Senate debates

Wednesday, 5 March 2014


National Health Amendment (Simplified Price Disclosure) Bill 2013; Second Reading

9:38 am

Photo of Richard Di NataleRichard Di Natale (Victoria, Australian Greens) Share this | Hansard source

the age of entitlement—thank you, Senator Xenophon; how could I forget?—and that corporate welfare is now over. Let us ensure that we match that rhetoric with action. Let us end the huge subsidies that are given to the fossil fuel industry, for example, in an era of catastrophic climate change. Why do we continue to subsidise the mining industry with things like the diesel fuel rebate to the tune of billions of dollars?

Let us look at other areas where large corporations are the beneficiaries of government largesse. We heard the Prime Minister talk about his support of the forestry industry only last night when in my state of Victoria the forestry industry is a basket case. It is propped up by government support, and if it were a private company, it would have been wrapped up many years ago. It is the epitome of corporate welfare and it is an industry that does rely on government handouts.

So let us look at those areas before we start looking at health because most Australians consistently regard health as the most important area of government expenditure. In essence, if a government cannot provide decent health care for its people, cannot give kids a decent education and cannot look after the environment, then I am not sure what we are doing here.

Of course there are some savings to be made in health care. We have talked about this bill, which goes some way to addressing some cost savings through the PBS. There are other potential savings through the PBS. We have heard about the potential for the increased use of generic drugs, for example, and incentives to ensure that people are opting for cheaper generic drugs which are doing exactly the same thing as their branded equivalent. So let us look at providing more incentives in the system to ensure that generic drugs are prescribed at a higher frequency. Let us look at the way we negotiate prices for medicines and examine the potential for reducing the total budget of the PBS by looking at some models overseas and learning from those.

Let us ensure that we do the opposite of what is being proposed through the GP co-payment, which is driving people away from hospitals into primary care. Let us do that rather than doing what is proposed, which is putting a disincentive for people to access their GP. It goes precisely in the opposite direction of all public policy in health care that we have seen over the past few decades. We should be making sure that people are accessing primary care ahead of much more expensive hospital services, and to do anything that compromises that important objective is to raise costs in health.

Let us try and get better coordination of the system. Let us ensure that we have our primary care system, our hospitals and our allied health network working better together, and Medicare Locals provide an opportunity to do that. And let us ensure that we protect Medicare. Some of the changes that have been proposed, such as the GP co-payment and the current initiative to allow private health insurers to insure services delivered through general practice, are some very significant nails in the coffin of Medicare.

We have to do everything we can to protect Medicare, build it up and continue creating more access to it—because we know it is a very effective way of keeping healthcare costs down through a single public insurer and a very fair way of delivering health services—rather than what we are doing at the moment which looks like an attempt to tear up some of the most fundamental pillars of our public health system and Medicare.

We are at a crossroads in health care. We have an opportunity here to protect and build upon one of the world's great health systems. But we are equally in a position where we may start to see some of the most effective tools for delivering health care dismantled as a result of some of the proposals that have been suggested through the Commission of Audit. I am very worried about it. We need only look to the US to see a health system that is based on a user-pays model where there are a number of competing private health insurers delivering the bulk of health services rather than a single public insurer. We only need to look to the US to know what that leads to. It leads to spiralling health costs, people who are no longer able to afford health care and a two-tiered health system. That is not what the Australian health system was designed to be. It was designed to provide decent health care to everybody, regardless of their ability to pay for it.


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