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My contribution to the Assembly’s debate on health funding

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
28 May 2015

I rise to speak in support of this motion. During the election campaign my team and I knocked on 20 000-odd doors and spoke to the voters. We received a pretty clear message when it came to health, and it was one that I am sure the member for Melbourne also heard from residents in her electorate. 

Residents have clear expectations from the government when it comes to health care. They expect the basics. They expect a hospital bed when they need it. They expect basic affordable health care and they expect an ambulance to turn up when they need one. That is why we are absolutely committed to opposing the Abbott government's cuts to hospitals and the failed GP tax. That is why we are supporting this motion today.

We know the Abbott government promised 'no cuts to health care', and we know how terrible its first budget was. When it came to this year's budget we were promised a change in direction, but instead the federal government locked in the most damaging cuts to our healthcare system and to our hospitals. Instead of a change of direction from last year's budget it doubled down on cuts to health care and hospitals. These cuts will result in longer waiting times in emergency departments and longer waiting times for necessary surgery. They will make it harder for people to get access to lifesaving treatments.

The federal government is making it harder for people to see a dentist. It is cutting health promotion programs and front-line services. It has no plan and no funding for mental health. We know this is leading down the road to a two-tiered American-style system of health care where people's access to health care depends on their wealth.

In Victoria the Greens are standing up to the Abbott government's cuts to health and hospitals. We are fighting those cuts in federal Parliament as well, because we know that we need to invest in primary health care and hospitals, dental care and mental health. I am very parochial, and it is great to see that the person who is leading that charge in federal Parliament is the Green's Senator for Victoria, Richard di Natale, our new leader. He is leading the charge. If members ever want to seek advice about health care or on what policies to adopt, they should look to our Victorian senator and our leader, Richard di Natale, as someone who is leading the charge.

I am very proud to see a Victorian in there. We are supposed to believe that these cuts to health care are due some sort of budget crisis or emergency and that healthcare spending is out of control. That is why we need these cuts; that is why we need to make it harder for people to see a doctor and to pay more for the service! This is simply not true.

Spending on health is an investment as much as an expenditure. The health of our community should be the top priority for any government. The federal government slashed funding to health services and hospitals instead of cutting handouts to the big end of town. It has declared a budget crisis as an excuse for cutting spending on health whilst handing back billions to the big polluters and the big miners. The federal government is continuing the federal-state blame game, where each blames the other for the overcrowding in hospitals, clogged emergency departments and longer waiting times, and is trying to create a situation where the states have to beg for an increase in their GST receipts to run their health systems. The Greens call on the federal government to return funding to hospitals in full because our health funding is just too important to cut. We have a health system that is the envy of the world, and there is no evidence that health spending is out of control. Yes, there are opportunities to reduce waste and inefficiencies in the health system, so let us focus on those and not on cutting funding to the most vulnerable.

I want to touch on the bedrock of our health system, which is Medicare. A strong Medicare is essential to keeping Australians and Victorians healthy and cutting costs in the health system. But the federal government, in all its wisdom, has tried to make it harder and more expensive to go to the doctor in an effort to shift costs to emergency departments and to the people who can least afford it. We have an affordable and sustainable health system. We spend less on health than the OECD average. Medicare puts downward pressure on the health system, and without it we would have the runaway health costs they have in the USA, where a high percentage of gross domestic product is spent on health care — in a two-tiered system for the rich and poor — with people experiencing medical bankruptcy. We have seen multiple versions of the GP tax, and we are making sure there is not another one.

Let us touch now on preventive health, which is always a key issue and something the Greens have been championing for a long time. We know that investment in health prevention is more cost effective than dealing with health issues when they reach a crisis point. Cutting funding to health prevention puts more pressure on hospitals and emergency departments. It is not a stretch to say that we have a public health crisis when it comes to preventable illness. If we are looking to reduce costs in our health system, then preventive health is the way to go. But what has the Abbott government done? It has disbanded the Australian National Preventive Health Agency, worked to tackle smoking, alcohol and obesity-related diseases. That agency achieved plain packaging reforms, and reforms around alcohol harm and behaviour change.

But it is not only that, the federal government has also cut state preventive health programs which target obesity among young people and which assist them with healthy eating. We know that if we implement policies to prevent people from developing a number of common conditions, we can get a return of $11 billion on a $4 billion investment. The best way to reduce health costs is to invest more in prevention. The preventive health agency was a cost-effective investment in keeping people healthy and out of hospitals.

Dental care is a great achievement of the Greens. We do not need to cut Medicare; we just need to expand Medicare by including dental care. Going to the dentist should be like going to the doctor. It is far more effective to have someone access a dentist early, before they reach a crisis point. The Greens were proud to deliver this when they supported minority government in Canberra, and I look forward to supporting something similar in this Parliament when the government of the day enjoys our support and confidence. That is what we are here to do — to get policy wins, and Denticare is central to that. We are going to expand dental care to provide universal access.

We secured almost $5 billion to start Denticare, with access for over 1 million children, adults on low incomes, pensioners and concession card holders. But what has the Abbott government done? It has made cuts to dental health, thereby making it harder for people to see the dentist. The federal government is going in the wrong direction. The Greens are committed to expanding Denticare so that every Australian can go to the dentist, no matter what their financial circumstances are. I look forward to the Greens delivering on that initiative.

Let us touch on mental health. The state's mental health system is disjointed and crisis driven. We need to focus on prevention and community health care for mental health. The Abbott government cuts from one service and gives to another. The lack of adequate mental health creates huge economic burdens for Australia, so we need a mental health plan that is properly funded.

Let us now discuss the revenue side of things, which I regard as important. We cannot have a good quality health system unless we can pay for it. We have been sold this absolute lie that we are in some sort of budget crisis and costs are out of control. It is simply not true. We have a revenue problem, and we need to raise revenue rather than make cuts to services for the most vulnerable.

Mr Pearson interjected.

Mr HIBBINS — I am so glad the member asked. We need to raise revenue from big mining, from the big polluters and from the big banks. We need to abolish the tax breaks for big mining, reinstate the price on pollution and implement the original resource super profit tax on mining from which the federal Labor government walked away. We need to impose a levy on coal exports, reduce tax avoidance by multinationals, implement a millionaire's tax, apply a public insurance levy on the big four banks that are too big to fail, and introduce a progressive superannuation tax system.

With these policies the federal government could raise billions. If we can do that — if we can implement these revenue measures — we can not only reverse the cuts to our health services and hospitals but we can also invest in our hospitals, reduce waiting times, end the cost shifting between the state and federal governments, get primary care working better, tackle mental health, close the gap between Indigenous people and non-Indigenous people, invest in preventive health to keep people healthy and out of hospital, and expand Medicare to include Denticare. That is what we should be doing. That is what the Greens will be doing, and that is why am supporting this motion.

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Sam Hibbins MP
Member for Prahran
28 May 2015




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