Mr STEPHEN JONES (Throsby) (15:34): The truth is that this policy is an orphan. The minister has done a valiant job of standing here and trying to defend something that none of his backbenchers will be out there in their electorates defending when they get back home. None of them will be out there defending it when they get back home. It is easy to understand why. When we got up and read out the MPI today, you could see people rushing for the doors. In fact, the National Party MPs just about knocked the doors of their hinges—they are still swinging—because they did not want to be in the chamber to stand up and defend what is clearly an indefensible policy.
There is little wonder. National Party members would have been entitled to think that, as they have a National Party minister with the title of 'minister for regional and rural health', she would have had some input into this policy. Yet we discovered something last night in Senate estimates when she was asked a very clear question about the impact of the GP tax on rural and regional Australia. She was asked by Senator McLucas:
Did you go through a consultation process with rural and regional health stakeholders to canvass the notion of a GP tax with them?
The answer from the minister for rural and regional health was:
I was not privy to any discussion around the creation of the GP co-payment.
She was not keen to claim it as one of her own. She said:
There was speculation leading up to the announcement. I did not have any specific discussions on that matter.
You could not have it any clearer than that. The minister who is responsible for rural and regional health had absolutely no input into the policy—and doesn't it show? The impact of this cruel GP tax and these cruel cuts to health and hospital funding are going to have a big impact on rural and regional Australia—and don't National Party MPs know it? That is why they will not be standing in this place defending them.
There is a word for people who do not tell the truth. We are not allowed to use it in this place because it is unparliamentary. But before the budget he said that there would be no cuts to education and no cuts to health. Then he lured people to vote for him. Then, at his very first opportunity, he wacks them with his very first budget. 'No cuts to education and no cuts to health'? The people of Australia are not going to forget it.
When they go back to their electorates—I can hear the noisy member for Bass over here, I can see the member for Page over there, and I can see a lot of other members from regional Australia—they will not be going out there defending this policy. They will be at pains to speak about just about anything else, because they know that this is going to go down like a bucket of sick in regional Australia. It is absolutely on the nose.
It is not only members on this side of the House that are bagging these horrible cuts to the health budget. What did the newest Premier of New South Wales have to say about this? He said this:
In terms of the funding in health what we are seeing is hundreds and hundreds of hospital beds impacted.
He also said:
We cannot absorb these cuts.
So all those members from regional New South Wales, when they go back to their electorates, should be repeating the words of the Premier of New South Wales. It wasn't just the Premier of New South Wales who confessed that these cuts are going to amount to 2,380 beds in New South Wales that will have to close; it is the Premier of Queensland. He said he was 'deeply concerned about what this budget means for health and education services' in his state. Today he stood up in his parliament and said it amounts to $16 billion worth of cuts to health and education services in Queensland. These were not the cuts the people of Queensland voted for. In fact, they were promised the very opposite.
In the nine months they have been in office they haven't got a health policy; they have a wrecking ball! They have thrown away the National Health Reform Agreement; they have cut millions and millions of dollars from programs that are helping ordinary Australians. There is no policy. It is a cut to the fair go. These cruel cuts are closing beds in regional Australia, they are hurting everyday Australians, and you guys should vote against them.