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Monday, 18 August 2003
Page: 18690

Mr MARTIN FERGUSON (1:52 PM) —The people in my electorate of Batman will not cop the government's plans to destroy Medicare. They have seen through the Howard government's so-called Medicare reform agenda as the privatisation by stealth of the public health system in Australia—and that is what it is. More than 250 local residents turned out for a public forum, conducted by me in association with local groups, that overwhelmingly rejected the Prime Minister's plans to kill off Medicare. Those 250 people were from all walks of life and many different backgrounds, but they have one thing in common: they will not stand idly by and watch the Howard government destroy Medicare.

For their assistance and support in organising this partisan and broad ranging forum, I would like to thank Darebin council and in particular the Mayor, Peter Stephenson, and his staff. More importantly, my thanks go to the 5,216 people who have so far signed the petition in my electorate. They have put their names to the campaign to save Medicare and they are committed to the ongoing campaign. Those people made their position clear. They overwhelmingly reject the Prime Minister's plan to end bulk-billing and call on the parliament to ensure that all Australians have access to the health care system they need and deserve.

On the question of health care, I also want to clearly point out to the House that I totally reject—on behalf of a number of people who have raised it with me—the Treasurer's flippant remarks in question time last week about schizophrenia. He should learn that anyone who suffers from this particular mental health condition suffers badly and he should apologise to the House. I table the petition.

The petition read as follows—

To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives assembled in parliament:

The petition of certain citizens of Australia draws to the attention of the House:

That under proposed changes to Medicare, families earning more than $32,300 a year will miss out on bulk billing, and doctors will increase their fees for visits that are no longer bulk billed;

That the rate of bulk billing by GPs has plummeted by 11 % under John Howard;

That's more than 10 million fewer GP visits were bulk billed this year compared to when John Howard came to office;

That the average out-of-pocket cost to see a GP who does not bulk bill has gone up by 55% since 1996 to $12.78 today;

That public hospitals are now under greater pressure because people are finding it harder to see bulk billing doctors.

We therefore pray that the House takes urgent steps to restore bulk billing by general practitioners and reject John Howard's plan to end universal bulk billing so all Australians have access to the health care they need and deserve.

The SPEAKER —I must say that that was a skin-of-the-teeth exercise in terms of the tabling, but I will recognise the member for Batman's call.