Labor is Australia’s oldest and greatest political party, dedicated for over a century to making this country a stronger, better and fairer place for all.
And there is no area where we have a prouder record than in health because the facts are that it is only Labor governments which have ever advanced the cause of decent health care in this country.
This month marks the 40th anniversary of the commencement of Medibank under the Whitlam Government, the culmination of the fight begun under Curtin and Chifley to introduce Universal Health Care to Australia.
The minister responsible for that legislation Bill Hayden declared at that time that Labor’s aim was to provide the ‘most equitable and efficient means of providing health insurance coverage for all Australians’.
I am delighted that we have with us here at conference Neal Blewett who built on that legacy and delivered us Medicare – recognised internationally as a universal health insurance scheme that continues to achieve some of the world’s best health outcomes for a comparatively modest investment.
I am proud to stand here today to introduce the chapter “A Health System for All” and confirm the values that guided Chifley and Curtin to introduce free hospital care and affordable medicines, and Whitlam and Hawke to introduce universal health care and Rudd and Gillard to embark on significant health and hospital reforms are the same values that drive us today – that all Australians should have access to the best quality healthcare regardless of where they live and regardless of their capacity to pay.
In government Labor embarked on the most significant health and hospital reforms since the introduction of Medicare.
They are reforms that our opponents have systematically trashed.
Principally among these was the decision to abandon Labor’s agreement with the states to properly fund and reform public hospitals.
But they have also ripped up agreements on prevention and public dental care, on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health, cut drug and alcohol funding, and created huge uncertainty for the provision of mental health services.
And they have done what they always do, attacked the fundamental principle upon which Medicare is built – universal access.
It is only Labor governments that can be trusted to protect and build on our great legacy – Medicare.
This chapter lays down the principles for the next stages of health care reform.
The starting point has to be a shared vision for health. It needs a national government willing to articulate this vision and to lead us down a path of reform, and when it comes to health, history shows it has only ever been Labor governments prepared to lead such reform.
Prevention must be at the heart of what we do in every part of the health care system and beyond and again, this only happens if there is national leadership.
We must constantly search for new answers to preventing and treating disease and finding better and more effective ways for providing care.
We must strive for a health care system that is designed around patients’ needs, not funding streams or institutions.
It has to be affordable, accessible, universal and proactive – not just responsive.
Primary care has to be at its heart and this more than any other area of health care reform needs our national attention.
We have to support and value our health workforce and not just give lip service to engaging them in reform but ask them to drive it.
Tackling health inequality has to be front and centre of all we do.
It can’t just be tacked on it has to be part of an overall system and is a core indicator of whether healthcare reforms are working.
Labor knows that every step of the way to the provision of decent, affordable health care in this country we have had to fight the Liberal Party trying to deny Australians access to decent affordable health care, a tradition upheld today by the Abbott Government.
The GP Tax, the cuts to public hospitals, all this has one aim in mind: to destroy Labor’s great legacy of Medicare, and send us back to the days where your right to a decent health care entirely depends on your capacity to pay.
It’s a stark reminder that Labor built Medicare, only Labor believes in Medicare, and only a Labor government can ensure Medicare continues to provide all Australians with decent affordable healthcare.
Only Labor has ever understood, that without decent, affordable healthcare, there can be no justice, no fairness, and for many, the economic opportunities they should enjoy to advance their lives and achieve their true potential, will be shut in their face.
The principles that guided Labor when we established Medicare are the principles that guide us today – that every Australian should have access to the best quality healthcare regardless of where they live and regardless of their capacity to pay.
I commend the Health Chapter to Conference.