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Wednesday, 25 June 2003
Page: 12511


Senator MOORE (3:23 PM) —I rise to take note of answers provided by Senator Patterson this afternoon and to engage, yet again, in the all too regular discussion that we have in this chamber on these issues. Again today the Minister for Health and Ageing has said in her responses that people on this side of the house seem to be fixated on bulk-billing. I say again that we are. There is no problem: we do accept that we are fixated on the issue of bulk-billing, we do watch the figures and we do see the way that the figures are reflecting access to medical services across this nation. However, the minister says that, because we seem, and in fact are, fixated on the issue of bulk-billing, that means that we automatically have no interest in and no concern about the genuine issue of access to effective medical care. That is where we have a great disagreement with the position put by the minister. Of course the people on this side of the house have great concern about the issues to do with access to medical care. That is why we are here. We are here to ensure that people in this community have access to medical care.

What seems to be happening all too regularly now in question time is some kind of mythology being created about a competition, a contrast, between the falling bulk-billing figures and people not being interested in effective measures on access to care. It is an argument that cannot be maintained. We heard, in one of the previous speeches, about smoke and mirrors. All I can say is that this is an effective use by the minister of smoke and mirrors. We have to get through it, because we need to assess what is happening with medical care across Australia. It is all too easy, I know, to look at figures, because figures are neat. However, we need to actually look at the figures and fit them together with effective policy. I am disappointed—and I share the disappointment that was expressed by Senator Humphries earlier—in her lack of awareness of any policies. In fact, the Labor Party has presented policies. It has presented policy in this house and we have actually put it out. Again, it is this mythology that we do not have any effective counterarguments.

The theme of the minister's response today to a couple of questions was that we could not understand the issue to do with the need to create more doctors. We have had that over weeks and weeks of discussion in this place. It is a key part of our policy to ensure that we have effective medical training, and not just in the large capital cities. We acknowledge that the programs being provided are being provided for more rural services, for medical practitioners, into the future. However, we are again being divided, as though there is some kind of contest between rural and regional Australia and people who are living in the cities. I draw to the attention of people who are listening to this discussion that it is not just in areas that are defined as rural and regional Australia that there are plummeting—I do not usually use that word but I will today—figures on bulk-billing. As I have said before, where I live in Brisbane the figures have dropped by significant amounts. We are being encouraged to divide the community.

There is seemingly a strategy that, instead of looking at a collective approach, instead of looking at genuine policy about medical services, we draw some kind of divide. Then the amazing statement is made that nobody on this side of the house cares about people who live in regional or rural Australia. What a ridiculous comment. Then, to fulfil that, the statement is made that no-one that we represent lives in those parts of the world. That is not true. It is an attempt, yet again, to divide—the smoke and mirrors trick to take our eyes off the real issue. The issue is effective, affordable health care in our country. The minister said that something could not be worth tuppence in an argument. We are saying that an effective medical service is worth much more than that. At the moment, our figures show that it costs much more than tuppence to go and see a doctor who does not bulk-bill—in fact, growth across the country of over 55 per cent to about $13 on top of your rebate to see a medical practitioner. That is not in any particular part of country but everywhere. And, Minister, that is not tuppence.

Question agreed to.