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Tuesday, 17 June 2003
Page: 11654


Senator BARNETT (3:08 PM) —I stand to respond to this motion to take note of answers, and I refute categorically and in total the words and allegations thrown at a member of the House of Representatives, the federal member for Parramatta, Mr Ross Cameron, who is a decent, honest, hardworking and very effective member of this government. Not only that, I believe that some of Senator Hutchins's words were unparliamentary, Mr Deputy President, particularly the word `scrounger'. I did not take a point of order at the time because I knew I would have the opportunity to respond. I think the words were totally inappropriate and I think an apology should be offered to the member for Parramatta, Ross Cameron.

Senator Hutchins, you highlighted the fact that, of his own free will, Mr Cameron paid that one-year HECS fee. He did that because of his own views that it would be in the best interests of this nation and in the public interest, so I commend him for that. He is a man who stands up for an incentive approach and smaller government and lower taxes, unlike those on the other side. In fact, Senator Hutchins is acting like a wounded bull this afternoon because he clearly backed the wrong horse yesterday, and that has shown up in his salacious allegations against the Hon. Ross Cameron, the federal member for Parramatta.

If you truly believe the wild allegations made by the Labor Party and some in the media with respect to this government's position on bulk-billing, you will think that we have actually cut funding to Medicare. What nonsense. Those opposite know it is nonsense because it is on the record that the proposal is for a $917 million injection into bulk-billing and Medicare and to ensure there are more GPs in rural and regional Australia. That is the condemnation that will be on their own heads. It is totally inappropriate to say these things when they know the facts. I say `res ipsa loquitur'—the facts speak for themselves: a proposal to increase funding by nearly a billion dollars. But according to the Labor Party and those others opposite who oppose this proposal we are cutting or slashing funding to Medicare and bulk-billing.

With respect to the Medicare rebate, let us have a look at the record since 1996 and then at the record under Labor. Under the coalition government, the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation has increased by $4.20, or 20 per cent. But what about under Labor? In the last six years of the Labor government the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation rose by only $1.70, or less than nine per cent. Those on the other side were talking about hypocrisy; they should take some of that medicine. We stand on our record of a 20 per cent increase compared with Labor's nine per cent.

Remember that in Australia today seven out of 10 services to the GP are still bulk-billed. All Australians visit their GPs, to the tune of almost $2.8 billion last calendar year. I want to highlight the fact that we are trying to get GP and medical services into rural and regional areas. Under this package, in places like Ross, Oatlands, Queenstown and St Helens, in Tasmania, we are giving $22,000 extra every year to those GPs who sign up. That is vital for those rural and regional areas to ensure that those health services are provided. Why won't Labor support it? In towns like Launceston, Burnie and Devonport $18,500 is being provided to those GPs who sign up. Come on, let's get real; let's get support for this package. With respect to increasing the number of doctors, 234 new medical places have just been announced. I congratulate Senator Kay Patterson, the Minister for Health and Ageing, on that announcement. It is good news for Tasmania. We have an extra 21 places, bringing the total up to 83 new medical places at the University of Tasmania.

I spoke to Professor Allan Carmichael only last week about it. How pleased are they? They are very pleased with this initiative and the new medical places at the University of Tasmania. Of course, Western Australian and Queensland universities are falling over themselves with delight because of the new services being offered in those states. (Time expired).