I thank the member for Werriwa for bringing this motion about the fact that Medicare was introduced by the Hawke government in 1984. Medicare is the nation's universal health insurance scheme—for young, for old, for rich, for poor, for bush, for city, for those in sickness and those in health. The system guarantees all Australians access to a wide range of health and hospital services at low or no cost. I would like to table the member for Tangney's speech, if I could. I will stick to what my staff have written for me.
When the Hawke government introduced Medicare, the quality of health care depended on many factors, including where you lived and who you chose to be your parents. Mostly, it was about how much you earned. It was tough if you got sick and couldn't afford a doctor; you had to rely on the chemist, or some sort of family remedy, or prayers. It was rare for people to ever consider going to the hospital. A voluntary health insurance arrangement set up by the Menzies government meant doctors' fees were met by a combination of one-third government benefit, one-third private health fund benefit and one-third out-of-pocket payment by the patient.
Here is what Bob Hawke said in a speech delivered on 5 March 1984, a month after establishing Medicare:
It was totally unacceptable that nearly two million Australians were for several years without private insurance or the Commonwealth government's cover provided to pensioners, unemployed and low income earners. Many of the two million were simply unable to afford the cost of private insurance…
Labor's Medicare scheme allowed Australians to obtain the medical treatment they needed regardless of how much they earned. We know the consequences when people can't get early access to a GP. Early access identifies health problems before they become acute and costly for the individual and for the economy. The Labor Party has a history of legislating for the common good. Our belief in access to universal health care is an enduring value. We are the party of Medicare. We have a history of defending Medicare.
Sadly, coalition governments have a long history of running Medicare down. It was Gough Whitlam who first introduced the system of universal health care in Australia called Medibank. Subsequently, access to Medibank was heavily restricted under the Fraser government. Then, in turn, the Hawke government introduced Medicare and reinstated universal access. Who can forget John Howard's promise to Australians that he would not touch Medicare? Upon receiving the keys to the Lodge, he proceeded to cut funding to Medicare, raise the safety net threshold, and coerce and scare Australians into taking up private health insurance. The Abbott, Turnbull and Morrison governments froze the Medicare rebate, tried to introduce a GP tax three times and planned to privatise the Medicare payment system.
During the 2016 election campaign, a tough election campaign, we were packing up after a community barbecue in Moreton when two cars full of senior citizens pulled up. My office started to explain to the people that the barbecue was over, but they said. 'Never mind. We're Liberal voters and we hate what Malcolm Turnbull wants to do to Medicare. We've come to sign your petition and we hope we're not too late.' All sensible Australians understand the value of universal health care.
There are now too many stories of Australians not being able to see a bulk-billing doctor or of GPs changing from bulk billing to mixed billing. Only this week, sadly, I met with a Moreton GP who, after practising on the south side, said it is no longer financially viable to run his practice. He loves helping battlers. I could see the passion that he had for medicine. I take my hat off to every GP that is out there doing their bit for people healthwise. This guy loved helping battlers, but he's not sure if he can continue and doubts that anybody would even want to buy his practice. Only 15 per cent of graduates go into general practice; there aren't many of them. Sadly, the coalition froze the Medicare rebate for six years, ripped billions out of primary care and caused gap fees to skyrocket. It's no wonder that devoted doctors like the gentleman I mentioned are walking away from general practice. They are exhausted.
Every new Labor government has to clean up the Liberals' mess. But there's no easy fix. These problems have been festering for a decade and, as we know, it has gone septic in some suburbs and many parts of the bush. The Albanese government is committed to investing in general practice and strengthening Medicare. The Strengthening Medicare Taskforce is identifying the best ways to boost affordability, improve access and deliver support for patients.