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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 127

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (5:38 PM) —We welcome the Labor Party's support for the government's position, which is of course to oppose these amendments. The Labor Party's support has been given, albeit a trifle grudgingly. It is certainly accepted and we know where the votes will lie. I point out to Senator Allison that, over the last year, the government has introduced significant incentives for GPs to bulk-bill Commonwealth concession card holders and children under 16 years of age. These incentives continue to apply. I believe there are a number of those—I will not go through them—and the bulk-billing incentives have been well received and have been instrumental in reversing the decline in bulk-billing, as my colleagues have pointed out. There have been rises in bulk-billing rates since the incentives were introduced, and the national bulk-billing rate rose to 71.8 per cent in the September quarter of 2004, so we will not be supporting the linkage that is proposed by Senator Allison.

The government's election commitment will make GP services more affordable to all Australians, and all patients will benefit from this measure. Senator Allison, GPs are more likely to bulk-bill as a result of the higher rebate. Where GPs do not bulk-bill, patients will have lower out-of-pocket costs as they receive the higher rebate. Where a patient is charged a fee by their GP, the patient will receive the 100 per cent rebate from Medicare. For a standard GP consultation the Medicare rebate will increase by $4.60, as I pointed out in my summing-up speech. Where the service is bulk-billed the 100 per cent rebate will be paid to the GP as well as the bulk-billing incentives of Strengthening Medicare, where those apply. I have stated the reasons the government will not be supporting the Democrat amendments.