Senate debates

Monday, 12 November 2018

Matters of Public Importance

Health Care

4:59 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I inform the Senate that, at 8.30 am today, eight proposals were received in accordance with standing order 75. The question of which proposal would be submitted to the Senate was determined by lot. As a result, I inform the Senate that the following letter has been received from Senator Wong.

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

A plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses; ending the Medicare freeze; and providing new MRI machines across Australia.

Is the proposal supported?

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

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

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.

5:00 pm

Photo of Helen PolleyHelen Polley (Tasmania, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Assistant Minister to the Leader (Tasmania)) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise this afternoon to speak about a plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses, ending the Medicare freeze and providing new MRI machines across Australia. It's going to take a lot of work to fix the damage of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years, but Labor is willing and ready. That's why, on 7 October 2018, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, launched Labor's Fair Go Action Plan—our five-step plan for a better and fairer Australia. It's a plan to fix our schools and hospitals, ease pressure on family budgets, stand up for workers, invest in cheaper, cleaner energy and build a stronger economy that works for all. The key point I make here is that Labor has drawn a line in the sand. We have outlined the kind of government that we want to be and the kind of country we want to build for future generations. We have the courage to make the big decisions that need to be made and then be up-front about how and why we made these decisions.

The contrast between Labor and the Liberals couldn't be starker. Unlike the illegitimate Scott Morrison government, whom no-one elected, Bill Shorten is leading a stable and united Labor team that is 100 per cent focused on delivering a fair go for all Australians. This is what drives the Australian Labor Party forward. We're not just talking about ourselves: we're out there fighting for our workmates, our partners and children, our parents and grandparents every single day.

Australia deserves better than the neglect and the political bandaid approach to health care that we've seen under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. There are too many people battling cancer and other serious health issues that are driving for hours or paying thousands of dollars for vital scans and tests. There are too many older Australians with crook hips, bad knees, cataracts, hernias, waiting too long for an operation they desperately need now. There are too many young people and adults unable to reach out and access the mental health services they need. There are too many families and individuals skipping out on seeing their GP because they just can't afford it.

Too many of our fantastic healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. In my home state of Tasmania, as you would have to agree, Mr Acting Deputy President Duniam, these amazing frontline workers are at breaking point. The catastrophic health crisis in our home state should serve as a wake-up call for both the state and federal Liberals to do better. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have cut millions from Tasmania's hospitals and our health care system has hit a boiling point. Every week new horror stories are emerging. We have paramedics trying to treat sick people in corridors and nurses performing invasive procedures on patients who are sitting shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers in the emergency department. Our nurses, doctors and health professionals are at a breaking point. They tell me they're desperately wanting to provide the high quality of care that patients expect and deserve, but they can't because the system is broken and the local and federal Liberal governments aren't listening. We are better than this and we need to do better than this.

And we will. A Shorten Labor government will invest an extra $30 million in halving Tasmania's elective surgery backlog, put more into the state's hospitals and reverse the Liberals' cuts to TAZREACH. If we are fortunate enough to win government, we'll fix our hospitals by reversing the Liberals' cuts; by unfreezing Medicare; by making record investments in mental health; by investing in more beds, more staff and more technology, including new MRI machines in the regions and suburbs; and by investing in new urgent care clinics to relieve pressure on our overworked and strained emergency departments. We're determined to fix our hospitals, and if we're elected to government we will always make sure that it's your Medicare card and not your credit card that guarantees your access to quality health in this country.

Through our better hospitals fund, a Shorten Labor government will invest more in every single public hospital in the country. The better hospitals fund will see $2.8 billion extra investment from 2019 to 2025. This will fully reverse the Liberals' cuts, fund more beds in emergency departments and wards, and fund more doctors, more nurses and more health staff. This funding will be targeted to reduce emergency department and elective surgery waiting times, which, as I've outlined, have blown out under the Liberals' cuts to Medicare and hospitals. Under a Shorten Labor government, the health of Australians will never take a back seat to a handout for big business. Labor will invest an extra $764 million over the forward estimates and $2.814 billion over six years to fix Australia's public hospitals. Our plan has been fully costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

As I said, the difference between Labor and those opposite couldn't be starker. The Liberals have cut from Medicare and hospitals in every year since Tony Abbott's horror 2014 budget. This is a government that gave us the GP tax, the Medicare freeze and the $715 million in cuts from public hospitals from 2017 to 2020 alone, giving their rich mates a handout instead of funding health. This is a classic move in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison playbook. Under the Liberals, the national average wait time for elective surgery is the longest on record, the number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record and the number of people presenting at emergency departments is the highest on record, and one in every three patients considered urgent isn't seen on time.

The Liberals have always hated Medicare and simply cannot be trusted with it. This has been proven time and time again, whether it was by the Abbott government, the Turnbull government or, now, the Morrison government. We know that it's in the Liberals and Nationals' DNA—they just don't like Medicare. They don't like to have universal health care in this country. But Labor will always stand firm and we will always say that your Medicare card is what should give you access to good health in this country, not your credit card. We know that the community believe us; they proved that at the last election. They were concerned about Medicare and voted against this government because of it. It's only Labor that's committed to making Medicare stronger.

People are sick of being short-changed by a government that favours the top end of town. They want to see a contest of ideas and policy. But what do we get from those on the opposite side? The infighting, dysfunction and chaos just continues. If they're not fighting about themselves, they're obsessing about what Bill Shorten is doing and what Labor is doing. We're doing what we said we would do, and that is that we want to contest the next election on good policies and good ideas for the future. That's why we're putting our policies out early. There won't be any reason for the Australian people not to know what Labor stands for going into the next election, because we're going to be up-front about that. They'll know, and they'll have it reinforced time and time again by us, that we'll put people first. We'll put the health of the nation before the big end of town. We'll ensure that families can afford to go and see their GP. We'll ensure that there are not mothers in this country not going to the doctors themselves, because they have to buy new school items for their children and can't afford to go to the GP. We know how important good health is. We know how important good education is. We will prioritise, and we have made the commitment to protect Medicare. We will fund good health services in this country because that's what the Australian people deserve and that's what they will get if there is a Bill Shorten government elected at the next election.

5:10 pm

Photo of Jane HumeJane Hume (Victoria, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to speak on a matter of public importance, introduced to this chamber by our colleague Senator Wong, to discuss a plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investments in beds, doctors and nurses, ending the Medicare freeze and providing new MRI machines. I thank Senator Wong, very much, for introducing this matter of public importance. I also thank Senator Polley for her contribution to the debate today, which was as dull as it was inaccurate.

I get a chance now to speak genuinely of the coalition's health policy, which is terrific. The coalition is all about raising standards of living. It takes its health policy very seriously indeed, because health policy makes genuine changes to lives. Let me dispel a few myths for the chamber. First of all, let's talk about hospital investment. Federal funding for public hospitals under the coalition has increased from $13.8 billion in 2014, the last year of a Labor government in this country, to $22.7 billion in 2020-21. That is a 64 per cent increase just in the coalition's time in office. There are more hospital services, more doctors and more nurses. That is exactly what this matter of public importance is all about. Under the coalition, more Australians are seeing a doctor without having to pay record bulk billing levels for GPs. At December 2017, bulk billing rates were up to 85.8 per cent, up from 81.9 per cent in Labor's last year of office. That is 21.6 million more bulk billed GP visits. It's 1.9 million more bulk billed specialist visits. It's 6.2 million more bulk billed GP visits in regional and rural areas.

Can we talk for a moment about immunisation rates in this country, which are also at record highs? The number of five-year-olds now being vaccinated has increased from 91.5 per cent, when we came to office, to 94.6 per cent. More children are covered and more children in the community are protected from diseases like mumps, measles and rubella. So successful have we been that the World Health Organization has now verified that Australia has eliminated rubella, a contagious viral illness that can result in tragic miscarriage or stillbirth. And the World Health Organization has confirmed that Australia has also maintained its measles elimination status, after being verified in 2014.

On top of this, the Morrison government has invested $446.5 million in the national immunisation program, just this year alone. From 2018 all 12- and 13-year-old girls and boys will have free access to Gardasil 9. This is the vaccine that will protect them from the HPV virus, and we hope that one day it will make cervical cancer go the way of measles and rubella. That's raising the standard of living. There are life-saving drugs programs. There is an extra $51.8 million for headspace—mental health for young Australians. That takes it to a total of about $148 million for this vital program, across 107 centres around the country. Most important of all, I think, is that we have guaranteed Medicare. Medicare and the PBS are now enshrined in legislation. The Medicare Guarantee Fund will ensure that they are sustainably funded well into the future, because guaranteeing essential services can happen only when the budget is strong.

However, what I am most excited about and most proud of is being part of a government that has listed more than 1,900 additional medicines worth over $10 billion on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. They include drugs like Kisqali, which, without a PBS subsidy, would cost the 3,150 women who have breast cancer around $72,000 per year. Four thousand Australians with chronic pain from spinal arthritis will now be receiving Simponi; without the subsidy, it would cost over $15,000 a year. One thousand Australians with a type of head and neck cancer will receive Opdivo; without the subsidy, it would cost around $50,000. Some 850 Australians with lung cancer will be receiving Keytruda; without the subsidy, it would cost those patients around $188,000. Some 220 Australians with a type of lymphoma will now be receiving Imbruvica; without the subsidy, it would cost around $134,000 per year. Some 1,125 patients with rare types of leukaemia will be receiving a drug called Pegasys; without the subsidy, that drug would cost more than $18,000 per year. And over 6,000 Australians with an inherited high cholesterol condition will be receiving Repatha; without the subsidy, it would cost those Australians around $8,000 a year.

Only a strong economy, strong fiscal management and sustainable fiscal management can deliver those new additional drugs on the PBS. Please hold this in stark contrast to 2011, when Labor announced the unprecedented deferral of the listing of seven medicines, saying:

… the listing of some medicines would be deferred until fiscal circumstances permit.

They are the words used in the 2011-12 portfolio budget statement. That was when the now opposition leader, Bill Shorten, was, in fact, Assistant Treasurer. The Medicare freeze imposed by Labor—not by the coalition, Senator Polley—because Labor couldn't get its economic house in order has been lifted by the coalition government. Make no mistake: on health, education, the NDIS and all the essential services that Australians deserve and expect from a prosperous and successful nation like ours, Labor cannot be trusted. They will promise you the world and then they will hand you the atlas but not before they've slapped a tax on it along the way.

If you want an example of a Labor government's health policy in action, look no further than my home state of Victoria. Three and a half years ago, only four months after being elected, Victorian Labor did its first health backflip. It announced that it would scrap 42 hospital beds from the new Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre which would have provided treatment to thousands of cancer patients. Since that decision was made, over 13,000 people with cancer are estimated to have missed out on treatment in what would have been Peter Mac Private. The decision was entirely based on Labor's ideological opposition to private health care and has cost Victorian taxpayers around $100 million. The 13th floor of the Victorian Comprehensive Cancer Centre remains vacant to this day—a state-of-the-art facility lying fallow because a Labor government would rather make a point than save a life. When you see opposition leader Bill Shorten campaigning with Labor Premier Daniel Andrews, when you see Mr Shorten fail to condemn the 'red shirts' rort that misappropriated taxpayer funds to pay for a Labor campaign, when you see Mr Shorten go to ground rather than pass judgement on his Victorian colleagues—21 members of Victorian Labor, including six ministers—who are currently being investigated by the Fraud and Extortion Squad of the Victorian police, when you see opposition leader Mr Shorten and Victorian Labor Premier Daniel Andrews together, please recall the hollow promises that Victorian Labor made before that last election.

The key to a sustainable, generous and effective healthcare policy is a strong economy. What does that look like? I'll tell you what it looks like. It looks like 3.4 per cent economic growth; 1.1 million new jobs over five years, with around 400,000 in the last 12 months alone; the female participation rate at record highs; youth unemployment at the lowest levels in a quarter of a century; unemployment at around five per cent; AAA credit ratings from three credit rating agencies; a budget surplus forecast a year early; the smallest deficit in a decade and the smallest since the coalition left office; and an expected return to surplus in 2019-20. Stronger economic growth and much stronger employment growth than anticipated at the time of the 2017-18 budget have driven increases in personal income tax and company tax receipts. Total receipts are now $13.4 billion—much higher than expected than at the time of the last budget—and total payments are $6.9 billion lower than forecast.

Senator Polley wants more beds; I hear more taxes. If you want more doctors, all we hear is more taxes. If you want more nurses, that's more taxes. The politics of envy, the economics of snake oil, promises as hollow as bone—that is all you will get from Labor. That's all you ever get from Labor. The government's health policy is about changing lives. Labor's is about changing their political fortunes. I am certain that those opposite know it was Vladimir Lenin that said, 'A lie told often enough becomes the truth.' Don't Labor have form on lies? On health policy, Labor cannot be trusted.

5:20 pm

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

I rise to speak to this critically important issue, and that is what a 21st century, modern healthcare system looks like in Australia. It's good to be having a discussion on something that matters. I'm not going to spend too long dwelling on the coalition's record on health care. It's an abysmal one. They came to office. They cut the Australian National Preventive Health Agency. They've decimated prevention. Under the Abbott budget in 2014, we saw hospital funding slashed. They've frozen Medicare indexation. They have underinvested in health care and they have put us on a path towards a US two-tier health system that will cost us more and leave Australians with much worse health outcomes. No, what I want to talk about is what a positive vision for the country looks like.

Election after election, people rate health as the most important priority when they cast their vote. It's about time they got a comprehensive plan for what we need to address the failings of our health system at the moment. The first thing to do is to acknowledge that health outcomes are not simply a function of having a good health system; they are also a function of those social determinants that contribute to good health. Having a roof over your head and access to affordable housing—that's a health issue. Being able to feed yourself because you're on an income support payment, like Newstart, at a level that doesn't commit you to living in poverty—that's a health issue. Being able to get a decent education for your children at a public school—that's a health issue. Dealing with climate change and addressing the challenge of climate damage—that is a health issue.

A decent health system is founded on some key principles. Firstly, it's universal. It doesn't matter where you come from, it doesn't matter what your background is, it doesn't matter what your postcode is and it doesn't matter what your bank balance is; you get access to world-class health care in a decent health system. A good health system puts prevention at its heart. It focuses on prevention. A decent health system has a primary care system which people can navigate, where GPs, as the gatekeepers, are supported by allied health professionals and practice nurses. It's where people are able to get access to decent health care in a coordinated fashion. It's not churning them through; it's not six-minute medicine. That is what decent primary health care looks like.

Of course, if we're going to deal with those issues and if we're going to have 21st century health care, what we need to do is make sure that our health policy is determined by evidence, not by who's got the biggest chequebook, not by the private health insurers who lobby to advance their industry, not by the junk food industry and not by the alcohol industry—that it is, indeed, informed by evidence, not by lobbyists.

When it comes to prevention, the Greens support having a national preventive health agency, because we understand that that is the most cost-effective way of delivering better health for Australians. We need to focus much more on prevention, but the government's ideology is of small government, individualism, not focusing long term and wanting to get a quick hit today in the polls rather than focusing on long-term initiatives—which is what prevention is; these initiatives have long lead times. We need to invest in prevention if we're going to keep people well.

We need to make sure that we address the issue of obesity, and, certainly, in the next few weeks, we'll be announcing the Greens-led recommendations from the Senate inquiry into obesity. But, again, you have to take on those vested interests. You have to take on the food lobby, you have to take on the alcohol industry and you have to take on the advertisers if you're going to address some of those structural problems that contribute to unhealthy weight.

When it comes to primary care, we need to have a system that moves away from throughput, where it's simply a case of GPs being driven towards shorter consultation times—basically, throughput rather than outcomes. That's why we want to see chronic disease management through a system of blended payments, as was promised in the Health Care Homes trials, which failed to deliver. We want that to be also addressed. We need greater investment in our hospital system, but we've got to take the cost shifting out of it, which is why we support an independent body to address those funding shortfalls.

Denticare, Aboriginal health and addressing the health impacts of climate change are all part of the Greens vision for health care in Australia.

5:25 pm

Photo of Doug CameronDoug Cameron (NSW, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Human Services) Share this | | Hansard source

I just want to concentrate for a few minutes on the divide in this country between those in rural and regional Australia and those in the cities. There is a completely unacceptable divide in health outcomes for those in rural and regional Australia. We've often heard Labor say your health outcomes shouldn't be determined by your credit card. Well, neither should they be determined by your postcode. People in country Australia have a lower life expectancy—3.4 years lower for men and two years lower for women. It's even worse for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples. People in the country experience higher rates of cardiovascular disease. They experience higher rates of diabetes. They experience higher rates of lung cancer and higher rates of suicide. Rural Australians are less likely to be covered by private health insurance, are less likely to see a dentist every year and are more likely to visit an emergency department.

In rural Australia, there are fewer pharmacists, psychologists, podiatrists, physiotherapists, optometrists and occupational therapists per capita than in the cities. Rural Australians see GPs half as often as people in the city and see specialists at one-third the rate. That's because they face long travel times and extra costs just to get to a GP, and too often many of them face the prospect of travelling to a capital city to see a specialist. Of course, there are far fewer doctors in country Australia—263 doctors for every 100,000 people, compared to 442 doctors for every 100,000 people in the city.

What's striking about these numbers is that, under this government, they haven't changed. They have not changed. It's okay for Senator Hume to come here and argue that the contribution from Senator Polley was dull. I don't agree with that. I thought Senator Polley's position was clear. Senator Polley outlined the deficiencies in the coalition government in the context of health and also the deficiencies that I've outlined in relation to the divide between metropolitan Australians and rural and regional Australians.

We hear the National Party come in here and argue what great things they're doing for rural and regional Australia. Well, they've failed in health, they've failed in education, they've failed in penalty rates and they've failed in the context of putting a roof over people's heads. They are just not up to it. Not just is the junior partner not up to it; the Liberal Party are clearly not up to governing Australia. Day after day, we see more division in this government. We now see a Prime Minister trying to pretend that he's one of the ordinary people in Australia, with a different baseball hat on every day. Well, putting on a different baseball hat doesn't mean you're dealing with the real issues. The real issues are health, education and making sure that there's not such a great divide between rural and regional Australia and the rest of the country.

We do have a terrific health system, but that health system will be divided by this government through their argument for small government and through the fear campaigns you heard Senator Hume set off on. Someone has to pay for a health system. If big business are not paying their fair share, it falls on those that can't afford it—and we need more investment in health.

5:30 pm

Photo of Jonathon DuniamJonathon Duniam (Tasmania, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

It is a pleasure to make a contribution to the MPI today, following on from the contributions of Senator Cameron, Senator Polley and you, Madam Acting Deputy President Hume, and to debate the 'plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses; ending the Medicare freeze; and providing new MRI machines across Australia'—a statement packed with assumptions and assertions about the state of play. I will pick up on something that Senator Cameron said in the last part of his contribution, which is that we do have a fantastic health system in this country. I don't agree with where he went after that, which I'm sure he is not surprised by, but it is the case that certainly in my home state of Tasmania, while there is always going to be room for improvement when demand increases, we do have a system that is catering more for Tasmanians.

Senator Cameron is right: when you move out of metropolitan areas, when you go out of the highly built-up and more populated areas, access to health services is harder to come by, especially for specialist services. That's why in Tasmania, under the guidance of the fantastic health minister, Michael Ferguson, we are seeing a terrific reform of the broken health service down there, the one that was left in tatters. I will come to the record on that and compare the pair, looking at how things were in 2013, only four short years ago, and how they are today under the Hodgman Liberal government, which has invested a huge amount in health services in that state.

Going to those assertions in the MPI around investments in health and how things are structured and situated in Australia, we need only recall the 'Mediscare' campaign that we saw at the last federal election, in 2016. I recall standing at the pre-poll booth at Rosny Park in southern Tasmania, and a fellow came up to those of us who were standing at the pre-poll booth and he was holding one of those fake Medicare cards and he was outraged. But here we are almost three years on and, of course, Medicare was never privatised. It was a Labor lie. It was one of those scare campaigns that Labor wanted to whip up—and did so successfully, unfortunately. They fooled a great many Tasmanians, and indeed Australians, into thinking that somehow the government was going to privatise the entity that provides for public health, Medicare. It was never going to happen.

That's why this so-called plan that has been put forward by the Labor Party is something that you can't bank on. It is something that we have to interrogate closely. I think the best way to do that is to check the facts and see how things stack up here in Australia—federally and right across the country—and, as I said before, when we examine the situation in my home state of Tasmania. As I understand was pointed out by Senator Hume a little earlier on in this discussion, the amount of federal funding that has been provided to public hospital services under this government has increased by a huge amount—from $13.3 billion in the financial year 2013-14 to $23.4 billion in the year 2020-21. That is a 76 per cent increase in funding to public hospital services. We should remember that the administration and delivery of public health services are the domain of the states and territories. Of course, the Commonwealth, through the various partnership agreements, through the GST and through other funding streams, does support the state and territory governments to administer and fund those services.

We have the five-year hospital funding agreements where we are seeing an increase of funding by $30.1 billion from the year 2020-21 to the year 2024-25. That is a massive increase, taking it from $100 billion to $130.1 billion. This agreement has been signed up to by six state and territory governments—Western Australia, the ACT, the Northern Territory, South Australia, the great state of Tasmania and also New South Wales. That's three Labor and three Liberal governments, meaning that there is bipartisan support for the amount of funding that is being provided to states to administer their much-needed health services. In the case of Victoria, one would assume that the Andrews government is playing politics, holding things up and not signing up in the lead-up to a state election. I can't think what other reason there would be. It is very disappointing for the people of Victoria to be missing out on that much-needed funding to secure the future of their health services.

You only have to consider those facts—the support for Medicare, the numbers related to bulk-billing and, of course, all of the statistics and the case studies around the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme—to understand how much is being invested in public health and in providing services and medications that are so very much needed by many, many Australians.

Senator Hume was talking before about drugs like Orkambi to help sufferers of cystic fibrosis. A 12-month period would cost a patient $250,000 without the subsidy that the PBS provides. That's a fantastic initiative that our fellow Australians contribute to through paying their taxes that enable these people to access their medicines at an affordable rate—a far more affordable rate than $250,000 a year. That drug, like so many others, sat on that list for so long before it was approved to be provided under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

On bulk-billing, as has already been stated, record numbers of people are being provided bulk-billing for health services—86.1 per cent for the 2017-18 financial year, the highest bulk-billing rate at any time since Medicare came into existence. The numbers are that 154.7 million GP services were provided across the country and 133.2 million were bulk-billed. So, on these stories about people being denied access to bulk-billing and doctors jacking up fees, this bears out that record numbers of people are being able to access this service. Again, it points to another Labor scare campaign.

On support for Medicare, as Senator Hume also pointed out, the Medicare freeze which was put in place by the Labor government in the year 2013 is being removed by the coalition, by this government, the one we've heard such nasty things about this afternoon. Huge amounts of funding are being provided to Medicare. In 2017-18, it was $24 billion. In the next financial year, 2018-19, it will be $25 million. It will be $26 billion in 2019-20, $27 billion in 2020-21 and $29 billion in 2021-22.

These are some facts that have been seen around the country about how funding is being administered. It puts paid to the claims that are being made by those opposite that funding support isn't there, that we aren't investing in health and that it's at breaking point. Indeed, Senator Cameron made the point that we do have a fantastic health system, a claim that I believe he is right on.

I will turn to Tasmania briefly, though. Talking about small government, as Senator Cameron did, it was the Australian Labor Party in Tasmania that wanted to privatise the Mersey Community Hospital. They wanted to outsource it. They didn't want it to be supported by government. It was the Tasmanian Liberal government, the Hodgman government, and the coalition government here in Canberra that engineered a deal to make sure that that health facility remained part of the statewide health network, where we are seeing great reforms and where people in regional communities are getting access to the health services and specialist services they need, with the support of the coalition government here in Canberra.

Some of the statistics I put on the record before around access to health were provided during the 2018 Tasmanian state election campaign. They show a contrast to where things were back in 2014, when the Hodgman government came to power after the Bartlett-Lennon-Bacon-Giddings-McKim government had fallen. In the year 2014 there were 15,315 elective surgeries performed in our public health system. At the end of 2017 there were over 19,000 services—that is a massive increase. We had 3,375 full-time-equivalent nurses; we now have 3,630. The number of ambulance ramping hours at the Royal Hobart Hospital—our capital city hospital—has dropped by 25 per cent. This is under the management and guidance of the Hodgman government and the fantastic health minister, Michael Ferguson.

So to claim that things are not being supported and are not being appropriately funded is patently wrong. In the case of Senator Polley's comments that these are Liberal cuts to health: she is wrong. The cuts they talk about are a result of Labor's funny money. The promises they made in the past were ones they could never have delivered on, because they were never elected. They didn't receive the mandate to fund the promises they made. It's all lies with Labor when it comes to funding of health. (Time expired)

5:40 pm

Photo of Peter GeorgiouPeter Georgiou (WA, Pauline Hanson's One Nation Party) Share this | | Hansard source

Right now, there are more than 30,000 people in Kalgoorlie-Boulder who have to travel to Perth by car, bus, train or plane in order to get an MRI scan. If you don't already know, that's a 600-kilometre journey, one way, just to get a scan. I wonder how many of you in here have had to travel that far to get an MRI. Travelling that far often costs hundreds of dollars, especially when you take overnight accommodation into account.

Thankfully, after months and months of significant lobbying by One Nation, Kalgoorlie hospital was granted a Medicare licence for an MRI machine in June. It was the first licence to have been issued in years. The WA state Labor government has already set aside $3 million to buy the machine and install it at Kalgoorlie regional health campus. But guess what? The state Labor government is now saying it will take up to two years before the machine is installed. How is that saving lives? What's more frightening is that from next month older Australians will be denied Medicare rebates for a GP-ordered MRI. By 'older Australians' I mean those who are 50 and over and need a scan for their knees. That's at least 80 per cent of you in this chamber. We wouldn't have this issue if the government provided more MRI licences to independent imaging clinics which aren't part of the duopoly. There are about two chains which run the shop when it comes to scans, and quite often they are using old or outdated equipment. Some of the independent imaging clinics have far superior, newer equipment which can home in on cancers and tumours that the scanners the multinationals use have failed to detect. I know this because I have seen it with my own eyes.

In my home state of Western Australia there's been significant investment in two hospitals—the Fiona Stanley Hospital and the new Perth Children's Hospital. A lot of money has been spent on both, but the Children's Hospital has had its fair share of troubles. It was over budget before it opened, and who can forget the scandal which saw lead leaching into the water supply?

Despite this new investment in tertiary and children's hospitals, doctors have warned of increasing waiting times at Perth hospitals and a growing waiting list for elective surgeries, which are putting the public health system under strain. Then you have more and more people cancelling their private health insurance, which is putting the public health system under further strain. Even emergency departments are struggling to admit or discharge patients within the four-hour target.

There is no doubt in my mind that the health system in Australia was once the envy of many other nations. However, it is quickly losing its much-respected ranking. The government of the day must apply a fair and meaningful approach to ensure all Australians are looked after to the extent that all of us in this chamber expect.

5:44 pm

Photo of Chris KetterChris Ketter (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I rise today to contribute on a topic about which I've talked on my occasions in this place: the importance of appropriately funding our health and hospital system. This is a fundamental responsibility of government, yet it is one that the current Liberal-National government has failed to grasp. This is a divided and dysfunctional government that you wouldn't put in charge of a chook raffle at the present time. They are not capable of coming up with a plan to fix our hospitals. Just look at the latest backflip at the moment in relation to the funding for Foodbank—a terrible outcome, a $300,000 cut to an essential service. I welcome the fact that the Prime Minister is open to reviewing this terrible decision, but it highlights the point: this is a government that cannot be trusted with important decisions that affect Australians. This is a government with a terrible track record when it comes to health. I've spoken about these matters before, but we know that the previous Prime Minister tried to implement a GP tax, and Australians are now paying $4 more out of their own pocket every time they go to the doctor and $12 more out of pocket when they need to see a specialist, and there have been other cruel cuts to the health budget.

Other speakers have spoken about the $715 million ripped out of hospitals around the country. From my own state that's $160 million taken out of Queensland hospitals, the equivalent of slashing the jobs of 1,435 nurses in our state. Brisbane's dedicated children's hospital, the Queensland Children's Hospital, has suffered a $6.5 million cut. The Metro North Health Services District has lost $32 million under the Liberal-Nationals, and let's see where that's coming from: $14.3 million from the Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital; $7.7 million from The Prince Charles Hospital at Chermside; $2.9 million from Caboolture Hospital—and we learnt during the Longman by-election just how strongly locals felt about that; and $4.2 million, a funding cut equivalent to 37 fewer nurses, from Redcliffe Hospital in the seat of Petrie.

What's worse is that the Queensland government is still waiting for this divided and dysfunctional government to pay the $780 million owed for procedures delivered as far back as 2014. It is an absolute disgrace that under the previous Prime Minister the federal government spent 51 weeks arguing over undisputed funding and withholding payment from Queensland hospitals for procedures already delivered going back to 2014. As I've indicated, there is still funding missing. Queensland hospitals are still owed $780 million for the 2016-17 and 2017-18 financial years. This funding, as I said, is for operations and procedures performed as far back as 2016, in this case. It is a travesty that the government doesn't even want to meet its commitments for procedures already delivered.

I'm going to be concentrating on the issue of MRI licences a bit later on, but at this point it's worthwhile noting that, in contrast to the government, Labor has a proud record when it comes to MRI licences. We granted 238 of them when we were last in government. This government has delivered only five in the last five years. That's an indictment of their record. I will also highlight some of the other features of the plan, coming from Mr Morrison, to rip even more money from public hospitals. They've cut billions of dollars from public hospital budgets between now and 2025 and they also want to retrospectively claw back funding for services already provided. This just doesn't affect Queensland; as I've indicated, it affects other states, and I think every other state has indicated its opposition to this plan.

By contrast, Labor has a positive plan to restore $2.8 billion to hospitals through our already announced Better Hospitals Fund, which I think will be very much welcomed out there in the community. It will see an investment in every single public hospital in the country with, as I said, $2.8 billion for more beds and shorter surgery wait times. This fund will restore $2.8 billion from 2019 to 2025—fully reversing the Turnbull government's and other cuts in funding—for more beds, emergency departments, wards, doctors, nurses and health staff. This funding will be particularly targeted at reducing emergency department and elective surgery waiting times, which have blown out under the Liberals' cuts to Medicare and hospitals.

We know that, right now, the national average waiting time for elective surgery is the longest on record. The number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record. The number of people presenting at emergency departments is the highest on record, and yet one in every three patients whose cases are considered urgent aren't seen on time. There were 7.8 million emergency department presentations in 2016-17, which is one million more than five years ago. This, as you can appreciate, puts our hospital system under immense pressure, which means that it needs more funding to keep up with increasing demand from the growing ageing population.

Labor has a commitment to benefit every hospital and patient in the country, and it's only Labor that can be trusted with the universality of our healthcare system. We know that those opposite are not truly committed to supporting our Medicare system, based on the number of occasions in the past that they've taken the opportunity to attack it.

As I said, I want to focus on MRIs, because they are so important in helping to care for people, and I want to point out the fact that the coalition government's failure on this issue has led to the fight being taken up by Labor candidates around the country, including in a couple of my duty electorates. I do want to pay tribute to Zac Beers, in the seat of Flynn, who has taken up this issue, and highlight the fact that the current federal member, Mr O'Dowd, has been unable to secure a Medicare MRI licence for Gladstone. It is of course the latest in a long list of failures by Mr O'Dowd. Despite clear evidence that Gladstone needs an MRI licence—including a bipartisan Senate committee report that recognised this region as an area of shortage—Gladstone was snubbed in the Liberals' announcement of new licences a couple of months ago. Other areas did receive MRI licences. Mr Morrison as Treasurer cut $1 million from the Gladstone Hospital and over $6 million from Central Queensland hospitals between 2017 and 2020. In contrast, Mr Beers has been able to get a commitment that a future Shorten Labor government would deliver an MRI licence for Gladstone and more than reverse the Liberals' cuts to the Gladstone Hospital as part of our $2.8 billion Better Hospitals Fund that I've talked about.

I also want to pay tribute to Corinne Mulholland, our candidate in the seat of Petrie—and I have spoken about this matter previously. Ms Mulholland has also been successful in getting a commitment from Mr Shorten that a future Labor government would deliver a new MRI licence for the hospital. This highlights the spectacular failure by current member Mr Howarth to secure such a licence. Despite the fact that he says he supports it, all he has offered is the fact that the Queensland government can go through a process for it. So he is offering Queenslanders paperwork rather than delivering for them, despite being in office for five years.

Whilst Liberal-National members continue to dillydally, hiding behind pending government reports and buck-passing, Labor is getting on with the job. Only Labor can be trusted to deliver— (Time expired)

5:54 pm

Photo of Slade BrockmanSlade Brockman (WA, Liberal Party) Share this | | Hansard source

I was flicking through my email this morning and I saw the MPI for the day come up. These days we don't look at things in detail, we don't read the headers and footers first; we just flick to the body of the texts and we read them. I read:

A plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses; ending the Medicare freeze; and providing new MRI machines across Australia.

I thought: 'Wow! I wonder who wrote that excellent MPI. It probably came from Minister Cormann, Minister Birmingham or perhaps Minister Reynolds.' But then I glanced down and saw it came from Senator Wong. I thought, 'Goodness gracious me.' Seemingly I'm not the only one who read it incorrectly, because those opposite don't seem to have been particularly enthusiastic about their own MPI anyway.

This MPI does actually reflect what the government has been delivering: a plan to fix Australian hospitals. That's what the government's delivering. We've got record hospital investment. In fact, this government has increased the investment in the public hospital system over the period 2013-14 to 2020-21 from $13.3 billion to $23.4 billion, a 76 per cent increase. As Senator Hume very eloquently put it in her contribution, repeating something often enough does not make it true. There are no cuts here. In fact, there are very, very strong increases into the future. Under our new five-year hospital agreement, funding will increase by $30 billion from 2021 to 2024-25, an increase of 30 per cent, from $100 billion to $130 billion. This has been signed on by three Labor and three Liberal governments at the state level: Western Australia, the ACT, Northern Territory, South Australia, Tasmania and New South Wales. I repeat: the state Labor governments recognise a good thing when they see it—except, of course, Victoria, and Senator Duniam very eloquently went through some of the reasons why that wasn't the case. This funding agreement equates to millions of new hospital services each year for Australian patients in our public hospitals, and thousands of new frontline doctors and nurses. So 'a plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses' gets a tick from this government.

In the brief time I have left, let's go to Labor's record on the Medicare freeze. Minister Reynolds, do you remember who introduced the Medicare freeze? I think it might have been Labor. It might have been Labor in government. The indexation freeze was introduced in 2013. In fact, this coalition government has provided $1.5 billion for re-indexation. So this government gets a tick on the MPI.

Finally, on 'providing new MRI machines across Australia', access to MRI scans is important, and more than 400,000 Australians will now be able to access life-saving scans for cancer, stroke, heart disease and other medical conditions, with a $175 million investment from this government in new MRI machines. The first 10 locations have been announced: Mount Druitt Hospital in New South Wales, Northern Beaches Hospital in New South Wales, Sale Hospital in Victoria, Monash Children's Hospital in Victoria, Pindara Private Hospital in Queensland, Toowoomba Hospital in Queensland, St John of God Midland Hospital in WA, Kalgoorlie Health Campus in WA, Mount Barker hospital in South Australia and the Royal Darwin Hospital in the Northern Territory. There will be a competitive public application process for a further 20 Medicare-eligible MRIs, and we invite prospective facilities to apply for consideration. I know a number of excellent facilities in Western Australia have applied to be part of this new rollout.

So this government does have a plan. It has a plan for the hospitals. It has a plan for the MRIs. We have made a contribution to the ending of the Medicare indexation freeze. We will continue to manage the economy in such a way as to be able to fund all the essential services that Australians require.

Photo of Sue LinesSue Lines (WA, Deputy-President) Share this | | Hansard source

The time for the matter of public importance discussion has expired.