Speech on the Government's Cuts to Health

5.00pm | October 18, 2018

When I'm out talking to people in the great state of New South Wales there is one thing that comes through loud and clear, and that is that people know that you cannot trust a Liberal government when it comes to health. This government has spent five years cutting vital health services that Australians rely on. When Scott Morrison, our now Prime Minister, was Treasurer he cut more than $700 million from Australian hospitals. We know that these cuts have a significant impact on people who are living in rural and regional areas.

I want to talk a bit about the people who live in the electorate of Gilmore, an electorate I spend quite a bit of time in. Those people, from Moruya through to Kiama, have watched as the government has failed year on year to in any way improve health services in that area. Fiona Phillips, Labor's candidate in Gilmore, has been fighting for people living on the New South Wales south coast to get the health care that they need close to home. Currently, people who live in Batemans Bay have to drive 120 kilometres to Nowra to access the nearest Medicare subsidised MRI machine. Some are even forced to drive all the way to Canberra. That is why Labor has committed to funding a Medicare MRI licence for Batemans Bay Hospital so that locals get the scans that they need close to home without being hit by very high out-of-pocket costs.

When Labor were last in office we granted 238 of these licences, because we understand the importance of MRI scans being accessible in local communities. It is in stark contrast to this government, because under the Liberals they have granted just five MRI licences throughout five years in office. On average one every year—it's hopeless. Just one day after Labor's shadow minister for health, Catherine King, announced that Labor will provide MRI licences across the country we then saw the Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, make a clumsy attempt to match that announcement. MRI scans are used to detect tumours and cancer. Communities benefit from early detection and diagnosis, and a lack of access to these services can have deadly consequences. The people of Gilmore deserve a lot more than what they're getting.

Labor has always believed that it should be a Medicare card not your credit card which determines your access to health care in Australia. In the electorate of Page people have expressed serious concerns about the Liberals cuts to hospitals and the effect it is having on their community. Patrick Deegan, Labor's candidate in Page, has been listening to people living in the Clarence Valley who have told him about how their local hospital needs a helipad. The old helipad at Maclean District Hospital has been closed for almost 18 months and the community's calls have been largely ignored by the local member, Kevin Hogan. Helipads are vital for the urgent transportation of critically ill people, and if the helipad were funded this would ensure faster access to care at other hospitals and that ambulance remain on the road responding to calls. But, instead of acting, Kevin Hogan has been more concerned about playing political games on the crossbench. We don't know what he stands for, but it certainly isn't for the people of Page. But we shouldn't be at all surprised by the government's inaction on the Maclean helipad, especially considering the track record of the Prime Minister.

As Treasurer, Mr Morrison cut $9.5 million from the Northern NSW Local Health District between 2017 and 2020. Labor's commitments come as part of a $2.8 million better hospital fund to better fund better facilities and more services across the nation. The people of Page deserve more than they are getting.

Delivered in the Senate on October 18, 2018