. This is a political fix rather than a hospital fix around the country. There is no detail in the Prime Minister’s announcement yesterday about our health system and our public hospitals. We have a lot of questions that need to be answered. I notice that Brett Whiteley has been asking these questions in Tasmania and some of them flow from the comments I have made about the contract with Healthscope. In that regard, how much compensation will the government pay Healthscope? That is a key question.

In terms of the announcement yesterday about hospitals and health care in Tasmania, how many new net beds will it add? Mr Bartlett stands up there, makes an announcement in a very grandiose and colourful manner and gets plenty of media attention as a result, but he cannot guarantee to deliver on his promise. That is his problem.

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