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)
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.
It is my great pleasure to be speaking on the subject matter of education and the Australian Education Amendment bill. I will say at the outset that it is not so much what is in the bill that attracts the attention of members on this side of the House, but the things that are not in the bill and the mess that surrounds it. If there is one thing that has been consistent about this minister and this government's approach to education—whether it is early childhood education or primary, secondary or tertiary education—it is this: they have buggered up everything they have touched. In the 12 short months that they have been in government they have absolutely made a mess of everything that they have touched when it comes to the education sector. I was at my own university—the University of Wollongong, a fine institution—in the Illawarra this week, where they are facing redundancies because of the 20 per cent cut in university funding. You have academics, students and community members up in arms because of the uncertainty surrounding higher education. This has been a critical institution in the Illawarra for giving kids from ordinary working-class backgrounds, like my own, an opportunity in life and a foot on the ladder of opportunity.
This is a terribly important issue and it affects over four million Australians—hearing loss affects over four million Australians, and a full half of them are at working age. It would probably surprise you to know that, when you look at the employment statistics for people with hearing disabilities, males are 20 per cent more likely to be unemployed than the rest of the population; it is 16½ per cent for females. So we cannot underestimate the importance of this issue. Ours is a wealthy country doing very, very well in a whole heap of areas of providing health care and services for people who are less advantaged or have a disability, but it would astound you, I am sure, Mr Deputy Speaker, to know that 24 per cent of people who need a hearing aid do not have one.
I congratulate the member for Wakefield on bringing this motion before the House, because the purpose of it is really quite transparent. It is to seek a champion on the other side of the House for Australian Hearing. The member for Wakefield, a champion in his own right, is willing to stand up here and say, 'We need to defend Australian Hearing services.' The member for McPherson has called us irrational or emotional. That is quite right: we are quite emotional about this because Australian Hearing was established by Ben Chifley in the immediate aftermath of World War II. There were lots of Australian servicemen coming back with hearing impairments. Combined with veterans and young people suffering hearing loss, something needed to be done. We could not, as those opposite have suggested, just leave it to the market. There was a clear need for Australian government intervention.
I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land, the Wurundjeri tribe of the Kulin Nation, on which we meet here today in Melbourne.
I’d also like to acknowledge CRANAplus President Dr Janie Smith and Chief Executive Officer Mr Christopher Cliffe.
I’m also very pleased to be speaking in the same session as Associate Professor Paul Bennett.
A story of dealing with complex health needs in remote Australia
The Spring Edition of the CRANA Plus Magazine features a compelling story of Peter Strachan, known to his mates as ‘Strachy’, from Alice Springs.
Peter was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukaemia (AML) in April 2010. Determined to fight the disease for his wife and 8 year old daughter, Peter was forced to get on the next plane to Adelaide for radiology and oncology treatment, over 1,500 km away.
And so began his journey.
The same journey thousands of Australians and their families from remote areas have to make every year to access treatments many in the cities and regions take for granted.
Six months after treatment, Peter relapsed. The advice from his doctor in Adelaide was straight to the point – chemotherapy will give you another 12 months, a transplant can give you at least 5 years.
As many of you would know, stem cell transplants are not easy to come by in Alice Springs. So it was back to the Royal Adelaide Hospital for stem cell replacement and another five months as an outpatient before Peter was able to return home to his family.
He still requires monthly blood tests and quarterly bone marrow biopsies back in Adelaide – but he survived.
There are many more in his situation, living in remote areas of Australia for whom cannot say the same.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:27): This morning Australians woke to the terrible news that ISIS forces have besieged the town of Kobani on Iraq's northern border with Turkey. Its proximity to the border with Turkey means that artillery that was intended to destroy the town of Kobani has overshot its targets and is now landing inside Turkish territory. Unsurprisingly, Turkish forces have moved to the border. There are tanks and artillery now positioned on the border, and the world waits with bated breath to see whether this conflict is going to expand across another border.
Meanwhile, the fighting continues in Syria. The slaughter of Shiahs, of Kurds, of Christians and of all those who do not agree with the ISIS sect's view of the world continues throughout Iraq. It is a terrible time and everybody looks upon it with a mixture of horror, disgust and concern for what it means for the world that we live in and what it means for us back home.
In September, I gave a statement in this House and I made four key points about why I believed it was important for us to support action against the ISIS forces. The first point I made was that it is for governments to decide, in this country, when and where we deploy our troops. I pointed out the fact that governments have at their disposal the facts and the information, and necessarily the chain of command and the resources, that are necessary to deploy our troops, so it is absolutely reasonable that governments are in the best position to make those decisions. That does not mean the parliament has no role; it does. In a Westminster system and with responsible government it is the role of parliament to hold the executive to account, and we should do that through vigorous debate. This debate is today is one such instance of that.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (13:14): It is with great pleasure that I rise to speak on the Fair Entitlements Guarantee Amendment Bill 2014. This matter is one that is a passion of mine, for reasons that I will set out in a moment. I also understand that industrial relations is a passion of members of the government. However, it must be said that in this particular debate that it is a private passion—a very private passion, because there has only been one member of the government willing to come to the chamber today and defend their legislation. Indeed, if there were a standing order that said a government bill had to have a minimum number of government speakers who were willing to stand and speak in defence of it then I am quite certain that this legislation would not get out the gate.
Legislation—the business that a government brings before the House—is a statement of its values and a statement of its priorities. I would like to address some of the priorities and the values that are resplendent within this legislation. As the member for Fowler has just told the House, we are debating this legislation in the very same week that one of the most important reports, that goes to the heart of who is paying tax and who is not paying tax in this country, was published.
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.
Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (10:17): Five years after the end of the Second World War the Korean peninsula was again thrust into a very bitter war. Hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, hundreds of thousands more were thrown into turmoil and for three years the Korean people were facing war on their soil. I use this story is an introduction to a discussion on the Korea-Australia Free Trade Agreement to make this point: in my lifetime South Korea has gone from a position of being a net recipient of aid from the rest of the world to being a net donor of aid to other countries within the region. There are many reasons for this: obviously a robust democracy, a lot of work has gone into the modernisation of its economy, a lot of cooperation between the private sector and the government sector, and obviously intense interest and assistance from the rest of the world to ensure that South Korea was able to get back on its feet. We are now in the happy position of having a very good diplomatic and trade relationship with South Korea as a democracy within the region. This trade agreement takes that relationship to another level.
We support free trade and we support the trade agreement with Korea, but, as my friend the member for Moreton has said in his contribution to this debate, there are some reservations. Were Labor still in government and if we had the opportunity to complete the work that we started in 2009, we would have concluded an agreement, but there would have been some differences—and I will go to those shortly.
The Republic of South Korea is our third-largest export market. This bilateral trade agreement presents significant opportunities for Australian exporters and for Australian workers. It is not without its downside. Any trade agreement involves trade-offs and often they felt within particular parts of the economy and particular regions around the country. They are felt within regions such as mine, a region that has traditionally gained its employment and its wealth from a mixture of manufacturing, mining and other services. When we reach agreements such as this, there is no doubt that it adds further pressure to those manufacturers who are competing against nations such as South Korea and others in an open market.