Speech to Parliament: Labor's Broken Promises on Health and Aged Care - 9 March 2023

I move: That the Senate notes the Albanese Government's broken promises to deliver cheaper power prices, cheaper mortgages, to not make any changes to super, as well as broken promises on medicines, country doctors, Medicare and mental health.

For all their moral posturing and their promises, Labor shows time and time again that their rhetoric in opposition is not matched by their actions in government, and it's costing Australian lives. Anthony Albanese promised cost-of-living relief during the election, but the reality is life is only getting harder for Australians under this government. Mortgages are rising, energy bills are skyrocketing, and the price at supermarkets and the doctor's is only going up. To borrow a phrase from those opposite, everything is going up except your wages.

Labor promised on 97 separate occasions that Australian electricity prices would drop by $275, but instead they have delivered the most expensive average wholesale electricity prices on record.

Labor said they wouldn't make any changes to superannuation, but one in 10 Australians will be affected by the changes they have now announced, and it's clear this is just the groundwork for more taxes and changes to come.

Labor promised cheaper medicines, but already they have removed life-changing drugs from the PBS, one of which is being relied on by 15,000 Australians who suffer from type 1 diabetes.

Labor promised to strengthen Medicare, but so far they've only weakened it: they slashed Medicare mental health support in half, they've cut 70 telehealth items from Medicare, and bulk-billing rates have plummeted after being at their highest levels when the Coalition was in government.

Labor said they'd make it easier to see a GP, but they've ripped GPs out of rural, regional and remote Australia.

It's clear that their expedited requirement for 24/7 nurses in aged care homes is both undeliverable and damaging, and there have been more deaths in aged care under this government than in the entire first 2½ years of the pandemic.

Despite all Labor's rhetoric on increasing access to health care for all Australians and protecting Medicare, they just don't understand the importance of affordable and adequate mental health supports for the most vulnerable of Australians.

As part of our response to support Australians in tougher times, the former Coalition Government doubled the number of Medicare subsidised psychological sessions available through the Better Access initiative from 10 to 20. With significant pressures on Australians currently facing cost-of-living pressures, we recognise that mental health support could not be more important.

But, despite these pressures impacting Australians and our communities, the Labor government decided that now apparently was the right time to slash access to Medicare subsidised psychological sessions in half.

They can say all they like that they are the party of Medicare, but, make no mistake, this is a blatant cut to Medicare and it's hurting the most vulnerable Australians right now.

Labor promised they would strengthen Medicare, but so far they have only weakened it. The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce report they released is merely aspirational. It has no urgency. It has no details. It has no time lines. It has no budget.

Aspirations are commendable, but with no urgent action to follow them up they're not going to assist Australians with the significant increases and pressures of cost-of-living rises, that continue to go up. It's $55 for a script—$60 out of pocket for a GP—and all at the same time energy bills, mortgages and general cost-of-living pressures are skyrocketing.

Bulk-billing rates were at record highs under the previous government. Now they are plummeting because Labor's actions have caused the sector to lose confidence in the system.

For all the rhetoric on Medicare, they have come into government and slashed Medicare health supports in half and cut 70 telehealth items. Labor also went into government with an election promise to prioritise access to health care and reduce the cost of medicines. But now they've decided to remove an innovative life-changing form of insulin called Fiasp from the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, sending prices soaring to absolutely unaffordable levels.

The Coalition Government listed this very important diabetic medicine on the PBS in 2019. We understood that Fiasp is an innovative meal-time insulin that improves sugar blood levels at a faster rate than other diabetes medications, resulting in improved quality of life for the people who take it.

But Labor—in the middle of a cost-of-living crisis—has made the decision to remove affordable access to a life-changing drug that's being relied upon by more than 15,000 Australians with diabetes. They must be transparent with diabetes patients in Australia and admit whether they took this action to support the commercial viability of Fiasp remaining on the PBS or took this intervention because they were protecting their own budget bottom line. We know that Minister Butler as the Minister for Health has the ability to intervene, but so far he has chosen not to.

We in the Coalition are absolutely proud of our record of affordable medicines. We listed almost 3,000 new and amended medicines while we were in government. We know that the previous Labor government had to stop listing medicines because they ran out of money. Let's hope this isn't a sign that it's about to repeat itself.

Labor also promised they'd make it easy to see a doctor, but they're just making it harder. Serious workforce shortages are putting pressure on our healthcare system, right across the country. Unfortunately, rural, regional and remote Australians are being the hardest hit, because they are the ones that were already facing challenges. In the middle of this workforce crisis, the Albanese government decided to rip GPs out of country towns by changing the distribution priority areas for overseas trained doctors.

We know that the DPA classification system was designed as a crucial part of trying to ensure that we had access to GPs in rural communities. But the government's decision to extend this priority access to outer metropolitan areas means that they have rendered this advantage to rural and regional Australia to the dustbin.

To quote the Rural Doctors Association of Australia: 'This policy change will cost the lives of rural and remote patients who already suffer poorer outcomes.'

On top of this, we have found that they've relegated international doctors and nurses working in regional areas to the bottom of the visa pile—failing to prioritise 887 regional skilled migration visas. This is all at a time when the country needs, more than ever, to ensure that we have access to timely health care and GPs.

Finally, Labor said they'd put the care back into aged care. Instead, they've just put more pressure onto a sector already struggling under workforce pressures. As the sector deals with the challenges of these significant pressures, the Government has brought forward the deadline for 24/7 registered nurses in every aged-care home by an entire year—against the recommendations of the royal commission into aged care.

Of course everybody wants to see older Australians getting the care they need and deserve, but there is no point legislating for something that's impossible to deliver.

Disappointingly, they are now ignoring calls for help from aged-care homes around the country. They have consistently refused to provide them with any information about what is going to happen them. Despite their best intentions and efforts, if they are unable to meet these mandated requirements, what will happen to these homes? These are the homes of older Australians.

And there are very serious concerns that aged-care facilities will be forced to close because they can't access the required staff, which will mean that people who live in these aged-care homes will be kicked out of their home and be forced to move hundreds of miles away from their own communities, from their families and from their loved ones.

The UTS Ageing Research Collaborative report released last year showed that less than five per cent of the surveyed homes currently had the required direct care workforce needed to fill the requirements that are being forced upon them. We've raised these concerns time and time again with the government, but they are refusing to consider the unique challenges faced by small, rural and regional providers.

The aged-care sector needs urgent and tangible support, but sadly they are getting absolutely none of this from this government. All they get is more rhetoric.

That's all we're getting from the Anthony Albanese Labor government. They're happy to make the big talking, big headline promises to get themselves elected to government, but, when it comes to delivering on its promises, they're nowhere to be seen.

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