22 August 2018

I rise to speak on this very important matter of public importance. Do you know, I was a nurse for 20 years. I worked in both the public and the private sectors, and I have a very good understanding of what it is to work in a well-funded public health system and in one that has been devastated by funding cuts. I worked in Victoria during the Kennett years. The Jeff Kennett cuts were devastating. They slashed, burned and cut the public health system to critical, low levels. Thousands of nurses left through forced redundancies. Many left through overwork—they simply could not cope with the cuts in that system.

I know what it's like to have to scrounge for pillows. I know what it's like to hide surgical tape in your pockets for fear of there not being any stock when you go to the cupboard. I know what it's like when waiting lists are so long that ambulances line up outside the hospital. I know what it's like to have to see patients frustrated by sitting for hours in waiting rooms at outpatient clinics.

I was at the ACTU when Campbell Newman, the then Premier of Queensland, nearly destroyed the public health sector in Queensland. I was there with nurses and saw the looks on their faces when those white slips appeared in their pigeonholes telling them that they had been earmarked for a redundancy. I know what it was like in Far North Queensland when regional hospitals had to tell their patients that they could no longer afford to fund a cardiac rehabilitation unit and that patients, post-surgery, had to travel 50 kilometres for their check-ups. Do you know what happens when people are told that they have to travel as far as 50 kilometres for appointments? They don't go, they don't do it, and their conditions exacerbate. They rebound back into hospital or worse.

Let's face it: the Liberal Party hates the concept of public health. It goes against its free market, trickle-down economic philosophy. 'If you are sick, bad luck. If you can't pay for health care, you miss out. If health care isn't creating a profit for some multinational enterprise then we don't want it'—and so it goes with this government and, I'm afraid, with its potential new leader, Peter Dutton. He hates public health care as much as Newman and Kennett did. We've heard already how he's been deemed the worst health minister in 35 years—worse than Tony Abbott—cutting billions from hospitals; wanting to dismantle our universal health care system, our beloved Medicare; increasing the burden of prescription costs for all Australians by attacking our PBS safety net; Medicare freezes; introducing co-payments for GPs; and tearing up the National Health Reform Agreement. Undermining our public healthcare system is in the Liberals' DNA. Add to this litany the fact that with the current health minister, Greg Hunt, his only focus is on supporting his mates in the private health insurance industry and plotting with Peter Dutton to run a ticket against our Prime Minister.

Do Greg Hunt and Peter Dutton have any idea of the impact of funding cuts? They are forcing services to choose which services they will cut—will it be the Indigenous community health service, diabetic nurses or geriatric psychiatric services?—and forcing nurses to make impossible decisions because of funding cuts and not enough staff. Do they understand what it's like to have to decide between walking an elderly patient for their much-needed physio and starting a complex dressing that takes a long time so they can finish it before their shift ends? They might do both, in which case they will work unpaid overtime. We already have a health system that relies on nurses working for free. They have to make decisions like: 'Do I let a sick child sit for two more hours in the emergency department or do I leave a worker with a burn injury or in pain in the waiting room? Do I sit and feed a patient who has had a stroke or do I leave an incontinent patient in a wet bed?' I know what it's like to have to make these decisions, but Peter Dutton and Greg Hunt don't know because they won't try to find out. They don't care. Cutting $57 billion from public hospitals means that our health professionals have to make these hard decisions and more. They want to cut another $2.8 billion from our health system.

I am proud to say that Labor know what it's like. We have health professionals who know what it's like to work in our public health system. We know what it means to have to make these decisions. We know the difference between working in a well-funded health sector and a sector that has had savage cuts from health ministers who simply don't care. Labor will invest in our health system, we will invest in our healthcare professionals and we will keep our communities healthy.