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Tuesday, 3 March 1998
Page: 183

Mr BEAZLEY —Why with his record in this area would anyone believe him? My question is to the Prime Minister again to try and get an answer to the previous question. Prime Minister, did you honestly believe when you launched your tax rebate policy, and did you believe again when you implemented it in your first budget, that you would increase health fund membership to 40 per cent? Or, like your health minister, were you deliberately making a claim you knew you could not achieve? Do you still stand, by the way, by that commitment to get it to 40 per cent by 2000?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I assure the Leader of the Opposition of a number of the things. The first of those is that in relation to the health policy, or indeed any of other policies that I put before the Australian public at the last election, unlike you, I did not deliberately mislead the Australian people. I repeat that; I did not deliberately mislead the Australian people. You did. And also unlike you, the coalition is the only side of politics in Australia that is making any serious attempt to defend and improve the Australian health system. In the two years that you have been in opposition you have deliberately embarked upon a policy to undermine public confidence in the Australian health care system. You have deliberately set about destroying and eroding public confidence, having watched the level of private health insurance—

Mr Beazley —Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order which goes to relevance. I would have thought that as they are in government they would accept responsibility. The simple question is does he still stand by that commitment and did he, when he said it, believe it?

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER —Order! There is no point of order.

Mr HOWARD —When the Labor Party introduced the Medicare system in the early 1980s, the level of private health insurance in this country was 61 per cent. Through a policy of deliberate and malign neglect, that level of private health insurance fell from 61 per cent down to the fifties, into the forties, and by 1990 it had reached a figure of about 39 per cent. It was at that particular time that the former Labor health minister sounded an alarm bell and said, `Unless we as a Labor government are prepared to provide incentives for private health insurance, it is going to decline further.' The now Leader of the Opposition, the then Prime Minister and the member for Fremantle all got together and decided, `It is a good thing to drive the level of private health insurance down further because we have an ideological opposition to it.'

Mr Bevis —That's rubbish!

Mr HOWARD —They say it is rubbish. If it is rubbish, how is it that when you came to power in 1983 it was 61 per cent and when you lost office in 1996 it was down to about 34 per cent? You deliberately drove it into the ground. You have an absolute gall to attack a government that has at least made an attempt to stabilise the levels. As the health minister said last night, if we had not introduced the rebates that we introduced after the last election, the level of private health insurance would have been a lot lower, and I suppose you lot would have been a lot happier.