Senate debates

Tuesday, 13 March 2012

Bills

Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2012, Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2012, Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Bill 2012; Reference to Committee

6:19 pm

Photo of Anne McEwenAnne McEwen (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

I too would like to make a contribution to the debate on the motion moved by Senator Fierravanti-Wells to refer the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2012 and two related bills to a committee for inquiry. We know that this is one in a long line of stunts by the opposition to delay the proper progress of legislation through the Senate. Indeed, it is just a delaying tactic and fairly repetitive behaviour on the part of the opposition, but it is in line with their opposition for the sake of opposition.

I note that these bills have already been in public debate for approximately three years and it would be safe to say that all of the issues covered by the bills have been well and truly traversed in debates in this chamber and in Senate estimates. Most of the issues raised in these bills have been traversed ad nauseum by those opposite. That is fair enough, but there is no need to refer them again to a future committee. I note also that the bills are already on the Notice Paper for debate in the Senate this week and this is, properly, where we should be heading—that is, to get on with the debate about these important bills. I note also that already nine coalition senators have their names on the speaking list to contribute to the second reading debate on these bills. Obviously they are clearly ready to talk about the bills, but they have to go through this stunt to make us waste more time of the Senate by talking about referring bills to a committee.

The government wants to proceed with these bills because they are good Labor policy. We believe that private health insurance rebates should be means tested to make it fair for all Australians. It is not fair that Australians on lower to middle incomes are subsidising the private health insurance of Australians on very high incomes, like those of us in here. It is not fair that taxpayers on low incomes who may not be able to afford private health insurance themselves should be subsidising the private health insurance of millionaires. There is another very good reason we should be getting on with debating and passing these bills—that is, the budgetary impact of not doing so.

We know that Australia's health budget is one of the burgeoning budget issues we have to deal with. We do have to take decisive action to make sure that we keep that budget under control and that we focus the health budget on where it needs to be—that is, on services for people and medical assistance in hospitals. That is what people really need. We know that these bills, if they are passed, would save the Australian budget $2.4 billion over the next three years and $100 billion over the next 40 years. That is an amount of money that could be well invested in the health system, but the opposition are saying they do not want to proceed with it. I have to ask them: if they are not going to pass these bills, as they are indicating, then where are they going to find the money so Australia's health system can provide the services Australians need?

They have given us no indication of where they would make up that budget shortfall. They never will give us any indication of where they are going to make up that budget shortfall. We are still trying to find out how the opposition are going to fill the black hole—the crater—of the $70 billion that they are going to foist on the Australian public because they have no concrete proposals for dealing with budgetary matters. They just continue to oppose for the sake of opposing.

These reforms build on the Australian Labor government's great record with regard to health and health reform. Of course, it was a Labor government that brought in Medicare—universal health care for all Australians. It is a very proud part of our history. In terms of the more recent Labor governments, we have tried to address the severe funding shortages that occurred throughout the Howard era—the era when Mr Tony Abbott was the Minister for Health and Ageing and ripped a billion dollars out of the health system.

Senator Nash interjecting—

We have attempted to redress that by increasing hospital funding by $20 billion since 2008. We have committed more to cancer services, including 22 regional cancer services, Senator Nash. We have committed more than $2.2 billion to mental health—the largest ever mental health package in Australia. We have provided funding for preventative health and for primary health care. We have increased the numbers of doctors and nurses. We have done practical things for Australians.

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