Speech by Dr Paul Tambyah at the 35th Anniversary of Singapore Democratic Party.
Thank you all for coming for this 35th Anniversary dinner of the SDP. As you know, the party has a long and illustrious history. Founded by Mr Chiam See Tong in 1981, we had three MPs at one point in time but went through some difficult times when we started to challenge the establishment in the pre-social media era. That was a time when people only got to hear one side of the story.
To the credit of the members and supporters of the party who have stuck with the SDP for all these years, long before I became involved with the party, the SDP has done well and grown into a highly professional, competent, political party without losing our compassion and heart for the people. Many people here including those honoured this evening have been with the party since those early days. They and others tell me that the Bukit Gombak, Potong Pasir and Nee Soon Central town councils were pretty well run in the 1990s but we are not talking about town council managers here. We are talking about electing people into parliament who can not only run town councils but more importantly make important decisions on matters which affect our daily lives.
How we live and pay for our homes, how we educate our children, how we pay for healthcare when we get sick, whether we can be assured of a minimum wage or unemployment insurance and whether there will be a level playing field for all workers – local and foreign.
I became involved with the SDP in the year or two before the last GE. The reason why I did was because I was becoming increasingly frustrated with what I saw every day in our public hospitals. We have some of the best doctors, nurses and allied health professionals and excellent infrastructure and resources. But unfortunately, our healthcare financing system is based on some very morally questionable assumptions.
The PAP-led government does not appear to understand that most of us do not want to get sick. If we had a choice, we would rather not get chemotherapy for cancer or undergo open heart surgery. We do not choose to be born with congenital illnesses. We try to look after our own health but our genes and our environment are beyond our control. The current healthcare system which demands heavy copayments and has high deductibles, punishes people who are sick through no fault of their own.
We need a new healthcare financing system – we need the SDP’s national healthcare plan. With the SDP in parliament, we can ask the important questions, to make sure that patients are not left behind in a healthcare system that is obsessed with “breaking even” or making a profit. No public healthcare system can “break even” without punishing sick people and restricting care. We have to invest in our people as they are our only natural resource.
That is the difference between the PAP and the SDP. We view spending on education, healthcare, unemployment insurance as investments in the people of Singapore, not welfare dished out by natural aristocrats to the undeserving masses.
SDP would not be here today without the tremendous spirit and enthusiasm of our volunteers. These are people who walk the blocks week in week out, long before the elections are announced, work behind the scenes to prepare events like this, help do the research and analysis needed for the policy papers that we put out. They do it all voluntarily, not for the discounted parking or priority housing slots or priority for school enrolment but simply because they believe in a better Singapore. They deserve our thanks and support.
My mother, who is here at an SDP event for the first time, was Singapore’s woman of the year in 1994 and has spent her life working to improve the lives of children with multiple disabilities. Even now, at the age of 78, she continues to campaign for compulsory education for children with disabilities. This is something that the parents of these children want, it is something that is called for in the United Nations Convention on the rights of people with disabilities but it is something that the Singapore government has been reluctant to adopt. This is one of the issues that the SDP will raise in parliament.
Finally, thank you once again for coming for this dinner at the start of the election season. This is something we planned a long time ago. We launched our campaign in January. We want to have a good clean campaign, one that allows Singaporeans to make decisions on the important issues – to decide what kind of Singapore they want to have, not a campaign that degenerates into name calling or silly jibes about eating orh luak. The SDP will take the high road, we trust the people of Singapore to make a choice that is good for ourselves and our children. We hope you will let us be your voice in Parliament.