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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20519


Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) (3:19 PM) —Mr Speaker, I seek the indulgence of the chair to add to an answer.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister may proceed.



The SPEAKER —The member for Brisbane is warned!


Mr HOWARD —I refer to an answer I gave to the Leader of the Opposition when he asked me a question in relation to a claim by the Minister for Health and Ageing denying that emergency rooms are filled with non-emergency patients. The President of the Australasian College for Emergency Medicine, Dr Ian Knox, has said:

Overcrowding in emergency departments is due to a 15 per cent reduction across the board in the number of acute hospital beds in the last decade, without any alternative being put in place to manage the demand.

It is the disappearance of beds at the hands of state governments that has created the overcrowding. The Australian Medical Association has rejected Mr Carr's proposal about co-location of GPs, saying that it would make no difference to overstressed emergency departments as just four to five per cent of emergency department patients are suitable for GP treatment—four to five per cent. That completely explodes that proposition. Also in answer to that question, can I inform the House that petitions being lodged by members of the Labor Party regarding Medicare contain a statement which is literally and inexcusably inaccurate, when it says—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The Prime Minister is going well beyond the licence that would normally be extended to a minister adding to an answer, because this is not a matter that was raised in the original question. This is not relevant to the original question, and on that basis it should not be included in the addition to an answer at the end of question time.


Mr HOWARD —Mr Speaker, may I speak to that point of order?


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister may speak to the point of order, as may any other member of the House.


Mr HOWARD —Mr Speaker, the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition was based upon the claim that bulk-billing rates were declining, and the very thing that I am about to mention goes directly to that issue. Mr Speaker, the—


The SPEAKER —I need to rule on the point of order, Prime Minister.


Mr HOWARD —Yes.


The SPEAKER —While the member for Werriwa was raising the point of order, I was checking my notes of the questions directed to the Prime Minister, one of which spent some time on A Fairer Medicare and on inflated fees, and I believe he is entirely relevant. I call the Prime Minister.

Opposition members interjecting


The SPEAKER —I have ruled on the point of order. The Prime Minister has the call.


Mr HOWARD —We have been regaled this week by the Leader of the Opposition on the basis of truth and honesty. In this petition—and I apprehend that I see large volumes of them in the House today—there is a statement which is just a straight misrepresentation of the government's policy. That is the strongest language I think I am allowed to use in this place. It says that families earning more than $32,300 will be denied access to bulk-billing. That is as shabby, dishonest and shonky as you can get in debate. It is a complete shonky—


Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The House of Representatives Practice provides that additions to answers at the end of question time are to concern matters of fact—matters where ministers have made an error that they wish to correct for the parliamentary record and the benefit of the House. The Prime Minister has now totally abused the capacity to add to an answer by launching into an attack on the opposition, which is not relevant to the question that was asked in the first place, and for that reason he should be ruled out of order.


The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister's response was relevant to the question asked, and I had so ruled. The Prime Minister indicated that he had another answer he wished to add to.