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Tuesday, 22 June 2004
Page: 31047

Mrs DRAPER (2:49 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House of a new report detailing the strength of Australia's existing health system? Is the minister aware of any proposals to radically change the Australian health system? Who is the principal author? What is the government's response?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I do thank the member for Makin for her question—it is a very important question—and for her total commitment to the Medicare system, a commitment which is shared by every single member on this side of the parliament. I can inform the House that today I launched Health 2004. It is Australia's national health report card, which is produced by the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare. It showed good news: Australia's life expectancy is high and rising, our death rates from diseases such as cancer and heart disease are falling, our smoking rate is falling, suicide rates are falling, the vaccination rate is rising and our health work force is growing. This is all good news, and it testifies to the fact that our system, while not perfect, is as good as any health system in the world. With results like that, why would anyone want to mess with Medicare? Who would want to mess with Medicare? I can tell you who wants to mess with Medicare. It is the member for Lalor.

Ms Gillard —You know this is not true.

Mr ABBOTT —She is so used to the rhetoric of crisis that she has become completely blind to the strengths of our existing system.

The SPEAKER —The member for Lalor is a persistent interjector. She has an obligation to sit and listen to what is said, just as people have an obligation to hear her. She is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —The member for Lalor's problem is that she has become so used to the exaggerated rhetoric of crisis that she is completely blind to the strengths of our existing Medicare system, particularly those parts of the system for which the federal government has sole responsibility. When I pointed out yesterday that what the member for Lalor wants to do is to reform Medicare as we know it out of existence and replace it with something more like the UK National Health Service, she got very indignant and took a personal explanation, and she is going to take another one now. To pre-empt it, let me read from the National Press Club speech that the member for Lalor tabled yesterday.

The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —The member for Lalor says she does not support pooled funding. Let me read from her speech to the National Press Club. She says:

... clearly the central idea of the Medicare Alliance—pooled funds to end cost shifting—remains as relevant today as when it was first publicly discussed in July 2000.

But in a speech to the Australian Medical Association of Tasmania just last month, she went much further. She said:

The principal characteristic of a unified national health system is that existing Commonwealth health monies—

listen to this—

(Medicare and PBS, payments to nursing homes, and Health Care Agreement) are combined with existing State and Territory health monies ... and the combined pool ... is then applied to the population's health needs.

She could hardly have been more clear. What the member for Lalor wants to do is to create a $60 billion bureaucratic behemoth that would be accountable to no-one and elected by no-one. Under Labor's brave new world of health care, the three biggest dinosaurs would be the Russian army, the Indian railways and the Australian national health commission. That is what they want to create. Let me put a very clear challenge to the member for Lalor: if she does not believe in pooled health funding, why on earth did she talk about it—and not once, not twice, but repeatedly—over the last six months; and if she does believe in pooled health funding, what on earth does she really mean?