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Wednesday, 26 May 2004
Page: 29160

Mr NEVILLE (2:46 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister update the House on how the government is strengthening Medicare? How is the government ensuring that Australian families have access to affordable, high-quality health care? Is the minister aware of any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Leader of the House) —I thank the member for Hinkler for his question. Members opposite like to pose as the champions of Medicare, but, on the evidence, this government—the Howard government—is the best friend that Medicare has ever had. In the coming year, this federal government—the Howard government—is going to spend $41 billion on health. Since 1996, health spending as a percentage of the federal budget has increased from under 15 per cent to over 20 per cent. Since 1996, federal health spending has increased from 3.7 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product to 4.3 per cent of Australia's gross domestic product. What MedicarePlus means is an extra $4 billion for health over the next five years. It means more doctors and nurses. It means more incentives for bulk-billing. It means more convenience for patients. Above all else, it means a brand new safety net to help those Australians who are most in need of support.

This government is delivering on its commitments. There are 231 suitably qualified, overseas trained doctors who have been issued visas since December. There are 430 new practice nurses who have been employed since February. The national bulk-billing rate increased in the last quarter. More than 200,000 Australians are already benefiting from the new Medicare safety net, and more than $7½ million has already been spent on providing higher Medicare rebates to them. In the course of a full year, more than a million Australians will benefit from the new safety net, to the tune of nearly $150 million every year.

What is the Labor Party's policy? The Labor Party's policy is the great health rip-off. They are going to scrap the new Medicare safety net. They are going to take away benefits from the sickest and the most vulnerable people in our community. Members opposite like to pretend that they are going to spend more money than this government on health. That is an entirely bogus claim—a completely fraudulent claim. On 14 March, the member for Lalor told the Meet the Press program:

We won't be operating this sham safety net arrangement.

On 31 March, in an official statement, the Labor Party announced that it would cut $324 million out of the government's Medicare spending. The only party in this parliament that has any plans at all to cut any health spending is the Australian Labor Party. The message is now sinking in for millions of Australians: a Labor government means higher health costs for you. That is what a Labor government will mean: higher health costs, because they will rip the guts out of the private health insurance rebate and now they will scrap the new Medicare safety net.