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Wednesday, 9 October 1991
Page: 1542

Dr BOB WOODS —-I ask the Prime Minister: what is the Government's existing health policy? Does it include an increase in the Medicare levy? Does it include the introduction of a $3.50 co-payment, a reduction in rebates on bulkbill claims, the imposition of an administrative fee, or some other alternative, cobbled together as a result of the never-ending factional negotiations? Or is it the case that on this issue, as with so many other issues, his Government just does not have a clue?

Mr HAWKE —-The people of Australia have had the opportunity to judge us as compared with those opposite on a range of issues, including our approach to health policy, and they have resoundingly made it clear whose policy they prefer. It is equally certain that, when they have the opportunity again in 1993, they will make the same decision. There is only one question about 1993, and that is whether by then those opposite will have a health policy. They went to the last election without one.

Mr Downer —-Tell us about yours. That is the question.

Mr HAWKE —-It is quite clear what ours is. It is in operation out there now. It is a health policy which obliterated from the face of this country the obscenity that we inherited from those opposite. They went out of office with two million of their fellow Australians having no cover of any sort in terms of sickness or hospital coverage.

Mr McGauran —-That is untrue.

Mr ACTING SPEAKER —-Order! I warn the honourable member for Gippsland.

Mr HAWKE —-That was their legacy in the area of health policy. We removed that by bringing into existence a policy, which is operating now and which is characterised by two fundamental features: first, its universality; second, its equity. The Government is committed to ensuring that Medicare remains entrenched in the Australian landscape and we will do that by addressing the problem of the unsustainable growth in servicing. Major reforms to the structure of Medicare rebates for general practice were announced in the Budget. Those changes--

Dr Hewson —-You got rolled.

Mr HAWKE —-`You got rolled'; turn the record off! If those opposite will turn the record off, they will hear what I have to say. As I have said in this place, the proposals that were contained in the Budget have, as a matter of record, as a matter of fact, caused some concern amongst members of the parliamentary Labor Party. That is a matter of fact. Because we are proud of our achievement in implementing the most stable, efficient and equitable health care financing system in Australia's history--it is a pride that we all share--it is natural enough that members of this Caucus will have some concern and will want to talk about anything that involves changes to and developments of that system. That is understandable enough.

The major concern has been to ensure that nothing that we do damages the rate of direct billing for general practice services. That is the major concern because direct billing, as you know, Mr Acting Speaker, restrains medical costs and ensures that in most urban areas patients can access medical services whenever they need them. We are currently working through these concerns.

There are three matters, however, which should be clearly understood by the honourable gentleman who asked this question and by those on the other side of this place. Firstly, nothing this Government does will put at risk the access of pensioners and other cardholders to medical services; secondly, the Government's Budget strategy will remain intact; and, thirdly, the Government's announcement included important reforms to the Medicare safety net to ensure that no family need pay more than $246 a year in out-of-pocket medical expenses. It is important to understand that this safety net applies to all out of hospital medical services, for example, X-rays, pathology and other specialist services, not just GP visits. The Government will retain its commitment to protecting these families in most medical need.

As I pointed out yesterday, the Opposition has not had a health policy for five years. We have produced a health policy which is working and which is endorsed and supported by over 70 per cent of the Australian people. This policy of this Labor Government is working to produce universality of coverage and equity in its operation. That is the achievement of this Government. In five years the Opposition has not been able to produce a policy.

I conclude by saying that I note with interest in the Australian Financial Review today a report that the Opposition Leader is finalising the Opposition's policy packages generally, presumably including a health policy, this week. What exquisite timing! It looks as though he may be choosing next week to produce his policy when both the Prime Minister and the Treasurer are out of the country. That will be a pretty typical act of courage.