Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
New Shadow Minister for Health speaks of her policy directions

MONICA ATTARD: As you heard, Bronwyn Bishop has been given the Health portfolio. Some, of course, might be forgiven for thinking her appointment is a cynical political exercise aimed at neutralising the Government's star, Dr Carmen Lawrence, the Federal Health Minister. But when I spoke with her just before we came to air, Mrs Bishop wouldn't be drawn on that issue, but she did give P.M. an idea of what she'd be doing in the Health portfolio.

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, I feel delighted about the portfolio, which is the significant thing. The fact that it shadows Dr Lawrence means that she's just another Labor politician.

MONICA ATTARD: Do you feel as though, perhaps, you're being used in a bit of a political exercise here, in fact a cynical political exercise?

BRONWYN BISHOP: No, I don't. And I think I'm just a politician like she's just a politician, that sex is not relevant to the question. What is important is that we represent totally different philosophical approaches not only to health but to everything else.

MONICA ATTARD: It's quite an elevation for you, isn't it, really? Why do you think you've been so honoured?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, I can only believe that Mr Downer believes that I've got the credentials to undertake the task which I certainly look forward to. And I am on the record of having said quite a few things about health.

MONICA ATTARD: So, Mrs Bishop, what sort of policies do you think you'll be developing in the portfolio?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, what we'll be developing is the direction in which we will travel.

MONICA ATTARD: And which is that?

BRONWYN BISHOP: The direction that we will take the people to the next election. Policy is what you do in government and you see it in legislation. But the things that I have said and to which I am committed are one, that bulk-billing stays; two, that the need for gap insurance is paramount because people in private health insurance pay not only once with their premium, twice with the levy but thirdly they pay the gap between the schedule fee and the actual cost. And we must look at the question of tax relief for premiums paid because the private health insurance provides more money for the health care system than does the Medicare levy and government policy is forcing people out of private health insurance.

MONICA ATTARD: So no cutbacks to the Health budget?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, it's a question of spending the money wisely. There is need for more money in the system and I believe in policies that are of the carrot variety and not the stick, so you encourage more people into the private health insurance system which puts more money in the pool so that people don't have to have services rationed as is the present situation.

MONICA ATTARD: And so to encourage more people into the private insurance schemes, what do you do? Rebates?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, as I said, you look at tax relief and you also look at gap insurance.

MONICA ATTARD: Dr Downer said just a few hours ago that there would have to be some changes to the Coalition's health policies. What will those changes be?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, the health policy was, of course, part of the Fightback manifesto and that Fightback package is dead. So it is a question of ensuring that we have justice and equity in the system and that people have access to the health care system when they need it. And at the moment, under this Labor Party Government who have an active policy of forcing people out of private health insurance, we have rationing and people in queues waiting for hospitals, and some of them never make it.

MONICA ATTARD: So can we go through a few other of the major health issues of the moment? What about Aboriginal health care - a major priority for you?

BRONWYN BISHOP: A very important question. I was in the Northern Territory visiting Aboriginal communities only last week, and I was very impressed, particularly with the women whom I met up there who are taking a major role in leading their communities. They were very ... quite a few people that I spoke to were somewhat upset with the grandiosement tour that Senator Richardson took through the Northern Territory and showing Aboriginal people in a poor light. Clearly there is need for improved health within Aboriginal communities. But the cynicism of this Government, with Senator Richardson promising $800 million, it then being cut back by half by Mr Keating having allegedly promised Senator Richardson that there would be no cut ....

MONICA ATTARD: Well, what about ....

BRONWYN BISHOP: .... and then Mrs Lawrence saying that she was going to get some more money and it being taken - $64 million being taken - from the $100 million that had been set aside to reduce queues for hospitals, just shows you what a cynical lot this Government is.

MONICA ATTARD: Well, what amount would you like to see allocated to Aboriginal health?

BRONWYN BISHOP: It's a question of making sure that there is adequate health provision for all Australians, of which Aboriginal Australians are an important part. It's a totally different, philosophical approach.

MONICA ATTARD: So integration ....

BRONWYN BISHOP: No, it's not integration at all. It's a question of ensuring that the delivery of service is effective for Aboriginal people.

MONICA ATTARD: Mrs Bishop, would you advocate an increase in funding for Aboriginal health care?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Well, what I advocate is a better spending of the money that is allocated. The amount of money that the Government has allocated in the way it is allocated is the worst of cynical exercises.

MONICA ATTARD: But no increase?

BRONWYN BISHOP: I'm not in government, Monica. I'm not the Government; I am in Opposition.

MONICA ATTARD: Well, when you're creating your new directions to the Coalition would you advocate an increase in funding for Aboriginal welfare?

BRONWYN BISHOP: Yes. What direction we will be taking is to ensure that money, when it is spent, is spent effectively. Now, that's not just a question of dollars. It's a question of looking at the waste that exists, where money that is allocated is in fact spent. Does it, in fact, get to the people who need it or is it wasted along the way through bureaucracies?

MONICA ATTARD: Mrs Bronwyn Bishop, the Coalition's new Health spokesperson.