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Tuesday, 3 June 2003
Page: 15824


Mr BRENDAN O'CONNOR (8:19 PM) —I am happy to resume the debate on the Health Care (Appropriation) Amendment Bill 2003. We have just had some divisions on legislation which you could describe as international and which affects the security of this nation. It is very important legislation, but what is also very important is the health of the citizens of this nation. The bill before us clearly indicates that this government has failed to properly redress the systemic problems in the health care system. These problems have occurred as a result of neglect by the government, but unfortunately I have to acknowledge that they have also occurred by design. As I indicated earlier, this is because this government—in particular the Prime Minister—has had an ideological hatred of Medicare and a vendetta towards bulk-billing. It has shown no regard for bulk-billing services that are required in my electorate of Burke and in electorates across the country.

As I indicated when this legislation stalled last week, there is a gulf between the two major parties on health care in this country. There is a fundamental difference; there always has been and there always will be. Labor governments restored the health system and improved bulk-billing access to the community progressively throughout their terms of government. You can see clearly, from 1983 to 1996, progressive incremental increases in access to bulk-billing for the community. Then you see, from 1996—from 2 March, no doubt—a systemic, incremental, deliberate decline in access to bulk-billing. Why? Because this government fails to consider that bulk-billing is critical and important to ordinary working families.

The fact is that this government will quite happily have regard to concession cardholders, but families in receipt of $32,000 or thereabouts will not be guaranteed decent free health care. As already indicated by earlier speakers, the Australian public pay through their taxes and through their levy, and now this government wants them to pay again when they visit a doctor. The Labor Party is totally opposed to that. Indeed, when we are in government, we will ensure that does not happen. I will just touch upon the particular differences between us. As I have said, there will only be bulk-billing for concession cardholders and, as was outlined by the Treasurer in the budget, it will be funded by reducing funds to hospitals by over $900 million. Under the coalition's plans, it will cost more to visit a doctor and there will be fewer bulk-billing doctors. Make no mistake about this: there will be fewer bulk-billing doctors.

On the other hand, Labor's plan will lift the Medicare rebate for all bulk-billed consultations to 95 per cent and then to 100 per cent of the schedule fee. It will provide incentives for doctors to bulk-bill and it will protect and rebuild Medicare. I can also indicate that we will oppose any increased copayment for medicine. We will ensure that the Medicare system as we have known it—the system that we brought in in this country in the early seventies, that we helped build upon from 1983 and that we saw reach its height in terms of access to the public in 1996—will be restored under a Labor government.

Without a doubt, this government has failed in that it has had no regard for the fact that many constituents in my electorate cannot now find a bulk-billing service in their community. Melton, the largest community in the electorate of Burke, has over 35,000 people and their access to bulk-billing is almost nonexistent. The largest medical service provider in that community contacted me indicating that it would no longer bulk-bill. It may actually apply some sort of self-regulated means test as to whom it would bulk-bill but no longer would there be any carte blanche bulk-billing. This is a critical problem in the electorate of Burke. It is a critical problem in Melton and Sunbury and in areas further out such as Gisborne, Bacchus Marsh, Kyneton, Riddells Creek, Romsey, Lancefield and Woodend. If this deficiency in access to bulk-billing is a critical problem in my electorate, I know that it is also a major problem across the nation.

This has to change, and only a Labor government will ensure that there will be change. This government has shown that it has no regard for the universal health system; it wants to kill it. It wants to kill bulk-billing and, indeed, it wants to kill Medicare slowly. We should not let that happen. Therefore, I ask people to support this bill and oppose this push by the government. (Time expired)