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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17167

Mr CREAN (Leader of the Opposition) (2:01 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. I ask: is he aware of the study reported in the Courier Mail which predicts that, as a result of the government's changes to Medicare, there will be half a million more presentations to public hospital emergency wards each year because Queenslanders cannot find a bulk-billing doctor? Can the Prime Minister confirm the study's conclusion that treating these patients in public hospital emergency departments is five times more costly than if the patients were bulk-billed by a GP? Why will the government not adopt Labor's policy, which would take pressure off public hospital emergency departments by increasing the availability of bulk-billing for all Australians?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I have seen reference made to that study. It does not accord with the advice coming to the government. We do not believe that it will have that effect. If people are concerned about the capacity of pub-lic hospitals and if the Leader of the Opposi-tion is concerned about the capacity of public hospitals to treat people who present themselves, he will encourage his Labor colleagues at a state level to match the massive increase in federal government funding for public hospitals. The story about public hospitals in Australia is that we are offering to increase our funding by 17 per cent in real terms. So far, the states have not agreed to match that increase. Instead of criticising our policies, I suggest that the Leader of the Opposition get on the telephone, ring up his mates in the state governments—all of which are in Labor hands—and tell them to be as generous with public hospitals as the federal govern-ment is.