Matter of Public Importance: Rural and Regional health services

Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (15:20): Thank you, Deputy Speaker. The question that all members on this side of the House are asking themselves today is why the government insists on punishing Australians who live in rural and regional Australia. Why are they so insistent on punishing people who live in the bush? The other question we are asking is: why is the National Party so eager to support them?

The issue is this: the government's budget is a war on the poor; it is a war on the people who live in rural and regional Australia. The $7 GP tax will cost patients over $1.4 billion in communities outside of metropolitan centres.

The destruction of the PBS safety net is going to cost an additional $1.2 billion for people for their medicines. If you look at the top 12 electorates that will pay the greatest out-of-pocket expenses as a result of this rotten budget in the PBS, they are all in rural and regional Australia. And they are going to be wacked an additional $112 million over the next four years.

Where is the member for Gippsland? Where is the member for Hinkler? Where is the member for Murray? Where is the member for Gilmore? And where are the other members who claim to represent regional and rural Australia electorates? Why aren't they here today, standing up for their electorates?

The sad truth is this. If you live in the bush, you do not enjoy the same health outcomes as you would if you lived in the city, whether they be diabetes, the incidence of a melanoma or other cancers, injuries or, tragically, suicide. The sad fact is that, if you live in the bush, you do not enjoy the same sorts of health outcomes as you would if you lived in the city. Tragically, those on the other side are letting down their constituencies.

It is also true that, if you live in rural and regional Australia, you not only have the lowest incomes but are also paying more in out-of-pocket health expenses. The poorest people in the country are being whacked the hardest by those on the other side of the chamber.

Labor has a very proud record when it comes to health. Labor is the party that introduced Medicare 30 years ago and we are defending it here today, while those on the other side are attempting to attack it. From 2007 to 2013 we ensured that there were more doctors trained and more doctors sent to the bush to practise. We built over 29 new cancer centres and we put in place health and hospital funding which ensured that funding of hospitals around the country was more sustainable.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps out of embarrassment at the success that the Labor Party had in looking after people in the bush and looking after people in rural Australia, before the last election the National Party published this policy document. When you look at this policy document you will see it has a fair few things to say about health and health policy. For instance, they made some very big promises about having a policy to ensure that no member on that side of the chamber would support policies which were going to lead to the closure of hospitals in rural and regional Australia. The $55 billion cut to health and hospital funding is going to have a devastating impact on hospitals in the bush and those on the other side know it. We demand that the National Party live good to their promises and stand up here and defend the things that they went to the last election on.

The coalition went to the last election promising, in this document here, that they would increase financial incentives and payments for doctors practising in rural and regional Australia. As soon as they got into government, what did they do? They cut Medicare rebates for doctors. So, instead of increasing funding, they have decreased funding for doctors practising in the bush. The best promise of all—and this is the one we love—was that they would have a full-time minister for regional and rural health, to ensure that the interests of regional and rural Australia were looked after when the big decisions were made. It is no surprise, but it is a Liberal Party health minister who is going to be standing there defending their record because The Nationals will not get up and defend it.

Mr McCormack: What about Fiona Nash?

Mr STEPHEN JONES: I am asked about Fiona Nash. Let us hear what she had to say about it. She was asked whether she did some modelling on the impact of the GP co-payment and whether she had consulted rural communities on the impact. What did she have to say? When the biggest decision by this parliament was made, impacting on rural and regional health, the minister for rural and regional health was not even in the room, making it quite clear to everyone on this side of the chamber—and it should also make it quite clear to everyone in rural and regional Australia—that the Liberal Party has absolutely no regard for the promises that the National Party made to their electorates in the run-up to the last election.

Having been excluded from the big decisions, you would have to ask yourself: is there anything that the minister for rural and regional health will go into bat for when it comes to rural and regional Australia? We know that she was willing to go into bat for big food companies, to save them from the tyranny of a star-rating system. She was willing to stick up for the interests of 'big food,' but she will not stick up for her own policies. Two weeks ago in the Senate, when she was asked about these issues she had to this to say, 'You've got to understand that we have National Party policies but, when we get elected to government, they don't mean anything. They have absolutely no bearing on coalition policy, because they are only National Party policies.'

We know that the Liberal Party has no regard for National Party policies and no regard for people in the bush, but we also know that the National Party no longer has any regard for people in the bush. How quick they have been to disregard their own policies!

Some members were willing to stand up for people in rural and regional Australia. Even National Party members were willing to stick up for people in rural and regional Australia. I see that the member for Richmond is in the chamber today. She is willing to stick up for the interests of her electorate, unlike the previous member for Richmond, whom she defeated, who was not willing to stick up for the interests of people in rural and regional Australia. But his predecessor was.

In the good old days there have been National Party members who have been willing to stand up to their own side and to the tyrants in the Liberal Party. I remember when Doug Anthony was willing to bring the National Party across the floor to vote against his own side to ensure that the interests of the bush were looked after. But not today! It is a pale imitation. They will not even stand up and defend their own policies. They are sending the Liberal minister in here to stand up for their own policies. Not one National Party member has been willing to stand up and defend their own policies. It is absolutely clear that they will not defend their own policies because, as the minister for rural and regional health has also made absolutely clear, the Liberal Party has no regard for their policies. They will not be able to stand in their electorates in the lead-up to the next election and make one single promise, because the people in the bush will understand that, when it comes to health and when it comes to anything else, National Party promises have absolutely no bearing on what a coalition government will do in practice.

It is time for members of the National Party to stand up; if they will not stand up, they should stand down. They should tell the truth that they are no longer members for country Australia; they are no longer anything more than associate members of the Liberal Party. (Time expired)