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Wednesday, 3 December 2003
Page: 23619

Mrs DRAPER (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister advise the House why the government is committed to MedicarePlus safety net, and how would the safety net benefit struggling families? Are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Makin for her question, and I acknowledge all her hard work as chairwoman of the coalition committee on health and ageing. I regret to tell the member for Makin that there is, unfortunately, a very significant gap in the existing Medicare system, and that is why the brand new MedicarePlus safety net is so necessary and so important to help the struggling families of Australia. Last year there were some 50,000 concession card holders who faced out of hospital out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding $500. Last year there were 30,000 Australian families who faced out of hospital out-of-pocket medical expenses exceeding $1,000. These people deserve a safety net and they deserve a safety net now.

Unless the Labor Party has somehow devised a way of guaranteeing universal bulk-billing for everyone for all services at all times, these families are going to be left in the lurch. Labor's policy is to promote the illusion, the cruel illusion, of universal bulk-billing while denying the reality of a strong and effective safety net. Labor's policy is bulk-billing for Kerry Packer, but no safety net for the battlers of Western Sydney.

The member for Werriwa said yesterday that he wanted to make a fresh start, that he wanted to end the negativity which has characterised seven years of Labor opposition. Today he said that he thought we should all read stories to our children. Let me read something to the member for Werriwa. It was something he said in this parliament. He said:

... the role of government is simple and twofold: first, to maximise choice ... and, second, to establish an efficient system of safety net provision ... to assist socioeconomically disadvantaged families ...

Here is another statement from the member for Werriwa in this parliament: let me read it to him, as he reads to his kids every night. He said:

The methodology of good health reform is to get effective public safety net provisions in place—

That is exactly what this government is doing. This is the member for Werriwa's chance to prove that he is not just a pseudo-intellectual smart alec and an intellectual show-off, to prove that at least some of the words he said yesterday were truly meant and to pass this right and necessary and urgent safety net legislation.