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- Start of Business
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Pyne, Chris, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Crosio, Janice, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Marek, Paul, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Ferguson, Martin, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Baldwin, Bob, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Beazley, Kim, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Draper, Trish, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Goods and Sales Tax
(Evans, Gareth, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Slipper, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Redundancy and Termination Entitlements
(Andren, Peter, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
(Evans, Richard, MP, Kemp, Dr David, MP)
(Hollis, Colin, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Skase, Mr C.
(Wakelin, Barry, MP, Williams, Daryl, MP)
(O'Connor, Gavan, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Lloyd, Jim, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
(Gash, Joanna, MP, Truss, Warren, MP)
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Smith, Warwick, MP)
(Hardgrave, Gary, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
- Small Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: ADDITIONAL RESPONSES
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- PERSONAL EXPLANATIONS
- QUESTIONS TO MR SPEAKER
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- PARLIAMENTARY SERVICE BILL 1997 [No. 2]
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- AUSTRALIAN CAPITAL TERRITORY (PLANNING AND LAND MANAGEMENT) AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- LAW OFFICERS AMENDMENT BILL 1997
- PRIMARY INDUSTRIES AND ENERGY LEGISLATION AMENDMENT BILL (No. 3) 1997
QUESTIONS ON NOTICE
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
Social Security Payments
(Thomson, Kelvin, MP, Fischer, Tim, MP)
(Jones, Barry, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Sirway Asia Pacific Contract
(Bevis, Arch, MP, McLachlan, Ian, MP)
Department of Industry, Science and Tourism: Consultants
(McClelland, Robert, MP, Moore, John, MP)
- Japanese Economy
Tuesday, 10 March 1998
Mr BOB BALDWIN —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Family Services. Has the minister seen reports claiming the end of bulk-billing in the Newcastle area, and is the minister aware of any similar claims elsewhere in Australia? Minister, are these reports accurate? What action is the government considering to protect bulk-billing?
Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Health and Family Services) —I thank the honourable member for his question. I did see reports of this. Firstly, it was on the Today Tonight show on Friday, 27 February and, secondly, it was picked up by the Leader of the Opposition in a speech that he gave last night. The Leader of the Opposition said:
In the Hunter, bulk-billing is now virtually unobtainable for ordinary families.
I was concerned about the Today Tonight report, so I asked the Health Insurance Commission to give me the data on the level of bulk-billing in the Hunter to get some objective evidence as to whether or not the claims were correct.
Mr Fitzgibbon —Don't say it is not happening in the Hunter.
Dr WOOLDRIDGE —The honourable member should be aware that, on about 12 October, the Australian Medical Association started what effectively is industrial action in the Hunter in an attempt to increase GP rebates, so if there was any effect on this you would expect to see it in the December quarter figures from last year, which are the last quarterly figures we have.
There are 680 general practitioners who live in the Hunter region, with 220 in Newcastle. Of the 680 GPs who live in the Hunter region, it is true that 12 do not bulk-bill at all—eight part-time and four full-time GPs. The rest bulk-bill some or all patients.
Opposition members interjecting—
Dr WOOLDRIDGE —Just wait a second, sucker.
Mrs Crosio —That is unparliamentary language.
Mr SPEAKER —The language is acceptable and I think it is rather better than some I have heard in this place.
Dr WOOLDRIDGE —If you look at the doctors in Newcastle who were the subject of the report, there are 220 GPs in Newcastle. Of these, 36 are not in active practice, so there are 184 doctors practising. Of the 184 doctors, 30 per cent bulk-bill everything—30 per cent of all the active doctors in Newcastle bulk-bill 99 or 100 per cent of all their medical services. Of the other doctors, if you look at the overall bulk-billing rate in Newcastle, 77 per cent of all general practice services in the December quarter were bulk-billed. Far from bulk-billing being virtually unobtainable for ordinary families, the fact is that 30 per cent of doctors bulk-bill everything, and 77 per cent of all services are bulk-billed. Out of the 680 doctors in the Hunter, only 12 bulk-bill nothing.
The second point that was made on the Today Tonight show related to the incomes of GPs. Dr Mellows said that `if you look at the average income of GPs, which is reported to be $42,000 a year, you would wonder why people do medicine'. If that were true you would wonder why people would do medicine. I also took out the aggregated figures on incomes for doctors in Newcastle. Some 10 per cent of GPs in Newcastle last year received billings of between $250,000 and $320,000—that is before practice payments of $13,000 to $42,000 a practice, before above schedule fees, before work cover, before medico-legal and before any sessional fees. Far from having an average income of $42,000, general practitioners do rather well. I admit that this is before practice costs, but even after practice costs it is still a very substantial income.
I will make a few points on this. I do not mind people earning a high income. The overwhelming majority of doctors are hard working and they work for their money. I do not blame Today Tonight for being duped by a small number of doctors. But it appears that what has happened in this case is that a handful of GPs in Newcastle have got together, decided to take this action and sought media attention for their plight. If this is true, it may constitute collusive behaviour in breach of section 45 of the Trade Practices Act, and I have decided to refer the matter to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, with a request that it be investigated and, if necessary, that action be taken.
I make a final point. I have some sympathy with general practitioners in that their rebates have not gone up in the last five years as much as for other doctors. This is because of a decision taken in 1993, when the Leader of the Opposition was then Minister for Finance, to half index GP rebates across the forward estimates and in perpetuity. The net effect of this decision has been to take $1.25 per consultation off general practitioner incomes. Far from bleating that you can hardly find a doctor who bulk-bills, the Leader of the Opposition should examine his own motives and realise that it was his decision that has reduced GP incomes by $1.25 per consultation.
Mr SPEAKER —Before I call the Leader of the Opposition, I urge ministers to give shorter answers. The answer was very interesting and very useful but, at the same time, ministerial answers are extraordinarily long and I would suggest that it would be better if you can keep them shorter.