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

That is right, Senator Bushby: he simply cannot do it. He has not promised any new net beds, new doctors or new nurses. It is simply a new process, a political fix for a political problem. It is not a solution to the problems in health and the hospital system in Tasmania.

I notice that Brett Whiteley MP, shadow minister for health in Tasmania, has today asked how much of the $126 million spend is in the forward estimates and whether Kevin Rudd has promised to fund the remaining $339 million. The total announced was $565 million and, of course, the feds were kicking in 60 per cent of that. How is that going to add up? Has Kevin Rudd promised to fund the remaining $339 million? In that regard I asked that question in the Senate today of the Leader of the Government in the Senate, who was representing the minister for health. He simply said, ‘Sorry, Senator, I do not have a brief on the Royal Hobart Hospital and I do not have a brief on the Hobart Private Hospital.’ Clearly, he was not up to date, notwithstanding that the Prime Minister went to Hobart yesterday to make a major health announcement—$560 million—to support the state Labor government in Tasmania at the launch. Senator Evans stood here in the Senate today and said, ‘No, I do not have the brief. I am not able to answer that question.’

Surely, that is simply not good enough. This is typical Labor—policy on the run, backflips and hospital hoaxes. And it has been exposed. Senator Evans was asked to provide details relating to that $565 million announcement made yesterday by Premier Bartlett, with the Prime Minister Kevin Rudd standing by in approval and in support. But the government had no answers. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, representing the minister for health, was left red-faced and he could only apologise for not having any information at hand. He indicated to me through the President that he did not have a brief on that issue.

So the announcement yesterday was simply another empty headline destined to become yet another Labor broken promise. It has been reported that the contract for the current Healthscope hospital can be terminated for $80 million, but as recently as 2006 Labor Premier Paul Lennon indicated that it would cost in the order of $150 million. So how much is it? What kind of blowout can we expect on this hoax of a policy if it is ever implemented? I hope that it is not implemented, because on 20 March, in less than two weeks time, Tasmanians have an opportunity for real change and, under the leadership of Will Hodgman, the Liberals can deliver that real change for the sake of Tasmania.

What we have had to put up with in Tasmania under the Lennon Labor government and the Bartlett Labor government has been an embarrassment. It is the same old Labor—special deals for special mates, special arrangements for mates and the rolling of the Deputy Premier by different ways and means, and it has been a great disappointment to the people of Tasmania. We deserve better. The people of Tasmania are absolutely fed up to the back teeth.

In terms of health services and what has been delivered, Labor simply has not delivered. We have seen longer waiting lists and longer waiting times in Tasmania—I think in the order of a 38 per cent increase since it came to office. It is a huge increase in waiting lists and waiting times. It is simply not good enough.

We know that a Will Hodgman Liberal government would have a fully-funded plan for the Royal Hobart Hospital. Their plan is fully funded; Labor’s plan is a hoax. It is pie in the sky. It is like flying a kite. It is based on hot air. We know that the Hodgman Liberal plan for health is fully funded to build a new-generation Royal Hobart Hospital on the existing site. That applies, regardless of what happens at COAG in April or at any subsequent referendum—and referendum is exactly what Mr Rudd wants; he is spoiling for a fight. He has a political fix and he thinks that this is going to help him win the election. It has nothing to do with his efforts to try to improve health and hospital services around Australia. That is the sad thing. You can see it in his eyes. You can see it in his approach and his demeanour that it is a political fix; it is not genuine. He does not want to actually fix our public hospital system. That is the sad thing about this whole fiasco.

As for the state Liberals and what they have planned for health and hospital services in Tasmania, they will invest $10 million to cut the waiting lists at no extra cost to patients. They plan to build a new-generation Royal Hobart Hospital on the current site. They will build a new cancer clinic at Burnie on the north-west coast and invest $155 million in the state’s north to provide more doctors and nurses. These are people on the ground making a difference.

Labor can talk all they like, but we know it is all talk and no action. That applies at the state level and it applies at the federal level. We know that once the Liberals get in, they will deliver. They will invest $155 million in the state’s north providing more doctors and more nurses—on-the-ground, upfront health care just where we need it. As somebody who resides in the north, I am very proud of Will Hodgman, Brett Whiteley and the team in terms of delivering excellent healthcare services, securing the future of the Royal Flying Doctor Service and introducing flying clinics across the state. Labor just pooh-poohed this idea. Labor provided no support and no encouragement for the Liberals’ plan for the Royal Flying Doctor Service until they were forced to as a result of public pressure. They should adopt, 100 per cent, the Liberals’ plan to secure the future of the Royal Flying Doctor Service in Tasmania. But Labor have got it wrong. It is a hospital hoax.

Premier Bartlett, in his announcement yesterday, got publicity and so on, but people will find out over the coming days and in the lead-up to 20 March that his redevelopment plan announced yesterday is on the never-never. It is like flying a kite—it is a lot of hot air—and it relies upon $339 million of federal money, which is 60 per cent of Labor’s proposed $565 million spend. When I asked about it in the chamber today, what did Senator Evans say? He said he does not have a brief on it so he does not know. Yet the Prime Minister was there supporting that announcement and saying, ‘Yes, I am standing with you shoulder-to-shoulder, Premier Bartlett.’ It is a joke. I do not think Tasmanians will fall for it, because the money is not there. It is all based on a positive outcome at COAG. We know there are concerns at state and territory levels and the issue of whether we will have to have a referendum, when something might come together in the years to come.

I noticed Mr Bartlett said yesterday, ‘We have reformed the health system as far as we can take it.’ That is code for, ‘I have given up; it’s all too hard.’ He does not want to do any more. He needs help from outside. He has given up on health. We know that happened with the Minister for Health in Tasmania, Ms Lara Giddings. She does not like her job. She does not want that portfolio anymore and she made it public last year. Now the Premier, David Bartlett, says that he has taken it as far as he can.

As far as Tasmanians go, they are fed up to the back teeth with the lack of good health care and hospital services in Tasmania. They want better and they deserve better. I am sure and I know that real change is in the offing on 20 March this year, whether it be the new generation Royal Hobart Hospital or whether it be no more endless waiting lists or waiting times for Tasmanians who are suffering unfairly and unduly. What we do know is that, should the Liberals win government, there will be better access to care for cancer patients on the north-west coast and there will be great initiatives for Tasmanians in Northern Tasmania.

In summary, what we do know is that Labor has a pathological hatred for private health care. This bill is what that is all about. They are trying to destroy it. Eleven million Australians cannot be wrong, because they have signed up for and support private health care. All power to them—they deserve a better go than what they have been delivered under the Rudd Labor government.

In conclusion, I ask Mr Bartlett and to Mr Rudd to come clean, to answer the questions and to provide the detail with respect to their hospital ‘fix’, as they call it—I call it a hospital hoax that has now been exposed. It has only taken 24 hours and it has been exposed for what it is. It is an absolute hoax. There is no detail. They should come clean and provide the detail, in particular exactly how much compensation they are going to be paying to Healthscope at the Hobart Private Hospital for that facility. That is compensation for taking it over, but they say nothing about new beds, new doctors or new nurses. Really, they have a problem and they need to come clean. They must make public precise answers to the questions that have been put here in the Senate and that have been put by Brett Whiteley and Will Hodgman in Tasmania. They must come clean. Otherwise what we do know is that their plan for hospitals in Tasmania is simply a hospital hoax.

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