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Monday, 23 June 2003
Page: 17167

Ms GRIERSON (2:04 PM) —My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Can the Prime Minister confirm that, in my electorate of Newcastle, the rate of bulk-billing by GPs fell by more than four percentage points in the last quarter alone and that, as a result, patients are now paying as much as $55 for a consultation? Is the Prime Minister aware that over the past month another three GPs who bulk-billed most of their patients have abandoned their practices in Newcastle? Can the Prime Minister also confirm reports that Central Coast residents are now travelling as far as Campbelltown and Mount Druitt in Sydney to find GPs who bulk-bill? Why will the Prime Minister not adopt Labor's policy that would increase the availability of bulk-billing for all Australians?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I am not specifically aware of the figures, but I do not have any reason to doubt them if they are quoted by the member; I am sure she does so in good faith. It is true that there has been some decline in rates of bulk-billing. That is why the government has introduced the policies under the title of `A Fairer Medicare'. That is why our policy will provide an effective, a speedy and a comprehensive response to the difficulties that are now faced by Medicare. I take the opportunity of reminding the House that, as we committed to in 1996, we have maintained and strengthened Medicare in the seven years that we have been in government.