'Save Medicare' march on Abbott's office

Issue 

Several hundred people attended a rally and march to Prime Minister Tony Abbott's electoral office in Manly on September 20. The demands of the rally were: "No compromise — no GP co-payment; no cuts or privatisation; and free, public health care for all."

General secretary of the NSW Nurses and Midwives Association Brett Holmes said the GP co-payment would spell the end of equitable, universal health care under Medicare and it was time the federal government listened to the people it purported to represent.

"Thousands of people, including the hard-working nurses and midwives of this state, are horrified at the prospect of Medicare being dismantled and our public health system shifting to an Americanised managed-care model where private health insurers dominate, costs skyrocket and people's overall health outcomes suffer," he said.

Deputy national president of the Community and Public Sector Union Lisa Newman told the rally: "The government is coming after our public services through both the front and back doors. The CPSU represents workers in the Medicare payment system, and proposed cuts to their jobs erodes their ability to provide an essential service.

"Our members' livelihoods are on the line. At least 14,000 Medicare jobs are slated to go in the planned sell-off of Medicare. The Medicare system and public services are worth fighting for," she said.

Barney Gardner, spokesperson for the Save Millers Point campaign against the NSW government's sale of public housing, said: "Elderly and disadvantaged residents of Millers Point are being evicted from their homes by the same people who are making huge cuts to the health and education systems.

"Corrupt federal and state politicians are attacking the most vulnerable people, including public housing residents. We need to stand together to fight these attacks, whichever sector is affected immediately," he said.

The following is the text of a speech to the rally by Betty Marcy, an age pensioner and activist in the Save Medicare campaign in Sydney.

***

Hello, my name is Betty Marcy. I am an 84-year-old pensioner, and this is the first time I have ever spoken at a political rally. I was so shocked and appalled by this unfair budget's attack on the poor, disabled and the sick, that I believed I should speak up, as indeed we all need to, at this critical time.

I feel so many are not yet aware of just how damaging these policies will be to our way of life. Do you realise that, under the new way of calculating our pension increases, by September 2017 pensioner couples will be more than $100 a fortnight worse off, and singles $75 a fortnight worse off, in real terms? These are not my figures. I found them in a front-page article of the Combined Pensioners and Superannuants Association paper.

The biggest worry, I believe, is the beginning of a concerted attack on our universal healthcare system.

Medicare has been the envy of the world, and I remember when it was a gift to us from a former Labor government. Maybe that's why the Liberal-National Party do not value it.

Make no mistake, it is under threat. The co-payment is just the start. I believe the Liberals have always preferred the US model, where you can only get treatment if you can pay for it. It is also my belief that the ideological, profit-first policy of the Abbott government is directly related to the private health industry's paid lobbyists and their influence over the LNP.

Right now, the federal government is trialling a system in Queensland, in which Medibank Private pays the office and administrative expenses for GPs in 26 medical centres, guaranteeing same day treatment for its members. They will service both fund members and uninsured public patients. Dr Brian Owler, the president of the AMA [Australian Medical Association], has stated that this idea would almost certainly lead to a situation where those patients without health insurance would be pushed down the queue, in order to service the guarantee offered to private patients.

No doubt, private health insurance is a very efficient business enterprise for the few, but it is a rotten failure as a health initiative, and I would prefer my health treatment not to be dependent on the assessment of a profit-pursuing, or spending averse, health fund.

As an old age pensioner, I cannot afford the premiums, or the gap that is paid when you do have membership, and it goes against all my beliefs to subsidise a class-based private health business. I found it scary when I heard the head of Medibank Private declare he believed insured patients should be given preference at hospital emergency departments. Too bad if your uninsured patient has a broken arm, and is there alongside a privately insured patient who has an upset tummy.

These are not the policies of a government that has any understanding of, nor concern for, the wellbeing of its people. I think [WA Greens] Senator [Scott] Ludlam best expressed the feelings of most Australians when he stated, “Mister Abbott, we want our country back.” And I am here today to plead with you Mister Abbott, “Give us our country back!”

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