Standing up for Canberra

National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014

Before the election those opposite made one very simple, very clear promise to the Australian people when it came to health, and that was that there would be no cuts to health. This promise was made to the Australian people and this was the expectation that the Australian people had when they voted in a coalition government. But the bill we are debating tonight just shows that that was a complete broken promise. It was completely worthless. It was not worth the paper it was written on. The government are cutting health and they are doing so in the full knowledge that it will have the most adverse effect on the people who can least afford it.

This bill means that, for every script, general patients will be paying $5 more and concessional patients— I do not think people fully appreciate this—will be paying 80c more. I am proud that Labor is opposing this cruel and callous attack on the most vulnerable members of our society. This legislation is a $1.3 billion tax increase on medicines, and it will hurt every Australian. It must be noted that it comes on top of the attack on the universal healthcare system, which is part of Labor's DNA. We introduced it. Universal health care is part of Australia's social fabric. That is the strong message that has been communicated to me by the people of Canberra through my community forums and through my mobile offices since this budget was released. The coalition is looking at introducing not just changes to the PBS but also a $7 GP co-payment and a $5 reduction in the Medicare rebate.

We already know that tens of thousands of Australians do not get their scripts filled because they cannot afford to do so. In fact a COAG Reform Council report released in early June found that 8.5 per cent of people in 2012-13 delayed or did not fill their scripts due to cost. In disadvantaged areas this figure is 12.4 per cent. For Indigenous people it is 36.4 per cent. This is the existing system—this is what is happening at this point in time. What is going to happen in the future when the most disadvantaged, the most vulnerable in our society, do not get their scripts filled? What sorts of health implications will there be on those individuals and what impact will it have on emergency services in our hospital systems?

Yesterday I presented a petition in this House that was signed by over 600 clients, staff and friends of the Winnunga Nimmityjah Aboriginal Health Service in Narrabundah. Those people were not just from Canberra but from the region—from Eden-Monaro, from Hume. The shadow minister has visited this health service with me a number of times, as has the Leader of the Opposition. The petition called on the Abbott government to abandon its unfair and unaffordable changes to Medicare and the PBS.

During my visits to Winnunga I have spoken to staff and clients. I know that this legislation will hurt those who can least afford it. The staff at Winnunga have told me they have already had to cover the cost of prescriptions for some of their clients, because they simply cannot afford them at the moment. This increase in the cost of prescriptions will mean that even more of their clients will be unable to afford their medicines and that, unfortunately, Winnunga will further have to absorb the cost of the $7 Medicare co-payment in addition to the additional cost of these prescriptions. That is possibly going to total $300,000 or more per year.

The fact is that the Abbott government's changes to Medicare and the PBS are part of an ideological campaign to get rid of our universal healthcare system —something that is sacred to Australians; something that is part of our DNA; something that is part of the Australian social fabric. They want to create a twotiered user-pays system. Labor will not support the Prime Minister's unfair slug on sick Australians that is built on lies told before the last election. Last week, I held two community forums in Canberra. Every single person there, without exception, was very, very cranky about this budget. I do not know whether those opposite have held any community forums on the budget, but I know that from a Canberra perspective, community members are not happy. One woman at the community forum who was a pensioner aged in her 80s had come along because she wanted to say she felt that this budget was a direct attack on the sick and elderly, like herself. Her pension has been cut through the lowering of the indexation. She will now have to pay more to go to the doctor, which she does monthly. She will now have to pay more for her prescriptions when she gets them filled multiple times a month. It is an attack on the sick. It is an attack on the elderly. It is an attack on the disadvantaged. It is an attack on the vulnerable. It is cruel and callous.

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