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Monday, 23 November 1998
Page: 373

Mr IAN MACFARLANE —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister inform the House of any proposals which will benefit the 20,000 people in my electorate of Groom who are currently covered by the Private Health Insurance Incentive Scheme? Will these proposals also benefit people who are not eligible for the Private Health Insurance Incentive Scheme but who have private health insurance?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I thank the honourable member for Groom for his question. Can I say to him, and can he say to the 20,000 people in the electorate of Groom who currently have private health insurance, that the taxation plan of the coalition government is unambiguously good news for every last one of them. The government's 30 per cent rebate is good news for all Australians. It will make private health insurance more affordable and it will take pressure off the public hospital system. I am told that around 45,000 people in Groom will benefit directly from the government's 30 per cent tax rebate. If this rebate is passed into law by the parliament, it will put $10 million per annum directly into the pockets of the people of Groom.

A very interesting thing about this debate on private health insurance is that it has spawned a new species of elite Australians—you could almost call them `Macklin's millionaires'. You hear people from the other side running around Australia saying that in some way our benefit is beneficial to high income earners. I am advised that no fewer than 700,000 Australians earning less than $20,000 a year have private health insurance. This proposition that everybody who has got private health insurance is a millionaire is absolute nonsense.

There are literally tens of thousands, indeed, hundreds of thousands of Australians, who scrimp and save to give themselves the security of private health insurance. They are entitled to a greater reward than the insult they receive from those who sit opposite. They are entitled to a greater incentive. I want to say to the low income earners of Australia and to the pensioners of Australia that we will help them keep their private health insurance. The enemies of private health insurance are the members of the Australian Labor Party. Those who want to deny the pensioners of Australia and the low income earners of Australia the benefit of private health insurance are the members of the Australian Labor Party.

Our measure is a fair measure. It is a measure which will help not only private health insurance but also the public hospital system. Those who sit opposite will remember, of course, a man by the name of Graham Richardson. Those who sit opposite will know that, whatever it takes, Graham had a few things to say about private health insurance. I will give a mere sort of classy selection of some of the things that he had to say about private health insurance: `On Labor's side, of course, they simply do not want to acknowledge that private health care matters. There is an ideological bent here that says, "Medicare is perfect," which is ridiculous. "Therefore, it cannot be changed," which is also ridiculous. "Therefore, nothing should be done about private health," which is also ridiculous because the one thing they do not want to acknowledge is that private health insurance matters. What they do not want to acknowledge is that as these people are dropping out of private health insurance they are simply queuing up in the public health system to be looked after.'

Now this is the same man who in 1990 said that, `If you allow the critical mass of about 40 per cent of people in private health insurance to be lost, then you run the risk of a threat to the entire system.' He tried to get the Keating government to embrace incentives for private health insurance, and he was rolled by the former Prime Minister. He is still candid enough to say on this issue, `If you really care long-term about private health insurance in Australia, you will make sure that the private health insurance system does not fall over.' That is why we have a rebate system. That is why we are going into bat for the low income earners of Australia. That is why those people ought to be reminded that the real enemies of the low income earners on this issue are the members of the Australian Labor Party.