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Wednesday, 31 August 1994
Page: 704


Senator PATTERSON (4.23 p.m.) —Today we are debating the matter of public importance submitted by Senator Woods which states:

  The government's continued failure to understand the extent of the crisis in health funding in Australia and to devise the correct policy response.

Senator Crowley can stand in this chamber and say that the health system is not, not, not, not in crisis until she gets knotted, so to speak, because she will not convince us that it is not in crisis. She will not convince me that it is not in crisis until I can see that anybody who needs elective surgery is treated within an appropriate length of time. We can talk about Mr Packer going off and having his heart attack or that, if Senator Crowley or I have a heart attack and we go to a public hospital, we will be treated very well—I know that. But if people need a cataract operation—and hopefully Senator Crowley will not—or a hip replacement, let me tell those opposite that in many states they will wait on a very long waiting list.

  Senator Crowley can say the health system is not, not, not, not, not in crisis—she can repeat `not, not, not' until she is blue in the face—but we will not be convinced, and nor will the Australian public be convinced. Senator Richardson was the first minister for health who had the gall to get up and say that the health system was in crisis. He said, `the case for reform is overwhelming.' Those were Senator Richardson's words. He knew that the waiting lists were totally atrocious. He knew that there was a decline in private health insurance which was putting the whole system of medical insurance at risk.


Senator Crowley —No.


Senator PATTERSON —Yes, he did. Senator Richardson knew there were hospital closures and he knew there was an inefficient bureaucracy, and he was prepared to try to do something about that. But when he did, pressure was placed on him by the Left and he could not bring in any of his proposals or reforms. The ideologues of the Labor Left—


Senator Crowley —And there are no divisions in your party, senator?


Senator PATTERSON —When Senator Crowley was speaking I made maybe one interjection, but it seems as though Senator Crowley is going to interject all afternoon. But she can do that because she knows that the health system is in crisis basically because her faction has let it happen—that is what has happened—and has not let the debate occur in a way that has allowed reform.

  Senator Richardson tried to get reform. He gave up; he left. He decided it was easier to be out in the community doing something else. We will be interested to see what he says in his book because I am sure he will have something to say about this. When Senator Richardson had these solutions, members of the Left decided they would not go ahead with them and sent off the proposals to a working party of the caucus—the Left members on the caucus—and the unelected arm of the government, the ACTU. Senator Richardson, who said he was an expert in world power, had what was really a power failure—I mean, really, a blow-out. What happened was that he lost. He lost because the Left won—just like the minister before, Minister Howe. He brought in some proposals.

  Senator Crowley sat across there before and said that there was overwhelming support in the community for Medicare. There was overwhelming support for people to pay a co-payment when they attend general practitioners to reduce overservicing and overuse of general practitioners by patients. There was about a 75 per cent acceptance rate in three studies that were done at taxpayers' expense, about which I asked for details in an estimates committee hearing, to show that there was a general acceptance in the community that it was reasonable to expect people to pay a small amount of money when they went to a general practitioner, and that this would reduce the number of people seeing a doctor when they really did not need to and the incidence of doctors asking patients to come back when there was really no necessity for it.

  But what happened? The Left, in particular Senator Crowley, did not like that. So Mr Keating, in order to get Senator Crowley's vote, actually got rid of the Medicare co-payment when there was an enormous acceptance—about 75 per cent—of it in the community. Senator Crowley argues on the one hand that people accept Medicare but argues on the other that, when there is a community acceptance of about 75 per cent for a co-payment, there was—


Senator Crowley —Wasn't true, Senator.


Senator PATTERSON —Senator Crowley should look at those reports. There was a 75 per cent acceptance of that co-payment. She got rid of it. And what happened? Mr Howe said that the Medicare rebate would have to go up from 1.25 per cent, and it did. That is the price we paid for Mr Keating's vote from Senator Crowley.

  What has happened is that the Left has dominated the health debate, and again it is dominating the health debate, because what the Left would like to see is that we get rid of private involvement in health altogether. What we can see here today is a sort of conglomeration where I suppose the minister has had to come up with something that will be acceptable to the Left. I have not had time to look at it closely enough, but I bet my bottom dollar that—because this is the Left's approach—in the long run the goal will be to make sure that those private health insurance funds go down the tube.

  Minister Lawrence said in her press release she issued this afternoon that `these reforms are the result of extensive consultation with industry groups'. I would like to know what she means by that because I think it only means extensive consultation with private health insurance funds. The AMA certainly is not very happy about it and the Australian Private Hospitals Association is not happy, so I do not know whether she consulted them. They are not happy with the outcomes of the consultations. The only group that is remaining silent is the private health insurance funds. Why are they remaining silent?


Senator Crowley —They are not silent; they are very supportive.


Senator PATTERSON —Of course! They have no option to be other than supportive because they are going out the door backwards. People are leaving the private health insurance funds, the costs are going up and we are now in a crisis. Why are those funds supportive of it? Because they know that the Left will not allow any sort of incentive for people to take out private health insurance.

  As for Senator West's interpretation of the coalition's approach to private health insurance, it was just so far off the mark it did not matter. It was totally wrong. The Labor Party has this view that there should be no incentive for taking out private health insurance. The private health insurance funds know that the Left dominates the debate on health in that party. They know that Mr Keating got his votes on that, so they have to accept whatever the minister dishes up that has some chance of saving them.

  What we are going to have now is a voluntary-type, preferred provider agreement. In Victoria that has been operating for about five years and we know it has not done anything to really stem the flow of people leaving private health insurance funds. When Minister Lawrence was asked today the most telling question—(Time expired)