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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1760


Mr DUTTON (5:43 PM) —I thank the minister for his contribution. It is the case that there has been consultation between the shadow minister’s office and the Minister for Health and Ageing’s office on these issues over a period of time. The coalition support proper measures being put in place to investigate and to enforce the law as it pertains to doctors. That is not in dispute. As I understand the minister’s contribution and the way in which the amendment is put, the coalition, on that understanding, have no issue with that. But we certainly do have an issue with the government’s recalcitrance in relation to the amendments which have been moved by the coalition on behalf of those Australians who need cataract surgery and whom this government robbed of hundreds of dollars for their own political purposes. That is why we opposed this government’s harsh cut to the rebate and we facilitated on behalf of those patients discussions between the government and the ophthalmologists so that we could arrive at a better outcome.

It was regrettable that the government forced the coalition into a position where we needed to put amendments to this Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2009, and our stance has not changed in relation to these amendments. We do believe, like the Senate, that the government should be supporting the coalition. Of course, that will not be the case, because this is an ideological attack that is present not just in this debate but in so many that the government is conducting at the moment. We will continue to deal with this matter both in this House and in the other place. We will be insisting on a certain course in the other place. We do not seek to frustrate the intent of what this bill is trying to deliver, but it is important that the minister’s actions not be repeated.

There is no guarantee that the minister could not again move unilaterally, post this change, in relation to the item number and in relation to the rebate that was the subject of debate on the issue of cataract surgery. That has been the consistent position of the coalition and it will remain so. We believed, like the crossbench senators, that it was completely unjustifiable for the government to announce a 50 per cent cut to the Medicare rebate in relation to cataract surgery. It was the case through the course of a number of months that the government were unable to substantiate any reason as to why they had invoked that cut, and in the end they negotiated an outcome with the ophthalmologists which was a cut of just over 10 per cent.

The real issue now for patients, particularly for older Australians, who have had cataract surgery is that those people have paid out-of-pocket expenses that they should not have had to. The minister has had the opportunity to put in place a regime which would compensate those patients, many of whom are on lower incomes, most of whom are of an older age and need that support but have been denied it by this government. That is why the coalition will continue to stand up for older Australians who require cataract surgery. It is why we were able to arrive at a better outcome. It is why we had to attach these amendments to this bill, and it is why we will continue to insist on the course that we have in relation to this debate in the past months.