MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE: Healthcare & Save Medicare

15 June 2021

I am a nurse. I maintain my registration proudly, albeit non-practising, because, once a nurse, always a nurse. I'm a proud member of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation. I was the federal secretary of that great union, which is the largest in the country. It has just over 300,000 members. I worked the vast majority of my nursing life in the public health system, and as a trade unionist I fought hard to save Medicare. I saw firsthand the benefits of the universal health system that we have in Australia—a universal health system with Medicare at its heart. Australians love Medicare and they know the Liberals don't.

Back in the seventies, Liberal members voted over and over against the introduction of Medibank, as it was in the beginning, as introduced by Gough Whitlam. They argued it was a totalitarian measure designed to destroy the people's health and, at the same time, curiously, argued it was socialised medicine. Gough won out in the end. But then Malcolm Fraser, as we heard the shadow minister for health explain, spent eight years as Prime Minister white-anting it to the extent that they attempted to abolish it in 1981. Bob Hawke came to power in 1983, and he virtually had to start all over again with our Medicare. Howard hated it, as we heard before, and Tony Abbott established the disastrously insidious Commission of Audit, which convinced him to introduce a co-payment for Medicare. The people of Australia told him, straight up, what they thought about that. Then Malcolm Turnbull set up a privatisation committee to, pretty much, examine how best to privatise the public health system and Medicare. Again, that went down well with the people of Australia—not!

They have persistently run down the administration of Medicare with cuts to the Public Service, the very people who help our community access it. They kept rebates frozen for years, undermining bulk-billing, and now they have undermined the provision of services with unexplained changes to the MBS. That, without any doubt, will drive up gap fees and out-of-pocket expenses. You can't trust the coalition with Medicare and public health services.

I received an email from a constituent this week. She is 37 years old. She wrote: 'Ged, I am writing to you because I am very concerned about the media reports of changes to Medicare rebates. I don't have some groundbreaking tear-inducing personal story to support my concerns, but I have had a number of minor surgeries in my lifetime, which I've been able to afford through a combination of Medicare, private health insurance and family support.' She continued: 'I'm worried at the 'death by a thousand cuts' approach to universal health care. I have major worries about the slide towards an American inspired private, horrendously expensive and inequitable approach to health care.' She wrote: 'I see this as another way that inequality is becoming entrenched in Australian communities, with the people proposing and supporting such changes coming from economic positions of great advantage and who will never feel the true impact of a high medical bill.' She finished by saying: 'Ged, I hope that you are working hard in Canberra to ensure that younger Australians, such as myself, don't continue to have the rug pulled out from under them as they grow older, pulled out by a generation of people who are undermining Australian values of equity, compassion and universal access to health care.' I couldn't have said it any better myself. She is just one of the vast majority of Australians who care deeply about the universal health system and are troubled by cuts.

Another example of the government running down our health system is the disaster that is aged care. The royal commission found that aged care—the responsibility of the federal government—was suffering from deep neglect. Much has been said in this House and beyond about the complete disregard and bungling of the aged-care system by this government. It is a system neglected. The pandemic gorged open cracks, creating a cavernous disaster when the COVID pandemic raged through our communities. A bungling attitude and incompetence continued with the vaccination rollout—again, the sole responsibility of the federal government.

Politics is a game of tricks to those on the other side. They say: 'Who can we trick with our smirks and our slogans? Who can we ignore with diversions and big photo opportunities? How many health workers can we make believe we care about them with crumbs and small handouts and weaselly worded legislation that takes away rights and services?' They on that side are about tricks. Labor knows that politics is about priorities, and we have Medicare and the public health system at our heart.