MPI - Health Care - 12 Nov 2018

I rise this afternoon to speak about a plan to fix Australia's hospitals, including more investment in beds, doctors and nurses, ending the Medicare freeze and providing new MRI machines across Australia. 

It's going to take a lot of work to fix the damage of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison years, but Labor is willing and ready. That's why, on 7 October 2018, the Leader of the Opposition, Bill Shorten, launched Labor's Fair Go Action Plan—our five-step plan for a better and fairer Australia. It's a plan to fix our schools and hospitals, ease pressure on family budgets, stand up for workers, invest in cheaper, cleaner energy and build a stronger economy that works for all. The key point I make here is that Labor has drawn a line in the sand. We have outlined the kind of government that we want to be and the kind of country we want to build for future generations. We have the courage to make the big decisions that need to be made and then be up-front about how and why we made these decisions.

The contrast between Labor and the Liberals couldn't be starker. Unlike the illegitimate Scott Morrison government, whom no-one elected, Bill Shorten is leading a stable and united Labor team that is 100 per cent focused on delivering a fair go for all Australians. This is what drives the Australian Labor Party forward. We're not just talking about ourselves: we're out there fighting for our workmates, our partners and children, our parents and grandparents every single day.

Australia deserves better than the neglect and the political bandaid approach to health care that we've seen under the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government. There are too many people battling cancer and other serious health issues that are driving for hours or paying thousands of dollars for vital scans and tests. There are too many older Australians with crook hips, bad knees, cataracts, hernias, waiting too long for an operation they desperately need now. There are too many young people and adults unable to reach out and access the mental health services they need. There are too many families and individuals skipping out on seeing their GP because they just can't afford it.

Too many of our fantastic healthcare workers are overworked and underpaid. In my home state of Tasmania, as you would have to agree, Mr Acting Deputy President Duniam, these amazing frontline workers are at breaking point. The catastrophic health crisis in our home state should serve as a wake-up call for both the state and federal Liberals to do better. The Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison governments have cut millions from Tasmania's hospitals and our health care system has hit a boiling point. Every week new horror stories are emerging. We have paramedics trying to treat sick people in corridors and nurses performing invasive procedures on patients who are sitting shoulder to shoulder with complete strangers in the emergency department. Our nurses, doctors and health professionals are at a breaking point. They tell me they're desperately wanting to provide the high quality of care that patients expect and deserve, but they can't because the system is broken and the local and federal Liberal governments aren't listening. We are better than this and we need to do better than this.

And we will. A Shorten Labor government will invest an extra $30 million in halving Tasmania's elective surgery backlog, put more into the state's hospitals and reverse the Liberals' cuts to TAZREACH. If we are fortunate enough to win government, we'll fix our hospitals by reversing the Liberals' cuts; by unfreezing Medicare; by making record investments in mental health; by investing in more beds, more staff and more technology, including new MRI machines in the regions and suburbs; and by investing in new urgent care clinics to relieve pressure on our overworked and strained emergency departments. We're determined to fix our hospitals, and if we're elected to government we will always make sure that it's your Medicare card and not your credit card that guarantees your access to quality health in this country.

Through our better hospitals fund, a Shorten Labor government will invest more in every single public hospital in the country. The better hospitals fund will see $2.8 billion extra investment from 2019 to 2025. This will fully reverse the Liberals' cuts, fund more beds in emergency departments and wards, and fund more doctors, more nurses and more health staff. This funding will be targeted to reduce emergency department and elective surgery waiting times, which, as I've outlined, have blown out under the Liberals' cuts to Medicare and hospitals. Under a Shorten Labor government, the health of Australians will never take a back seat to a handout for big business. Labor will invest an extra $764 million over the forward estimates and $2.814 billion over six years to fix Australia's public hospitals. Our plan has been fully costed by the independent Parliamentary Budget Office.

As I said, the difference between Labor and those opposite couldn't be starker. The Liberals have cut from Medicare and hospitals in every year since Tony Abbott's horror 2014 budget. This is a government that gave us the GP tax, the Medicare freeze and the $715 million in cuts from public hospitals from 2017 to 2020 alone, giving their rich mates a handout instead of funding health. This is a classic move in the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison playbook. Under the Liberals, the national average wait time for elective surgery is the longest on record, the number of hospital beds available for elderly Australians is the lowest on record and the number of people presenting at emergency departments is the highest on record, and one in every three patients considered urgent isn't seen on time.

The Liberals have always hated Medicare and simply cannot be trusted with it. This has been proven time and time again, whether it was by the Abbott government, the Turnbull government or, now, the Morrison government. We know that it's in the Liberals and Nationals' DNA—they just don't like Medicare. They don't like to have universal health care in this country. But Labor will always stand firm and we will always say that your Medicare card is what should give you access to good health in this country, not your credit card. We know that the community believe us; they proved that at the last election. They were concerned about Medicare and voted against this government because of it. It's only Labor that's committed to making Medicare stronger.

People are sick of being short-changed by a government that favours the top end of town. They want to see a contest of ideas and policy. But what do we get from those on the opposite side? The infighting, dysfunction and chaos just continues. If they're not fighting about themselves, they're obsessing about what Bill Shorten is doing and what Labor is doing. We're doing what we said we would do, and that is that we want to contest the next election on good policies and good ideas for the future. That's why we're putting our policies out early. There won't be any reason for the Australian people not to know what Labor stands for going into the next election, because we're going to be up-front about that. They'll know, and they'll have it reinforced time and time again by us, that we'll put people first. We'll put the health of the nation before the big end of town. We'll ensure that families can afford to go and see their GP. We'll ensure that there are not mothers in this country not going to the doctors themselves, because they have to buy new school items for their children and can't afford to go to the GP. We know how important good health is. We know how important good education is. We will prioritise, and we have made the commitment to protect Medicare. We will fund good health services in this country because that's what the Australian people deserve and that's what they will get if there is a Bill Shorten government elected at the next election.