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Wednesday, 1 June 1994
Page: 1082

Senator CROWLEY (Minister for Family Services) (3.16 p.m.) —Was it not wonderful to listen to that? The honourable senator deliberately misrepresented what I said. I do not mind his doing that.

Senator Woods —We are not sure what you are saying!

Senator CROWLEY —You have misrepresented me. I will run through the examples again. If the young and healthy come out of private insurance they are not likely to be a burden on the public sector, which was the point I was making. It is not a question of whether or not private insurance goes up. The reasons why people leave private insurance are mixed. There are two main reasons: one is that when they get the bill—and thousands of Senator Woods' constituents must have told him that, as they have told me—they say, `I have had private insurance for 30 years. Now when I finally use it I have got a bill for $3,000 or $4,000 that I cannot pay.' This occurs because the private insurance allows—and it is the only place that does allow this—doctors to charge above the schedule fee. That is one of the big realities about private insurance, and it is a reality that those opposite have never been able to address.

  This government is addressing the problem. I would remind honourable senators that this is not a new review; it is the review set in train by the previous minister. Those opposite do not want to hear about that. They say, `Oh, another review.' It is not another review; it is the Richardson review about which Senator Herron and Senator Woods were fulsome in their praise.

  Ignoring the tobacco issues and the other nonsense, the new shadow minister for health has done very well. She has come out strongly in favour of gap insurance. What will Senator Herron and Senator Woods say to her about that? Come true! Are they going to tell her that, firstly, it will put the price up; secondly, that it will force up the price of premiums; and thirdly, that it will increase the price of insurance? That is precisely what Senator Herron and Senator Woods argue that we should not do.

  Mrs Bishop has not been the shadow minister for health for more than three minutes but she is barracking for gap insurance. Those opposite know that that is far worse than anything they have been raising here today because it will give doctors who want to charge above the scheduled fee an unfettered licence to print money. We know that quite a few doctors do that. Who but the private insurance funds is going to pay the gap insurance? What will that do? It will put up the price of insurance. That is the very circumstances that those opposite say is driving people out of insurance.

  Before Senator Herron and Senator Woods worry about what the government is doing, they should have a long hard look at themselves. At how many elections has health been one of the principal reasons why the opposition has lost? Senator Woods, I was debating you on the eve of the last election. You did not know the facts then, and you still do not know the facts.

Senator Patterson —Mr Deputy President, on a point of order: will you ask Senator Crowley to direct her comments through you and not directly to Senator Woods?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —It is, in fact, a point of order. I have been generous in not interpreting the standing order too harshly in respect of either side; but you remind me that I should be applying it to both sides.

Senator CROWLEY —I stand corrected, Mr Deputy President. Through you, I should remind the Senate that I was debating the then Dr Woods, now Senator Woods, about Medicare prior to the last election. He did not know the facts then and the opposition lost the election for a variety of reasons, one of which, significantly, was its health policy. And the opposition will go on losing elections as a result of its health policy because it does not have a clue about how to do it.

  The opposition is locked into protecting those people. The opposition has terrible trouble. Mrs Bishop says that gap insurance is the answer. What is the opposition going to tell her? Will it take Mrs Bishop aside and say, `That's not smart, Bronwyn, because that will actually increase the price of private insurance and we know that is one of the reasons why people are leaving private insurance'?

  The opposition had better get it clear—confusion is the name of its health policy. There is no confusion about the government's health policy. Senator Herron has actually misrepresented my answer and he knows full well that what I had to say is exactly right—he argued it himself. If the young and healthy leave private insurance, that does not place increased pressure on the public sector, which is the point I was making.

  For sure, if people drop out of insurance, that may indeed increase the premiums on private insurance. That is said to be one of the reasons that happens. I have never denied that—we have understood it all along. But it also depends on what one is paying for—what one is buying with private insurance. The inquiry that we had—and Senator Herron also recognises this—found that one of the reasons people did not buy private insurance was because they did not know what they would get for their money.

  Senator Herron would remember that surgeons who appeared before that inquiry said, `We cannot tell any of our patients what exactly the costs will be, nor what their insurance will cover.' Those are some of the other things that need to be taken into account. Some private insurance funds are looking at how they can lift their game to the benefit of patients. The opposition has a great deal of gall to criticise the government's health policy. `Gap insurance', says Mrs Bishop; `Abolish bans on smoking', says Mrs Bishop—. (Time expired)