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Wednesday, 27 May 1987
Page: 3447

Mr IAN ROBINSON(6.53) —In the dying hours of the Hawke Government we are now dealing with the Health Legislation Amendment Bill, introduced as part of the May mini-Budget package. The Bill provides precisely for the Medicare rebate to be reduced from 85 per cent of the schedule fee to 75 per cent. At the same time, the $20 limit per item is to be removed. All of this must be considered in conjunction with the Government's administration of Medicare, its determinations in respect of that scheme and its subsequent amendment of the operation of the scheme. It was only just over seven months ago that we experienced a 25 per cent increase in the Medicare levy. We have now seen the consequences of the effect of the operation of Medicare in this country over a period. There is no doubt at all that it has been to the detriment of the health care of the people of this nation. There will be an opportunity in the immediate weeks ahead, during the election campaign, for the people to make a judgment on this scheme. There is no doubt that that judgment will be to reject the scheme as it has operated since its introduction by the Hawke Government. I have no doubt that the policies that will be put forward from this side of the House to amend, change and replace this disastrous health care scheme will be embraced by the people of this nation.

The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) smiles. He has had the carriage of the Medicare scheme now for so long. In fact, he has been a survivor-and one wonders why. He has been a survivor through sheer luck. Every promise made by the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke), by the Minister for Health and by other responsible members of the Hawke Government on the whole issue of Medicare has been broken since the inception of the scheme. At the same time we have seen the disaster that has befallen health care in this country. We have seen the hospital queues and the enormous escalation of health costs-an escalation which must be placed right at the feet of the Hawke Government.

It is all very well to say that the administration of much of our hospital services is in the hands of the States, but the effect of the Medicare system has been to increase health costs enormously. This Bill provides for another reduction in the capacity of Medicare to provide for individuals who need health services. If one were to study in detail the content of the Minister's statement following the mini-Budget-there is not time for that in this debate-one would see instantly the deception and flaws in the whole concept of Medicare. One item in the mini-Budget is the removal of benefits for warts and related problems that people encounter. It is stated under `Specific items' that these benefits be removed. A fortnight later the Minister woke up to the fact that by removing these benefits he was throwing health care wide open to the consequences of the serious onset of-

Mr Cowan —Skin cancer.

Mr IAN ROBINSON —Skin cancer, as my colleague mentions, and other problems. The Minister quickly did an about face and restored this provision. In fact, just about everything at the high peak of determinations by the Government has at some point been reversed.

Dr Blewett —It's news to me.

Mr IAN ROBINSON —No, it is not news to the Minister. Did he not make the statement that he had the decision reversed?

Dr Blewett —No.

Mr IAN ROBINSON —I suggest that the Minister read his media releases and find out. Perhaps there is something here that he can clear up straight away while he still has that opportunity. If in fact there is to be no correction of that misfortune which has befallen the public in the sphere of health care as a result of the mini-Budget, perhaps after 11 July we will have a chance to set that one right as well.

So many aspects of this vital health care question are appropriate for reference in this debate but time does not permit that. I will conclude by making the point that obscurity in health services is a great burden for the needy of this country. I say there is an obscurity about it because people do not really know what benefits they will receive. The fluid situation in relation to hospital costs particularly in the private hospital area, which very often is the only avenue that people can turn to for treatment--

Mr Peter Fischer —And pay twice.

Mr IAN ROBINSON —And pay twice, as the honourable member for Mallee has said-is creating a dilemma for people who have serious illnesses in particular, because they have nowhere else to turn. With the consequences of the changes in fees charged by private hospitals and the reduction of the benefit that will now be available, this is a sad period for health care in this country. Yet the Government is hell-bent on destroying the private hospital system. Why? It is because the Government believes that there should be one common denominator for health care in this country. That common denominator does not take into account special needs. It does not take into account the facilities that are required, particularly in country areas. It does not take into account the fact that public hospitals, under the present financial restraints being implemented by this Government through the States, cannot provide those facilities but that private hospitals, in may instances, can. We are placing those facilities out of the reach of the patients in need. What a disaster, a calamity, that is for the people of this country. There are many other issues involved. Time will not permit one to canvass them in this debate. I deplore the Government's action in this matter and in so many others relating to the health care of the people of Australia.