Coalition MPs don't have the guts to speak out on health cuts

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (16:37): This is an absolute outrage—that the coalition today have gagged debate on the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014, this important bill. I make this point: they had the opportunity to let the people of Australia vote on this proposition, but they did not have the courage to put this proposition to the people of Australia not 12 months ago when we went to a general election. They then ram the bill into the parliament and demand that we vote on it without having a full debate. Well, there is a very good reason they will not let us have a full debate on it: they do not want sunlight on it.

As the shadow minister, the member for Ballarat, has pointed out just now, they could not even fill a speaking list on it. In fact, the shortest queue in the building yesterday was the queue of government MPs who were willing to stand up in this place and defend this atrocious legislation. Only four speakers were willing to stand here in this place yesterday and defend this atrocious legislation. There is a very good reason for that. We know that one of the last reports that the COAG Reform Council published before the government shut it down—because they do not like the message that the COAG Reform Council is giving them—showed that there are already people who are failing to fill the scripts that their health professionals have told them are essential for their health. There are already people who cannot afford to fill those scripts. In fact, in June they found that around 8.5 per cent of people were already delaying or failing to fill their prescriptions.

If you look at disadvantaged Australians, the figure is even higher. Around 12½ per cent of people from disadvantaged areas are not fulfilling their scripts, because they cannot afford to. And then there are Indigenous Australians. We have heard a lot of fine words from the Prime Minister. In fact, I very much enjoyed the Prime Minister's speech on the Closing the Gap report, when he put his hand on his heart and said that we needed to do more to close the gap in health outcomes between those with Indigenous and non-Indigenous backgrounds. I can tell you that this measure is going to have a calamitous effect on Indigenous health, because already, as the COAG Reform Council is telling us, around 36 per cent of Indigenous people are going to the doctor and the doctor is writing them a prescription for pharmaceuticals that they need to help them with their health conditions and they are unable to get that prescription filled, because they cannot afford it. What is going to happen when the cost of their prescriptions goes up by 13 per cent? That is what is happening. That is what members on that side of the House today are going to be voting for. They are going to be voting for a 13 per cent increase in the cost of prescriptions.

Yesterday we had the marvellous spectacle of the Deputy Prime Minister of this country standing at that dispatch box and telling people during question time that costs would always be lower under a coalition government. Have you ever heard any greater nonsense than that—the Deputy Prime Minister of this country saying that costs are always going to be lower under a coalition government? Well, here is one group of costs that are not going to be lower under a coalition government—a 13 per cent increase in the cost of pharmaceuticals. And the Prime Minister is fond of saying that prices are going to go up and up and up and up. Under this legislation, members on that side of the House are about to stand and vote in favour of a bill that sends the prices of pharmaceuticals in this country up by 10 per cent, as a minimum, and increases the safety net on the pharmaceutical benefits by 10 per cent per annum between now and 2018.

Is it any wonder that there was not a member of the National Party who was willing to stand and defend this legislation? That is because it is a complete breach of the policy that the National Party took to the election in 2013. They led Australians to believe that they were actually going to decrease the cost of pharmaceuticals. But when they stand and vote on this legislation, within an hour, they are going to be breaking that promise to the Australian people. (Time expired)