Wednesday, 3 April 2019
Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2019; Second Reading
That this bill be now read a second time.
I seek leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The speech read as follows—
This Bill amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge — Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase the Medicare levy
low-income thresholds for singles, families and seniors and pensioners in line with increases in the consumer price index. These changes will ensure that low-income households who did not pay the Medicare levy in the 2017-18 income year will generally continue to be exempt in the 2018-19 income year if their incomes have risen in line with, or by less than, the consumer price index.
The Medicare levy low-income thresholds ensure that people who pay no personal income tax due to their eligibility for structural offsets — such as the low-income tax offset or the seniors and pensioners tax offset — generally do not incur the Medicare levy.
The changes to the thresholds mean that no Medicare levy will be payable for individual taxpayers with taxable income that does not exceed $22,398 in 2018-19 (increased from $21,980). Single seniors and pensioners with no dependants who are eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset will not incur a Medicare levy liability if their taxable income does not exceed $35,418 (increased from $34,758).
Further, in combination with the individual thresholds, couples and families who are not eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset will not be liable to pay the Medicare levy if their combined taxable income does not exceed $37,794 (increased from $37,089). Couples and families who are eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset will not be liable to pay the Medicare levy if their combined taxable income does not exceed $49,304 (increased from $48,385). The thresholds for couples and families go up by $3,471 for each dependent child or student (increased from $3,406).
The increase in thresholds will apply to the 2018-19 income year and future income years.
Full details of the measure are contained in the Explanatory Memorandum.
Labor supports the Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2019, which will amend the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and the A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families, along with the dependent child-student component of the family threshold, in line with movements in the CPI; the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for individuals and families eligible for the seniors and pensioners tax offset, along with the dependent child-student component of the family threshold, in line with movements in the CPI; and the Medicare levy surcharge low-income threshold, in line with movements in the CPI. The measure applies to the 2018-19 income year and later income years. This follows the practice of dealing with this annually, as per the Tax and Superannuation Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2018. This is a regular process that ensures that the most vulnerable Australians are not disadvantaged while maintaining their access to Medicare, our world-class universal health system.
I want to make a few brief points, reflecting upon what my colleagues in the other place said this morning. The shadow minister for health and Medicare, Catherine King, noted this morning that the 2019-20 budget has locked in the Prime Minister's cuts to public hospitals in a too little, too late health budget full of reheated announcements that don't make up for six years of Liberal chaos. As Treasurer, Scott Morrison cut hospitals in every budget he wrote, and as Prime Minister he has now locked the cuts in. For six years, the Liberals have prioritised an $80 billion tax handout for the top end of town, and they've done that over prioritising Medicare, schools and hospitals. This is a Prime Minister who is completely out of touch and only cares about the top end of town.
Prime Minister Morrison has refused to restore the $715 million he cut from hospitals under the current funding period and he's persisting with his plans to rip billions more out of our hospitals over the next six years. Patients will suffer because of these cuts, as they are confronted with longer emergency department and elective surgery waiting times or are forced to travel far from home for treatment. Bill Shorten and Labor will deliver a fair go for Australia by reversing these cuts and making massive new investments with our $2.8 billion better hospitals fund.
While Labor will always welcome new investments in general practice, this budget doesn't come close to making up for the five-year rebate freeze that has ripped $3 billion out of Medicare. This is a freeze the Liberals first imposed in 2014. Now they're promising to lift it, matching Labor's long-held commitment, and they're doing this just six weeks out from an election. In the other place this morning the shadow Assistant Treasurer said that the Australian people are far too smart to fall for this spin. They know that the cost of going to the doctor has risen, and that's why so many of them have been delaying going to the doctor. Last year, Labor noted that the official Bureau of Statistics figures showed that one million Australians delay or avoid seeing their GP each year. They do that because of the cost. With another 1.7 million Australians skipping specialist appointments, this means that the health of Australians is not being properly dealt with under this government. Yet the Liberals make the laughable claim that Medicare has never been stronger and that their commitment is rock solid. Remember all of Tony Abbott's promises before he became Prime Minister? Well, this is certainly a similar position, from this government.
I must say Senator Williams has not covered himself with glory today. He's had a good parliamentary career, but, towards the end of it, he's really slipping. To defend Tony Abbott, to defend the cuts during that 2014-15 budget that caused so much damage in rural and regional Australia, is an absolute joke. Senator Williams, you're a mate, you've been a good parliamentarian, but, man, you have dropped the ball today.
Whether it's making Medicare more expensive, cutting funding to public hospitals or putting health insurance profits before patients, Prime Minister Morrison can never be trusted on health. Labor created Medicare, and only Labor will ensure that Australians can access the health care they deserve. Although Labor will support this bill—a bill that is largely a product of convention rather than passion—we must emphasise the existential threat that the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison/Hanson government and its recklessness pose to our valuable and cherished universal healthcare system. Only Labor will protect Medicare.
Firstly, I think I'd like to thank those who have contributed to the debate! Thank you, Senator Cameron! The Treasury Laws Amendment (Medicare Levy and Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill 2019 amends the Medicare Levy Act 1986 and the A New Tax System (Medicare Levy Surcharge—Fringe Benefits) Act 1999 to increase the Medicare levy low-income thresholds for singles, families, seniors and pensioners in line with increases in the consumer price index. This will ensure that the low-income thresholds keep pace with the increases in the cost of living. The amendments to the Medicare levy low-income thresholds apply to the 2018-19 year of income and future income years. Full details of the measures in this bill are contained in the explanatory memorandum. I commend the bill to the Senate.
Question agreed to.
Bill read a second time.