Speech - Adjournment Debate (Medicare)








There’s been a 40 year project in this country from the conservative side of politics to destroy what was firstly Medibank and then Medicare. Since the 2014 Budget the Liberals put a whole series of propositions on the table to eat away and white ant the very foundations of Medicare.

The Libs proposed in the last budget to privatise the Medicare payment system and that along with their failure to index rebates, which would push down rates of bulk billing, meant they were effectively getting rid of the very basis of Medicare and to my way of thinking, that is privatisation.

Now thankfully during the election, Australians saw right through the Prime Ministers and his values. They clearly rejected the idea of electing someone just because they were a celebrity and because they had support from the top end of town. The Prime Minister’s overreach on tax and Medicare confirmed the public’s worsts fears about Conservative Australia. That is, the radical agenda of the right. The radical agenda of the right that is a recipe for American style inequality and a struggling middle class, and of course part of that agenda is the destruction of Medicare. It’s a central part of their trickle-down agenda.  

Now since the election that radical agenda has continued.

Although the Prime Minister has been forced to defer his Medicare payment system privatisation plans, his statement about that turns out to be mere weasel words.

If my constituents are telling it to me correctly, the Liberals are actively working to dismantle Medicare service levels and Medicare accessibility to the general public. 

Like many other Members in this House, since July I have received through my office a steady stream of complaints from constituents about reductions in Medicare service levels at Centrelink offices, and about delays in receipt of cash claims left at offices.  

This week it was reported to me that for some complex Medicare claims it’s taking over a month before the rebate appears in bank accounts.  Other constituents report frustration that when they visit their local Centrelink office with a Medicare claim, they are told to go online, download an app, or leave the claim because there is no longer face-to-face service. 

Staff are telling the public by November there will be no face-to-face claim service at Centrelink offices because “that’s the way the Government wants to do Medicare now.”

A Tasmanian colleague has advised me this type of service ceases in Tasmania this Friday evening. I am advised there will be no exceptions to processing on-site refunds, regardless of age or ability of the customer. 

It will need a manager’s decision to process under financial hardship. If the Manager says no it could potentially take 3 days for a refund to appear in a desperate customer’s bank account.

Many years ago I visited – used to visit the Medicare office in my local shopping Centre at Toombul I always remember staff there telling me that many of their customers on meagre incomes had a pattern of visiting the doctor, then claiming their Medicare rebate straight away so they could use that rebate to purchase medicines which had come from the doctor.

I have no doubt there are still many constituents of every member in this house who rely on speedy and efficient Medicare rebates to be able to afford their medications. 

What will happen to these people now that Malcolm Turnbull is introducing a policy of removing that efficient Medicare rebate service from Centrelink offices?  

Particularly when many elderly don’t have access to online or smartphone facilities or capabilities.

Now I think this is legitimately leading the Australian people to ask “how good is Malcolm Turnbull’s word?” 

Did the Prime Minister and the Health Minister just commit to leaving Medicare payments in “Government hands” so they could cut Medicare staff numbers, shift Medicare staff onto Centrelink work, remove the rebate service from our local Centrelink offices and plague the service with enough delays so that they could again mount the case for privatisation? 

Now from what I am hearing from other electorate offices I think this is exactly the plan. They intent to strangle service for Medicare. And they’re starting that in what is now occurring in Centrelink offices.

The Australian people know this PM can’t keep his hands off Medicare, and why can’t he? Because this Prime Minister is a Liberal and the Liberals have a 40 year project of strangling and wrecking Medibank and Medicare.

So I think the Prime Minister’s word on this question of privatisation is absolutely worthless, and if he wants to contest that he should stop the decision that is being implemented now to reduce access to one of Australia’s great public institutions.