Pages tagged "Health"

  • Tony Abbott's double hit on sick in Lalor

    Families in Lalor will be the hardest hit across Australia by Tony Abbott’s double hit on sick Australians, Joanne Ryan said today.

    “The combination of Tony Abbott’s new GP tax and his medicines price hike mean sick Australians will pay more,” said Ms Ryan. “The sick and vulnerable will pay for Tony Abbott’s broken promises on health and that’s not right.”

    Health Department figures obtained by Labor have revealed the GP Tax and medicine price hikes will cost sick Australians in Lalor $52 million more over the next four years - the highest amount across the country.

    Tony Abbott promised the Australian people ‘no cuts to health’ before the election. He also promised families in Lalor that he was ‘about getting rid of taxes, not imposing new taxes’.

    Tony Abbott broke that promise when he cut more than $50 billion from hospitals and hit sick Australians with a $7 GP Tax.

    Tony Abbott also wants to force sick Australians to pay an extra $1.2 billion for medicines over the next four years. For patients in Lalor, it will mean paying 15 per cent more for prescription medicines.

    The combination of the new GP tax and the medicines price hike will cost every single person in Lalor an average of $297. A cruel and heartless hit on those in Lalor that can least afford it, the sick and the vulnerable.

    The Abbott Government‘s GP Tax will also put more pressure on Australia’s hospital system and lead to much worse health outcomes. The GP Tax and hospital cuts will increase emergency department waiting times and reduce the number of hospital beds across Lalor.

    “Families in Lalor who are already struggling to make ends meet cannot afford to pay to take their sick child or elderly parent to the doctor or pay higher prices for essential medicines.”

    “Labor is the only party that can be trusted with Australia’s health system and we will fight any attempt to dismantle universal healthcare in Australia.”

  • Attack on Medicare and the cost of medicines

    I rise today to speak on this matter of public importance—and it is of great importance, especially to the people of my electorate of Lalor. As with many measures in the Abbott government's budget of broken promises, when you add up the combined impact of the GP tax and the increase to medicine costs and when those numbers are crunched, we see Lalor topping the charts with an estimated cost to our community of over $52 million. That is $52 million taken out of our community and out of our local economy because it will have to be spent on going to the doctor and paying for prescriptions.

    Our pain does not stop there, because we will be sorely hit by the $50 billion cut from hospitals and the scrapping of preventive health funding. We are heartily sick of being top of the pops. And we are heartily sick of projecting the compounding effects of this cruel budget on families. The truth is that our community keeps featuring because it has 60,000 families making their way in the world. In fact, in Lalor we are a microcosm of the broad Australian community. So I speak today for Lalor, but I speak also for middle- and low-income Australians.

    When I think about the community of Lalor, I also think of other growth corridors that will surely be suffering in similar ways. I think of Cranbourne South in the seat of Flinders, and I think of Minister Hunt—and I wonder where he is today to speak on this MPI; I think of Pakenham in the seat of McMillan; and I think of Frankston in the seat of Dunkley. All of these electorates in the state of Victoria are held by Liberal members of this House. They are all in the top 40 in this week's charts. Given that their members are not speaking out in this chamber or, one suspects, in the LNP caucus or in cabinet, I speak for them today in this MPI. I speak for Lalor, I speak for Australia and I speak about their anger. I speak about the anger about the Prime Minister and the Treasurer promising before the election that there would be no cuts to health and no new taxes but now smashing that promise. I speak of the anger about higher costs to visit the doctor and to buy needed medications and about the effects that will have on people accessing the medical care in the primary sector that they need, resulting in fewer people accessing health advice.

    In my own home, someone I care about deeply has found himself making decisions about going to the doctor and about filling prescriptions, because he has a large monthly bill for daily medications and he is really considering it with these threatened increases. I can only imagine how this translates to the 10,000 pensioners in Lalor. I have heard from several people who are on the disability support pension due to chronic illness and who have very real fears about how they will survive when they must pay more for prescriptions. I hear Minister Dutton and those on the other side of the chamber consistently cry, 'Labor introduced the PBS co-payment' but they deliberately omit that Labor also increased the pharmaceutical allowance to compensate pensioners and that allowance was paid weekly. Every time the PBS co-payment rose, so did the pharmaceutical allowance. They fail to admit that it was Prime Minister Howard who broke that nexus in 1997. They omit the targeted and responsible savings Labor made like the means testing of the private health insurance rebate. They omit that Labor made medicines cheaper by simplifying price disclosure.

    It is little comfort to the people of Lalor that they will take this hit, that they will have their long-term health possibly compromised by reduced household budgets and by their capacity to pay. It is little comfort to them to know they will do this to fund a research fund that may find cures but that will be useless to them if the universality of our health care system is smashed in the process.

    So we have smashed promises, smashed commitments. We will have, if the government continues to pursue its unhealthy agenda, smashed household budgets. We will have in my electorate smashed lives. Those opposite argue they have to do something. I say to them: you do not have to do this; you should not do this.

  • National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014

    I welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill, the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014, and I ask for indulgence. I am up speaking about pharmaceuticals and am probably in desperate need of some antibiotics, so I hope the House bears with me.

    I welcome the opportunity to speak on this bill because nothing demonstrates the differences between the Labor and Liberal parties more than our history in government on health. Nothing demonstrates it quite so clearly; nothing at all. I note the number of times I have heard the Minister for Health, Minister Dutton, on his feet wanting to talk about Labor Party history. Again today in question time, the Prime Minister was giving us some kind of history lesson from across the chamber. I say, in opening, that sometimes the temptation to twist the facts becomes irresistible to those opposite.

    Recently Minister Dutton made a call for those on our side of the chamber to answer for our 'astounding hypocrisy' on health, at the same time suggesting those opposite were working steadily and methodically to reform our health sector and ensure it remains sustainable. As an English teacher, I love to play with words; and I love the notion that the changes we are seeing to our health system under this government are described by the word 'reform', when what in fact we are seeing is the absolute undermining of our universal health program in this country. That includes the changes being suggested here—this $1.3 billion tax.

    In my mind when I enter the chamber these days I remind myself I am entering the 'house of irony', but what we have heard from Minister Dutton goes so far as to be farce. The theatre of the absurd is occurring in here every day. Harold Pinter could not have written some of the things we are hearing about the history of the Labor Party and health, or thought of some of the resounding uses of language to describe what is an attack on Medicare and our health system.

    We have Minister Dutton making all sorts of assertions about history and yet, when we look at the history, it is quite clear where the Labor Party stands when it comes to health and people's access to our health system. We do not have to go that far to remember Whitlam introducing universal health care into this country; we do not have to go very far—certainly in my lifetime—when Prime Minister Fraser killed it off; and then of course Prime Minister Hawke reintroduced our universal health program as Medicare. To say that this party would be doing anything that goes against those credentials is absolutely outrageous.

    The argument that they put forward all of the time and that I have heard over and over and over again is this link to the introduction of a co-payment for the PBS by Labor. The twisting of the facts that is occurring on the other side, of course, is one of omission. They are omitting to tell us that when Labor introduced that we also increased the pharmaceutical allowance, so concessional patients received the equivalent of the cost of a script per week to compensate them. Every time the PBS co-payment went up so did the pharmaceutical allowance. They forget to mention that Prime Minister Howard broke that nexus in 1997.

    They also forget to mention that when we introduced a co-payment it was not part of a budget that began the dismantling of the universal health care system. It was not part of a budget that ripped out more than $50 billion from our hospitals. It was not part of a budget that included a GP tax. It was not part of the budget that included pension cuts that will leave pensioners more than $4,000 worse off. It was not part of the budget that included family payments cuts that would leave families $6,000 worse off. It was not part of a budget that scrapped seniors concessions, increased the cost of petrol et cetera et cetera et cetera. We can take these things one at a time and the Prime Minister can stand at the dispatch box in question time and assert these things and omit the facts that the Australian public are very well aware of and probably do not need reminding of. They omit information that Labor made targeted and responsible savings in the health sector, including the means testing of the private health insurance rebate, which was opposed by those opposite—and that we made medicines cheaper through simplified price disclosure. They omit those issues every time they get to their feet.

    They also omitted to tell people that Labor made unprecedented investments in hospitals, primary care, aged care and the health workforce—all of which this government has ripped money out of in this year's budget, and all after promising no cuts to health! And why? The question is being asked in my electorate in most households: why are we hearing this day in, day out? Why would anybody want to? The answer provided by those opposite is around the notion of a budget emergency that has now been dismissed by the economists. It has been dismissed in the community, because people understand, because people have a living memory of a global financial crisis. People understand that we have a AAA credit rating. So the furphy does not stand up to any kind of test.

    I stand here today to oppose the $1.3 billion tax increase on medicines because it will hurt every Australian. It will hurt people in my electorate probably more than most other electorates, given that in Lalor we access bulk-billing services more than 1.5 million times per year, greater than anywhere else across Australia. If you extrapolate that in terms of visits to the doctor, how does that work in terms of the number of people accessing medicines? If they are the bulk-billing rates in my community you need to build into that the notion that there are 10,000 pensioners in Lalor who will be hurt by this $1.3 billion tax.

    The COAG Reform Council report released in June found that 8.5 per cent of people delayed or did not fill their prescriptions in 2012-13 due to cost. I do not have to go very far to see that, because I have lived that memory. In my home somebody I care deeply about has a regimen of medicines that he should be taking daily, and across the last five years I have seen him in circumstances where he has been making those choices. Because when it comes to going to the chemist and having to get $170 worth of medication that is going to last you a month, you start to pause. I have heard him say to me a million times, 'But I am feeling well and I don't know that I need it.' It is not difficult for me to extrapolate that into the homes of pensioners, into the homes of families with young children who will be hard by this budget. It is not difficult for me to imagine and know that those facts are true.

    The last time a Liberal government increased tax on medicines in 2005 prescriptions for some essential medicines fell by as much as 11 per cent. So we have lived history, lived memory of what happens when we put in increases that those opposite want to put in and fail to do what Labor has always done, and that is compensate those families and those individuals for that increased cost—to put in that safety net for those who can afford it least.

    If this were really about the sustainability of the health system, as we keep hearing—building this notion, this picture of Australia in crisis, our health system in crisis, which we know is a furphy, we know from the facts—the revenue would be going back into the PBS, the revenue would be going back into Medicare. That is not what is going to happen here. It is going to go into the research fund. From the moment I heard it come from this Prime Minister's mouth I had to stop and question it. How could anyone stand in this chamber and suggest that they were going to tax the sick and the vulnerable so that they could put money into research for cures somewhere down the track—which, by that time, with this government in control, Medicare would be gone, and those people who had paid for it would not be able to afford to access the cure. It is absolutely outrageous that those things can be argued in this place.

    These changes are an ideological campaign to get rid of Australia's universal healthcare scheme. We know that—we can see it—and Australians know it. Worse, it is to introduce a two-tier user-pay system. On this side, we will not support Tony Abbott's unfair slug on sick Australians, because it is built on lies told before the last election.

    Some of Australia's most senior doctors have already warned that the changes in Tony Abbott's budget will put Australia's health system back more than 50 years—back to the dim, dark past. I think about that. The member for Moreton mentioned a family talking to him about Kalydeco, and I have had several families in my electorate talking to me about the same, and I have been on my feet about that in this place before. What comes to mind when I talk to them and what comes to mind when I think about this government and the changes it wants to make to our health system is that Americanised two-tier system—all of the episodes of ER, of Grey's Anatomy and that compelling episode that ran for a week on prime-time television that advertised the episode. Nine times out of 10 the most compelling episodes in those medical sagas that America produces for us are the ones where the poor family without the medical insurance cannot afford the life-saving surgery.

    They are the most compelling, particularly in this country, because it is not what we live and it is not what we know, and it is not a world we want to walk into. Yet this government puts on the table things that are going to create that world in this country, this country that has always stood for the fair go, this country that is built on notions of egalitarianism—to think that we have a government that wants to embrace this kind of exclusion, this kind of health program.

    These price increases are coming off the back of $80 billion cuts to Australian public hospitals and schools. They come off the back of that GP $7, that 'It doesn't really matter what the cost is, it's about the outcome.' It is about the attack on our GP business model that is hidden behind that $7 co-payment, that $7 tax. It is about the destruction of our universal healthcare system. I ask myself all the time: what is going on here? I think about this research fund. I think about the fact that we are going to make all of these savings to make Medicare sustainable, to make the PBS sustainable, that we are going to collect this money but not put it back in there—we are going to put it into the research fund. Then I remember why. I remember the addition to the slogans in the campaign. I remember the Prime Minister having to be the PM for women and the signatory PPL scheme, and having to be the PM for Indigenous Australians. I do not know if he has found his signatory policy for that yet, but he has certainly found the signatory policy for the PM who finds a cure for cancer.

    I wonder about a country that can be in a situation where we stand here talking about undoing our universal healthcare system and hurting the PBS system—and all for one man's vanity. I really do wonder what we have come to.

    What we are not seeing from this government—consistent with its approach to governing so far, especially when it comes to health—is a government that is saying to Australians everywhere, 'You pay.' Those of us on this side of the House will stand against that, will oppose that.

  • Statement on Abbott's GP Tax

    I too rise to condemn the GP tax and to speak for the people of Lalor, who will be hard-hit if this tax becomes a reality.  Lalor has a bulk-billing rate of 93.5 per cent.

    Families across my electorate access bulk-billing services more than 1.5 million times each year—greater than anywhere else across Australia. This GP tax will cost Lalor families over $11½ million annually. If you turn to the letters page in the Age yesterday, Deputy Speaker, you will see a letter from a local Werribee doctor, Dr Joe Garra. He writes:

    As a western suburbs GP with many elderly patients the introduction of the co-payment worries me. I cannot afford to waive it; the loss of $7 equates to a 30 per cent drop in income. My worry is that elderly patients with chronic illness, often on necessary medication, will pick and choose what to miss out on to save $7. It may be seeing me or having an important blood test or X-ray. If this leads to a hospital admission, then the projected savings convert to a huge expense for taxpayers.

    The GP tax is the most insidious part of this budget, and the thing that goes to the core of this government's callous disregard for the welfare of everyday Australians. If this government cannot listen to those MPs on this side of the House, perhaps they will listen to respected doctors like Joe Garra.

  • Saving Medicare, Abbott's GP Tax and Kalydeco

    For over 30 years we have had universal health care, the core of which is every Australian's capacity to see a GP and have x-rays, blood tests and imaging without the need for cash on the day. It is the cornerstone of our health care system—that primary care is easily accessible. How do we do this? Through a Medicare levy paid by taxpayers. These services have not been and are not free, as was asserted yet again by the Minister for Health in question time today, and those who use bulk billing services are not a burden on our economy.

    What will it mean if this GP tax becomes a reality? It will mean families will have to find the cash for primary health care costs every time they go to the doctor or have follow-up tests. It is bad enough that this government thinks that that is okay—but they also fail to understand that this will mean families make choices that may mean worse health outcomes and a longer term, more expensive treatment. Or do those opposite fail to understand? I think they understand too well what this means—they know it will undermine Medicare. They know it will change the business model for GPs and be the end of bulk billing, just as they know that starving public hospitals of recurrent operating costs will undermine the system and cancelling preventative health programs will lead to higher costs and worse health.

    The people I represent in this place and I struggle to understand the rationale behind these measures when the so-called budget emergency argument has been shown to be a furphy. There is, however, an emergency developing—a health funding emergency. We have a health funding emergency and a health minister emergency.

    We have a health minister who does not seem to take advice from those professionals delivering health services on the ground and, worse than that, who will not take the time to listen.

    I heard yesterday a story that demonstrates this lack of listening and that paints a picture of a minister who lacks empathy. I heard this story from a resident who has a small child suffering from cystic fibrosis, who is, like others around the country, waiting for the outcome of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee process to see Kalydeco made available under the PBS. Understandably parents, whose children are set to benefit from receiving this treatment, are anxious for approval to be granted as soon as possible. These parents understand the approval process. They know that the minister has no role to play in the process but, understandably, they cannot do nothing and just wait. So they are doing what any parent would do when faced with these circumstances—they are engaging in the process through any avenue possible. These parents have been running an awareness campaign: visiting electorate offices to talk to their members of parliament, visiting Canberra, writing letters, appearing on TV and being active in social media. Naturally, this includes engaging, or trying to engage, the health minister. And what is the health minister's response? Does he engage with them on social media? No! And, even worse, he deletes their postings and blocks their access to his Facebook page!

    As a local member, I have also taken the time to try and engage the health minister and have found a similar response—letters go unanswered for months, requests for meetings are not followed up and, as a result, the brand new Catherine McCauley rehab centre in the Werribee Mercy Hospital and its need for recurrent funding is ignored. I have to ask: what does this minister do with his time? The only time he bobs his head out from the sand is to announce a new health tax or a new health cut. This is a minister prepared to destroy our world envied health system; cut hospital funding; increase costs to patients; and cut preventive health programs. All these measures place an added burden on family budgets and on the longer-term health costs of the country.

    The Kalydeco families, the local GP who wrote to the Age today, the Werribee Mercy Hospital, the seniors I met with last week, the families and pensioners responding to my community survey and the 30,000 people who marched in Melbourne the other Sunday all know the value of our current Medicare health system and want to defend it. I implore this minister to get a heart, to start listening and to act in the interest of Australians.

  • Werribee Mercy Hospital

    As previously raised by me in this place, our community of Lalor is well served by our Werribee Mercy Hospital. This hospital has a proud history of servicing the community and has worked hard to develop master plans for the future provision of services. Labor is proud to have worked with the hospital in recent years to secure much-needed funding, particularly capital funding. Labor did so knowing these facilities were part of a well-thought-out master plan, designed to ensure that over time the hospital continues its excellent service to the area.

    But I am sad to report that some of the recently opened new services funded under Labor are now under threat of being compromised. In 2011, Labor allocated around $30 million for the new subacute and rehab centre, the Catherine McAuley Centre, which opened in February this year—a centre that was obviously needed, as every bed has been occupied, every day, since the first week of operation. This centre has proven a great boon for the hospital. When I met with the hospital executive recently, they explained that this facility has improved patient outcomes, with less patients requiring readmittance after discharge; it has delivered better rehabilitation outcomes; and it has also enabled acute beds to be utilised more effectively. This is good news as the outcome is increased health provision for our community. It is good news because patients are requiring less readmission after discharge, an aim of the centre.

    Hospital facilities need to be built; that is the first step. Then of course they need to be staffed. Labor put in place a national agreement to provide operational funding in the interim until the new National Health Agreements were due to commence. These arrangements have been ignored by this government. This year's budget has put those health agreements at risk and the government's own budget papers show health funding has been cut. The budget paper also shows $200 million in savings has been found by ceasing the National Partnership Agreement on Improving Hospital Services on 1 July 2015. This agreement was designed to improve access to public hospital services, including elective surgery, emergency department services and subacute care. It was due to run until June 2017. Based on charts in the budget and evidence to the Senate from the Health Department, it appears that over 10 years the Commonwealth would be contributing $50 billion less to hospitals than if it kept Labor's funding arrangements in place. This $50 billion less across 10 years means $5 billion a year as an average.

    This has put a cloud over health provision in our area, and indeed across Australia. The Werribee Mercy was built 20 years ago to service a population of a projected 90,000 residents. We now have a population of 200,000 residents. As a community we are very much still in an expansion mode. Remember that Wyndham is the fastest growing area in Victoria, if not Australia. This government was basically silent on health initiatives in the lead-up to last year's election—no new ideas, no detailed planning for the future. In the budget delivered just six months after winning office, all we have seen from this government is cuts to health funding. For the Mercy group, cuts in the order of $30 million over the forward estimates are expected. So the hospital is now facing the need to make decisions. How will they cut the cloth to fit with less money? The only way I can see to do so is to cut services. What is the logical service that could be targeted: the new subacute and rehabilitation centre.

    Labor has a proud history of providing for expansion in Lalor, having also funded a new GP Superclinic, a Headspace centre and an $11 million clinical teaching and research facility. This clinical teaching and research facility is allowing for medical staff to be trained in the west of Melbourne for the first time. It is a great initiative not just for the research capacity it brings but once doctors and nurses have worked in our region they are more likely to stay, assisting with the long-term medical staff shortage pressure we have experienced over time.

    As a Labor member I am rightly proud that we funded much-needed health services for my local area. In a region with 92 per cent bulk-billing rates, the community relies on a well-resourced public system. The sad thing is Labor proudly invests and then the coalition government proudly cuts. We have heard the Prime Minister and the health minister stand by their budget, despite key stakeholders like the AMA denouncing it. We have heard them time and time again say their cruel budget is necessary, when this rationale is predicated on a false budget emergency.

    Not only does this budget cut hospital operational funds; the savings this government appears determined to achieve hit at every level of the system. The government is introducing cuts to preventative health programs, imposing barriers to accessing primary care through additional out-of-pocket expenses, increasing the costs of medicines, freezing rebates for specialist services, cutting public dental services and, of course, cutting billions of dollars from the hospital system. These are not sensible savings. They are not savings that are reinvested back into strengthening Medicare or providing better access to services.

    I will say again: the Werribee Mercy Hospital serves our community well, but in a growing community the current arrangements are inadequate. We need government to invest in health provision for the hardworking community members of Lalor. The Mercy has identified an immediate need for six additional operating rooms, 56 new acute care beds, eight critical care beds, 29 mental health beds, 10 maternity beds and 10 neonatal cots. The provision of these would allow for a great health service in our area. An area that is rapidly expanding needs these critical services. We need our hospital to build the economies of scale to deliver efficient and necessary health care.

    Other areas in Victoria have recently received funding for expansion. I am not suggesting facilities there are not required. It is just that Lalor also needs its fair share. Bendigo, with a population of just over 100,000, has received $630 million for a new hospital. Ballarat, with a population just under 100,000, recently received $46.5 million to expand services in the hospital. Geelong, with a population of around 250,000, is in line for a second hospital. I congratulate these services for securing funding, but I think Wyndham, with a population of 200,000, deserves better.

    Werribee Mercy's catchment is now the largest in Victoria without a major hospital located in the area. The Mercy does not have a supporting tertiary hospital that it can transfer patients to in a timely manner. With no tertiary level hospital in the Wyndham region, the average distance to the six closest hospitals with an intensive care unit is around 35 kilometres. The Mercy provides 40.6 per cent of Wyndham residents with health care. The other 59.4 per cent need to go out of the area for their hospital care. The Mercy currently serves only 48 per cent of birthing women in Wyndham, where 80 babies a week are born. At times, it needs to provide level 5 hospital care for newborns when it is only equipped to operate as level 2.

    The new financial year is just over a week away. This will not be the last time I lobby for additional health resources for our community. But with only eight days to resolve the immediate issue of recurrent funding for the brand new $30 million Catherine McAuley rehabilitation centre, I call on the health minister, Peter Dutton, and the Victorian health minister, David Davis, to come together and resolve this issue. They need to ensure the Catherine McAuley rehabilitation centre can be staffed appropriately and continue to meet its intended outcomes. The demand is clear; the facility is built. What we need is a government willing to fund its continued use.

  • Mercy Health

    I met last week with the executive team from Werribee Mercy Hospital. The Mercy deliver great service to our local community. They have a strong vision for the future of health provision in our area. Wyndham's population is about to reach 200,000. The number of households is expected to double again by 2030. The Werribee Mercy was established in 1994, when the population was estimated to reach around 90,000 in 2004. At the time the local community hospital was the correct service for the area and, despite this huge growth in population, it serves us well, but for how much longer?

    Mercy Health in Werribee has an extremely well-trained and dedicated staff. Some of the top experts in Victoria choose to work at this service. What the Mercy needs are the facilities to serve this high-growth community. If you present to the Mercy Hospital today with a heart attack, the staff are very well trained to save and stabilise you, but for your long-term ongoing treatment you need to be transferred. At my recent meeting I was told of a doctor spending six hours on the phone to other hospitals trying to secure a transfer for a patient. If the hospital had a coronary care unit, this would have been avoided, meaning the doctor would have been back treating patients in the emergency department. If you are a patient in the ward who unfortunately has a critical incident, you are also likely to be transferred to the emergency department to be stabilised at our local hospital. The six closest hospitals to the Mercy where patients are transferred to are, on average, 35 kilometres away. This lack of critical care services compromises patient care and increases clinical risk.

    In the electorate of Lalor, there is a huge number of young families and nearly 70 babies are born each week. There is great need for maternity services. The Mercy team know if they had the appropriate facilities they could provide care for approximately 80 per cent of local women; currently the rate is around 48 per cent. They need 10 more obstetric beds now, let alone extra needed for the predicted growth. Current estimates are that around 40 per cent of the general healthcare needs of my community are being met by the Werribee Mercy, meaning 60 per cent leave the area to obtain health care. There will always be cases that need very specialised services only available in our larger teaching hospitals. It is not appropriate for all hospitals to provide all services, but surely the percentage should be much higher than 40 per cent? Mercy Health has undertaken detailed planning for a carefully staged master plan. They take the provision of health care very seriously and their plans are based on sensible, well-targeted needs. In the past the federal Labor government has worked with this service to fund growth, most recently providing $28 million for subacute beds and a rehabilitation unit. I plan to work closely with Mercy Health to ensure this government hears loud and clear what the health service needs are for my electorate.

  • Health Provision for Lalor

    The impact of this year’s Federal Budget on health provision in Lalor will be dramatic. Our community has a bulk billing rate of 92%, one of the highest in the country. This means local families and pensioners will need to find an additional $11million per annum to pay for the GP co-payment and associated health costs.

    The previous Labor Government invested in health, across Australia and in this area. We funded a $15million GP super clinic in Wyndham Vale, a Headspace centre , approximately 1000 new aged care beds and over half a million for healthy communities funding.

    The Werribee Mercy hospital received additional operational money, $11million to establish a clinical school & teaching facility and $28million to build the new sub-acute and rehab centre.

    The Mercy Hospital delivers great service to our local community. They have a strong vision for the future of Health provision in our area.

    Wyndham’s population is about to reach 200,000. The number of households is expected to double by 2030. The Werribee Mercy was established when the population was estimated to reach around 80,000-90,000. At the time the local community hospital was the correct service for the area and despite this huge growth in population, it serves us well …. But for how much longer?

    Mercy Health in Werribee has an extremely well trained and dedicated staff; some of the top experts in Victoria choose to work at this service.

    But this Budget makes their task so much harder. Not only is there no new money to fund for growth, it cuts expected operation funding. This will have an immediate impact. This reduction in funding has the potential to put the our brand new sub-acute and rehab facility under threat of closure.

    How can the Government be so short sighted? Labor was committed to improving health outcomes, this current government only wants to deliver cuts.

    Mercy Health has undertaken detailed planning for carefully staged masterplan. They take the provision of health care very seriously and their plans are based on sensible well targeted needs. In the past the Labor Government has worked with this service to fund growth.

    I plan to work closely with Mercy Health to ensure the Abbott Government hears loud and clear what the health services needs are for my electorate.

  • Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 2014

    I rise like many of my colleagues to oppose the Australian National Preventive Health Agency (Abolition) Bill 201. Abolishing the Australian National Preventive Health Agency is a retrograde step but, sadly, is typical of this government's actions when it comes to health. It makes a huge case about the long-term costs of health for our ageing population—to justify cuts to spending—but fails to understand the old adage 'a stitch in time saves nine'.

    Minister Dutton, the member for Dickson, has regaled us almost daily about a lack of frontline services in health spending like a tone deaf harpsichord player—discordant, aggressive and meaningless—and not just tone deaf but deaf to any voice but his own. Most alarmingly, the minister seems to be deaf to experts.

    When Labor introduced the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, it did so with advice from the National Heart Foundation, the Public Health Association and the Royal Australasian College of Physicians. Labor established the Australian National Preventive Health Agency with an eye on health outcomes and an eye on the rising costs of health care in this country. It did so because preventative health care is a sensible way to keep our community healthy and to reduce costly hospital and specialist treatments. In stark contrast, the 'minister for a less-healthy Australia', introduces this legislation and shows a decided lack of understanding and vision for a healthy Australia.

    The National Preventive Health Agency was established to take a national leadership role in preventative health, to coordinate, analyse and advise on key statistics and data in relation to chronic disease and prevention, to deliver and administer a preventative health research fund and to look closely at data to inform health strategies that will (a) improve health and (b) reduce the costs of health care into the future.

    Data provided by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare tells us that the 672,000 hospital admissions in 2011-12 could have been avoided if we invested in primary care. This number includes selected chronic conditions: 38,500 with asthma, 51,000 with congestive heart failure, 68,000 with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and 87,000 with diabetes.

    Data like that from the OECD in 2009 tells us that our hospitalisation rates are among the world's highest. They are higher than the OECD average, higher than those in the US and the UK and double the rate in Canada. Data provided by the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in 2014 tells us that GPs provide comparatively cheap primary care: antenatal care with a GP costs $47 and at a hospital $223; a sexual health visit at a GP could cost $70 and at a hospital $253; vivisection for a GP costs $73 and at a hospital $438; a skin biopsy at the GP would cost $63 and at a hospital $289; and, wound management at a GP would cost $36 and at a hospital $162.

    To date, this task has been undertaken with great professionalism and the links developed to health services across Australia have been invaluable. I know in my electorate, where diabetes, obesity, kidney, dental and eye health problems are prevalent, the relationships established through the Medicare Local, the GP superclinic, the headspace centre, ISIS Primary Care, private GP's and the Mercy Hospital have been terrific—all critically working together to improve health outcomes and the impact was flowing through. All this hard work could now be lost.

    The Labor government knew the value of preventative health and supported the health system with services like those I just mentioned. We built GP superclinics, we established Medicare Locals, we funded headspace centres and, through national health agreements, we provided much-needed funds to hospitals for infrastructure.

    In contrast, this government has no positive future plans for health services and this repeal bill is one small demonstration of that fact. In fact, I am having trouble working out what it is that the Abbott government ministers will being doing with their time, given the number of programs they have cut and the agencies they plan to abolish or amalgamate. Why would a government have such a short-sighted approach? A quick fix on the bottom line for the next year will result in an extra burden being placed on the health system in the future. It just makes no sense.

    Why would a government and a health minister attack important efforts in preventive health? We see it again today in an article in TheDaily Telegraph trivialising the work in the preventative health sphere. We have heard members opposite speak of this today. The ANPHA funded the promotion of the My Quit Buddy app at Summernats, an event that attracts over 100,000 men who are principally 25 to 40 years old—a target group which is difficult to get to take health seriously and a core target audience for the National Tobacco Campaign. The campaign clearly had an effect with 55,000 downloads of the app at Summernats in January, compared with 19,000 in the month prior—a threefold increase in one month.

    One of the most fundamental mistakes of policymakers is to try and make change from the top without bringing the sector with you and to make change without the active engagement of third parties. I have seen this in education and it is logically the case for health policy. The way this government has approached health initiatives in this budget is to focus more on running it as a business, rather than looking at how you achieve reform to the health system and how efficiencies translate into better care and improved health outcomes.

    I heard of a case recently in my electorate where a local hospital emergency ward doctor spent six hours on the phone trying to secure a patient transfer, six hours he could have spent treating other patients. There must be a way to ensure efficiencies. I do not know the details of this patient's health issue but perhaps a well-resourced preventative health service may have avoided his emergency room visit in the first place.

    The only thing this government appears to have tried to achieve in this budget is savings and the government appears to want to achieve those savings with little care or consideration for what the effect will be. The savings the government appears determined to achieve will hit at every level of the system: with this bill and the resulting cuts to preventive health programs, by imposing barriers to accessing primary care through additional out-of-pocket costs, by increasing the cost of medicines, by freezing rebates for specialist services and, of course, by cutting billions of dollars from the hospital system and public dental services.

    These are not sensible savings; they are not savings that are reinvested back into strengthening Medicare or providing better access to services.

    The intention to charge for GP visits, including for those that have to this point been bulk billed, is such an inequitable measure, as it actually provides a disincentive for GPs to bulk bill. And of course it is a solution based on a problem that does not exist. Australia does not have a higher level of GP consultations than the OECD average. With our ageing population and increasing rates of obesity, diabetes and heart disease, the Preventive Health Agency was rightly focused on measures that keep the population healthy and out of hospital. This is not what the changes proposed by this government will do. They will damage the system and not only stall the advances we have made but take health outcomes back decades.

    In my electorate of Lalor we are well served by Mercy Health. However, this service was designed for an estimated population of 90,000. We will hit 200,000 people next month, and this government has no plans for the growth of that service—no plans to extend services in this high-growth area and only punitive measures taking away existing services. I will not and cannot support the erosion of Medicare, in any of the forms the government is trying, whether it be the GP tax, increasing the cost of medicines or cutting funding to public hospitals. I am and remain very concerned about the government intentions in relation to private health insurance and primary care. I want to support more funding for medical research, but not off the back of taxing people when they are sick.

    I watched with interest as Labor introduced many health reforms in the previous two parliaments. Labor in government embarked on a substantial period of health reform through the health and hospitals reform process. I saw the hard work, firstly of Nicola Roxon and then of Tanya Plibersek, to secure these agreements with the states. These were great achievements, and there were other milestones. We achieved things like the highest rate of bulk billing in Medicare's history; more in public hospitals, with the establishment of new efficient mechanisms to start to fund them into the future; heavy investment in new medical research facilities; new cancer centres in our regions; the establishment of e-health systems; upgrades and new integrated GP clinics; primary and community health centres; and Aboriginal medical services, to name a few.

    Labor established Medicare Locals to provide a mechanism to directly support the integration between primary care and hospitals, to close gaps in service delivery and to address population health issues at the local level. I meet regularly with the team from the South Western Melbourne Medicare Local and am always impressed with the hard work and dedication of the team. And when I meet with other local health service providers, even those who were sceptical at first, they now sing the praises of this Labor initiative.

    It is worth noting again that the cuts to health by this government are ill advised and will hurt the Australian population in the short and long term—and it is not just Labor saying this. This month's editorial in the Medical Journal of Australia also says so and makes some very salient points. I quote:

    The direct effects of the proposed federal Budget on prevention include cuts to funding for the National Partnership Agreement on Preventive Health, loss of much of the money previously administered through the now defunct—
    soon to be defunct—

    Australian National Preventive Health Agency, and reductions in social media campaigns, for example, on smoking cessation.
    The editorial also made the point that the $7 GP tax will more likely be a $14 co-payment for those with chronic illness, because they generally include a test. It says clearly:

    The effects of these copayments on preventive behaviour are greatest among those who can least afford the additional costs
    It goes on:

    The potential for prevention is greatest among poorer patients, who are often at a health disadvantage.
    The journal made this salient point about preventative health and cuts to hospital services:

    The greatest pity of all is that the proposed cuts to funding for health come at the time when the first evidence is at hand of potential benefits of the large-scale preventive programs implemented under the national partnership agreements. A slowing in the rate of increase in childhood obesity and reductions in smoking rates among Indigenous populations have been hard-won achievements.
    Hard won achievements but not worth pursuing, according to this government.

    I believe preventative health measures should not be a pawn in a budget game. They should be embedded in health policy and funded appropriately. A government serious about people being fit for work until they are 70 should be seriously investing more in preventing chronic disease, not less. Labor opposes this bill for the short-sightedness that it demonstrates in relation to the key priorities facing Australian's health today and for the lack of vision the government has in relation to understanding the challenges facing the health system into the future. Labor is also opposed to the government's callous decision to cut preventative health funding to the states and territories for work in increasing physical activity and improving nutrition and healthy eating and for support smoking cessation and reduction of harmful alcohol consumption in communities around Australia.

    We often hear those opposite complaining that we on this side are whingeing. We heard it again today. We are not whingeing, and neither are the people who will be hurt by this bill—now and into the future. We are rightly pointing out the disastrous impacts the government changes will have on this country. We are responding to real people's concerns and the concerns of the health experts in this country. We are responding to real people's requests that we oppose the government changes that will negatively impact on health outcomes and the long-term cost of health care in this country.

  • 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.