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Thursday, 25 March 1999
Page: 3252

Senator MARGETTS (11:22 AM) —I have listened, and I am still listening, to what the government is saying on this. I realise that these are complex issues and, if anything, it basically just proves what we have been saying, and what many people during the various inquiries have been saying: that making these kinds of changes on a piecemeal basis is really very difficult. We may or may not make the right decision in terms of total health outcomes here, but it seems to me that we should be doing this in the context of having had a proper inquiry into health funding—into what is the most effective way of providing health services and getting our community as healthy as possible within the budget that we have.

We really have not done that. We are moving further along, if you like, a policy position—let's call it the `Richo position'—of concentrating on benefiting or encouraging private health funding, and not necessarily looking at it in the context of the overall benefits. I am in two minds about this issue—it is a very difficult one—but, if push comes to shove, I may have to think about what is going to bring the greatest benefit to the greatest number of people. At this stage, those numbers of people are really on the side of the people not in health insurance.

I am getting advice showing me different ways of looking at this but, until we have done that inquiry, we are still left in the situation of having to take some kind of ethical or moral judgment on the impacts on people and the impacts on health. It is very difficult for us to make decisions as to whether or not this will bring the greatest benefit to the private insurers when, if anything, the evidence that came through from the various inquiries is that we have no guarantee that specifically benefiting the private health insurers is going to bring the greatest outcomes in Australia's health and in Australia's hospital systems. So until we do that I am afraid that, on this issue, I may have to look at what will be of the greatest benefit for the greatest number of patients in Australia.