Senate debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2016

Matters of Public Importance

Medicare

4:06 pm

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The President has received the following letter from Senator Gallagher.

Dear Mr President

Pursuant to standing order 75, I propose that the following matter of public importance be submitted to the Senate for discussion:

The Government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare.

Is the proposal supported?

More than the number of senators required by the standing orders having risen in their places—

Thank you. I understand that informal arrangements have been made to allocate specific times to each of the speakers in today’s debate. With the concurrence of the Senate, I shall ask the clerks to set the clock accordingly.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Today's matter of public importance is 'the government's refusal to learn the lessons of the election and stand up for Medicare', and this is a really important issue. The Australian people have a right to be disappointed in this leaderless, directionless government. They have a right to feel betrayed. Mr Turnbull is looking after his big business mates and not the real concerns of the Australian people.

As demonstrated in the election, the health care that Australians and their loved ones receive is an issue of immense importance—possibly even the most important. During the election campaign, the government failed to convince the Australian people that they were committed to public health care—and, after the government delivered $50 billion in savage cuts to the health system, no wonder Australian voters were sceptical. The government hysterically claimed that Labor's campaign to protect Australia's healthcare system was a Mediscare campaign and that they, the Liberals and Nationals, were fully committed to the Australian healthcare system. At least 27 times during the election campaign, Mr Turnbull said that he would never outsource Medicare.

That is why, yesterday over in the House, Labor gave the government the opportunity to demonstrate their commitment to a strong, public Australian healthcare system. But unfortunately the Liberal and National party members, including Mr Turnbull, voted against Labor's motion, which supported a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as a universal health insurance scheme for all Australians; to protect bulk-billing so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to and not only when they can afford it; to reverse the government's harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare Benefits Schedule; to reverse the government's cuts to pathology that will mean Australians with cancer will pay more for blood tests; to reverse the government's cuts to breast screening, MRIs, X-rays and other diagnostic imaging which will mean Australians will pay more for vital scans; to abandon the plans to make all Australians, even pensioners, pay more for vital medicines; and to develop a long-term agreement to properly fund our public hospitals so Australians do not languish in our emergency departments or on long waiting lists for important surgery.

So it is absolutely obvious: Mr Turnbull and the government members have failed to stand up for Medicare in the parliament. In the days after the election Mr Turnbull said:

We have to do more to reaffirm the faith of the Australian people in our commitment to health and to Medicare.

He went on:

We will work harder, much harder … I would like Australians to believe that commitment to Medicare is completely bipartisan.

But, yesterday, only 100 days after the election, Labor gave him the opportunity and he failed—absolutely failed—to commit to protecting Medicare. It would appear Mr Turnbull just does not care about ensuring all Australians have access to health care.

Australians did not trust the Liberals with their health care before the election, and they sure do not trust them now. The Prime Minister has admitted he has a problem with Medicare, but he has shown no interest in fixing it, with not one change of policy and not a single dollar of cuts undone—not one in 100 days. He has backflipped on the backpacker tax and he has backflipped on his ironclad changes to superannuation but, when it comes to cutting Medicare, he knows which side he is on. What else would we expect from a Liberal Party that is ideologically opposed to universal health care? It has always championed a two-tier American style healthcare system. This is a government which, for three years, has done everything it can to push the price of health care back onto Australian families.

Australians are proud of their healthcare system and the idea at the core of Medicare: that every Australian can get the care that they need when they need it. Medicare speaks for our distinctive Australian character and our egalitarian tradition of the fair go. But if the Liberals have spent the last three years trying to hollow out Medicare, taxing it, cutting it, eating away at its very foundations, then we are in trouble. They have been seeking to tear Medicare down, brick by brick, piece by piece.

The government's record on Medicare speaks for itself: cutting bulk-billing so 14.5 million patients pay more to see a GP. That is 14.5 million Australians who will have to pay more to see a GP because of the Turnbull government. The College of GPs recently found one in three GPs are already revising their business models because they cannot stay viable under the Medicare freeze, with out-of-pocket health costs increasing by 19 per cent under this government. I am from Tasmania, as are two of my Senate colleagues here in the chamber, Senator Brown and Senator Polley, and we know and have met with a number of doctors in Tasmania who now no longer bulk-bill due to the cuts by this government. This government's cuts are directly hurting Tasmanians in need, and those opposite should be ashamed of supporting them, especially the Tasmanian senators opposite.

The cuts the government have made to health have cut across all parts of the sector: bulk-billing, hospitals, pathology, dental and palliative care, amongst many other areas. Just last night I spoke in this place about the government's unwillingness to fund Palliative Care Tasmania, and on 12 September I wrote to the Prime Minister explaining the importance of the work that Palliative Care Tasmania does, urging him to fully fund it into the future or at least provide interim funding to cover it until the review of the Better Access to Palliative Care program. But, of course, I do not hold out much hope for that, because I know that those opposite do not care about the health of Australians, and they certainly do not care about the dying of Australians and making sure that Australians can have a good death.

The government are happy to pretend that they care about the healthcare system, but they have failed to convince the Australian people, because their actions show that they do not really care. We know that the government established a 20-person $5 million Medicare privatisation task force, and we also know that this government told the Productivity Commission to investigate privatising all human services, including Medicare. And we know that the government's decision to award the contract for the National Cancer Screening Register to Telstra adds to a string of evidence that they cannot be trusted to keep Medicare in public hands.

We have seen government cuts to pathology as well. During the election, the Liberals engineered a short-term political stunt to hide their pathology cuts until the polls closed. But rest assured: Mr Turnbull is as committed as ever to making Australians pay more for their vital tests, with confirmation his massive cuts to pathology remain a ticking time bomb. It is just not good enough.

This government remains determined to make cancer patients, and others with chronic health conditions, pay more for their vital tests, and the cuts could come into effect in only a month or two. It is my view, and the view of those on this side, that Mr Turnbull needs to drop these cuts entirely.

The government's cuts to bulk-billing incentives will impact vital pathology tests—including blood tests, urine tests, swabs such as pap smears, and biopsies. Combined with his cuts to diagnostic imaging, patients could be left with hundreds and possibly thousands of dollars in up-front costs simply for vital scans and tests. Australians should be able to have the blood tests they need without being left hundreds of dollars out of pocket.

Mr Turnbull claimed to have learnt a lesson at the election, but the fact is he has not reversed a single one of his health cuts—not one. He has had 100 days; he has not reversed one. He will keep attacking bulk-billing and increasing out-of-pocket costs. It is about time that Mr Turnbull got his priorities right and started caring about the health of all Australians. He should stop making Australians feel that they were betrayed at the last election. He is so busy looking after his big business mates and not the real concerns of the Australian people. As I said, the health care that Australians and their loved ones receive is of immense importance—possibly even the most important thing we could be talking about.

During the election campaign the government failed miserably to convince Australian people that it was committed to public health care. Let's remember that it delivered $50 billion in savage cuts to the health system—no wonder most people are sceptical—and the government hysterically claimed that Labor's campaign to protect Australia's healthcare system was a 'Medicare' campaign. They went absolutely troppo—I presume it is parliamentary to use the word 'troppo'.

So many times during the election campaign did they point out how they are fully committed to the Australian healthcare system. They are committed to 'an' Australian healthcare system but, unfortunately, it is more like the American healthcare system. At least 27 times during the election campaign Mr Turnbull said he would 'never outsource Medicare'. But do not be mistaken, Mr Turnbull will outsource Medicare at the drop of a hat. At the drop of his top hat he will outsource Medicare. (Time expired)

4:17 pm

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I am absolutely amazed that the Labor Party would raise for debate the issue of Medicare, after the disgraceful lying campaign conducted by the Labor Party and their union mates at the last election when union thugs were standing at the pre-poll queues. They picked their mark—older people, frail ladies. They would rush up to them and say, 'The Liberals are going to abandon Medicare.' This continued on and on. It is an outright and complete and absolute lie that the Labor Party will forever stand condemned for.

Opposition Senators:

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Ian MacdonaldIan Macdonald (Queensland, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I stood next to a CPSU lady who was doing this, after she had threatened an elderly person. When I said to the elderly person: 'Excuse me madam, what you've just heard is a complete fabrication. The government is not selling Medicare,' the CPSU lady said to me, 'You're bullying me.' I say this because of those opposite now. I said, 'Hang on, I'm bullying you? I am simply talking to this lady and telling her the truth.' The CPSU lady said, 'You're bullying me. You're standing in my space.' I assume that is the new union way. If someone challenges them, particularly if they happen to be a female, the retort is: 'You're bullying me.' In this case, the bullying was being done by this CPSU lady picking on vulnerable frail people and telling them abject and absolute lies.

In debates such as this it is always useful to have a little bit of fact. What you heard from the previous Labor Party speaker, Senator Bilyk, was a congregation of lies, mistruths and misinformation. Let me give you the real facts. The coalition government is investing $22 billion in Medicare, which is over a billion dollars more than last year. That will increase to nearly $26 billion additional in 2019-20. Again to put the lie to the comments made by the previous speaker, bulk-billing rates are the highest they have ever been ever. GP bulk-billing rates are at over 85 per cent compared to when Labor was in power—the people who proposed this MPI. When they were in power the average rate was 79 per cent. I will repeat those: under the coalition we have an GP bulk-billing rate of 85 per cent and under Labor it was 79 per cent.

In the last financial year, across Australia there were 17 million more bulk-billed GP attendances than in Labor's last year in office. I will repeat that because those listening to this broadcast might want to have the facts rather than the lies that were told by earlier speakers: there were 17 million more bulk-billed GP attendances compared to Labor's last full year in office. More people than ever are seeing a general practitioner, a doctor, without having to pay anything.

To continue with some factual input into this debate, I will talk about the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which was mentioned by the previous speaker. I mention that because I am particularly proud of the way our government has listed new medicines for cancer, including melanoma, for cystic fibrosis and for a cure for hepatitis C. Many of these medicines would have cost people tens, if not hundreds, of thousands of dollars a year, but we have been able to list them, so now they cost only $38, or $6 for a concession script.

I was particularly involved in the hepatitis C campaign, as was my colleague Senator Dean Smith, who took a lead in it. I have a relative who had hepatitis C who went through 48 weeks of sheer agony in an old form of possible treatment. For him, I am pleased to say, it did work. But he went through agony—he and his family and his children. The government has since allowed onto the PBS this new treatment, where you take one pill for 12 weeks, and it is almost a guaranteed cure.

I was told, when the pharmaceutical companies were coming to me, lobbying to get this onto the PBS, that the treatment would have cost—they were a bit coy about the actual cost—somewhere between $70,000 and $100,000. That was the cost of this drug. You can now get it, thanks to the coalition government, for just $38, and for those with hepatitis C it is almost a cure.

In addition to that, in the coalition government's first three years, 1,000 new medicines were approved for the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, and that is worth some $4.4 billion. Can I just compare this—I remind you: 1,000 in three years under the coalition—with Labor's last three years, when there were 331 new medicines on the PBS.

If you had taken any notice—and I am sure not many people did—of the previous speaker, you would think that the health system was in chaos. But, there we are: under Labor, 331 new medicines in three years on the PBS; under the coalition, three times that.

Not only are more medicines available; they are now cheaper. In an Australian first, the price of a large proportion of expensive combination medicines and patent-protected drugs on the PBS have reduced by as much as $20 under the coalition. On 1 October this year more than 2,000 medicine brands treating common conditions dropped in price for millions of Australians.

I have to say: the Liberal and National parties are the only political parties with a plan. Our economic plan will enable us to pay for Medicare, so that Australians can continue to receive the health care they do now and into the future. Can I just emphasise that. Labor will talk about these things. They will throw promises around, as they are good at doing, but they never have any concept of how they are going to pay for it.

Under Labor—and this is a historic fact—the economy goes backwards. Taxes go upwards, and Australians suffer. You have to have a change of government every now and again to get the economy back on track. Why do we want the economy back on track? We want it back on track so that government can be in surplus and can spend money on what Australians want—and that is, a decent health system, which they never got under Labor. All congratulations go to the Minister for Health and Aged Care, Sussan Ley. She has done a wonderful job.

Opposition senators interjecting

These members of the Labor Party are arguing with me—1,000 new medicines under the coalition, 300 under Labor. Come on! Let me have the argument. There are 17 million more people getting GP services free under the coalition than under the last year of Labor. Argue with those facts, and see where they go.

Under this government we care about health. We care about Medicare. We will continue to invest in Medicare to the benefit of all Australians, and we will do that because we are getting the economy back on track and can afford it as a nation.

4:26 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Well, let's really put some facts on the table. We know that the coalition government have a record that will never be beaten—as a government that historically have always made cuts to health. Going right back to the Howard era, one of Tony Abbott's last acts, when he was the Minister for Health, was to cut $1 billion out of health.

What do we have now? We have the worst health minister that this country has ever seen—the worst health minister. We have a health minister who sits in cabinet with no authority. She is a minister for health and a minister for ageing, and what has she done? Absolutely nothing. They went to the last election with not one ounce of credible policy when it comes to ageing. But let's stick with the issues that are before us now.

We can look at Medicare. Yesterday marked 100 days—100 long days—since this government was elected, and they have neither stopped nor dropped any of their cuts to health and to Medicare, further highlighting their inability to have learnt anything at all from the federal election.

The Liberals in my home state of Tasmania are still in shock because they lost the federal seat of Bass. It was won by Ross Hart, the new Labor member for Bass. Why did he win? He won because the Australian people, in particular the Tasmanian people, understood that Malcolm Turnbull and his government cannot be trusted when it comes to health. Ross Hart won that seat from a member who had continually voted against the interests of his constituents.

We went out and campaigned on the issues that matter to the people of Bass and to the people of Tasmania. They know, first hand, that we have the oldest population, the quickest ageing population and, unfortunately, in Tasmania, some of the worst chronic illnesses affecting our people. So we value Medicare.

But we know that those on that side of the chamber want to undermine Medicare. It is in their DNA. It is in their core belief system. They do not support a universal healthcare system. If they had their way, we would go down the same trail as the Americans, where only those who can afford it have access to good health care. Those on that side of the chamber have always had the view that your credit card should determine whether or not you get good health care in this country.

We have seen, under this government, an increase in the cost of private health insurance. It is getting to the point where there are more people dropping out of private health care because they cannot afford it. Unfortunately, people need that care the most as they get older. The problem is: as you approach retirement age, if you are on the Australian pension you cannot afford to take out private health insurance. Those in this country who are most vulnerable deserve the protection of the Commonwealth government. That is the very least that they should be able to rely on this government for—to provide them with the best health care possible.

We know that those on that side cannot be trusted. They have learnt nothing at all from the results in Tasmania where we took three seats from the Liberals. The three amigos had to leave town, as I have spoken about many times before in this chamber. We have also seen that this is a government which refuses to listen to the community. We know that it is going to cost all Australians more money to have a pathology test. For those people who are living with and fighting cancer, it is going to cost them more to have their pathology tests. For myself and my colleagues Senators Brown, Urquhart and Bilyk, we know, coming from Tasmania, what Medicare means to our people. It is shameful that the Liberal senators in this chamber from Tasmania will not stand up, cross the floor and support the Tasmanian community to ensure that it has the health care that it deserves.

As Senator Bilyk said previously, why should somebody have to pay $300 up-front to have an MRI? This is someone who has already had brain tumours. That is a burden. We need to ensure that people get the best care that they can as soon as they can. A parent should not have to have a choice between whether a mother can go and have her Pap smears or put food on the table, or pay the school fees. These are fundamental rights of all Australians. We know on this side that Mr Turnbull has not been the Prime Minister that the Australian people thought they were voting for. In fact, I think he is best known in the community—from the conversations that I have on a regular basis—as the 'Prime Minister for thought bubbles'. If he sees an idea floating through the sky in a bubble, he will grab it and have a go at it. That is not the sort of leadership that we need in this country. Why should Australian pensioners and those who are most vulnerable have to pay more for vital medications?

We had Senator Macdonald here with his usual ramblings and babbling on that he does, accusing people of bullying people at polling booths. He ought to have a look at his own backyard first. He is one of the worst culprits in this chamber of bullying other senators, particularly women on this side of the chamber. We know, as I said before, that it is in the belief system of those opposite—

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Smith, on a point of order?

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I understand that it is the custom and the tradition to make—

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Your point of order?

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Polley should remove those remarks that she has made about Senator Macdonald bullying women. They are untrue.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Polley, can I invite you to withdraw that comment and then continue your remarks.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I will continue my remarks.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Would you withdraw that comment?

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I am not going to withdraw the remarks because he does come into this chamber and bully women.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Polley, with respect, you did reflect on a colleague in the Senate.

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

Withdraw.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

I withdraw.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Thank you very much.

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Aged Care) Share this | | Hansard source

Let us get back to the real issue before the chamber—that is, as the Australian people know, the Turnbull government cannot be trusted when it comes to our health system. We know that Medicare is fundamental to ensuring that all Australians have access to the best health care possible. We have been envied around the world for our health system. Whether you look at the United Kingdom, the United States or Canada, we have always been up there as the world leader. That is under threat because, as we know, the Turnbull government will do all that they can to undermine Medicare. We know their agenda is to privatise Medicare—we know that. That is why we will always stand up and protect Medicare. We know that those in the other place had the opportunity yesterday to support the position that Labor put before the House to ensure that Medicare could never ever be privatised. But what did we see? We saw the government members vote against that.

Senator Macdonald made a contribution that claimed that we were over here scaring people into believing that the health system was in crisis. Well, that is exactly what is happening in the Royal Hobart Hospital today. That is exactly what is facing the people at the Launceston General Hospital in my home state. They are in crisis. Leading into the federal election, we had numerous doctors at the Launceston General Hospital threatening to walk out. We had them reducing their hours. They are in crisis. We have an incompetent minister in the state parliament, Mr Ferguson, who has no idea how to resolve the health issues that are confronting the Tasmanian community.

So it is the responsibility of Minister Ley and Minister Ferguson to ensure that our hospitals are functioning and are provided with the resources that they need to deliver the best outcome for all Tasmanians. We should not have 92-year-old women dying in a storeroom. We should not have 91-year-old men on the floor because there are no beds. We should not have our elderly Australians not being treated with respect and not having access to the best health system that we can provide. It is an indictment on the Turnbull government. It is a disgrace for the Turnbull government. It is a disgrace that the minister responsible for this area, Minister Ley, does not have the capacity to deliver what they went to the election with to ensure that Australians have the health system that we can all be proud of. It is damning on this government.

4:36 pm

Photo of Jacqui LambieJacqui Lambie (Tasmania, Independent) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak to the matter of public importance and the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare. On 9 July one of the world's oldest and most respected current affairs and news magazines published an article which talked about the Turnbull government's performance and the mandate it had won at the last double dissolution election. Senators—especially government senators—may like to reflect on what the Economist had to say:

When Malcolm Turnbull sought a second term for his conservative Liberal-National coalition government by calling an early general election, he promised Australians a break from nearly a decade of dysfunctional politics and short-lived national leaders. The prime minister—Australia’s sixth in a decade—asked voters to deliver a mandate for “strong, stable majority government” so that he could take them to the “greatest years in our history”.

Instead, on July 2nd, they delivered a humiliating verdict.

As the Economist indicates, this government does not have a mandate for their policies from the Australian people, because this government was delivered a humiliating verdict by the Australian people on 2 July. And one of the main reasons why the government barely managed to maintain control of the treasury bench in the lower house after their majority melted from 15 to 1 is, as this MPI suggests, the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare.

How could we forget that the Turnbull Liberal government, over the 2015-16 Xmas-New Year holiday break, promised to make changes to Australia's Medicare bulk-billing rebate. The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia said at the time that the Liberal's changes to bulk-billing would result in an extra patient fee of at least $30 for women's pap smears alone. Our Medicare system, just like our public health system, is under terrible pressure. And, as we have already heard, in Tasmania, we are suffering from the effects of bad health management from not just the federal Liberal Party but also the state Liberal Party and the state minister in Tasmania. Our public hospital system is overloaded and failing patients because of underresourcing and pressure from the federal government on the Medicare bulk-billing system. Our public health system is in severe crisis, with Launceston and Hobart hospitals absolutely overflowing. They are 100 per cent choked up. Tasmanians are dying while waiting for life-saving surgery. There are 4,000 Tasmanians on a 12-month waiting list for a simple procedure like a colonoscopy, which can prevent cancer. Yet, over the next 10 years, Australia will borrow between $50 billion and $70 billion to give away in foreign aid. Both state and federal governments have clearly failed homeless and sick Tasmanians, yet the same politicians have said that, over and above our normal refugee intake, an extra 500 people will be housed, fed and cared for in Tasmania. Will those people go to the front of the queue for public housing and medical treatment? Before we take any more refugees, I am calling on the politicians who have created our public housing and health crises to prevent Tasmanians from becoming homeless and dying unnecessarily on public health waiting lists.

There is no long-term public health plan in place to look after residents of the North and North West of Tasmania. For North West patients to have equity of access and continuity of quality health care, the North West Coast should have one centralised regional hospital, based between Devonport and Burnie. This, of course, will not occur overnight; however, it would be visionary to commence planning for its construction now. We need to think long term for the betterment of our children and our region—not for one election cycle or from one election cycle to another.

There are of course many complexities involved in providing health services, especially in Tasmania, with its geographical disadvantages, weather and decentralised population. It is even more complex when you have two medium-sized, competing hospitals within 45 minutes of each other, with both suffering from being dependent on expensive professional locums. Having one centralised regional hospital would promote sustainability of health services on the North West Coast, increase the chance of recruiting and keeping specialists and staff; benefit from a critical mass of patients; and boost opportunity for funding. To avoid wasteful spending on infrastructure, planning on a new greenfield hospital site should commence as soon as possible, with the realisation that funding may not be available for 10 years or more. (Time expired)

4:41 pm

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It pains me to admit it, but there are days when I admire the Australian Labor Party in this Senate, certainly for their cheek and disregard for the evidence. Let's look at the wording of this motion from Senator Gallagher:

The Government's refusal to heed the lessons of the election and stand up for Medicare.

Well, let's take that accusation in two parts, because I think senators opposite will find that, if there is anyone in this building who is refusing to heed the lessons of the most recent federal election, it is not the coalition; it is indeed the Labor Party. I think it is important to get on the record very early, right here, right now, that, on 2 July this year at the federal election, the Australian Labor Party received the second-lowest primary vote in its history. The lessons of the election that was just held was that the Australian Labor Party received the second-lowest primary vote in its history. I would have thought that was something not to boast about. I wouldn't have thought that achieving the second-worst primary vote result your party has received was something to be proud of. That is doubly the case when your campaign ran the most cynical and dishonest campaign I have seen in what will next year be 30 years as a member of the Liberal Party. I have not seen a more dishonest campaign.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

I was there in 1993 when you tried to do a similar exercise with regard to Medicare. In its desperation, the Australian Labor Party threw everything at its Medicare campaign—a campaign based on the completely false, illogical and utterly unsustainable charge that the government was planning to 'privatise' Medicare.

Photo of Nick McKimNick McKim (Tasmania, Australian Greens) Share this | | Hansard source

Children overboard.

Photo of Dean SmithDean Smith (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

If I get to the end of my contribution, Senator, I am going to put some facts on the table that Tasmanian senators—you, Senator Brown, Senator Polley, Senator Bilyk and Senator Lambie—will find most revealing about what has happened to bulk-billing rates in your state.

Senator Carol Brown interjecting

If you knew them, Senator Brown, you might have revisited your contribution. You will have a chance to adjust your contribution, because I am going to give you the evidence before you speak. I would have thought the lesson of this election was that, ultimately, the Australian public does not reward dishonesty. Whatever momentary political success, the sorts of tactics Labor deployed may bring you in the short term are, in the end, not the things that will be rewarded by voters.

If there are lessons to be drawn from the election campaign, I argue that one of them is that the opposition needs to spend more time developing serious, credible, economic policies instead of resorting to cheap and dishonest tactics to try and win the day. Looking at the state of Victoria, I would argue that one of the lessons of the election campaign is that, when Labor chose militant unions over community volunteers, voters did not reward Labor. The passage through the parliament just yesterday of the government's laws that protect Victoria's CFA volunteers was a seminal moment. It was a victory for volunteers and for integrity, in the face of a shameless union power grab that was supported by the Australian Labor Party.

I would also add that another of the lessons from the election is that the people of Australia want a restoration of integrity and the rule of law to our construction sector, which this government is seeking to achieve with its commitments to re-establish the Australian Building and Construction Commission and bring its registered organisations bill to the parliament.

If collapsing union membership was not enough of a lesson for the Australian Labor Party, then surely the fact that they, the party of trade unions, came out of the election with the second-lowest primary vote they have received is a clear sign that something is wrong with their approach. Something is wrong with Labor's approach. Of course, you do not have to take my word for it, not surprisingly. Let us defer to John Black, a former Labor Senator for Queensland, who wrote in The Australian at the end of August this year:

Poor little Bill Shorten. Like the preppies at my kids' school, he got a nice congratulatory encouragement sticker just for finishing the race and, like a few of the preppies, he thinks that means he won.

His point is well made. For all the bravado and carry-on we hear from Labor senators in this place, particularly from Tasmania, you would think that they had won the election outcome. They did not win the election, and the reason they did not is that voters correctly saw that what the Labor Party of 2016 represents is no different to what the Labor Party of 2013 represented: a political party still beholden to trade unions, a party that has no credible plan for the future of this country and a party that is more interested in the quick headline than in serious policy reform.

That brings me, neatly, to the issue of Medicare, which is also the other focus of the motion moved this afternoon by Senator Gallagher. It used to be said, by former Prime Minister John Howard, that his government was the best friend of Medicare. I think that that was something of a boast at the time. However, that has now been overtaken. Let's have a look at Medicare evidence. You will see that it is the current government which provides the best support and protection for Medicare.

Let me pepper the debate with some evidence—some statistics—that have been missing from the contributions of Labor senators. An additional 17 million GP services were bulk-billed last year under the Turnbull coalition government, when measured against Labor's last full year in office under Julia Gillard and Kevin Rudd. Now, I would have thought that if you were trying to destroy Medicare, which is the claim Labor senators are trying to make this afternoon, providing an additional 17 million GP services is not what you would be doing. Last year, the Turnbull government—which the Labor Party says wants to destroy Medicare—invested around $21 billion in Medicare. That represents an investment of about $60 million every day—not the action of people who want to destroy Medicare. In fact, no government has invested more in Medicare than the present Turnbull-coalition government. To give you a point of comparison, Labor invested an average of $17.7 billion in Medicare during their six years in government. That is $3.3 billion less than the Turnbull government has invested in just the last year. It is a shame that the Hansard does not record silence, because I notice Labor senators have fallen silent.

Senator Reynolds interjecting

Senator Reynolds, I haven't even got to the bulk-billing statistics for Tasmania yet. Another one of Labor's favourite— (Time expired)

4:50 pm

Photo of Carol BrownCarol Brown (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Parliamentary Secretary for Families and Payments) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise to speak on the matter of public importance, submitted by Senator Gallagher, on the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare. We have had some contributions from government senators here today, and they certainly have supported Senator Gallagher's motion by the fact that they have failed to heed the lessons.

Before I go on to some of the substantive issues that have been raised—not so much by the previous speaker, Senator Smith, who ranged all over the place—let's have a look at what the federal government's record on health has been. Mr Turnbull's record includes extending the freeze on Medicare rebates to six years, which is forcing out-of-pocket costs up. In my home state of Tasmania, during the election campaign, if you went to any of the GP surgeries or any of the clinics that people came to see me and talk to me about—I went to a GP surgery as well—there you could see in black and white in the surgery's or clinic's reception area a letter advising their patients that their fees would be going up because of the freeze. That is what it said, in every GP clinic that my constituents came to talk to me about. That is fact. It is not made up but fact.

Another thing the Turnbull government tried to do was abolish the Child Dental Benefits Schedule. If it is abolished it would push five million children onto a very, very long public dental waiting list. And that is still on the books with this government. They tried it before, in the omnibus bill, and it had to be taken out after pressure from the Labor Party. That is another fact. That is what this government are trying to do.

They also ripped $650 million out of Medicare by slashing bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology. Do not take my word for it that that is what they are doing; let us look at the facts. That is why the pathology companies were running a campaign during the election. That is why the radiology officers were running a campaign throughout the election. That is why Mr Turnbull, during the election, backed down on it, but he certainly has not taken it off the table—his actions in recent times tell us that it is well and truly coming back. We heard from Senator Polley and Senator Lambie about what that will do to costs for people who are seeking those services. Thirty extra dollars for a pap smear. That is what your government is pushing onto the Australian community.

By all means do not accept that people out there in the community are awake to what you are doing to Medicare and with the cuts to health—don't accept it; I know you have an inability to accept that—but you should go back and talk to your constituencies. In my home state of Tasmania we saw Medicare as one of the biggest issues that people were talking to us about in terms of how they were going to vote. It was based on the freeze and the extra charges, the out-of-pocket costs, that would be coming through GP clinics. It was about the Child Dental Benefits Schedule. It was about the slashing of bulk-billing incentives for diagnostic imaging and pathology. And it was also about the other cuts to health programs that this government has inflicted on the Australian community.

Senator Polley talked about the fact that in my home state of Tasmania voters in Lyons, Bass and Braddon elected three very, very good, outstanding members of the Labor Party as their new representatives. They did that, and one of the main reasons they did that was because they wanted to see Medicare protected. So what have we seen in the last few days? Only yesterday we saw Mr Turnbull vote against a guarantee to keep Medicare in public hands as the universal health insurance scheme for all Australians, vote against a guarantee to protect bulk-billing so that every Australian can see their doctor when they need to and not only when they can afford it, and also vote against reversing the harmful cuts to Medicare by unfreezing the indexation of the Medicare benefits scheme.

Senator Smith talked about scare campaigns. It is a 'give me'—I know you quite like me, Senator Smith, but it is a 'give me'. I will not even mention $100 legs of lamb. I will not even mention Whyalla. But I will mention this: just recently we had the power outage situation in South Australia—very sad to see that happen—and what did we see? Straight away Mr Turnbull was in there blaming renewables, trying to start a huge scare campaign on renewables. And what did we then have? Dr Hewson—do you remember him, Senator Smith; I am sure you do—who said, 'Australia needs more renewables, not less.' I do digress, but these people are the kings of scare campaigns.

The matter of health and the matter of Medicare are far too important to let this government get away with what they are doing: bit by bit stripping away measures to support people when they need medical assistance. In my home state of Tasmania just recently we had an emergency in the Royal Hobart Hospital. It was an emergency that was a level 3 red status, which is the highest that it can go. It basically meant that there was a lack of beds at Tasmania's main public hospital. This is because more and more people are turning up to emergency services because of the pressure that they are under regarding the cost of going to the doctor. This government should not be let off the hook. (Time expired)

4:58 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I too rise to speak in relation to this matter of public importance with respect to the government's alleged 'refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare'. In politics, if you tell a lie often enough and you tell it loudly enough, eventually it will be believed—particularly when it is designed to evoke fear in the most vulnerable of our society. Senator Gallagher in this chamber today stated that the Turnbull government has made Medicare inaccessible and unaffordable—a big fat demonstrable lie designed to scare and mislead.

In WA on 20 June this year, Bill Shorten stated, 'If you want to protect Medicare, you vote for Labor in this election'—a big fat lie told often enough and loud enough to eventually be believed by Australia's most vulnerable. These are two big fat lies, but they are actually more than that. Instead of campaigning, and still keeping the lie going forward, on their own 'positive policies' for this nation, Labor continue to rely on scaring and misleading the Australian public and scaring the most vulnerable in our society. Mr Shorten's Medicare lie was simply that; but it was a lie so big, and told so frequently to the most vulnerable, that it ended up being believed.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Reynolds, please resume your seat. Senator Marshall.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. Senator Reynolds knows that she cannot say that about the Leader of the Opposition. She needs to withdraw it.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I invite you to withdraw, Senator Reynolds.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Please continue, Senator Reynolds.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

These comments were clearly untrue. This message from the Labor Party about Medicare was so untrue and told so frequently to the most vulnerable people—

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Reynolds, please resume your seat. Senator Marshall.

Photo of Gavin MarshallGavin Marshall (Victoria, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, on the same point of order: Senator Reynolds cannot simply repackage the same message and pretend she is not saying the same unparliamentary words. She must withdraw.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Marshall, you have made your point. Senator Reynolds, would you please desist, and continue with your remarks.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I will. Thank you very much.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Reynolds, please resume your seat. Senator Gallacher.

Photo of Alex GallacherAlex Gallacher (SA, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr Acting Deputy President, on a point of order: I draw your attention to standing order 187 with respect to speeches not being read.

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Senator Gallacher, you will resume your seat. Senator Reynolds, I invite you to continue—without interruption.

Senator Smith interjecting

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Yes, they might not like to hear what I have to say, but I have plenty of facts. Those opposite have spent the last half an hour or so making egregious allegations about those on my side and about our policies. One thing we did not hear from those opposite were the facts. Senator Lambie asked: 'What has this government actually done?' Listening to you speak, I was reminded of Monty Python's Life of Brian'What have the Romans ever done for us?' in health, education and everything else.

Opposition senators interjecting

You have not provided any facts and figures. Let me provide the facts and figures that you have steadfastly refused to provide to this chamber.

Opposition senators interjecting

Photo of Christopher BackChristopher Back (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Through the chair, thank you, Senator Reynolds.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Through the chair, let me provide some of the facts and figures for you. The Turnbull government will increase Medicare funding by a further $2 billion this financial year alone—from $21 billion this year to $26 billion in four years. This is more funding in real terms than the previous Labor government ever provided. That is a fact. Let those opposite come back into this chamber and deny that is a fact. We talked about GP clinic visits in Tasmania. Well, let me tell you that, under this government, bulk-billing rates are the highest they have ever been in this nation. GP bulk-billing is now at 85 per cent, compared to an average of 79 per cent under Labor. This means that now, across Australia, more people than ever are not paying anything to go to see their GP. In fact, there are 17 million more bulk-billed services than there were under Labor. We were asked what it was in Tasmania. In Tasmania alone there are now 150,000 more bulk-billed services under this government than there were under those opposite.

This year, we are investing more than $22 billion in Medicare, which is $1 billion more than last year. More than that, we are the only party that is also increasing the PBS. Under this government, over 1,000 new medicines have been approved for subsidisation for all Australians, including those in Tasmania, Senator Lambie—through you, Chair. That compares to the 333 new drugs placed on the PBS under the entire six years of the previous Labor government. We are providing more of the newer drugs not only for average Australians but also for those with serious and chronic health conditions. We have also announced revolutionary reforms on how we deliver Medicare in the community. Our Health Care Homes policy gives GPs and their teams the flexibility to coordinate, manage and support patients with chronic illness with the aim of keeping them healthier at home and with the doctor of their choice.

I challenge those opposite that they have not used any figures to challenge their assertion that we are spending less and doing less. The big difference is that we on this side know that, to spend it, we have to earn it. We are the only ones with the economic plan to actually deliver the expanded health services that we are delivering today. Those opposite should hang their heads in shame for propagating big fat lies about Medicare not only in the campaign but also in here.

Medicare is a government service that is here to stay. We on this side have never suggested that Medicare would go. In fact, the facts show that we have done everything we can to strengthen it. During the campaign, in the eastern suburbs of Perth, rather than hearing the Labor Party' positive policies for the election I had old ladies in nursing homes scared out of their wits from phone call after phone call from 'Medicare' and other people telling them that they were going to lose their Medicare and be kicked out of their aged-care facilities. If you are proud of your record of propagating these big fat lies and scaring the bejeebers out of the most vulnerable in this society, you should hang your heads in shame. After scaring the most vulnerable in our society with this, as Senator Smith said, you got your lowest primary vote ever. If that does not give you pause to come out with positive policies to inspire the electorate and not scare them, I do not know what will.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

What is the majority you have?

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You want priorities? Senator Bilyk, would you like me to go through some more of the statistics, the actual facts?

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

You have a majority of one.

5:05 pm

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

On 1 October this year more than 2,000 medicine brands, treating common conditions, dropped in price for all Australians. That is 2,000 different medicine brands dropped in price for all Australians.

Senator Bilyk interjecting

You want examples? I have plenty of examples for you. What else have we got? We have listed new medicines for melanoma, cancer and cystic fibrosis, and a cure for hepatitis C.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

Order! Senator Bilyk, a point of order?

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Mr President, I have been misrepresented by the senator.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

That is not a point of order.

Photo of Catryna BilykCatryna Bilyk (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I said 'majority', not 'priority'.

Photo of Stephen ParryStephen Parry (President) Share this | | Hansard source

That is a debating point. There is no point of order. I remind senators to address their comments to the chair.

Photo of Linda ReynoldsLinda Reynolds (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

This government has listed new medicines for melanoma, cancer and cystic fibrosis, and a cure for hepatitis C. Many of these medicines would have cost people tens of thousands of dollars and would only have been available to the most well off, but we have been able to list them so that they only cost around $38, or just over $6 for a concessional script. This government is spending more on health in real terms than ever before. No matter how much those opposite keep bringing out and peddling this big fat lie, it is simply not true. Given all of the statistics, facts and figures from me and those on my side, I challenge anybody on that side to actually tell us where our numbers are incorrect. We have not been spending more? We have not increased the PBS? We have not put more money into health, into hospitals, into GP services? If those opposite can come back and actually tell us where we are cutting Medicare or where we are cutting spending in real terms, in total terms, let them come back and challenge any of the figures we have provided. They have not so far in this debate because they simply cannot.

In relation to the Medicare payments system, which has been the subject of so much discussion and so much misinformation by those opposite, the government is looking at ways to take the health and aged-care payment system into the 21st century, making it better for both patients and clinicians. That is not scrapping Medicare; that is bringing it into the 21st century so we do not waste money on old, outdated systems which do not serve patients or the doctors. It is bringing it into the 21st century and saving taxpayer money so more money is available to put into the forefront of health services.

In conclusion, the Prime Minister and all on this side have stated time after time that every single aspect of Medicare which is currently operated by government, including the process of Medicare rebates, will continue to be operated by government. Medicare is and always will be a core government service. I think those opposite should hang their heads in shame at resorting to scaring the Australian public that somehow this side of the chamber will be getting rid of Medicare. You should be ashamed of scaring the most vulnerable in our society, because they were scared, and there is no excuse for doing that. I think Australians everywhere deserve much better than that.