Matters of Public Importance - Health Care

The Liberals last week launched the biggest attack on Medicare in decades. While the nation has been focused on the government's vaccine rollout failures and quarantine failures, the Liberals have snuck out almost 1,000 changes to the Medicare Benefits Schedule. The result of these changes is Australians paying more for essential health care and surgeries, with higher out-of-pocket costs. We know these changes are bad news, because the Prime Minister was nowhere to be seen when they were quietly announced. If these changes had been good news you can bet your bottom dollar the Prime Minister would have been there for the photo op, wearing a fake doctor's gown and a fake stethoscope. But there was no photo op, because not even the Prime Minister's private army of media operatives could spin this assault on Medicare into a good-news story.

Labor gave Australia Medicare; the Liberals gave Australia robodebt. Labor builds; the Liberals cut. Over the past eight years of this Liberal government we've seen a radical assault on Australia's treasured institutions, like Medicare. And while today it is Medicare, there's also the ABC, the arts sector, public schools, TAFE and universities—institutions and the essence of our culture, a culture that values fairness and mateship ahead of selfishness and a winner-takes-all attitude. These things are under assault from the Liberals and their radical reimagining of Australia. The Liberals will not be happy until Australia looks like a version of America, with everything privatised: a culture of low wages and servitude.

That is not the vision Labor has for Australia. Labor will protect the institutions, the culture and the way of life that has made Australia the envy of the world. One of those institutions that we will protect—a pillar of our national identity—is universal health care. We know the Liberals have always hated Medicare. They have never supported it. They went to four elections promising to get rid of it. They went quiet on it for 10 years. Then they floated a $5 GP tax. Then they cut $1.7 billion from Medicare and proposed a $7 GP tax, and they sought to privatise Medicare services. Then they cut $1 billion from Medicare. Then they cut bulk-billing in suburban communities. And now they've rushed in these sneaky changes, which cut funding for surgeries and increase out-of-pocket costs.

The fact is that no-one can explain how this enormous change to the Medicare Benefits Schedule, affecting 900 of 5,700 items, will actually work on the ground. And it was publicly announced with just three weeks notice. You'd give more notice when you left a job. Regardless of what you think of the changes, they are absolutely massive. It illustrates the incompetence of this government that they introduced these changes with less than one month's notice. Australians now face the prospect of already scheduled life-changing surgeries no longer being covered by Medicare, requiring them to pay thousands of dollars extra or to cancel their surgeries and go back on the queue for a surgery that is listed.

There has been no opportunity for Australians to discuss these matters with their doctors. No warning has been given that the changes were on the way. The AMA warned the government about rushing this. But, true to form, this arrogant government did not listen. The government has refused to guarantee that patient costs will not rise. Under this government, gap fees for GP visits have already increased by about $10 a visit and for specialist visits $30 a visit. In my electorate, GP clinics are telling healthcare card holders aged between 16 and 65 that they will no longer be bulk-billed and will face a $20-per-visit up-front cost.

That's not the way Medicare is supposed to work. Every year Australians are paying, on average, $90 a year in medical gap fees. Under the Liberals, those fees are going one way—and that's up. In the eight years that the Liberals have been in government, the cost of seeing a doctor in Tasmania has risen by 35 per cent. Cutting and gutting Medicare is in the Liberals' DNA. They've never supported it. For decades now they've been slicing and dicing Medicare, killing it by 1,000 cuts. In regional Australia it's on its deathbed already, a cruel betrayal of regional Australia by a government that purports to represent regional Australia. Labor built Medicare, and only a Labor government will protect it.