Senate debates

Thursday, 27 March 2014

Questions without Notice: Take Note of Answers

Medibank Private

3:34 pm

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

I move:

That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Finance (Senator Cormann) to a question without notice asked by Senator Di Natale today relating to the proposed sale of Medibank Private.

The sale of Medibank Private comes straight out of the Tory Party handbook: create a sense of crisis, create a sense that the economy is going to rack and ruin, that we are drowning in debt and deficit, and then use that confected emergency to flog off public assets. It is a pretty standard tactic. What usually happens is that the big end of town gets windfall profits and ordinary consumers are much worse off—and that is what we have got here with the sale of Medibank Private. The idea that the sale is necessary because of the state of the economy is laughable. If you travel overseas and talk to someone from Europe, the United States or almost any other developed economy anywhere else in the world, they will mock you and laugh at you if you suggest that the Australian economy is going to the dogs. Unemployment is stable, inflation is stable and debt levels are well under control. We are being told that health care is unsustainable, that it is out of control, that we need to move to a user pays model and means test access to health services. That is a convenient argument. I understand the contributions made by Senator Mason and Senator Bernardi—who, it appears, in recent days has been released from witness protection and is again making a contribution to the parliament.

I have been privileged to chair the Commission of Audit committee, which has heard from a range of voices from across the spectrum—economists, community groups, welfare groups and others. What we have learnt is that spending is very stable, that our Commonwealth sector is very efficient, that Commonwealth spending has remained at roughly the same level for decades and that, far from being shackled by high taxation, Australia is one of the lowest taxing regions in the OECD and our level of taxation at the moment is much lower than it was under the Howard government. All the broad indicators are reasonable. Of course there are some challenges but this is an overheated argument in order to achieve the desired outcome, which is of course to flog off public assets and ensure we get deep cuts to public services.

Let us put some facts on the table. We have a very efficient health system. Spending on health care is about nine per cent of GDP. In comparison, countries such as the US spend almost double what we do. Yet we are being told we need to introduce a $6 co-payment to make it more difficult for ordinary people to see a doctor. I say this to Senator Cormann: if you are indeed going to proceed with the sale of Medibank Private, make a commitment to the Australian people that you will put every cent from the proceeds of that sale into health care.

Protect a person's right to see their doctor. Do not put a cost barrier in front of them. Rule out immediately the proposal for a $6 co-payment. Build up Medicare; do not tear it down. You have been given an opportunity—you are able to proceed with the sale of Medibank Private. If you are going to do that, it is important that our health system remains one of the fairest and most efficient anywhere in the world, so rule out the situation where private insurers cover GP services and we see preferential access for people with private health insurance while those without private health insurance get second-class treatment.

The last thing we want to do in this country is follow the US model of health care in which the biggest cause of individual bankruptcy is not being able to pay your medical bills. We have a very efficient, very fair system of health care in this country. Let us protect it. Let us build up Medicare and not tear it down.

Photo of Alan FergusonAlan Ferguson (SA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Di Natale, you made an unfortunate reference to Senator Bernardi and a witness protection program. I think it would be well if you withdrew that.

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

I am happy to withdraw.

Question agreed to.