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Monday, 24 March 2003
Page: 13340

Mr GRIFFIN (5:33 PM) —I will take the last remaining minutes of the grievance debate in the House today to grieve about the state of health care policy in this country and particularly about what has been shown to be the agenda of the Howard government in recent times with respect to the health of this nation. We all know from last year's budget measures that, having been told prior to the election that the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme was not a problem in terms of being a growing expenditure cost to the government, all of a sudden after the election we found out that it was a huge problem. This government then came forward with quite draconian measures to increase the cost on ordinary Australian families. We saw part of their agenda with that measure.

In more recent times we have seen what this government now has planned for the Medicare system: effectively, to move towards dismantling what Australians understand to be the Medicare system. In particular, I want to mention the issue of bulk-billing. As members would be aware, bulk-billing rates have been plunging across the country since this government has been in power. We know now, from the Minister for Health and Ageing and the Prime Minister, that the commitment to what was bulk-billing has changed. The fact is that this government has now redefined what it was elected on when it comes to providing universality in the health care system. We have seen the minister backtracking at a million miles an hour on what she sees as the commitment in the area of bulk-billing. For example, in an interview with ABC radio earlier this month, the following exchange occurred:

Jon Faine: This is a key issue, Senator Patterson; define low income. In the phrase you just used, you say it is of concern for people on a low income. What's, to you, the acceptable level?

Patterson: Well, I see a ... I have a concern that two people on a similar income, particularly those on a low income, living in two different parts of Australia, one has access to a general practitioner who doesn't charge a gap, and one doesn't. And I feel that's an important issue.

Presenter: But are you saying low income to you means pensioner?

Patterson: Low-income people usually have a Health Care Card.

So we see the basis of it there. There are currently around 1.5 million health care card holders in this country. In those circumstances, we are actually dealing with a small part of the Australian population—but certainly a part of the Australian population that is in need of assistance with their everyday health care needs. The fact of the matter is that, by moving down this track, the government really is changing the nature of what we have all learnt to believe was the Medicare system. But we all know that that has been Prime Minister John Howard's position because, as we know, when he was Leader of the Opposition he said:

Medicare has been an unmitigated disaster. We'll get rid of the bulk-billing system. It's an absolute rort. We will be proposing changes to Medicare which amount to its de facto dismantling ... we'll pull it right apart.

The fact is that we are seeing this government moving down that track right now. (Time expired)

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. D.G.H. Adams)—The time for the grievance debate has expired. The debate is interrupted and I put the question:

That grievances be noted.

Question agreed to.