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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1080

Senator HERRON (3.07 p.m.) —I move:

  That the Senate take note of the answer given by the Minister for Family Services (Senator Crowley), to a question without notice asked by Senator Herron this day, relating to private health insurance.

I was astounded by the response from Senator Crowley, because she actually headed an inquiry into private health insurance in Australia. She, of all people, should be aware that young people dropping out of the system means that the price of premiums goes up. It is as simple as that. She did not have a clue. That is what it means: as young people drop out, the premiums for those who are still in the system go up. It is a vicious circle. The higher the price, the harder it is for people to take out private health insurance.

  Senator Crowley's predecessor, he who enjoys holidays on the Gold Coast, the one who samples the delights—

  Senator Schacht interjecting

Senator HERRON —Senator Schacht may well have sampled the delights of Surfers Paradise himself. I quote the former minister for health—

Senator Schacht —Mr President, I raise a point of order. I do not like taking points of order on what people say, but Senator Herron implied that I may have sampled the delights of the Gold Coast, similar to the smear question that Senator Chapman raised. I take strong objection to that and ask him to withdraw it.

The PRESIDENT —I would ask you to withdraw that, Senator Herron.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I certainly withdraw it. If Senator Schacht drew that inference, I am sorry for him. Former Senator Richardson, when he was Minister for Health in December last year, said:

When you add millions of people into a public system which is already showing some strain in some places, you will get problems. To pretend you will not is to ignore the obvious.

That is what Senator Richardson said last year. I repeat:

To pretend you will not is to ignore the obvious.

Senator Crowley got up this afternoon and said, `It is good for Medicare, people dropping out. We will be able to cope with them.' I say to Senator Crowley that private health insurance is in free fall. Every one per cent that drops out adds $100 million a year to the system. The government must either increase the Medicare levy to cope with that or increase taxation; otherwise its budget is blown out of the water. So something has to be done.

  With regard to setting up another committee, we have had committees looking into this matter for 11 years. When Minister Howe had responsibility for this portfolio he tried to introduce co-payment. Senator Crowley led the charge to change the mind of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating) on that issue, and she succeeded. What has happened? Every time the premiums go up, people drop out of private health insurance. It could well be said that it is because of the recession, that people have not got the money, and that is true in part.

  Does Senator Crowley realise that 30 per cent of the population now have health care cards? There are 9,757,424 people out of our total population of 17 1/2 million on income support payments. And she says that is good. She says that is the solution. She admitted that these young people would be dependent on Medicare if they needed treatment. Has Senator Crowley forgotten about the babies with birth injuries, the youth who are suiciding, the number involved in accidents who have to access the health care system? They constitute a large number of people.

  After 11 years of Labor, the rich have got richer and the poor have got poorer. Presently, the poorest 40 per cent control only nine per cent of the nation's wealth, whereas when those opposite came into government they controlled 22 per cent of the wealth. When those opposite came into government, 77 per cent of the population were covered by private health insurance; that figure is now down to 38 per cent.

  One of the things that is happening is the ageing of the population. In six years, one in seven will be over the age of 65, and it is the over-65s who incur most of the health care costs. In fact, two-thirds of health care expenditure goes on people over the age of 65, and one in seven will be in that category in six years time. What is the government doing about this? It is forming another committee to look at it. As Senator Crowley said this afternoon,`We will be reviewing it. We will be looking at it. We will be forming another committee. We will be the mirror people, looking into it again so that we can see ourselves coming out the other side.'

  There is also the issue of technology. Senator Cooney is well aware of the magnificent technology that is now available and from which many benefit. One of the commonest procedures nowadays is coronary bypass surgery, and that is adding to the cost. What is Senator Crowley going to do about technology? She says, `We are going to look at it so that we can see the problems.' I hope the honourable senator's ignorance might be helped by my contribution.