Health Care - Matters of Public Importance

As Australians, we have enjoyed the envy of others around the world in relation to our healthcare system. Labor has had the courage to tackle the threats to our nation's health by listening to health professionals and formulating sound health policy. It was Labor that delivered the universal health system, Medicare. But with the announced budget cuts our system is under threat.

The Abbott government's budget includes more the $80 billion dollars of cuts to health and education. Not only that but there will be a new tax if Prime Minister Abbott gets his way. After promising before the election, 'No new taxes,' here it is: a new tax—the GP tax! A tax that is claimed will raise $3.5 billion dollars. A tax that will be imposed if you dare to get sick and have to visit your GP. A tax that will be imposed if you want to get your child immunised and stop the spread of infectious disease. A tax that will cruelly hit Australian families and will damage Australia's health system.

What do the medical profession have to say about this GP tax? They are against it. The AMA, the Australian College of Emergency Medicine, the Public Health Association of Australia, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Healthcare & Hospitals Association, the Doctors' Reform Society of Australia, the Consumer Health Forum of Australia and many more health academics and economists have all advised against the GP tax, but their expert advice has fallen on the deaf ears opposite.

Why? Because the Prime Minister of Australia is so out of touch with the population that he thinks it is fair to tax people for going to see a doctor. His policy, if implemented, will see the Australian healthcare system evolve into a two-tiered, American-style health system in which you will only be able to access quality health care if you can afford it.

On this side of the chamber, we advocate and believe that all Australians—it does not matter about your bank balance—should get the health care that they need, not just the health care that they can afford. I know that in my electorate, like in many around the country, people do not want to see Australia's healthcare system begin to mirror America's health system.

It is people in my community that will be affected by this tax. Current bulk-billing rates in Wyndham are at 92 per cent. The projected impact of the GP co-payment on the bottom line for our community is $11 million per annum. That is a lot of money out of our local economy. Why is there such a high bulk-billing rate? Because the doctors locally know the value of early access to health care as an efficient way to manage health costs. They know the pensioners and young families will stay away if the co-payment is the difference between keeping food on the table or visiting the doctor.

So what are the health issues in my electorate? They are cancer, diabetes and heart disease in adults, and asthma in children. The leading new cancers for Wyndham are bowel, prostate and breast cancer; 4.8 per cent of Wyndham's population has diabetes. The National Heart Foundation data suggests high rates of heart attack, unstable angina and heart failure in the Medicare Local catchment; and the leading cause of hospitalisations for children up to eight years is asthma. Mental health disorders are the most significant broad cause of years lost to disability in the western metropolitan sub-region affecting 30.7 per cent of women and 29.3 per cent of men. Three-quarters of men in Wyndham have reported low levels of psychological distress. Seventy-five per cent is well above the Victorian average of 68.9 per cent. I want those men to see their GP and not wait.

So when these people in my community require the treatment of their GP, they will need to pay a tax under this government. When they are at their most vulnerable and require what is a most basic need of medical attention, they will have to pay a tax. And what if they cannot afford it? It is quite clear they will simply not go to their doctor. We must ensure that Australians have access to good health care. We all pay through our Medicare levy at tax time. It is a system that has served us well for 30 years. I will not sit to the side and watch this happen and I know the Australian public will not either.

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