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Govt seeks Turnbull's help to pass Medicare b -

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Govt seeks Turnbull's help to pass Medicare bill

The World Today - Thursday, 25 September , 2008 12:37:00

Reporter: Alexandra Kirk

ELEANOR HALL: Having failed to win the support of Family First Senator Steve Fielding, the
Government has switched its attention to Malcolm Turnbull in an effort to get its billion dollar
Medicare budget measure passed by the Parliament.

The Government is putting pressure on the new Opposition leader to grant what it says is tax cut
for low to middle income earners.

But even before Labor has introduced the redrafted bill into the Parliament today, Mr Turnbull is
not giving the Government any encouraging signs.

In Canberra, Alexandra Kirk reports.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Senator Steve Fielding's bottom line is the less well off shouldn't be worse off
because of the Government's push to raise the income threshold for the Medicare levy surcharge.

Even though more than 330,000 people would no longer be slugged the extra Medicare levy for not
taking out private health cover, the Family First senator insists the many more who choose to keep
their insurance should not have to pay higher premiums that would flow from the change.

STEVE FIELDING: For every one Australian that gets a tax cut, which is great; there's three to four
other Australians that get a hike in their health premium. Why should someone on a part-pension
who's paying for their health insurance, cobbling it together, going without today because they
need that cover, end up in this change paying more for the health insurance which they cannot
afford, and all of a sudden they're wacked?

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government wouldn't agree to compensate those low income earners and
pensioners, so he scuttled the bill.

There were no thanks from the minor party senators who sided with Labor. In fact he copped a
bollocking - mainly from the Greens.

BOB BROWN: Well Family First is families last. I don't think he had an argument. I don't think he
was able to argue his point of view on the floor of the Senate so he used his vote to close the
argument down.

RACHEL SIEWERT: I don't think he's actually payed attention to what actually helps low income
families.

NICK XENOPHON: I think you've got to have a bloody good reason if you want to hold something up and
such a big budget measure is a big call.

AMANDA RISHWORTH: I don't believe that Steve Fielding has put families first.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But there were some kind works from the Opposition's health spokesman Peter Dutton.

PETER DUTTON: Well I want to say to Steve Fielding on behalf of all older Australians, on behalf of
Australian families - thank you for stopping Nicola Roxon and Kevin Rudd from crippling the private
health system in this country, from forcing tens of thousands of older Australians onto public
hospital queues.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: For now the Health Minister Nicola Roxon has given up on Senator Fielding, trying
to apply the blowtorch to Malcolm Turnbull.

NICOLA ROXON: And here is a perfect measure that will provide for many people $500 relief, for many
others six, eight, $900, $1200 relief and I think Mr Turnbull needs to be able to look the public
in the eye and explain why a person who is earning $50,000 a year is not entitled to this tax
relief. That's the question for the Liberal Party; that's the question for his leadership.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: That clearly hasn't worked. Even before the bill could be redrafted, let alone
introduced into the House of Representatives, the Government had the answer.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We are opposed to the changes and that is our position.

MALE: Full stop.

MALCOLM TURNBULL: We are, yes we are opposed to the changes.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Nicola Roxon says leaving the income threshold where it's been for a decade is
unfair.

NICOLA ROXON: And it means that in just a couple of years' time if we don't change these thresholds
one in two single tax payers will be paying this tax - clearly an unacceptable position.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: And she's sought to allay concerns about her policy causing health premiums to rise
even further.

NICOLA ROXON: We are in the position that we have to approve or disagree with those premium
increases. My responsibilities are to assess what's in the public interest and I want to make very
clear to those funds that if they use this change in a tax threshold as their justification for a
big hike in premiums, that we will take a very dim view of it.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Minister's tried to embarrass Liberals into a policy shift, claiming Mr
Turnbull is ignoring the wishes of the health sector and even some of his own colleagues to lift
the income threshold from $50,000 to $75,000.

NICOLA ROXON: It is also the figure that has been proposed by two Liberal senators, both the
previous parliamentary secretary for health and the current parliamentary secretary for the
Opposition for health; one of whom used to actually run a private health insurance fund. So Mr
Turnbull is I think ignoring the comments of his Liberal senators.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But Liberal senator Mathias Cormann insists he's said no such thing.

MATHIAS CORMANN: We have put in a Coalition senators dissenting report explaining very clearly why
we are opposed to this measure. The Minister is very dishonestly using a question I asked during
more than 20 hours of Senate inquiry and presenting it as a statement. This is real desperation.

ELEANOR HALL: That's Senator Mathias Cormann ending that report from Alexandra Kirk.