Medicare: Government refuses to heed lessons of the election

I rise to speak to the matter of public importance and the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare. On 9 July one of the world's oldest and most respected current affairs and news magazines published an article which talked about the Turnbull government's performance and the mandate it had won at the last double dissolution election. Senators—especially government senators—may like to reflect on what the Economist had to say:

When Malcolm Turnbull sought a second term for his conservative Liberal-National coalition government by calling an early general election, he promised Australians a break from nearly a decade of dysfunctional politics and short-lived national leaders. The prime minister—Australia’s sixth in a decade—asked voters to deliver a mandate for “strong, stable majority government” so that he could take them to the “greatest years in our history”.

Instead, on July 2nd, they delivered a humiliating verdict.

As the Economist indicates, this government does not have a mandate for their policies from the Australian people, because this government was delivered a humiliating verdict by the Australian people on 2 July. And one of the main reasons why the government barely managed to maintain control of the treasury bench in the lower house after their majority melted from 15 to 1 is, as this MPI suggests, the government's refusal to heed the lessons from the election and stand up for Medicare.

How could we forget that the Turnbull Liberal government, over the 2015-16 Xmas-New Year holiday break, promised to make changes to Australia's Medicare bulk-billing rebate. The Royal College of Pathologists of Australasia said at the time that the Liberal's changes to bulk-billing would result in an extra patient fee of at least $30 for women's pap smears alone. Our Medicare system, just like our public health system, is under terrible pressure. And, as we have already heard, in Tasmania, we are suffering from the effects of bad health management from not just the federal Liberal Party but also the state Liberal Party and the state minister in Tasmania. Our public hospital system is overloaded and failing patients because of underresourcing and pressure from the federal government on the Medicare bulk-billing system. Our public health system is in severe crisis, with Launceston and Hobart hospitals absolutely overflowing. They are 100 per cent choked up. Tasmanians are dying while waiting for life-saving surgery. There are 4,000 Tasmanians on a 12-month waiting list for a simple procedure like a colonoscopy, which can prevent cancer. Yet, over the next 10 years, Australia will borrow between $50 billion and $70 billion to give away in foreign aid. Both state and federal governments have clearly failed homeless and sick Tasmanians, yet the same politicians have said that, over and above our normal refugee intake, an extra 500 people will be housed, fed and cared for in Tasmania. Will those people go to the front of the queue for public housing and medical treatment? Before we take any more refugees, I am calling on the politicians who have created our public housing and health crises to prevent Tasmanians from becoming homeless and dying unnecessarily on public health waiting lists.

There is no long-term public health plan in place to look after residents of the North and North West of Tasmania. For North West patients to have equity of access and continuity of quality health care, the North West Coast should have one centralised regional hospital, based between Devonport and Burnie. This, of course, will not occur overnight; however, it would be visionary to commence planning for its construction now. We need to think long term for the betterment of our children and our region—not for one election cycle or from one election cycle to another.

There are of course many complexities involved in providing health services, especially in Tasmania, with its geographical disadvantages, weather and decentralised population. It is even more complex when you have two medium-sized, competing hospitals within 45 minutes of each other, with both suffering from being dependent on expensive professional locums. Having one centralised regional hospital would promote sustainability of health services on the North West Coast, increase the chance of recruiting and keeping specialists and staff; benefit from a critical mass of patients; and boost opportunity for funding. To avoid wasteful spending on infrastructure, planning on a new greenfield hospital site should commence as soon as possible, with the realisation that funding may not be available for 10 years or more. (Time expired)