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Wednesday, 24 February 2010
Page: 1030

Senator MOORE (2:30 PM) —My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Ludwig. Can the minister advise the Senate on the latest private health insurance premium round and the latest statistics on private health insurance coverage? How do these fit with the government’s plans to secure the future of health care in Australia? Do they face any impediment?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Moore for her question and note her interest in the government’s commitment to making sure that health care is accessible to and affordable for all Australians. The government knows that families are doing it tough and battling to balance the books. That is why we have worked very hard to ensure that private health insurance remains affordable for Australian families. The people of Australia can be very sure that premium increases would be a lot higher under the out-of-touch Liberal Party, whose extreme free marketeers have already signalled their will to let the market rip and let health premiums off the leash. Just last week, the shadow Treasurer, Mr Joe Hockey, said:

The problem with the market is that ultimately premium increases are the decision of a Minister, so it’s not a pure market.

In contrast, the government has worked hard to keep these increases to an absolute minimum. This year, the Minister for Health and Ageing has asked for resubmissions from over half of the health funds as their proposed increases were too high. The result has been lower rebates for 75 per cent of private health members, some 8.5 million people across the country. Average premiums will increase by 5.78 per cent from 1 April. This increase is lower than last year’s increase, it is lower than industry expectations and it is below the 2009 consumer price index of 5.9 per cent for hospitals and medical services. It is significantly lower than it was during the opposition leader’s four years as health minister, when the average increase was 6.63 per cent. Mr Abbott’s extreme beliefs were evident then, as his extreme policies continue to be evident now, and any attempt by the opposition to claim that they are sticking up for low-income families is, quite frankly, ridiculous.

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware of any impediment to the government when it comes to addressing Australia’s health needs? Could the minister update the Senate on what this might mean for the health of Australians?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Moore for her supplementary question. Unfortunately, what we have seen from those opposite is a callous and risky disregard for the need to protect the health of Australians. More interested in playing political games and fighting amongst themselves than boosting the health of all Australians, they have refused to pass landmark legislation giving more support and recognition to our midwives and nursing practitioners, they have failed to allow dental services to be delivered to hundreds of thousands of Australians and they have failed to pass legislation establishing Australia’s first-ever preventative health agency. Last year they opposed and delayed government reforms to put the extended Medicare safety net on a more sustainable basis, make the Medicare levy surcharge fairer on middle-income Australians and close the tax loophole that turned alcopops— (Time expired)

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate on additional measures the government has put in place to ensure health care is more accessible to Australians? How does this compare to what has come before?

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) —I thank Senator Moore for her second supplementary question. The Rudd government is committed to making health care in Australia accessible to and affordable for all. This stands in stark contrast to those opposite, who after 12 years of neglect of doctors and nurses and bed shortages affecting 74 per cent of the country are playing extreme and obstructionist politics instead of what they should be doing: improving the health of all Australians. Their record in government was one of failure, and their record of extremist opposition is now putting the improved health of Australians at risk.

Let us look at some of our key achievements in contrast to the achievements of those opposite. Almost 500 communities around Australia will become eligible for rural incentive payments on 1 July; more than 2,400 rural doctors will for the first time— (Time expired)