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Thursday, 26 March 1998
Page: 1747

Mr LEE (5:04 PM) —These particular amendments before the House at the moment seek to give the government the flexibility to negotiate basically a one-year agreement or to allow the government to continue to pay the states funding for public hospitals for one year. We have a number of questions about this matter. I am sure that the parliamentary secretary at the table, the honourable member for Mitchell (Mr Cadman), has a detailed knowledge of these issues, especially considering the quality of the experts that are in the advisers box at the moment. So I am sure he can answer these detailed questions.

We would like to know whether the government has received any legal advice on whether these amendments provide the same level of protection as would be the case if the five-year Medicare agreements had been concluded with the states. In particular, we would like to know whether there is an equal amount of reassurance for the patients of Australia that they will not have a state government or territory government introduce new charges or fees if they are treated in public hospitals. There is a lot of scuttlebutt in this building that, if Mr Kennett and the other premiers and territory ministers do not sign agreements with this government and you end up going down the route proposed in these amendments, this is a second-best option; that this will not provide the same level of protection as the five-year Medicare agreements.

Firstly, is that the case? Will there be the same level of protection? Secondly, does the government have legal advice seeking to confirm that there will be the same amount of protection for patients and that they will not be slugged with new fees and charges? Because at the end of the day these agreements are about making sure that public patients are not charged for treatment in public hospitals. One of the essential elements of Medicare is that every Australian should have reasonable access to a public hospital in a reasonable amount of time. We would like to know before this debate finishes whether the government can give us the answers to those two questions. Will there be the same amount of protection? Does the government have legal advice to justify such a reassurance? And will they make a copy available to the opposition?

Mr Cadman —I will endeavour to answer by the end of the day.