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Wednesday, 11 November 1998
Page: 181


Mr HARDGRAVE (7:38 PM) —Mr Speaker, it is a delight to be able to congratulate you on your elevation to high office. I know that you will discharge that with great authority and have regard for all members in this place.

I rise tonight to address a number of matters in relation to the Australian Labor Party's quite shameful conduct with regard to the private health insurance rebate of 30 per cent. The government has had this on the table for several months and proposed it quite clearly as part of its re-election platform. More to the point, the government proposed it quite clearly because, after so many years of deliberate winding back on matters relating to private health insurance by those opposite, there is finally a government in place that is determined to provide the incentive that everyday Australians need in order to stay attached to private health insurance or to get reinvolved with private health insurance.

It is pitiful in the extreme that, as a member of the House of Representatives, I have to sponsor a petition in my electorate to the President and the senators in the other place drawing their attention to the need to encourage participation in private health insurance, to allow individuals freedom of choice and to maintain a viable health system and urging them to pass without further delay the government's proposals and measures. I do so knowing that the shadow minister for health, the member for Jagajaga, who was the architect of the great scare campaign which upset so many older Australians in my electorate and right throughout this nation—based without any fact, just simply on her perception and her salesmanship alone—and frightened so many people around this country, is now saying, particularly to older Australians, `You are not going to get your 30 per cent rebate.'

It is an absolute outrage that what she is saying to people in my electorate of Moreton very clearly is, `Go back on the queue at the public hospitals; go back and stand in line and wait and take your chances.' It is a pitiful development in this nation that people in my electorate who are on a pension and who would be looking forward to $400 or $600 a year assistance to stay in private health insurance are now finding that particular measure under threat as a result of the ALP.

It is of course consistent with the Labor Party stand over many years, and we all struggle for consistency in this game. We have heard from the member for Hindmarsh tonight about some of the factional wheelings and dealings of the Australian Labor Party and its machine, but when that factional heavyweight and former Senator Richardson in one of his columns says, `Labor's always been a bit biased against private health insurance,' we see it being realised here again in 1998. We remember the mini-budget the Hawke government brought in in 1983, one of the very first things the Labor government elected in 1983 did was cancel the private health insurance rebate scheme that the Fraser government had operating. They set out deliberately to unpick private health insurance.

This is all about some sort of classless war. It is a pathetic situation. We have the former Prime Minister and member for Blaxland Paul Keating not taking out private health insurance—on $150,000 a year—but not contributing something towards taking the pressure off public hospital queues in this nation, preferring instead to demand his place ahead of so many others in the public system when he could have afforded private health insurance.

While we have had this day of new members on both sides giving first speeches, and they have been interesting to hear, it is worth knowing that the returned members opposite fall into a pattern, as the editorial in the Australian noticed a few weeks ago when it said, `The shadow ministry announced by Mr Beazley was weighed down by old faces and gave few opportunities to potential members in a Labor government.' The member for Werriwa said on lagging policy development, `In April 1996 Kim Beazley said to me that Australian Labor was falling 10 years behind comparable parties in our policy development and our ideas.' That was the case then, but the member for Werriwa said on 20 October on the 7.30 Report, `We have probably got as much ground to make up now.'

I make those points because it seems to me that those opposite have to get out of this classless war and get behind the government's private health insurance rebate. It is what people in my electorate want. It is what people in Australia want. It is one of the many things they voted for on 3 October and those opposite who deliberately try to stall things for some political point scoring game have to stop and change their approach. (Time expired)