It has been said earlier by the member for Blair, in his fine contribution to this debate on the Aged Care and Other Legislation Amendment Bill 2014, that the motto for Labor in government when it came to aged care was 'Living longer, living better.' That motto encapsulated the various policies and the spending priorities of Labor when it came to aged care. If we were to collect all of the policies and initiatives of the Abbott coalition government under one banner in its one year in office, the true and accurate slogan—which should be emblazoned across that banner—would be 'Working longer and you are on your own.' If you look at the lamentable facts about the Abbott government's contribution to the aged-care sector after one lonely year in government, it is a very sorry record indeed.
What have they done? They have cut pension benefits, to start with. They have changed the method of indexation. We know, through independent research, despite the protestations of the Prime Minister, that this initiative alone is going to see the average pensioner worse off over the next 10 years by around $80 a week. They have cut benefits for people who are residing in aged-care facilities—and I will have something more to say about that in a moment. They have cut benefits for people who care for people in aged care. If that was not enough, they have cut the agency which plans for workforce issues when it comes to health and the aged-care workforce in this country. It is an absolutely atrocious record after one short year in government. We can only begin to contemplate the horrors that beset the sector if this is allowed to run for another two years.
We do face some challenges in the sector; there is absolutely no doubt about it. We know, as every speaker in this debate has identified, that we have an ageing population. That is actually a sign of success. It is a sign of the success of our healthcare policies and of Australia as a country that we have one of the greatest life expectancies of any country in the OECD. Australians born today can expect to live nearly 25 years longer than those who were born at the beginning of the last century. Close to 15 per cent of Australia's population is now over the age of 65. That is expected to be about 24 per cent by mid-century. We know that we have some significant issues that we have to deal with when you put all of these demographic facts together.
The honourable minister said he wanted to inject a few facts into the debate. Here are a few facts the minister got wrong.
The first is that Medicare is not free. We pay for it. We pay for it through our Medicare levy. That includes those people who are concession card holders. I know the minister tries to deny the fact that concession card holders are also paying, but one of the facts he might like to go and find out for himself is how many of those concession card holders are also taking up private health insurance. They are being whacked twice by this GP tax, a fact the minister does not like to admit.
He also gets his facts wrong on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. He tries to convince people that it was the Labor government that introduced a co-payment for the PBS. I have news for the minister: there was this bloke called Menzies. The minister may not know our history very well but you would expect a Liberal Party minister to understand their own history a bit better than he does. It was Menzies who first introduced the co-payment into the PBS system. It was 1960 and it was a charge of five shillings.
Yesterday the House, and indeed the nation, mourned the passing of a great Australian. Today we on this side of the House recommit ourselves to his vision for a better Australia—a better Australia that includes universal access to health care. As Gough Whitlam stood on the steps of Parliament House some 39 years ago, he issued a solemn injunction to all fair-thinking Australians. He said to us, 'Maintain your rage.' Maintain your rage against all of those who seek to make Australia a place that is smaller than it is today—a place that is less equitable than it is today. There is much that we remain angry about. That sacred duty to maintain the rage now falls to each and every Labor member of parliament, because just as Labor was the party that introduced Medibank and Medicare, we are the last line of defence for those who would seek to destroy them.
Amidst the confusion, the chaos, the ineptitude, the false communication and the rotten handling of this terrible budget, we can define a consistent line of thought that joins this Prime Minister, this health minister and the policies of this rotten government to those Liberal elitists who sought to destroy Medibank 40 years ago—who sought to stop Medibank ever being introduced and then over the next four years pulled it apart, brick by brick. It was Billy Snedden who said in the debates during the historic joint sitting of parliament to introduce the Medibank legislation:
We will fight and we will continue to fight. We will destroy it.
Of all the promises that this government seeks to keep and all the faith that they tried to keep between 1974 and today, it is the promise to destroy Medicare brick by brick—and that is exactly what they are attempting to do. They are trying to destroy Medicare, just as they tried to stop it happening in 1974 and again in 1984.
I want to talk about the regions. When we contemplate the impact that these atrocious policies are going to have on regional Australia we are left wondering what it is that binds the MPs on the other side of the House to these mad policies. Let's contemplate the facts—as the member for Ballarat has done today—of the cost of diagnostic imaging for people living in regional Australia. It is $90 up front for an X-ray, $380 for a CAT scan and $160 for a mammogram. A PET scan could cost over $1,000 for people who are living in some of the poorest communities in the country. You have got to ask yourself why the people who pretend to represent those communities in regional Australia are binding themselves to these mad policies. If they were such good members as they pretend to be, they would be standing here today arguing against those policies and they would be crossing the floor when the legislation comes before the House because that is the right thing to do. (Time expired)
We are deeply saddened at the passing of Hon E G Whitlam AC QC this morning.
We extend our deepest sympathy to Mr Whitlam’s children, Antony, Nicholas and Stephen Whitlam and Catherine Dovey, and their families.
Australia has suffered a great loss today. Mr Whitlam made an outstanding contribution to the well-being and prosperity of our country and its care and concern for the most vulnerable.
It is hard to imagine what Australia would look like today had it not been for the Whitlam Government.
Mr Whitlam’s prime ministership was one of Australia’s most transformative. His drive and vision modernised our country.
The Whitlam Government introduced free access to education and medical care for everyone in our society, not just the privileged. He started the process of giving land rights to the first Australians, introduced no-fault divorce and social security for sole parents.
Gough has a longstanding connection to the Illawarra as his electorate of Werriwa extended to Helensburgh when he was first elected; a connection that stayed with him beyond his time in office with the conferral of an Honorary Doctor of Philosophy by the University of Wollongong in 1989. The region continues to benefit from his and his government’s legacy.
The bill before the House deals with two particularly important schemes—the Medicare Chronic Diseases Dental Scheme and the Child Dental Benefits Scheme. They both deal with the way in which the Commonwealth government supports public dental services. In the case of the CDDS, it is about chronic diseases—or it was about chronic diseases. In the case of the CDBS, it is about children's dental services and, particularly, what the Commonwealth can do to prevent the onset of chronic diseases within children at a very young age. There is agreement before the House on the passage of these bills but there is a very different approach between the major parties on how we deal with dental health and dental health care, and the public support for dental health care in this country.
Before addressing some of these issues, it is worth going through some of the key facts around dental health in this country. Many may not be aware that in 2010 government survey data showed that more than one-quarter of people aged five or older avoided or delayed visiting a dentist due to cost—that is, more than one in four aged five or over delayed visiting a dentist because of cost. From 1994 to 2010, there was an increase in the proportion of adults avoiding a visit to their dentist from 25 to 30 per cent—again, because of cost.
Labor’s Spokesperson for Regional Health, Stephen Jones today demanded the Abbott Government reject the recommendation by the Commission of Audit to privatise Australian Hearing Services.
In his address to Parliament, Jones said he is deeply concerned the sell-off will result in a lack of affordable services in regional areas like the Illawarra and Southern Highlands, where incomes are lower, care is more expensive and distances to travel more vast.
“For local kids like Felix Williams of Windang and his family, the support of Australian Hearing Services is immeasurable”, said Jones.
“The organisation has a bulk-purchasing arrangement that allows families on lower incomes to access new technologies, upgrades and parts for their child’s hearing devices at below market cost.
“When costs for a Cochlear upgrade can be anywhere up to $20,000, a lack of support services like Australian Hearing would mean a huge blow to the hip-pocket of local families.