Private Health Insurance Amendment (Income Thresholds) Bill 2021

House of Representatives
Thursday 27 May 2021

I rise to join my colleagues to support the Private Health Insurance Amendment (Income Thresholds) Bill 2021. I'll give some remarks about the bill—it is a fairly non-controversial bill—but I will add remarks that follow on from those of a number of speakers and rebut some of the nonsense that we've heard from members of the government about Australia's health system. I will follow on from the comments of the member for Kingsford Smith regarding affordability and the collapse of health insurance in this country—as with everything it does, this government says, 'Nothing to see here. It's all great,' whether it be vaccinations, quarantine or, now, private health insurance.

The bill continues the pause of the annual indexation of income thresholds for another two years and adjusts the formula for the recommencement of indexation. The government has announced that the continuation of the pause will provide an opportunity to undertake a detailed study of settings for the PHI rebate and the MLS. Obviously this is good news for consumers. We don't want health premiums to go through the roof. But I was reading a report released last week regarding health insurance in Australia, and it says 'Australia's private health insurance industry in a death spiral'. That is what is being reported of our health system. Our private health insurance industry is seen to be in a death spiral. That is because this government, after a long eight years, has put health insurance in this country in the 'too hard' basket. The private health industry is on its knees. We know we have an ageing population, which is increasing the use of healthcare services. There are rising healthcare costs that drive up premiums and make health insurance less affordable and less attractive, particularly to young and healthy people.

A report by the Grattan Institute has indicated some serious issues regarding private health insurance in this country. It is clear to say that unless the government takes action—unless the government steps up to the plate instead of pretending and being in denial about what is happening—the industry will collapse. The industry is in a death spiral. We know numbers are on the way down. We know that private health insurance isn't increasing. It's not even flatlining; it's decreasing. The COVID crisis, which we've come through over the last 12 months, has clearly shown that our health sector is under increasing pressures. So I don't want any lectures from the government today, saying: 'Everything's fine. We've got nothing to see here,' when it's not. Obviously we are a constructive opposition, and when we see consumer relief and consumer support we will support that policy. But let's be clear: we have a health system in this country that has been brought to its knees as a result of the pandemic.

I want to use my time today to acknowledge and give thanks to all of the health professionals that have worked so hard during the last 12 months and beyond to ensure that our Australian community have remained safe during the health pandemic and that they have got the access to health services that they need. But it has not been plain sailing, it has not been easy, and we are not through this is as of yet. I'm glad the shadow health minister has moved a second reading amendment regarding the health system, particularly during the COVID crisis.

This government has had some responsibilities. Their key responsibilities for this year have been the vaccination rollout and quarantine. I've been listening to the member for Sturt and others. They have said, 'We've got one of the best quarantine systems in the world.' I've got to be honest with you: Are they in some alternative universe? Have they seen what's happened in Victoria? For the Prime Minister to get up and say: 'We're all in this together. We're all working together. The states and I are all together,'—what utter nonsense. We all sat here when he was campaigning against the Queensland government, when he was campaigning against the McGowan government and when he was campaigning against the Andrews government. Minister after minister were trawling up and down Queensland, bagging out the state Premier and all carrying on. What happened to, 'We've got to live with the virus'? We've all got to live with the virus now because of our vaccination rates being so low. We do want confidence. We do want people taking their vaccinations. We do want people turning up. The health minister says, 'It's not a race,' when everyone else in Australia believes it is.

Then we have this utter nonsense this week from a Queensland LNP senator, who I've never heard of, Senator Gerard Rennick. Mr Rennick—I'm quoting a article here—said:

… he was in no rush himself to get the Covid-19 jab, despite the Federal Government urging Australians not to wait to get vaccinated.

Almost one-third of adult Australians say they are unlikely to be vaccinated against Covid-19, according to a poll in the Nine newspapers last week, prompting calls for a national campaign to get people vaccinated.

A national vaccination campaign is something that I have called on the government to deliver. Virtually every other country in the world has done that. Where are the billboards? Where is the advertising campaign? We know the government doesn't mind a bit of advertising, but where is it when it comes to getting people vaccinated? It doesn't exist. If any member of the government can provide information to me right now, I will yield my time to them. I will happily sit down if the data and that information can be provided. It doesn't exist.

Then you get people like Senator Gerard Rennick saying: 'I'm going to sit back and watch and see how it goes. That's my view. I'm the 31 per cent.' He's as proud as punch, boasting about the fact that he's not going to take the vaccination. 'I will wait and see.' This is a member of the Australian parliament. This is a member of the government. Has anyone taken him aside and said: 'You know what, mate? We've really got to make sure that the rates are through the roof. It's probably best you don't say that, even if you don't want the vaccination'—for whatever kooky and whack-job reason these people don't want it. Maybe he's got preselectors inside the Queensland LNP who are antivaxxers; I don't know. But maybe he should get on board with the rest of Australia and make sure this country gets vaccinated. It is not good enough. It is unacceptable that members of the government are boasting about the fact that they're going to wait: 'I'm going to sit back and watch and see how it goes. That's my view.' Well, I say that is a terrible view and that senator should be hauled into the health minister's office or the Prime Minister's office. He should be read the riot act and start doing his civic duty to encourage Australians to get vaccinated.

We know we've had 17 outbreaks in hotel quarantine in the last six months. The government has shown such complacency with the shockingly slow pace of the vaccine rollout, and we're now seeing hesitancy towards the vaccines as a result. The Prime Minister says it's not a race, but it is a race. It's a race to beat this virus, particularly to beat the mutations of this virus. We're already seeing outbreaks in a range of countries, like South Korea, Japan and, importantly, Taiwan, which performed just as well as Australia did in suppressing the virus. Last week the government received 1.4 million vaccine doses. Think about this: 1.4 million vaccine doses arrived, but only just over 500,000 were administered. There's no public health campaign to get more people vaccinated sooner. Others around the world are using celebrities and sporting stars—you name it—to get those jabs in arms.

This leads me to follow on from what the member for Sturt was talking about: quarantine. He's another person apparently living in an alternative universe, thinking we have this amazing quarantine system. The facts are these. The Prime Minister, coming to my home state of Queensland, wasn't happy with the Toowoomba quarantine suggestion put on the table. It was a sensible suggestion by the Queensland government—in a city, close to Brisbane, with an airport, which the Prime Minister flew into, and with health facilities. He ruled that out. There's been no explanation as to why that is not an acceptable place, despite the Prime Minister trying to say that Toowoomba was a desert of some sort. Anyone who's been to Toowoomba, with its Carnival of Flowers, knows that it's not a desert. I'll give you that tip!

There are serious issues with quarantine, which is a constitutional responsibility of the Commonwealth government. If Toowoomba isn't a suitable solution for the Prime Minister, what is? What is the quarantine plan? Speak to most Victorians today—they don't think we have the best quarantine system in the world, though we have the best workers in the quarantine system. Every person in Victoria is now going into lockdown for the next seven days, which is the last thing business, industry and families wanted, and they've got the government coming in here—and they'll do it again today—saying, 'We've got it all covered. There's absolutely nothing to worry about. There's totally nothing to do here.' Then you get fools like Senator Gerard Rennick—I'll withdraw that. You get members of the government basically telling people not to get vaccinated. I know that Senator Rennick has some pretty out-there views—I know that he's on the extremes there—but, when you start telling constituents and the broader Australian public that we should be waiting, or that he will be waiting back and taking his time, it's not acceptable.

We know that, as of this week, the United States has delivered 219 million COVID vaccinations, the UK 60 million and Canada more than 20 million. But here in Australia we are languishing at just three million vaccinations, and only around two per cent of Australians have now been fully vaccinated—two per cent. So 98 per cent have not been done and two per cent have. That is not acceptable, when we've been hearing all the promises from this government: four million people done by May; every disability worker, every aged-care facility, all disability homes vaccinated by Easter; we were at the front of the queue; we were leading the way. We are so far back in the queue that it is not funny! And then you get members of the Morrison government basically saying: 'Don't get the vaccine if you don't feel like it. I'm going to sit back. I haven't had the flu jab. Why should I have this?'

Talk about utter chaos! We're going to close the borders forever. For people who were banging on about state borders being open all the time, they've got a funny way of showing it, now that we're locking every single border and we're never opening them again! It's fortress Australia. It was not the Prime Minister's fault when he said that to the media—the media put the wrong spin on it! We're hearing different responses from the health minister and from the Treasurer about when we'll get vaccinated. Those in this government are all over the shop when it comes to vaccination. Less gab, more jab—that's what we say on this side of the chamber. It's time that the government took their responsibilities seriously. They had two jobs this year: vaccinations—jabs in arms—and quarantine. They've failed on both fronts.

Then you get low vaccination rates and then you get members of the government saying: 'Well, I'm going to wait and see. I might sit this one out.' Well, it is not acceptable. This is a race. We have to get this right. Our economy relies on us making sure that we, as a society, are at the head of the pack, not last in the queue—which is where this government is taking us.

So, while this bill today is important, and whilst we are supporting the government, it is an opportunity for me to speak on behalf of my constituents in the south-west of Brisbane. I've visited an aged-care facility and I've spoken to those frontline workers, and they all say the same thing: they are desperately worried about how this government is handling the vaccination rollout, and they are, more importantly, fearful that there is no plan to deal with quarantine.