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Wednesday, 3 September 2014
Page: 6358

Budget


Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:47): My question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Nash. I refer the minister to the 2013 National's election platform, which states that there will be increased financial support for doctors who provide health services in regional and remote communities through increased Medicare rebates. How is this consistent with this year's budget papers, which state:

… the rebate for most GP and out-of-hospital pathology and diagnostic imaging services will be reduced by $5.


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:47): I can say at the outset that people in regional areas know that it is the National Party and the Liberal Party who are sticking up for them and doing the right thing by them, particularly when it comes to fixing the economy, rather than those on the other side.

We have been very clear on this side of the chamber that the best thing that we can do for regional Australia is to fix the economic mess that the previous Labor government left us. It is about time that those opposite took some responsibility for the mess that they have left us. If we were not paying $1 billion a month on the interest on the debt that the previous Labor government left us, we could actually do more for regional Australia.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Order on my right and on my left!

Senator Sterle interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order ,Senator Sterle. Senator Moore on a point of order?

Senator Moore: Mr President, I rise on a point of order on direct relevance. It may even be to get somewhere near the health portfolio in the answer, but it is particularly about Medicare rebates and the difference between the policy and the budget papers, which say the rebate has been reduced by $5.

The PRESIDENT: The minister was asked about consistency relating to the budget papers. The minister has one minute and seven seconds left to answer the question. Minister, you have the call.

Senator NASH: If those opposite paid a little more attention, they would realise that that is National Party policy. We then go on to form coalition policy for the election campaign and that immediately addresses the issue.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left.

Senator NASH: There is no way that those opposite can do anything—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Order! Order on my right.

Senator Kim Carr: Disposable policy!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr!

Senator Ludlam interjecting

The PRESIDENT: And Senator Ludwig!

Government senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right!

Senator Fifield interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Fifield!.

Senator Ronaldson interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Ronaldson! Minister, you have the call.

Senator NASH: In response to the comment from those opposite about not being relevant: we are being absolutely relevant, because the health budget is one of the biggest drains on the nation's finances which those opposite may fail to take into account. There is absolutely a commitment from this side of the chamber to regional Australia, unlike those opposite.

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Moore on a point of order?

Senator Moore: Mr President, I am one of those opposite and I am making a point of order on direct relevance. The question specifically relates to Medicare rebates. If we could actually do that.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Moore. Again, the question did ask about consistencies in comparing the budget. Senator Nash has been answering the question and for the parts that I can hear—

Senator Kim Carr interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Senator Carr! Minister, you have 16 seconds left to answer the question.

Senator NASH: It is this government that is going to address the fact that the best things that we can do for regional Australia is address the economic mess that you left us.






















Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:52): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister guarantee that no regional hospitals will close as a result of the government ripping more than $50 billion from hospital funding over the next decade?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:52): In answering the question, I disagree with the premise of the question. We are not ripping funding out of hospitals.

Opposition senators interjecting

Senator NASH: Indeed, funding is going up by nine per cent this year. It is going up by nine per cent the year after, and it is going up by nine per cent the year after that and six per cent the year after that. Indeed, we are giving $70 billion to the states over the next four years. We are hardly taking money away. We are increasing it from $14 billion to $18.9 billion. So, far from ripping money out, it is increasing. When we contrast this to Labor, which in 2012 actually cut $1.6 billion from hospitals. It is those on the other side who do not focus on hospitals.



Senator KETTER (Queensland) (14:53): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Can the minister confirm evidence from Medicare that the top 12 electorates to pay the highest out-of-pocket costs in increased PBS fees will be in rural and regional Australia? Has the minister satisfied herself that this evidence is accurate?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:53): I acknowledge there has been some data provided around those electorates. I and my department would welcome the underpinning of that methodology from those opposite, because there is some concern around the methodology used for that.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order on my left. Pause the clock. Order, Senator Carr!

Senator NASH: We on this side will focus on a better economy for regional Australia, unlike the previous failed finance minister, under whom nett debt tripled from $42 billion to $153 billion. If we are going to talk about responsibility and health delivery, it is this side of the chamber that will deliver—and not those opposite.