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Thursday, 2 June 1994
Page: 1212

Senator HERRON (3.30 p.m.) —I move:

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

Mr Deputy President, I am a little concerned that I have to come along to this chamber to try to instruct the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health, Senator Crowley—and, no doubt, the minister for health herself—on matters that are before them but about which they are obviously not aware. I would like to put those matters on the record so that they can read them in Hansard and bring themselves up to date. Obviously, Senator Crowley did not have a clue about them this afternoon.

  In the last year, the number of people carrying private health insurance decreased by 1.1 per cent among single income earners and by 4.9 per cent among families. There has been a differential decrease in so far as more families than single people are dropping private health insurance. That puts the lie to the statement the minister made yesterday and is something that she did not seem to understand today when I asked my question.

  Another interesting thing is that in the last year the number of under-65s taking private health insurance has decreased by 5.3 per cent, whereas the number of over-65s taking private insurance has actually increased by half a per cent. So older people are not stupid. They are insuring themselves more because they are more likely to take money out of the system. On the other hand, younger people are getting out because they are less likely to do so.

  I am saying that there is a crisis because the whole basis of the health system in this country depends on having a viable private sector. Ever since the introduction of Medicare, more money has been put into health care by the private health care system than by the Medicare levy. Even former Senator Richardson acknowledged that.

  Senator Richardson came in with all guns blazing when he became health minister but he only held that portfolio for a year before he resigned. Interestingly, the word `health' did not appear in his resignation speech. However, when he came in he was going to crack eggs with a big stick.

  He was going to fix up the Aboriginal health problem. He was going to fix up the health insurance funds by reducing the number of them. Do honourable senators recall that? That has gone out the window now and we never hear about it. He was going to introduce managed care. He was going to bolster private health insurance. Senator McKiernan would remember that. But the ACTU caucus working party still has not reported on that. It has been put off month after month. He was going to put a floor under it. He did not say he was going to increase it; he was going to put a floor under it. But there is a big trapdoor in the floor. The health system has now gone through that trapdoor and is in free fall. Something has to be done because there is a crisis.

  What is so intriguing is that this is the government that floated the dollar, privatised companies, and even now is going to sell the Australian National Line—the last symbolic bastion of left-wing Labor ideology. Senator McKiernan has come out of his den with that. But with all these changes, the government continues to socialise the health system through controlled tax funding, making it dependent on a viable private sector which is fast disappearing.

  It is no wonder it is going broke.  Every country in the world that has a socialised, taxation funded health system has seen it go broke. The much vaunted Canadian system, on which our system is founded, is going broke. People are going across the border to the US for surgical procedures because of the waiting lists and rationing there. In fact, they are spending more as a percentage of GDP than we are in Australia.

Senator Bell —Rich people.

Senator HERRON —Exactly; rich people are crossing the border. The poor people cannot afford to cross the border because they cannot afford to and they are on the waiting list. What is happening here? Senator Bell should not point his finger at Canada. The same thing is happening in Australia. This is our socialist government which is supposed to be helping at a time when the rich are getting richer—

Senator Sherry —Socialist! You don't believe that any more, do you?

Senator HERRON —You deny being a socialist, do you, Senator Sherry? The government has a socialist health system that is going broke.

Senator Sherry —The old reds under the beds.

Senator HERRON —No, it is not reds under the bed. I have been preaching this since I came to the Senate four years ago. I have told those opposite what is going to occur. It has now occurred, and it is going to recur in the future because the government does not have an answer. The government does not have a health system. The system is going to fall around the government's ears. I will reinforce this and keep telling and telling the government about it because that is going to occur.