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Medicare's 12th birthday [speech]

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Medicare’s 12th Birthday Speech for the H od. Dr Carmen Lawrence / * «2/ 9 G Minister for Human Services and Health

It’s a great day to be the Federal Labor Health Minister.

Today we celebrate 12 years of the best health care system Australia has ever seen.

Twelve years ago Labor’s Medicare started working for Australia.

It’s hard to believe today, but twelve years ago two million Australians had no health cover whatsoever.

They were the Australians the previous government chose to forget.

These Australians were caught between a rock and a hard place: they couldn’t afford insurance or the doctors’ and specialists’ fees, but they weren’t poor enough to qualify for the government charity scheme.

On the 1st of February 1984, Labor introduced Medicare, and ended that harsh policy.

Today Labor’s Medicare has become a national institution.

A recent survey showed that support for Medicare is at a record high.

When asked their views on Medicare 88 per cent of those Australians surveyed supported it.

A decade ago, that was 44 per cent.

It is so popular that even my political opponents have been forced to mouth support for it.

You can be sure that the shelf life of their support will expire about a fortnight after March the second.

Medicare and the principles that underlie it are the flagship of this Labor Government’s health policies.

Through the 1980s and now in the 1990s the Federal Labor Government has successfully established and built upon one of the world’s best health care systems.

Today all sections of the community have access to medical and hospital services and pharmaceuticals on the basis of need.

Twelve million Australians will receive free general practice care this year


and over two million will be treated without charge in our public hospitals.

The logistics of this vast operation are handled by the Health Insurance Commission, one of the quiet achievers of the public sector.

The HIC is a large but highly efficient organisation that sets the highest standards in government service delivery.

It enjoys the approval of 90% of its customers—that’s why the Liberals are looking to give away the job of Medicare claims handling to chemists and others.

Not only would this proposal be prohibitively expensive, it would also com­ promise the security of Australians’ medical records.

There could be no meaningful guarantee of privacy at all.

However this Government does not rest on its laurels, and we are always looking for ways to improve services to the public.

Last December, we introduced a system of formless claiming, and for people in rural and regional areas we are piloting a telephone claim service.

Today, it is my pleasure to announce that we will be extending the trading hours of 76 Medicare offices, located in all states and territories, to Saturday mornings.

These offices will be open from 10.00am to 2.00pm, starting from the 1st of October this year.

Additional funding will be provided to the HIC, and the government will have discussions about the implementation of extended trading hours with the CPSU and HIC staff.

It’s very important in the course of an election to look not only at what political parties say, but at what they do.

The conservative parties systematically dismantled Medibank, which was the forerunner to Medicare, when they were last in government.

Labor invented Medicare, turned it from a noble idea to a reality, and is still full of fresh ideas for its growth and enhancement.

This achievement is worth celebrating, and worth defending.

I’d like you all to join me in wishing Medicare a Happy 12th birthday. *

* P le a se ch eck a g a in s t d eliv ery .