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- Start of Business
- QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- DISTINGUISHED VISITORS
QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
Goods and Services Tax: Banking Fees and Charges
(Crean, Simon, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
(Brough, Mal, MP, Reith, Peter, MP)
Banking Fees and Charges
(Crean, Simon, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Private Health Insurance: Rebate
(Vale, Danna, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Private Health Insurance: Dental Services
(Macklin, Jenny, MP, Wooldridge, Dr Michael, MP)
Superannuation: Defence Forces
(Snowdon, Warren, MP, Moore, John, MP)
(Washer, Mal, MP, Ruddock, Philip, MP)
(Andren, Peter, MP, Howard, John, MP)
Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation
(Nugent, Peter, MP, Downer, Alexander, MP)
Taxation Reform: Averaging
(O'Connor, Gavan, MP, Vaile, Mark, MP)
Logging and Woodchipping
(Causley, Ian, MP, Tuckey, Wilson, MP)
Taxation Reform: Mining Industry
(Evans, Martyn, MP, Moore, John, MP)
Goods and Services Tax: Farm Exports
(Lieberman, Lou, MP, Costello, Peter, MP)
- Goods and Services Tax: Banking Fees and Charges
- AUDITOR-GENERAL'S REPORTS
- ANSWERS TO QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE
- MATTERS OF PUBLIC IMPORTANCE
- MAIN COMMITTEE
- MATTERS REFERRED TO MAIN COMMITTEE
- TARIFF PROPOSALS
- GOVERNOR-GENERAL'S SPEECH
- PRIVATE HEALTH INSURANCE INCENTIVES BILL 1998
- Delfram Docking Anniversary
- Internet: Small Business
- Superannuation: Military Benefits Superannuation and Benefits Scheme
- Economy: Government Policy
Member for Bowman
- Beaudesert Shire: Pioneers
- Native Title
Tuesday, 24 November 1998
Mr HARDGRAVE (8:09 PM) —The member for Fremantle was the failed health minister in the failing and dying days of the Hawke-Keating era here in Australia. It seems to me that she has proved again in her contribution tonight on the Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 1998 exactly why `failure' was writ large as far as that particular era in Australia's political history is concerned.
The member for Fremantle might be well reminded that there are 59,229 constituents in her own electorate who have private health insurance, yet tonight she is prepared to argue that over 80 per cent of her constituents have got it wrong. If the member for Fremantle had stayed to listen to this coherent argument that I am putting here tonight, she would have learned that the proposed 30 per cent rebate that this government is offering to people in her electorate and all across Australia would be of huge benefit to individuals and her electorate as a whole.
In fact, it is worth noting that her margin of 7,737 votes is considerably smaller than the 59,229 constituents who have private health insurance in the electorate of Fremantle. It strikes me as fairly typical, quite frankly, of that member and her party that they would turn away from their constituents and the fact that their constituents have voted with their feet on the issue of private health insurance. It is a complete betrayal of the interests of her constituents. Quite frankly, it is a complete betrayal of the interests of so many Australians who bother to do something about helping themselves and helping this nation meet the cost of health.
Private health insurance is not the domain of rich people. I do not think the member for Fremantle, for instance, would say that her electorate is your typical leafy suburb, rich electorate, yet a great majority of her constituents have taken out private health insurance. Perhaps they themselves have voted on her performance as the health minister in the previous Keating government and her effect on public health in this country by taking out private health insurance in such heavy numbers.
It is worth noting that the private hospital sector in this country plays a strong complementary role to public hospitals, that you need both systems working well. There are current ly 1.7 million separations, representing one-third of the total Australian hospital separations each year, and they count for half of all surgical separations. That is the private hospital sector. If the decline in private health cover continues—the one the previous government did nothing about but the one this government has a comprehensive and coherent plan about—governments will have to provide an additional 25,000 hospital beds in the public system. In dollar terms, that is about $3 billion a year. So much for the nonsense from the member for Fremantle.
She says that money would be better spent on the public system, but in saying that she is turning her back on those who are willing to make a contribution, if you like, just as those who send their children off to the poorest of Catholic parish schools are making a contribution, subsidising those who use the public system of education. People who use the private system of health are subsidising the public system to a great extent in this nation. They need to be encouraged, not discouraged.
The AMA have surveyed on the question and they found that, on the question of, `I would definitely take out private health insurance if the cost was 30 per cent cheaper,' one-third of the uninsured population—which equates to about 23 per cent of the total population—strongly agree with the statement. If intentions were translated into action, private health insurance coverage in this country would rise in response to this rebate that we are debating tonight from the current 30.6 per cent to around 54 per cent. I think I may have euthanased the member for Fremantle's argument here tonight.
I have 32,659 reasons to support this bill, and I know that that number will grow. Each of those reasons is a constituent in my electorate who subscribes to private health insurance—that is 39 per cent of the people in my electorate, and we will make it up over 50 per cent, I am sure, as a result of this rebate. I have letters coming into my office daily, weekly and monthly begging for government assistance, government signs, on the question of private health insurance. Those letters are not coming from the well-to-do; they are coming mainly from those older Australians who have had that sense of responsibility that this government is trying to reignite and encourage—older Australians, pensioners, self-funded retirees, people who want the dignity of being able to have a say in their choice of doctor and hospital.
To prove my point even more, 13,492 people in my electorate receive the incentive payment under the current scheme, and that is 15 per cent of my electorate. Yet this morning the member for Jagajaga suggested that private health insurance is for the rich. What does the member for Jagajaga suspect is rich? According to her interview on Melbourne's 3AW this morning, in answer to Neil Mitchell's question, `What is a high income?' she said, `Over $70,000 per family, per year.'
I remind the House that the average weekly earnings for a male in this country is $40,747 per annum. The average weekly earnings for a female is $34,002 per annum. If you add that all together—and that seems awfully like $75,000 or thereabouts in a two-income household, in a male-female spouse two-income household—by definition of the member for Jagajaga, representing the Australian Labor Party, that is a rich household. Average weekly earners are now rich, according to the Australian Labor Party. This certainly goes to prove just how out of touch they are.
I want to reflect on the benefits that will come not just to my own electorate but also to those electorates adjacent to mine. The member for Brisbane might be well reminded that when he votes on this particular piece of legislation he will be voting against 33 per cent of his electorate: 28,273 people in the electorate of Brisbane have private health insurance. The member for Griffith might also be reminded that he too will be voting against 39 per cent of his electorate: 33,409 people in Griffith have private health insurance. The member for Rankin also might be reminded about 28 per cent of his electorate: that is, 21,439 people.
Those electorates are all adjacent to my electorate of Moreton. It just goes to show that across the southern suburbs of Brisbane a lot of people are going to benefit, and a lot more people are going to take up the government's offer of a rebate of 30 per cent if they bother to help themselves—and help the nation, as a result—with regard to private health insurance.
In fact, the Prime Minister rightly pointed out in question time yesterday that no fewer than 700,000 Australians earning less than $20,000 a year have private health insurance. The notion which the member for Jagajaga and those opposite are suggesting, that health insurance is a millionaire's lot, is absolute nonsense. I support 100 per cent—not 30 per cent, but 100 per cent—the words of the Prime Minister yesterday, when he said:
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—
even more so when you consider that, if you erode the prospects of private health insurance, you are going to put greater pressure on the public system. The Australian Labor Party are trying to say in their counterargument to this proposition—that has been resoundingly supported in my electorate and right across this country in the most recent election—`Go and stand in a queue.' They want you to go and stand in a queue, and they are prepared to make that queue longer by retarding the effective work of the private hospital system.
I know self-funded retirees in my electorate and I have in the past called them the new poor, because they had had a pretty dreadful time until this government came on the scene and started to give them so much of the dignity that they deserved, by its treatment of access to pharmaceuticals, tax benefits and other such things that the Australian Labor Party had ignored for 13 years. The Association of Independent Retirees has endorsed the 30 per cent rebate that this government has put forward.
The association's national president, Maureen Kingston OAM, has called on the Senate non-government parties to pass the rebate without delay. This is meant to start in a little over a month's time yet here we have those opposite doing everything they can to slow it down—not for any better policy outcomes criteria, just simply rude, horrible politics. Isn't that pathetic. In fact, Maureen Kingston has said more than 800,000 people over 65, many of them self-funded retirees, are privately insured.
I know the Brisbane South branch of the Association of Independent Retirees meets at QEII stadium each month. They are a fine bunch of Australians who have done their best to provide for their retirement years. One of the things they keep raising with me is the question of private health insurance. They have been dogmatic in their approach in demanding that something constructive be done about encouraging those who are in the system to stay in the system. But, while the government is willing to do something about it, those opposite are not. I think that is very sad, but then again it is something we on this side of the House have become very used to.
The health insurance industry has looked very closely at what the government's 30 per cent rebate will mean as far as the cost of private health insurance is concerned. The good news is that the retail cost of private health insurance, as far as the effect on each subscriber is concerned, will go back to 1985-86 levels. This is turning the actual cost of private health insurance back a good dozen or more years in terms of total cost—in fact, it is undoing so much of the increased cost effect of the previous government's policy.
Russell Schneider from the insurance industry said that in 1985-86 the average cost per contributor was 2.7 per cent of average weekly earnings, as compared with 3.8 per cent today. With a rebate in place, the average cost will fall to 2.6 per cent of average weekly earnings. That is terrific news for people in my electorate of Moreton. It is important that those opposite understand that the more they maintain this negativity, the more they reconfirm in people's minds all the reasons why they rejected the Australian Labor Party so resoundingly at the most recent election.
Labor's ideological hatred of the private health insurance question and the private health insurance sector is illogical. It is stupid and also destructive, because we need both the private and the public sector working hand in hand, with the private sector taking the pressure off the public sector and the public sector being there for those who really need it, those who cannot afford private health insurance no matter what their income. It is worth reflecting upon the fact that if I were to do a straw poll of those opposite and ask them to put their hand up to nominate if they had private health insurance, none would be game to—and you would start to wonder why.
I acknowledge that the Leader of the Opposition has put his hand up. I think that is tremendous, sir, that you have; and I would invite you to show some leadership and get your party to pass the proposition before us tonight. I look forward to a rethink. Obviously, if the Leader of the Opposition had heard my earlier comments about the electorate of Fremantle, a seat that his father held for so many years after the Second World War, he would have noted that 59,000 plus people in that particular electorate hold private health insurance.
It is worth noting the words of Graham Richardson, a man who has shown that he is not afraid to tell it like it is and get away with it. He has been a long critic of the Australian Labor Party's attitude to private health insurance. He reflected on the fact that Mr Keating, the previous Prime Minister, did not like aspects of the package and did not pay private health insurance. He did not seem to like very much the idea of the Medicare levy surcharge. As Graham Richardson also said on 2GB just a couple of days ago:
I think part of the problem is that ideology gets in the road and it does on issues that have anything to do with Medicare. The Labor Party sometimes doesn't act too sensibly.
Further, former Senator Richardson said:
I wish Labor would stop this silly notion that it doesn't matter if private health care collapses, because I tell you what, we are within five years of a complete collapse of private health care, a complete collapse.
That is what those opposite are presiding over. I think it is more than a little passing strange that the Leader of the Opposition will insure his family and himself—and quite rightly so—yet will not show the sort of leadership this nation and people in my electorate desperately need on the question of private health insurance and rein in some of the matters that have been brought up by his colleagues on the front bench. The member for Jagajaga, the shadow health minister, in a 1991 report entitled Health services in Australia published by the National Health Strategy which she chaired, said:
Increased funding to public hospitals is also likely to lead to a change in the equilibrium between public hospitals, private hospitals and private health insurance without necessarily achieving the level of impact intended. If increased funding to public hospitals reduces the perceived pressure on public hospitals . . . it is likely private health insurance will drop. This could result in increased demand for public hospitals and reduce revenue from private patients. The result may be a return to the situation that existed prior to the provision of extra resources.
I guess that the member for Jagajaga can say one thing in 1991 and offer something else in 1998. That tends to be the lot of those opposite—do one thing, prescribe one thing, in government, but when in opposition just go for the big spoil and the big political game playing.
It is, I think, outrageous and quite ignorant of the truth of the matter. People in my electorate of Moreton, for instance, want this government's proposal on private health insurance passed without delay. They want to know that in a little over five weeks from now they will be able to subscribe to private health insurance in the full knowledge that they have access to government assistance in the form of a rebate. They want to know that the government is going to encourage them to provide something towards the cost of health insurance, of the cost of health. They want to know that those who are prepared to put some money down on the table to provide something for themselves, to seek some freedom of choice—choice of doctor, choice of hospital, choice of service—are in fact going to be encouraged and rewarded by this government rather than retarded in every which way, which is, it seems, the plan, the proposal, of those opposite.
It disturbs me as we come to the end of the 20th century, as we face the next millennium, that we are having this sort of ideological class based political debate being thrown at us by those opposite. I think it is incredibly sad that those opposite choose to paint those who have shown responsibility, who have offered themselves as contributors towards the total health care costs in this country, as being the rich. Those who are on average weekly wages, those who are a two-income, average weekly wage household, are by definition of the member for Jagajaga `rich'. They are the households earning over $70,000; they are rich, according to the member for Jagajaga.
Those people opposite are turning their back on reality. Those people opposite are turning their back on people in my electorate. Those people opposite are turning their back on people in their own electorates on the question of this private health insurance rebate. We always know that those opposite are prepared to oppose, but people in Australia tonight are wondering very clearly what it is the Australian Labor Party really stands for, apart from the big negative.