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Monday, 16 February 2004
Page: 24762


Mr LATHAM (2:17 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to the latest bulk-billing figures, showing a further decline in the national rate to 66½ per cent. Is this not further evidence of the need to adopt Labor's policy to restore the bulk-billing rate to 80 per cent by increasing the rebate for all bulk-billed consultations, bonus payments for doctors who reach bulk-billing targets and the introduction of Medicare teams? If the Prime Minister can adopt Labor's policy in one area, why not for bulk-billing and our campaign to save Medicare?


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —Far from those figures validating the proposition advanced by the Leader of the Opposition, they actually validate and reinforce the urgent need for the Senate to pass the MedicarePlus safety net. Every day that the opposition delays the passage of the safety net, more and more Australians are disadvantaged. I thank the Leader of the Opposition very much for this question, because he knows, and anybody who understands the medical system in this country knows, that no government can guarantee a particular level of bulk-billing. When the Leader of the Opposition runs around the country disingenuously trying to induce people to believe that, if there were a change of government, you could guarantee a particular level of bulk-billing, he knows that that is wrong.

Even if you had a higher level of bulk-billing for GPs, there would still be many MBS services—such as specialist consultations, tissue biopsies, radiology and a whole long list of services—where out-of-pocket expenses being incurred by Australians would be covered by the safety net. As I said to the Leader of the Opposition last week, the opposition of his party to this measure is a classic example of what I call `dog in the manger' politics. It is perfectly open to the Labor Party to support this measure without inhibiting their capacity, if they were to win the next election, to introduce their own policy, because there is no conflict between what Labor are offering in this area and the introduction of the MedicarePlus safety net. The only reason Labor are against this is because it has been put up by the Howard government. That is the reason, and that, of course, is why they are against the free trade agreement. So, far from the Leader of the Opposition inviting me to adopt Labor's policy, I would invite him to put the national interest ahead of dog in the manger politics and pass the MedicarePlus safety net.