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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17029

Ms WORTH (Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister for Health and Ageing) (1:16 PM) —I thank all members who have contributed to the debate on the National Health Amendment (Private Health Insurance Levies) Bill 2003. Unfortunately, although it is quite technical, there have been some wide-ranging claims made by the opposition and some of them have been quite misleading. What should be worrying Australians is that, just three days into her new role as the shadow health spokesperson, the member for Jagajaga has outlined the opposition plan. Although it might be couched in terms of a review, we must be very suspicious that this is a plan to abolish the private health insurance rebate. It should be remembered that the private health insurance rebate is really helping Australian families that have private health insurance to the tune of $750 per year. We know that families appreciate having private health insurance. It gives them that much extra choice and makes them feel more secure. But to have to find an extra $750 per annum would be a significant impost on them.

The opposition claimed that there was no merit to this rebate, yet, in a recent report, Professor Ian Harper of the Melbourne Business School showed that that is not the case. Only a week or so ago, I tabled in the parliament the executive report of the research done by Harper and Associates. I recall saying at the time that it was for the information of all members. I know that the shadow minister has a very heavy workload at the moment, but I would again draw her attention to it and draw it to the attention of all members in this place. I will just quote this small part of it, but they will find it all in Hansard:

... in 2000-01 alone, private hospitals in Australia performed procedures which it would have cost the public hospital system around $4.3 billion to perform.

While the Labor opposition talks about the $2.3 billion that the government is spending on supporting families with the rebate, they have ignored the obvious, which is how this helps the public hospital system. I am a big believer, as is the government, in a good private system and a good public system. To be in support of one should not rule out support for the other.

There were claims made about the gap. Under this government, four out of five private health services have no gap payment. This is in stark contrast to Labor's record, where all private health services had a gap payment. In fact, between 2001 and 2003, the average gap payment has fallen by about 15 per cent—a continuation of the trend since this government made it easier for health funds to cover the gap in 1998.

To get back to what this legislation is actually about, four bills—not just this bill—reimpose four private health insurance levies, while the fifth bill, the National Health Amendment (Private Health Insurance Levies) Bill, provides for matters ancillary or consequential to the reimposition. The four levies being reimposed include the Private Health Insurance Administration Council administration levy, the collapsed organisation levy, the Acute Care Advisory Committee review levy and the reinsurance trust fund levy. The reimposition effects a technical change in process. The changes effectively repeal the existing levy mechanism and reimpose it, consistent with the requirement of section 55 of the Constitution. These amendments are required because section 55 provides that laws imposing taxation shall deal only with imposition of taxation and any provision therein dealing with any other matter shall be of no effect.

These levies apply only to the private health insurance industry. Only registered health benefits organisations are required to meet liabilities imposed by the levies. The reimposition of the levies does not impose new or increased costs on the private health insurance industry. This proposal does not involve a change in policy but, rather, corrects a technical defect to ensure that the legislation functions as intended. Doubt in relation to the validity of these levies has the potential to impede the council in undertaking its functions, including the prudential regulation of the private health insurance industry. Given the role of the council, its financial basis should not be compromised by any possibility of technical legal challenges. I commend the bill to the House.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Ms Corcoran)—The original question was that this bill be now read a second time. To this the honourable member for Jagajaga has moved as an amendment that all words after `That' be omitted with a view to substituting other words. The question now is that the words proposed to be omitted stand part of the question.

Question agreed to.

Original question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.

Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.