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Monday, 14 October 1991
Page: 1820

Mr MELHAM(3.45 p.m.) —-I was somewhat amused to hear Opposition speakers in this matter of public importance debate today. What we have heard has been an exercise in blatant political opportunism and an act of the utmost hypocrisy by an Opposition which for nine years has been unable to formulate a health policy.

I have just done a rough exercise to see how many Opposition spokesmen on health there have been in the term of the Hawke Labor Government. The Opposition has gone through health spokesmen like a dose of salts. Let me recount them. Firstly, there was the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton). Then there was the former member for Barker, Mr Porter; he hit the fence for the current member. Then there was Senator Michael Baume. Then there was the honourable member for O'Connor (Mr Tuckey). Where is he? He is now relegated to the back bench. That is how good he was at introducing policy on health. Then there was the honourable member for Tangney (Mr Shack). What has happened to him? He hit the fence after his damning admission of the Opposition's health policy prior to the last election. He has realised that he has no future in the Liberal Party so he will not be back after the next election. Now we have the honourable member for Lowe (Dr Bob Woods). Perhaps members of the Opposition will tell me if I have missed any. That is six. Are there any missing links from the Opposition who were involved in attempting to formulate the Opposition's policy on health?

What the Opposition is concerned about is not reform, but the destruction of Medicare. That is what members of the Opposition are about. That is what their nine-year record in opposition is about. That was their record under the Fraser Government when they set about dismantling Medibank. This Government recreated Medibank under the guise of Medicare. It has reformed and enhanced Medicare by these changes.

The simple fact is that the Opposition is not concerned about the health needs of Australians and would like nothing better than to abolish Medicare. In an interview on Radio 2GB on 30 January 1990, the Leader of the Opposition (Dr Hewson) said, `I don't think health is an important issue'. Yet those opposite brought forward this MPI today--in vastly different terms from the MPI that they were attempting to introduce last Thursday, which related only to the co-payment. What cant, what hypocrisy, we have heard from members of the Opposition here today. Let the Leader of the Opposition and the honourable member for Lowe go out and tell the Australian people that as far as they are concerned health is not an important issue.

The Leader of the Opposition's view on health care is well documented. In the Sunday Age of 17 February 1991, the Leader of the Opposition said:

A more radical alternative would be to see the Commonwealth cease paying specific grants to States altogether in such areas as education, health and so on. And the payments would instead be made directly to individuals, perhaps in the form of a voucher.

The voucher could then in turn be used by the individual to buy services from State governments or from private sector providers.

In other words, the Leader of the Opposition would abolish Medicare altogether and provide pensioners with health vouchers, thus rendering them second-class citizens. The simple fact of the matter is that most Australians support Medicare; indeed, most Australians welcome reforms which will strengthen and enhance Medicare. Yet all the Opposition is concerned about is the dismantling of Medicare.

The Opposition is not concerned about the health needs of the Australian people and how best to deliver services. Today's MPI is nothing but a grubby political point scoring exercise which will be seen for the sham that it is. This Government is committed to ensuring the ongoing viability of Medicare. The reforms announced are part of an overall package designed to improve the quality of service, to target resources to where they are needed, and to address the problems of overservice and oversupply of doctors. The package of reform demonstrates the Government's commitment to maintaining Medicare as a universal and equitable health care system.

Medicare is a central plank of Labor's social justice strategy, but change is essential to sustain Medicare as a universal equitable health insurance system. Without those changes, within a few short years Australians would lose the most stable health insurance system in this country's history. That is what these changes are about. And that is what the Australian people will accept, because our record on Medicare is clear, and we stand on our record. The Opposition policy on health is clear--to whom we do not know, because the Opposition has not yet announced it; we are still waiting for it.

What we have is certainly a shadow government and a shadow spokesman for health; a `shadow' in the true sense of the word--completely lacking in substance. That is what the honourable member for Lowe is--and that is what this MPI is--completely lacking in substance. The record of the current Minister for Community Services and Health (Mr Howe) is clear. It was clear when he was Minister for Social Security. It was clear in the reception he received from the elderly, the aged and the disadvantaged when I introduced him to those members in my electorate prior to the last election. It was clear that they saw him for what he is: a visionary--a compassionate man who is concerned about redressing the inequalities in our society and who has a social justice strategy.

We will go to the people at the next election and there will be a clear distinction between this Government and the Opposition. What we will achieve in 1993 is another three years in office, because we are prepared to confront hard decisions; we are prepared to put forward our package; we are prepared to allow vigorous debate in our party room; we are prepared to modify when modification is necessary. We should not be frightened of change; we should be frightened of this McCarthyist attitude that has crept into the Opposition since the election of the Leader of the Opposition. That is what the Opposition is attempting to do in this debate in terms of Medicare--create fear, rumour, scaremongering. The Opposition is completely lacking in substance. It should put forward its alternative health policy before it walks into the people's parliament, the House of Representatives, and brings forward a sham such as the MPI that it has introduced today.

I would like to see more of this from the Opposition, because the more the people of Australia see of the Leader of the Opposition and what he represents, and what the other side of the chamber represents, the more certain the election of the fifth Hawke Labor Government in 1993 will be. (Time expired)

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Les Scott)--Order! The discussion has concluded.