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Tuesday, 7 October 2003
Page: 20622

Dr SOUTHCOTT (2:28 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the government committed to private health insurance for Australians who want it? Are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Boothby for his question, and I appreciate his deep commitment to private heath insurance, along with that of all members of this government. This government believes that private health insurance is an important part of Australia's health system, because it takes the pressure off our public hospitals and helps to reduce waiting lists. Unfortunately, under the former government the percentage of Australians who had private health insurance plummeted to almost 30 per cent. The percentage of Australians who have access to private health insurance has now gone up to nearly 44 per cent thanks to this government's policies—in particular, the private health insurance rebate which this government has put in. That is nine million Australians who enjoy the added security and protection that private health insurance provides. Those nine million Australians know where this government stands, and they deserve to know where the alternative government of this country stands. But they do not know, because members opposite do not know what they think and do not know what they stand for. Individually they know, but collectively they do not know. When asked about the private health insurance rebate, the member for Jagajaga said:

It is a huge area of expenditure and a lot of people are figuring out that it isn't worth having.

So the Deputy Leader of the Opposition clearly wants to scrap the private health insurance rebate. When asked about it, the member for Fraser said:

There will be more than just health about which people are complaining when they see the cuts we are prepared to make.

So the macho member for Fraser and shadow finance minister certainly wants to scrap the private health insurance rebate.

Then there is the shadow Treasurer. The shadow Treasurer says that he is inclined, sort of, up to a point, kind of, to support the private health insurance rebate. But can you believe him, because this is what he has said before? Talking about the private health insurance rebate, in this very parliament he mentioned the `madness'. He was not talking about anyone whom he knows well; he was talking about the private health insurance—the `madness' of this government's multibillion dollar private health insurance rebate. When speaking about the private health insurance rebate, he said:

This is bad economics. It is an appalling piece of public policy.

On another occasion in this parliament, when talking of the private health insurance rebate, he went on to say:

This is a first-rate absurdity.

So we all know what the real beliefs of the shadow Treasurer are. The one person who has not told us where he stands is, of course, the Leader of the Opposition. I call on the Leader of the Opposition to state clearly whether and in what form he supports the private health insurance rebate so that nine million Australians can plan their health future with security and confidence.