Today I pay tribute to the life of Joan Yeo, who died in the early hours of 9 October, of motor neurone disease, at her house in Bowral. She was 72. She was surrounded by her husband, Phil, and daughters, Claire and Fleur, joined shortly thereafter by her son, John, who flew home from London.
Joan was a stalwart and much-loved member of the Southern Highlands branch of the Labor Party for over 40 years. She was a dedicated member throughout the seventies and eighties, and, even when the numbers were small and the finances were thin, Joan was always there to do her bit. She was a strong woman and she was passionate: passionate about her politics and passionate about the rights of women. She did not just talk the talk; she walked the walk. She was involved in everything over her life.
Today we pay tribute to Edward Gough Whitlam, QC, AC: patriot, veteran, barrister, Prime Minister, ambassador, Australian legend, husband to Margaret and father to Antony, Nick, Stephen and Catherine. We pass on our condolences to his family and all who knew and loved him.
Throughout the course of this discussion we have seen the best of the Australian parliament. We have seen the outflowing of genuine affection and admiration for a great Australian, and I believe in this discussion we have genuinely held up a mirror to the Australian nation. Gough himself was more than a reflection of Australia as he found it. He was a leader who gave political voice to Australia not as he found it, but as he thought it could be. As Gough himself explained in 1973, his government was elected on the basis of policies which were developed carefully, steadily and intelligently to meet the important demands of our community.
His was the politics of courage and conviction. Indeed it is hard to imagine Australia without the reforms that were driven through by the Whitlam government. In the area of equality, we turn our minds to the reforms to the education system: free access to tertiary education and needs-based funding for our school system. In the area of electoral reform: one vote, one value; lowering the age of voting so that the age of voting was the same as the age at which you could be conscripted to go and fight for the country—the age of 18. In the area of gender equality, we have heard many speakers talk about the importance of his family law reforms: no-fault divorce, introducing onto the PBS the contraceptive pill and reopening the equal pay case to ensure that that important principle could flow through to our industrial tribunals. In the area of land rights: ensuring that the First Australians could once again have full custodial ownership of their traditional lands. On race discrimination, one of his first acts was to ban race-based sporting contests, which was an incredibly controversial issue in the early 1970s, and we all remember the controversy around the Springbok tour. It went beyond that, he was indeed the father of modern multiculturalism.
It is a great pleasure to follow the member for Shortland in this important debate. You could not find a more passionate advocate for the interests of health consumers in this country. It is an area of long-standing interest for the member for Shortland—indeed, before she came to parliament she was an allied health professional herself.
The bill before the House is an important one. It deals with private health insurance, the government's subsidies to the private health insurance industry, and how they can be managed in a sustainable way over the long term. It gives parliament the opportunity to focus on how we fund our health system and the role that private health insurance has in that funding arrangement.
Private health insurance is important. It costs the Commonwealth budget in terms of the rebate approximately $5.8 billion a year. That's right: $5.8 billion in 2014-15, which is a little bit less than 10 per cent of the Commonwealth's total health expenditure. It is right and proper that Commonwealth government and this parliament regularly focus on the performance of private health insurance and how much we are paying for this subsidy.