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Latham promises Medicare overhaul -

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Broadcast: 29/09/2004

Latham promises Medicare overhaul

Reporter: Greg Jennett

TONY JONES: "A mighty crusade" is what Mark Latham calls his campaign to lead Labor into
government, officially launching his quest today.

Mr Latham has promised a radical expansion of Medicare, guaranteeing free hospital treatment for
all Australians aged 75 and over.

The Labor Leader says his Medicare Gold scheme would end waiting lists and save elderly Australians
more than $500 a year if they abandon private health insurance.

From Canberra, Greg Jennett reports.

GREG JENNETT: Hugs with his political father figure, his mother and his wife.

Mark Latham's application for the prime ministership was very much a family affair.

JANINE LACY, WIFE: I've got to say I find it easy to talk about him - what you see is what you get.

He's a man of strong beliefs and passion in life.

GREG JENNETT: To passion Mr Latham promised to add energy, urgency, youth and commitment.

MARK LATHAM: I say to the Australian people - I'm ready to lead, he's ready to leave.

GREG JENNETT: Then, to policy, with health front and centre.

MARK LATHAM: That's what this election is all about.

It's a referendum on the future of Medicare.

Do we want to give John Howard another chance to put his scalpel into the back of Medicare?

AUDIENCE: No!

MARK LATHAM: Or do we want a Labor Government with a plan to save Medicare?

AUDIENCE: Yes!

MARK LATHAM: That's right.

GREG JENNETT: But with billions already on the table for middle Australia, Mark Latham's pitch
today was to the elderly.

MARK LATHAM: A Federal Labor Government will take full responsibility for the hospital costs of
Australians aged 75 and over.

GREG JENNETT: Called Medicare Gold, it effectively nationalises health care for people aged over
75, promising a public or private hospital bed "whenever they need one", with no waiting lists.

The cost to taxpayers - $1.7 billion when it starts in 2006.

MARK LATHAM: As a result, senior Australians will no longer need to take out private health
insurance for hospital care.

The costs will be covered by a Federal Labor Government.

GREG JENNETT: Labor claims that will save older people around $550 a year.

And by taking the heaviest users out of private health insurance, it predicts premiums will fall
for everyone.

MARK LATHAM: Reduce their premiums by at least 12 per cent.

Labor will regulate these savings, we will ensure they're passed on to the public.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I think that is very, very doubtful.

Once you start losing members, that has an adverse effect on premiums.

GREG JENNETT: The health insurance industry is wary of any enforced freeze in premiums, warning it
could send some funds to the wall.

RUSSELL SCHNEIDER, AUSTRALIAN HEALTH INSURANCE ASSOCIATION: So you can't just say you're gonna make
everyone do the same thing.

It would have to be approached far more sensibly than that.

GREG JENNETT: But private health care providers, who'd been pushing for schemes like Medicare Gold,
are much more enthusiastic.

FRANCIS SULLIVAN, CATHOLIC HEALTHCARE: What Labor has done today is put on the table a new benefit
in Medicare, a practical and fair solution to a growing social concern.

GREG JENNETT: It's also a growing cost, but Labor's package does not give any detail on the longer
term impact of extra public health care for the ageing population.

MUKESH HAIKERWAL, AUSTRALIAN MEDICAL ASSOCIATION: Obviously when the baby boomer generation hits
the retired age group, that bulge in the number of older people will increase, therefore, demands
on the system will increase.

GREG JENNETT: Medicare Gold was not the end of Mark Latham's pitch to older Australians.

He's also promising to pay grandparents $20 a week for looking after their grandchildren.

And, at a cost of $725 million over four years, Labor would review pensions every three months
instead of six.

MARK LATHAM: We'll index it every quarter.

We'll ease the financial pressure on Australia's pensioners.

JOHN HOWARD, PRIME MINISTER: I didn't say I was opposed to it, I said I'm analysing what he's
announced.

REPORTER: Will you follow up?

JOHN HOWARD: I'm analysing what he's announced.

GREG JENNETT: $4.5 billion in 41 minutes was the tally of Mark Latham's spending promises, fully
funded according to Labor.

But the launch was as much about the man as it was about the policies.

And Mark Latham went to lengths today to assure voters his personal transformation is complete.

MARK LATHAM: Janine and the boys have taught me the power of caring, of our love and our time
together.

They have made me a better man, a better man.

GREG JENNETT: On what he calls a crusade for office.

Greg Jennett, Lateline.

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