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Wednesday, 13 November 2002
Page: 6237


Senator EGGLESTON (3:19 PM) —I am appalled at the way the Labor Party is trying to stir up fear in the hearts of the veterans around Australia, making them worried about whether or not they will receive appropriate medical care and attention from their doctors. Of course they will. There are something like 12,000 doctors around Australia participating in the gold card and Veterans' Affairs medical scheme, and those doctors will continue to provide medical services to these people. What is happening is that the agreement between the government and the AMA over the provision of Veterans' Affairs medical services—DVA gold card services—is due to be renewed in December. As with all agreements which come up for renewal between all sorts of bodies, when the matter is under discussion a little bit of posturing goes on. That is what is going on here: the doctors are posturing. We will find, I am quite sure, when December comes that there will be an agreement in place to provide medical services to veterans around this country.

As I said at the beginning of my speech, it is absolutely outrageous and irresponsible for somebody like Senator Crossin to get up on a broadcast day and make a speech which implies that veterans, who have given so much to this country in times of war, are going to find that they cannot get adequate medical services through the Veterans' Affairs scheme. It is absolute scaremongering, total nonsense and, as I said, completely irresponsible of Senator Crossin to do that. She really ought to think through what she has had to say today, because it would have had a very frightening impact on many of the people who do depend on the Department of Veterans' Affairs for medical services.

The Howard government is absolutely committed to looking after veterans, and it remains absolutely, solidly committed to the gold card system. The government is aware that some doctors have been concerned about the level of fees paid for services to the veterans community and, as I said, there is a process of negotiation going on with the AMA. I am quite sure that will be resolved in a very satisfactory manner for the doctors concerned. I want to assure everybody around this country who is listening to this broadcast that there is no question whatsoever that medical services to veterans will not be maintained.

The other point that Senator Crossin raised and which I think needs to be dealt with concerns the release of the bulk-billing statistics. Senator Crossin seems to think that Senator Patterson should have those statistics to hand and release them to the Senate today. As it happens, as Senator Patterson said, about every six weeks the department of health produces statistics on the level of bulk-billing for various kinds of medical services around the country. In this time frame of six weeks, the next statistics are due to be released on Friday, 15 November. When I read the paper this morning I noticed that the date was 13 November and that it was a Wednesday, not a Friday!

I suspect the Senate will find that, at the time they are due on 15 November, those statistics will be duly released by the minister to the waiting public, including Senator Crossin. She will then be able to tell from those bulk-billing statistics what the actual percentages are for various categories of medical services around this country. I think the minister has acted quite responsibly. If the statistics are not due to be released until Friday, the 15th then that is when they ought to be released, not on Wednesday, the 13th. It is a little bit rich of Senator Crossin to expect the minister to release those statistics before the department does.

There has been some suggestion that bulk-billing is declining around the country, but I wonder what category we are talking about. I would be very surprised if pathologists or radiologists were bulk-billing less than usual. Certainly, there is some variation with general practitioners, but that goes up and down. Basically, something like 70 per cent of medical services for GPs are bulk-billed in this country, and I am quite sure the statistics will show that that is continuing. (Time expired)