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Wednesday, 24 September 2008
Page: 8429

Mr DUTTON (2:30 PM) —My question goes to the Minister for Health and Ageing and follows her previous comment. Given the government’s revised Medicare levy surcharge thresholds, will the minister inform the House how much private health insurance premiums will increase as a result of these changes? How many people—in particular, how many of the 360,000 older Australians with private health insurance earning less than $30,000 a year—are now expected to drop out of private health insurance and move into the public health system?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I am particularly pleased to answer this question, and I congratulate the member on his new position. I have to draw the line at being asked a question of great concern for our public hospital system. If I recall correctly—maybe people on this side of the House will be able to help me here: which government was it that pulled a billion dollars out of our public hospital system? It was the opposition. And which government—

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, on relevance: a past minister who told the parliament the truth is entitled to a detailed answer. But I bet she hasn’t got it; it is just more pensioner-bashing!

The SPEAKER —The member for O’Connor will leave the chamber for one hour under standing order 94(a).

The member for O’Connor then left the chamber.

Ms ROXON —As I was asking: which government is it that in the first nine months of coming to office has put an extra billion dollars into our public hospital system, $600 million into elective surgery and millions of dollars into nursing—all issues ignored by the previous government? What I am sure the new shadow minister is aware of is that private health insurers do make requests to government to increase their premiums each year. That premium round is due at the end of the year. They start putting in their submissions to PHIAC and others, the actuarial studies are done and, by February or so, we will be asked to approve those premium increases. I have made it absolutely clear that I will take a very dim view of any insurers who think that adjusting—

Mr Hockey interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The minister is answering the question.

Ms ROXON —I am trying to answer the question. I am not particularly being provided with the opportunity by those opposite. We know that, when it comes to private health insurance and investment in our public hospitals, those opposite always want to go for the cheap line. They never want to look at the actual statistics. They never want to look at the actual detail. They do not care about the working families who would get tax relief through this measure. They do not want to have an explanation of the premium round increases.

Mr Dutton —How much will they rise by? Answer the question!

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson has asked the question. The minister has the call.

Ms ROXON —If the shadow minister—

Mr Dutton —Answer the question!

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson is warned!

Ms ROXON —I wonder whether, if I speak slowly enough, he will get thrown out. It seems like he is going to approach being the shadow minister as someone who just wants to interrupt and never wants to actually hear the answer to the question. As the shadow minister knows, the premium round will be dealt with in the new year. We have made very clear that we will take a dim view of private health insurance funds who think that a tax whack for working families is an excuse to try to jack up their premiums. We will take a very dim view of that and we have put them on notice of that. But, if we want to look back at the premium rises that occurred under the previous government year after year after year so those who were in private health insurance paid more and more and more, courtesy of premiums always ticked and flicked by the previous government, he can go back and look at those figures.

Of course it would not be appropriate for me to predict what applications private health insurers will make to the government. It is a matter for them. It is a matter for us then to assess. It would not be appropriate for us to try to make some estimate today, as the shadow minister well knows.