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Government to reintroduce health plan -

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ELEANOR HALL: The independent Senator Nick Xenophon says that the Federal Government's attempt to
make healthcare reform the battleground for the next election could backfire badly.

Today the Government is reintroducing into the Senate its plan to means test the private health
insurance rebate. The Government is also promising it will soon reveal the hospital reform
blueprint that Kevin Rudd promised before the last election.

The Senate has already blocked the rebate change once and so it could become a trigger for a double
dissolution election. Now the Greens have offered a compromise to see the private health insurance
changes through. But the independent Senator Nick Xenophon says he won't support it.

Senator Xenophon spoke to Alexandra Kirk in Canberra.

NICK XENOPHON: Well, there is a threshold issue here for me and that is at the last election the
Government said that it will not alter the rebate, that the rebate would be maintained. That was a
key election promise when the Government was in opposition and there is a heavy very onus on a
government to break a promise as fundamental as this and I don't think they have discharged that
onus in terms of the reasons that they have put forward.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: So you are saying no which means that the Greens compromise won't work?

NICK XENOPHON: I appreciate what the Greens are trying to do. Clearly mental health does require
further funding. It is obviously underfunded but this isn't the way to do it.

We need to get over the threshold issue of a broken promise and what will the impact be of these
changes if it means more people dropping out of private health insurance, going onto the public
system and increased costs for our public health system and also the issue of private health
premiums going up even further because people have dropped out and then it becomes a zero sum gain
or even worse.

To get something through the Government needs seven votes and really the onus is on the Government.
If it wants to get legislation through it needs to sit down and if necessary compromise to get a
good policy outcome.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government is putting a lot of emphasis on reintroducing the private health
insurance rebate means test into the Senate this week saying basically that the next election is
going to be all about health. Do you think that is how it will end up?

NICK XENOPHON: Well obviously it can be a double dissolution trigger but whether it will backfire
on the Government is another matter.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Well clearly emissions trading is off the boil now with voters so is health the
next big battleground?

NICK XENOPHON: Well, it seems that the Government wants to make health the next big battleground
after the failure of emissions trading scheme two times running, I don't think it will be a case of
third time lucky for the Government.

But when you consider that this is about the Government trying to crash through on a broken promise
in terms of health insurance, I don't know whether that will be the best issue for them to run, to
go to the polls on if there is evidence that it could end up forcing private health insurance
premiums and cause increased public hospital waiting lists.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: This may not be the issue but the broader issue of the big health reform package
that the Government is about to release in the next month or so, do you think that will work as the
major focus of the election?

NICK XENOPHON: It really depends what the Government is proposing. There have been a number of
reviews. The Government is committed to dealing with this. They have said so. They have also made
promises in terms of taking over the public hospital system over from the states so it really
depends how far the Government wants to push this but I think there is an expectation, based on the
promise that people want change.

They want better service delivery of the health system and given that this is where the budget is
going to blow out in years to come, this will be one of the key issues in terms of public policy
for this nation for many years to come.

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Do you think it will be the major issue of the next election?

NICK XENOPHON: Well, I guess my message to the Government is good luck going to the next election
based on a broken promise from the last one and also a promise of taking on the states over the
health system. It could be a case of a bit like the boy who cried wolf once too often.

ELEANOR HALL: That is the independent Senator Nick Xenophon speaking to Alexandra Kirk.