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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13312


Mr PYNE (3:16 PM) —I move:

That this House:

(1) reaffirms its support for the 30% private health insurance rebate which helps give Australians choice and is financially assisting almost 9 million Australians and their families, including one million Australians who earn less than $20,000 a year;

(2) notes the Labor Party opposed the introduction of the private health insurance rebate and voted against the legislation when its was debated in the House of Representatives and the Senate;

(3) notes that numerous Labor Party members have called for major changes to the rebate; and

(4) calls on the Labor Party to express its support for the 30% private health insurance rebate or urgently release its private health insurance policy.

The private health insurance rebate is a tax cut worth about $700 to $800 a year for Australian families with private health insurance. It is a 30 per cent tax cut on private health insurance premiums. Removing the rebate would amount to a tax increase for nearly nine million Australians. The coalition government support the rebate. It gives Australian health consumers quality, choice, better access and affordability. Our policy has also received a tick from Access Economics in their recent report, Striking a balance: choice, access and affordability in Australian health care.

Labor's position is also crystal clear. Labor have always hated the private health system. They see it through the prism of the class struggle—an idea as outdated as the spinning jenny and the stump-jump plough. Labor's opposition to the private health system is a metaphor for the modern ALP: short-sighted, limited, ridden with contradictions and unable to rise above their class-conscious, determinist history. Labor bitterly opposed the private health insurance rebate in both the House and the Senate. Since the legislation was passed with the support of Independents, Labor's campaign against the rebate has continued. On 6 November 2000, the then Leader of the Opposition said:

My Shadow Health Minister, Jenny Macklin, and I have made clear that Labor will retain the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, with no means test or cap.

But, just as we knew Labor did not support the government's border protection policy, we knew they did not support the rebate. Soon after the election the member for Jagajaga made clear what Labor really thought. The Australian of Monday, 19 February 2001 reported that the member for Jagajaga said:

We've been saying for ages that the private health rebate doesn't take pressure off public hospitals ...

In an article by Maxine McKew in the Bulletin of 12 June 2001, the member for Jagajaga is reported as speculating on how the Labor Party might fund a doctors' $100,000 a year pay claim. McKew writes:

There is an obvious option for the Labor Party. They can get their hands on close to $2 billion by killing off the 30% rebate to those who take out private insurance.

The article continues:

It's no secret Macklin hates the rebate ... After a year or so into office, a defensible backflip could see the rebate scrapped with the revenues redirected to both public hospitals and GPs.

In the Canberra Times of 2 December 2002, the member for Jagajaga, in reference to the debate, is reported as saying:

It's a huge area of expenditure and a lot of people are figuring out that it isn't worth having ...

Indeed, the member for Jagajaga's position on the private health insurance rebate seems to be more aligned with that of the member for Denison, Duncan Kerr, who has called for the `substantial dismemberment' of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. The member for Jagajaga and her Labor lieutenants seem to be softening up the electorate for a policy backflip.

We know that, in addition to scrapping the rebate, other alternatives Labor are considering include means testing the 30 per cent rebate and capping the Commonwealth's expenditure on the rebate. Maybe the member for Canberra will be able to inform us whether or not that is the situation. A capping of the program would be akin to the slow suffocation of the rebate for, although the subsidy would stay, its value and effect would be diminished over time. Also, the compliance costs of such a scheme would surely erode the funds available to Australian private health consumers. We also know that Labor are considering placing a ceiling on individual expenditure on the rebate, which would not need a means test but which would have the effect of costing Australian families as much as $500 a year. Maybe the shadow minister has been told about that suggestion circulating in the ALP right now or maybe she is being left in the dark. Labor's position has nothing to do with what is best for Australians and everything to do with ideology. Labor oppose consumer choice because they do not trust Australians to manage their own affairs.


The SPEAKER —Is the motion seconded?


Mr Anthony Smith —I second the motion and reserve my right to speak.