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Wooldridge stands by Kennett's health cuts and charges

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Dr Carmen Lawrence Minister for Human Services and Health Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women


2 February 1996


"A vote for John Howard is clearly a vote for the Kennett health system," D r Lawrence said today.

"The Liberal Party's health spokesman, Michael Wooldridge, refused four times this morning to condemn Jeff Kennett for savagely cutting $270 m illion from the Victorian health system.

"O f even greater concern, Dr Wooldridge refused to condemn Jeff Kennett's proposal to introduce patient charges in public hospitals," Dr Lawrence said.

"So much for the Liberal Party's support for Medicare.

"Patient charges directly contradict all the principles o f Medicare.

"D r Wooldridge wasn't even aware o f that.

" I f he doesn't even know the principles o f Medicare and the Medicare Agreements, how can he credibly claim to support Medicare, let alone commit to maintaining it.

"D r W ooldridge’ s only response was to say that if it is against the Agreement, he w ouldn't change that. Again Dr Wooldridge doesn't understand the current system. The Commonwealth's only power to hold the States to these principles is to withhold funding.

"Clearly Dr Wooldridge wouldn’ t have the strength to do that if he can't even concede that M r Kennett was wrong to slash $270 m illion from the Victorian health system and close more than 1300 hospital beds.

"This endorsement o f M r Kennett's right to slash funds and introduce fees is in stark contrast to my reforms which w ill hold the States to agreed levels of funding and to achieving cuts in waiting times."

Contact: Brenda Conroy 0412 414781

3L0 PETER COUCHMAN (0830) 2.2.96



COMPERE: Good morning, Peter Couchman with you again. Well the pressure is starting to take its toll. They’re becoming offensive, insulting even boorish. No, not the politicians - this is all happening in sport!

Well this morning 1 want to talk about the Wayne Carey case and Dean Jones. They’re both in some hot water. But do we expect too much of our high profile sportsmen and women too, for that matter? And are we adopting two standards, one for them and one for the rest of us. I’m sure you'll have something to say about all this.

But we’ll go into that later in the program.

Well the Prime Minister’s campaign caravan was in Melbourne yesterday, as I’m sure you noticed. And Paul Keating was playing his Kennett card for all it was worth. Yesterday he made the health system here the focus -- because 1 suspect he knows very well this is something that will touch a

nerve with a lot of Victorians.

Jeff Kennett's ripped the system apart in Victoria, he reminded us. And we haven't heard a peep from John Howard about it.

Of course the message he really wanted to hammer home was: How much more would Jeff Kennett get away with if he had someone as compliant as John Howard in Canberra?

And Paul Keating threw out a challenge to Mr Howard yesterday. And this is a quote: ‘Pull Jeff Kennett into line. If he really does love Medicare,’ he said of Mr Howard, ‘he must be appalled at Mr Kennett’s actions but strangely we haven't heard John Howard criticising Jeff Kennett over his health policies. We haven’t heard John Howard complaining that the states have

taken 700 million dollars out of health while the Federal Government has put in 800 million.’ That was a quote from Paul Keating, yesterday.

Well it's a question: what would a Coalition Government in Canberra mean to Victorians? I mean would it make one iota of difference to what Jeff Kennett has done

or might do with the health system here.

Paul Keating mightn't like what's happened, but it has all happened while he’s in Canberra.

So does the Federal Government really make any difference at all? Well we still don’t know exactly what the coalition intends yet, because they still haven’t released their policy. But John Howard spelt it out in more

detail in his interview on the 7.30 Report last , night than he has done so far.

And it seems to be pretty much what we’ve got already. Medibank will be retained. So will bulk billing. But there’ll be an incentive for more people to take up private health

insurance. Now just what that incentive will be, no-one in the coalition is saying for the moment. But I’ve got the Shadow Health Spokesman, Dr Michael Wooldridge, here this morning and the Health Minister, Dr

Carmen Lawrence, too - she’s campaigning in Victoria today.

Dr Woodridge, good morning to you.

DR MICHAEL WOOLDRIDGE (Shadow Health Spokesman):

Good morning, Peter.

Do you endorse what Jeff Ken nett has done Q ) in Victoria?

Well what do you mean specifically?

Well, with his health reforms - Paul Keating reminded us yesterday, he’s taken 260 million dollars out of the health system here.

Well how much has Paul Keating taken out of general purpose grants to the states? I mean you can’t separate the two. The fact is that for the last six or seven years, rather than cut their own expenditure, Labor has cut expenditure to the states - every state in Australia is having difficulty.

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Every state in Australia has waiting lists. Every state in Australia has people hurting. And it is quite dishonest to try and pretend it’s all Kennett’s fault.

Well Paul Keating tells us yesterday that the Federal Government has put in 800 million dollars to the states, collectively, and the states have taken 700 million dollars out - his argument is that they are fiddling the books. They are taking the money from us

and using it for other things.

Well either Keating is terribly ineffective and can have no influence over the states, or there is some other explanation. And the other explanation is what’s happened to General Purpose Revenue. Now the other thing I would say is what's happened here in Victoria is Case Mix.

Now I remember sitting in the Parliament when Neil Bluett, the former Labor Health Minister, the architect of Medicare, gave his farewell speech. And he described Case Mix as the one big successful innovation to Medicare. So that’s an endorsement from the Labor Party. So again the Labor Party

is a bit disingenuous now to try and talk about some of the things that are happening in Victoria.

Well I think what Victorians want to know is, what we’ve experienced here under the Kennett Government, can we expect the same from a Coalition Government in terms of health policy?








No, you’ll have Medicare stay, bulk billing stay and you’ll have less pressure on our public hospitals.


Well in the middle of last year I got a document out of Dr Lawrence’s own department. That document predicted that of the people who dropped their private cover in a 15 month period, those people would use 322,000 public hospital bed days.

Now that's about two Alfred Hospitals, brim full, 365 days a year, just from the people who dropped their private health cover.

So giving people a chance to take out private health cover, giving them the choice to do so, will take pressure off our public hospitals - on Dr Lawrence’s own departments figures.

Okay. You want to get more people into private health insurance. If you do, will they be denied access to public hospitals?

No, of course not.

This is what Paul Keating told us yesterday. The aim is to get people into private health insurance so that you deny them access to public hospitals.

Absolutely not! There was no substance to what he said. It was on some vague comment that John Howard said 36 hours previously - presumably the National Media

Liaison Service is not very efficient at the





moment. Normally it doesn’t take 36 hours to get something up to the Prime Minister. But there’s no substance to that whatsoever. We will not be doing it.

Okay. Would you understand if some people were a little bit sceptical and even distrustful of the position that you are now taking on health in this election - because it does fly in the face of the position that the coalition has adopted at other elections. I mean, I’m sure you don't need me to remind you that at one point John Howard wanted to dismantle Medibank.

Yes, that was 1987. That is nine years ago. You must allow people to change their views as public opinion changes. The fact is John Howard is a man of integrity. He is recognised as that by the public. He has given an absolute commitment and we feel Labor has had their go. And there are still major problems that they have been completely incapable of fixing.

Okay. Are you going to make the same commitment to health that this Federal Government has made, in terms of what you will make available to the states?

Well we would hope there would be additional resources -- over and above what the Labor Party is offering. You’ll have to wait until our policy announcement for that. But we think you actually need additional resources in health and we will be seeking to do that.

COMPERE: Okay. The Medibank Levy - does it remain

the same under a Coalition Government?








Yes, we’ve given an absolute commitment that the Medicare Levy won't go up. And Dr Lawrence has refused to give that same commitment.

What so - for the first three years of a Coalition Government there would be no increase in the Medicare Levy?


And that’s an absolute, categoric guarantee?

Absolutely. And if we break our promises like that, we will pay accordingly. See if Dr Lawrence will give you the same


Okay. We’ll do that. Is this an attempt to -­ well I suppose I’d use the word ‘neutralise’ -­ neutralise health as an issue in this election because what -- in the same way that the coalition has attempted to neutralise the environment as an issue. It seems to me that what you are attempting to do, just

looking at the broad details of the policy that we’ve got, is to virtually match what the government has done.

No, I don’t want to neutralise health. I want health to be an issue. I want people to look at the waiting lists right around Australia. I want people to look at the disgraceful situation in public health. I want people to




look at the promises that Labor's made over the years -- such as the Better Health Commission, General Practice Reform, National Diabetes Action Plan and things that have never come to light.

I want people to focus on the fact that on international league tables we rank eleventh or twelfth in the world, as a healthy nation, and we could do a lot better. I want people to focus on the disastrous state of Aboriginal health. I want people to focus on the fact that, you know, we rank 26th out of

28 in the Western World for being able to immunise our kids.

And Dr Lawrence reckons she's fixed it - well she’s only funded a program for two years. That’s hardly fixing it.

Well if people at Victoria look at what’s happened in hospitals here, are you quite happy for them to make a comparison and draw conclusions - I mean if they look at the number of hospital wards that have

been closed; if they look at the plans to privatise the outpatients sections of public hospitals - are you quite happy for them to them that?

Well they are things that are happening around Australia to different degrees. And I think most people would accept that the Federal and State Governments have responsibility for health. Dr Lawrence would say, ‘well all responsibility for health rests with the State Government people.’ Just don’t believe that.

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The Federal Government has a major say over what goes on by the way they fund things. Now Medicare has two components: Medical Medicare which works well. You see your doctor, it’s paid. And Hospital Medicare, which is not working well because so many people have dropped their private health cover over the last three to four years particularly.

So, you know, to pretend that it’s just the State Government doesn’t explain the fact of why we have problems in every state in Australia. And the worst problems are actually in Queensland where the Labor Party’s been in power for some time.

Okay. Paul Keating’s got a point when he says, all this has happened in Victoria in the health system -- and as I say he reminded us of a number o f things that have happened here over the lat three years, and we haven’t heard a peep from John Howard

or the Coalition about it. Now why haven’t we heard anything?

Does the coalition generally approve of what’s happened with health policy in Victoria?

Well I'm not happy that waiting lists now are back to the levels that they were three years ago. They were very high throughout all the Cain/Kirner period. They did come down, but they’re now back to what they were when Jeff Kennett came in 1992 - and I



hope that’s something that can be fixed over coming months.

But it is better that the waiting list for urgent surgery has dropped to almost zero. When I was a doctor working in the public hospitals ~ when the Labor Party was in power at the state level -- people were waiting four years for a hip replacement.

You might remember me as a young doctor activist and talking to you about just those things.

So what used to happen under this State Labor Government doesn’t happen anymore. But there are still too many people waiting. Now the Labor Party says that’s all Kennett’s fault, yet at the last federal election they promised 100 million dollars to fix it. They only spent half a million of that 100 million and we've still got the problems with the waiting lists.

So the Labor Party wants to take it both ways. They want to promise that they're going to fix it in 1993; do nothing about it; and then hope no-one will remember in

1996 what they said three years ago.

Okay so, then I take it that your response is essentially that a Coalition Government would make more money available to states like Victoria, for health; and that some of the ward closures and other rather stringent

measures that are being taken here would be able to be reversed?

WOOLDRIDGE: We are losing two percent of the population

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from private health cover. And it’s not the - silvertails who've got private health cover. It's the average mum and dad, or the

pensioner - out in my electorate -- that are trying to hold on to it. There’s half a million people in Australia on incomes under 20,000 dollars a year who’ve got private health cover.

Everytime someone drops it that puts a greater strain on the public hospitals ~ on the figures of Dr Lawrence’s own department. And that is the reason we have a problem all around Australia. Graeme

Richardson understood this. Dr Lawrence doesn’t seem to.

COMPERE: Okay so when we will get -- when will we

get the nuts and bolts of the health policy? When do we find out what this incentive is going to be to get us all into private health insurance?

WOOLDRIDGE: It’s going to be announced with the policy launch and that’s in a couple of Sunday's time.

COMPERE: Okay. Thanks Dr Wooldridge, Dr Michael Wooldridge- -

WOOLDRIDGE: Thanks Peter.

COMPERE: - -the Shadow Minister for Health.

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