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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21357

Senator NETTLE (12:00 PM) —I indicate that the Australian Greens will support the amendment put up by the Democrats for review of this legislation. I agree with the comments that Senator Allison made. The 24 hours that commentators in the media have had since this deal was announced has allowed them the opportunity to outline and draw out some of the issues that are part of this package. I know that other senators who have already commented this morning have said that it has also given them the opportunity to look further into the detail. Senator Cherry's contribution about looking at the geographical impacts of this legislation was extremely important. We will support the review of the legislation that is being proposed in this Democrat amendment.

Senator McLucas raised the issue of complexity. This is a very complex deal that has been struck. There are many different layers of safety nets, as Senator Evans mentioned before. There are many different forms that need to be filled in, as Senator McLucas mentioned. The president of the AMA has already made the comment that it is a more complex Medicare system as a result of the deal.

Complexity always assists those who have had the educational opportunities to understand it. That means people who are more privileged in our society and who have had the opportunity for education—education that will mean that they can understand all the forms, all the different systems that doctors are looking at when making decisions about their health care needs. They are the people who benefit from a more complex system. It is not the low-income people, the people who have lacked opportunity and educational opportunity, who will be able to understand the more complex system that is being introduced this week in the Senate. Previously Senator Campbell spoke about how he believed the deal that was coming in would help low-income people. That does not fit with the idea that a more complex system always assists people who have the educational opportunities and can understand a more complex system.

The Greens want to see that all Australians are helped and assisted by improvements to Medicare, our universal public health care system. That is not something that bits and pieces around the edge, as proposed in this deal, will provide for all Australians. Senator Campbell said before that he thought there was universal access to the safety nets. You cannot have universal access to safety nets when you have two different safety nets—differential safety nets—depending upon people's income levels, their classification and whether they happen to be self-funded retirees and therefore get a health care card. That is not universal in terms of having access to those safety nets.

The comments that have been made today by Sharan Burrow from the ACTU point out that the deal fails to provide any benefits for single low-income earners. Low-income earners who are families and may be eligible for family tax benefit B are included in the particular safety net. But what about the low-income earners who are single people and do not have children? Single working people earning as little as $340 a week are not eligible. They are not eligible for a concession card; they will not receive the safety net that the government is providing.

Yesterday in the chamber, we were talking about the holes in the safety net that people will fall through as a result of this package. Yesterday in this Senate we were told by Senator Campbell that he hoped that bulk-billing would increase. We were also told that the assumption for the modelling was that there would be no increase in bulk-billing. But yesterday Senator Campbell told us that he `hoped' there would be an increase. Minister Abbott told us on radio this morning that it `should' improve bulk-billing rates. Yet it is being modelled on an assumption that there will be no increase in bulk-billing rates.

Senator Ian Campbell —No, it is not. That is not what I said.

Senator NETTLE —That is what Senator Campbell said yesterday.

Senator Ian Campbell —It is not what I said. You are verballing me again.

Senator NETTLE —If that is different, I am happy to hear Senator Campbell get up and clarify that for the chamber. Certainly when, on Lateline at the end of last year, the minister was asked what were the modellings and what were the assumptions in the Medicare package, the answer was that it had been modelled for there to be no increase in bulk-billing rates. If that has changed, that is great. I would really love to hear the minister stand up and say that the model has been developed on the assumption that there will be X per cent increase in bulk-billing rates. I would love to hear that, and I am sure he will get the opportunity to stand up and clarify that for the chamber.

In relation to another component of the package, whether we would see increases in specialist fees, I think Senator Lees commented that we need to trust doctors—trust that they will not raise their fees. We have been told to `hope'; we have been told to `trust'; we have been told there should be an increase. That is not filling me with a great deal of confidence in this government's preparedness to bolster and protect our universal public health care system. But I am quite happy for Senator Campbell to stand up and clarify that system. I think it was described in the Financial Review today as `Dr Tony's Trusty Tonic'. I am not feeling really great about leaping in and having some of that tonic thanks to Dr Tony, as described in the Financial Review today. I will leave my comments there. I have further questions of Senator Campbell that I will ask later on.