Thursday, 5 June 2014

Speech in Parliament - Appropriation Bill (No. 1) 2014-2015 and associated Bills - 03 June 2014

Mr TONY SMITH (Casey) (18:57): In speaking in this budget debate and on these appropriation bills I have had the opportunity to listen to many speeches—but not all—from those opposite, and I have just listened to the last 10 minutes of the previous speaker. Whilst they have all covered varying topics, they are all absolutely united in a couple of respects—that is, no apology for and no acknowledgement of the mess they left the budget in, which we are now discussing here in this chamber. They have absolutely no plan to fix the mess. For those opposite to come in on this debate after six years of fiscal failure and not acknowledge the mess they have created, nor put forward any alternative plan that would deal with it, really tells the Australian people that, if Labor had been re-elected, it is very clear where they would have headed—further along the debt and deficit road.

What we are seeing here in this debate and in the wider parliamentary debates and public discussions is the Labor Party of 1996, 1997 and 1998 and all those years where this side of the House was cleaning up their last fiscal mess. After inheriting net government debt of $96 billion and taking the difficult decisions to get the budget back on track, returning the budget to surplus, delivering surplus after surplus to pay down that debt and, finally, after 10 years having completely paid off that debt and starting to inject those future surpluses into the Future Fund, at that time we saw Labor doing what they are doing today—refusing to acknowledge any fiscal fault and refusing to put forward any plan. They are doing one thing now, however. They are doing everything they can to stop the clean-up of that fiscal mess.

In 2007 those opposite were elected proclaiming to be fiscal conservatives. In fact in their first budget they were criticising the coalition for not having large enough surpluses in those final years. Fast forward to today to a situation when on taking office this government and the people of Australia confronted combined deficits of $123 billion over the forward years, leading to gross debt that would peak at $667 billion. Labor's plan is to stay on that road and to not acknowledge their failure.

By necessity, this budget has had to take some very difficult decisions. We have heard lots of criticisms in the contributions from those opposite, but what the Australian people are owed is Labor fessing up. If Labor really believes Australia should keep living beyond its means, if Labor really believes that we should continue to rack up deficit after deficit and continue to increase debt, they should say so. If they think that the budget should be brought under control in other ways, they should say so. But they will not. That is the thing that has united all of the speeches from those opposite.

Another thing that has united the approach and so much of what has been said in the days since the Treasurer delivered the budget, has been the utter hypocrisy of those opposite. We have seen it in full glare in the last week on the issue of the Medicare co-payment. I am going to take a little bit of time to go through the history of this. The Prime Minister has rightly pointed out some of the history of it, as has the Minister for Health. But I think a full exposure of the history of this issue and the history of those opposite is an interesting way to view the hypocrisy and the populism of the approach of those opposite under this Leader of the Opposition.

We have heard in the chamber how a Medicare co-payment was invented by the former Hawke Labor government. Back in the budget of August 1991, the then Treasurer John Kerin announced a co-payment, because at that time the Labor government recognised that a co-payment needed to be introduced to deal with the challenges confronting the health system then and confronting it, more importantly, in the decades ahead.

Some of my colleagues have pointed out that this idea, in more recent years, has been advocated by the member for Fraser, the shadow Assistant Treasurer, who outlined it in either a book or an article some years back. It has been rightly pointed out that not only has the member for Fraser advocated it but, on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment—also extended on numerous occasions by the Hawke government—many members opposite have strongly endorsed the necessity for a co-payment. The Prime Minister yesterday quoted the member for Hunter, who said back in 1996 that it was a very brave decision by the Hawke government and a very necessary one.

Let me add to the debate the words of a former Treasurer who went on to become Prime Minister, and that is former Treasurer Keating, who, in his 1990 budget speech, announced measures that were enacted to extend the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme co-payment. He justified it on the sustainability of the system. Here is what he said on budget night in 1990:

The alternatives are stark: reconstruct the scheme so that it remains fair for everyone, or lose the scheme altogether, so that access to complete health care would only be available to the wealthy.

Those on my side of the House have rightly pointed out the hypocrisy of those opposite opposing this government's actions on the Medicare co-payment when they support just such a co-payment when it comes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

The other issue I want to take a bit of time to address in this budget debate is why it was that the Hawke Labor government introduced the Medicare co-payment back in 1991. As has been pointed out, the then Minister for Health, Mr Brian Howe, announced in detail with that budget that the government had decided to take this course of action following a review of health that had been led by none other than the member for Jagajaga, then Jenny Macklin, private citizen. In fact the budget papers themselves contain these statements:

Last June the Government announced the establishment of the National Health Strategy … to develop ways to refine and improve the health-system to meet the health challenges of the future: ...

The measures being introduced in this budget relate to the preliminary findings of the National Health Strategy. They are the first steps in dealing with structural problems in the health care system.

The budget papers then go on to justify the introduction of a Medicare co-payment, initially of $3.50 but later $5. So it is very clear from the budget papers that the review led by the now member for Jagajaga led to the Hawke government introducing the co-payment. There can be no denying this. The budget papers of 1991 say that the work of the review led the government to introduce this co-payment.

As the Prime Minister rightly pointed out, there is a father of the Medicare co-payment in former Prime Minister Hawke; there is a mother of the Medicare co-payment in the member for Jagajaga. I suppose there is an uncle in the former health minister. Of course, we have Dr Leigh, who is perhaps a child of the Medicare co-payment. But not only that: on my count there are two members of the Labor Party today sitting in the parliament, in the House of Representatives, who actually voted for that co-payment—because the co-payment was legislated. It is true that it was subsequently repealed by Prime Minister Keating, but it was legislated through both houses. It was guillotined through the House of Representatives, and two members who voted at that time to support the passage of those bills include the member for Lingiari and the member for Werriwa and, in the Senate, Senator Faulkner. So the Labor co-payment family keeps growing.

The member for Jagajaga got up in the parliament and made a personal explanation. I want to take a little bit of time in the minutes remaining to address this. Amongst other things, the member for Jagajaga said the following:

They wrongly accused me of supporting a Medicare co-payment. This is completely untrue. As correctly reported in the Australian today, I was opposed to a Medicare co-payment in 1991 and I am opposed to it today. This was confirmed in the paper today by the then Secretary of the Department of Finance, Dr Michael Keating.

Indeed, on 29 May, that day, it did mention that, when asked by the Australian about her role, Ms Macklin told a Melbourne Institute function in Canberra this month that she had argued, with the then head of the Department of Finance, Dr Michael Keating, against the co-payment. That conference was on 21 May.

What is interesting is that, if this is true—and I have my doubts, of course, as you can tell—what we are expected to believe is that the person who led the review that led to the co-payment was opposed to the co-payment but never said so, was happy to stay on leading the review for the next couple of years and, at no point that I can tell, until a couple of weeks ago, has come forward to make this convenient statement now. In fact, I did a calculation. If it took her from budget night 1991 through until 21 May, what that means is that it took the member for Jagajaga 22 years, nine months and one day to reveal that she was opposed to it. That is very strange indeed. It does not pass the sniff test.

Read 2382 times