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NEWS Brian Howe

RELEASEDeputy Prime Minister Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services BH286/92 18 December 1992


Dr Hewson's changes to Fightback! have been exposed as a sham by his decision not to touch the most unfair and inequitous part of his package - his health policy, Health Minister Brian Howe said today.

"Dr Hewson has panicked in the face of the polls and has made cosmetic changes but they make no difference to your average Australian," he said.

"Dr Hewson's changes do nothing to improve fairness.

"Dr Hewson claims he would not impose his regressive 15 per cent GST on food or child care - there is currently no 15 per cent GST on either of these things so what's changed?

"Dr Hewson claims he would defer his decision to throw people off Newstart after nine months - this Government does not throw people off Newstart after nine months so what's changed?

"Dr Hewson has also failed to provide adequate costings - where is the money coming from?" ,

Mr Howe said if Dr Hewson was serious about fairness, he would completely revamp the Fightback health policy.

"Fightback would send Australia down the American road where more than 37 million Americans have no access to health services which Australians take for granted,” he said.

"That is blatantly unfair, by any objective measure."

Mr Howe said Fightback would dismantle Medicare, abolish bulkbilling for more than 13 million Australians, increase doctors' fees by at least 30 per cent, reduce the Medicare rebate from 85 to 75 per cent and introduce compulsory charges for every doctor's visit.

It would also force Australians into private health insurance through a system of tax credits and penalties, cut $1.3 billion a year from public hospitals and re-introduce a two class health system, similar to that which existed under Malcolm Fraser's Government.

Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Social Justice Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for Commonwealth-State Relations

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"Dr Hewson had clearly not listened to the commentators and interest groups who have called for changes to the Fightback! health policy," Mr Howe said.

"For instance, the peak groups for older Australians - the Australian Pensioner and Superannuants' Federation (AP&SF) and The Australian Council on the Ageing (ACOTA) - have described the health policy as the weakest plank of Fightback.

"ACOTA says Fightback is regressive, would blow-out health costs, and add appreciably to inefficiencies in the health system.

"AP&SF says it presents too many risks for older Australians, who place a high premium on their health.

"The Federation says Fightback would introduce major financial incentives for doctors to refuse to bulkbill, and would introduce financial barriers limiting access to necessary health services.

"It also says the situation would be particularly bleak for non-pensioner retirees.

"That group would continue to pay the Medicare levy, be denied bulkbilling, face higher doctors' fees, a cut in the Medicare rebate from 85 to 75 per cent, a compulsory charge of at least $4.50 for each doctor's visit, and the extra costs associated with private health insurance."

Mr Howe said the Fightback health policy would blow-out health costs in Australia by at least $2 billion a year - with an average Australian family facing additional health costs of more than $1,000 a year.

"Dr Hewson has clearly not heard the majority of Australians - more than 70 per cent - who support Medicare and do not want it dismantled," he said.

"They know that Medicare is one of the fairest health systems in the world.

"He has clearly not heard our older citizens who say they do not want to be forced to take out private health insurance.

"Dr Hewson has a case of selective deafness.

"He may have made cosmetic changes but he has retained the real nasties of Fightback, including his inequitous health policy."

For further information: Ross Gardiner, Mr Howe's Office (06) 277 7680