Treasury Laws Amendment (2023 Measures No. 2) Bill 2023
House of Representatives, 25 May 2023
This bill deals with Medicare, an issue which has been long debated in this parliament. Indeed, elections from 1969 to 1993 were fought in large measure over universal health care. The battle over Medibank was one of the most bitterly fought battles of the Whitlam government. The creation of Medibank was opposed by the coalition, and the 1974 double dissolution was triggered in part by the parliamentary gridlock over Medibank.
When Labor attempted to create Medibank, the coalition health spokesman at the time, Don Chipp, said the scheme would create 'anarchy in Australia'. The coalition were accompanied by the Australian Medical Association, which denounced Medibank as 'socialised medicine'. When the Fraser government won office, it scrapped Medibank, forcing the Hawke government to enact Medicare when it came into office. It was in 1987 that, as Leader of the Opposition, John Howard stated unequivocally that if elected he would dismantle Medicare at the first opportunity. The results of this were acknowledged by Peter Shack, then the Liberal shadow health minister, who in 1990 said candidly:
I want to say with all the frankness I can muster, the Liberal and National Parties do not have a particularly good track record in health, and you don't need me to remind you of our last period in government.
This is not ancient history. It was in 2014 that Senator Anne Ruston told the Senate:
Everybody would like to think that we could go on in life with universal healthcare, with universal education and with all these wonderful things that over the last 20 years Australians have come to accept as a given. Unfortunately, the credit card is maxed out.
It has taken a Labor government to strengthen Medicare, in our last budget tripling the bulk-billing incentive, the largest increase ever. We've increased Medicare rebates for longer consultations, restored bulked-billed telehealth and psychiatry consultations and increased the Medicare rebate for nurse practitioners. Our government is passionately committed to Medicare, as has every Labor government been throughout my lifetime. Medicare is a cornerstone for the Australian healthcare system, but it's also a touchstone for the Australian Labor Party, a point of pride for me and my colleagues.
Over the last year that we've been in office, we've also worked to make medicines cheaper for millions of Australians through 60-day prescribing. We've announced 58 urgent-care clinics across Australia and committed to tackling smoking and vaping to ensure that another generation of Australians doesn't get hooked on nicotine. We've added 85 medicines to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, strengthened GP practices across the country with GP grants and incentivised team-based care so health workers can do what they're trained to do. We've boosted mental health interpreting services, helped rural graduates build their careers locally and provided more places for nurses and postgraduate psychologists. We've delivered Australia's first endometriosis and pelvic pain clinics, established the National Women's Health Advisory Council and supported a greater role for nurses and midwives in primary care. We've established the National Nurse and Midwife Health Service, funded the new National Lung Cancer Screening Program, delivered life-saving dialysis chairs to rural and remote Australia, delivered the Birthing on Country Centre of Excellence and boosted mental health support for First Nations people.
Quality health care should be a birthright for all Australians. Medicare is a vital part of the Australian healthcare system, and under Labor we are taking better care of the health system in this nation.