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Monday, 27 September 1999
Page: 8963

Senator CHRIS EVANS (8:06 PM) —I move:

At the end of the motion, add "and that there be laid on the table, before the publication of any Government-funded advertisements on the Lifetime Health Cover scheme, a report by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman (PHIO) on whether the proposed advertisements:

(a) are non-political;

(b) provide a fair account of the rules of Lifetime Health Cover;

(c) include any misleading information or fail to include sufficient information;

(d) create an impression that:

(i) people are obliged to take out private health insurance, or

(ii) access to the public hospital system through Medicare will be reduced in any way; and

(e) are consistent with the Guide to the Trade Practices Act for the promotion of private health insurance , published by the ACC and PHIO in April 1998".

This amendment deals with the question of the advertising campaign to be conducted by the government in support of this measure—a campaign which, I understand, has been driving the urgency in relation to this bill. The opposition is moving the amendment to require that the proposed $10 million government advertising campaign be vetted in advance by the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. It will be judged against a fair set of criteria, including the guidelines for advertising private health insurance developed by the ACCC and the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman. These guidelines are very specific and quite fair. They are binding on the industry, and it is only reasonable that they should be binding on the funds. Last time we had a great many problems as the government was found to have used potentially misleading advertisements in support of the 30 per cent rebate. I understand that the Democrats will not support this measure either, which I am disappointed about, given their track record on these sorts of issues.

We believe the government has a long track record of using public funds to promote its political interests. The use of this $10 million of taxpayers' money to promote the health policies or, should I say, the preoccupations of the government would be a travesty of the Westminster system. If the government has nothing to hide, then it should not resist the opposition's amendment. If it plans a truthful and non-political campaign, then it should have no difficulty passing scrutiny against these criteria. We will only know when the advertisements are released. But if we do not have this sort of measure, then taxpayers' funds are wasted and we are dealing with the aftermath rather than taking positive steps to make sure we get a properly conducted, accountable, non-political campaign. As I say, given the government's track record, the opposition believes such an amendment is a necessity.