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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31620


Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) (10:29 AM) —I understand that it is the wish of the House to consider the amendments together and on that basis I move:

That the amendments be agreed to.

These amendments embody changes to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme copayments. These amendments embody the measures the government has been seeking to have passed for some 25 months. They are precisely the kinds of measures which responsible governments and responsible parliaments do agree to. For a long time there has been considerable opposition to these amendments. For instance, on Wednesday, 9 October 2002 the member for Fraser—I do not want to embarrass him but I think it is important to remind him—said:

We won't be supporting these increases in the price of essential medicines-not now, not ever.

I do not want to embarrass the member for Perth either, but it is worth recalling that back on 16 May 2002 the member for Perth told this House:

This is a brutal measure, and we will oppose it tooth and nail in this House and in the Senate.

In that same speech he said:

... it will whack the sickest and the poorest, the weakest, the elderly and families under financial pressure.

On 19 June 2002, the member for Perth said:

... I'm very confident that the Senate will knock off the government's proposal to increase the cost of essential medicines by more than 30 per cent. I welcome that. That'll be a victory for pensioners and a victory for families under pressure.

Of course, just last year on 18 September none other than the member for Lalor, the shadow minister for health, said that the government's proposed copayment hikes would only add further to the financial burden on sick Australians.

But let me also quote the Leader of the Opposition on 14 January this year, who said on South Australian radio:

In the last 18 months, for instance, we've been blocking increases in pharmaceutical expenses. The Government's trying to put it up—$6.50 for families, $1.00 for pensioners—and Labor has been saying no in the Senate. And when it comes to the American Free Trade Agreement and attempts to touch the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, we'll be saying no in the Senate yet again.

The Leader of the Opposition, by this extraordinary backflip on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, has not only undermined his compassion credentials; he has also undermined the entire basis of the ALP's opposition to the free trade agreement with the United States.

I always welcome good policy. Even a belated embrace of good policy is welcome and, having been converted to good policy, don't the members opposite have the zeal of converts? Aren't members opposite spouting their new belief like true believers? Aren't they going around the countryside saying, `Yes, it's high time that we saw a bit of responsibility; it's high time that we saw a bit of added copayment by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme users of Australia.' Yes, haven't they been enthusiastic converts to this cause? Didn't they change so enthusiastically once they needed the money? This is now the Latham-Gillard-McMullan legislation, and I commend it to the House.