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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31621

Ms GILLARD (10:33 AM) —I take this opportunity to make a few remarks on the National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits—Budget Measures) Bill 2002 [No. 2],on its return to us from the Senate. I respond to the Minister for Health and Ageing by saying the following: since the May 2002 budget the opposition has sought to be in dialogue with the government about better ways of making savings on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme than simply increasing copayments. We on this side of the House understand the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. In fact, it is in Australia as a result of a set of measures originally put in place by a Labor government way back when. Of course, most health measures of any significance in Australia have been introduced by Labor—like Medicare, Medibank and the antecedents of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme. All these things have always been fought against by the coalition, up hill and down dale, until they have thought it was in their political interests to backflip and adopt them, which is the sort of pretence that this government is engaging in now on Medicare.

Rather than talk about that, I will explain the position on the PBS. We have always understood that the PBS needed to be sustainable. Since May 2002 we have sought dialogue with the government about better and smarter ways of making the necessary savings on the PBS—rather than increasing copayments. My predecessor as shadow minister for health opened that dialogue; the government never responded. Here we are, two years later. I myself have written to the minister for health and have received no response on what I think would be up to a $900 million saving on the PBS. If we had some form of cooperation with the government, I think there would be a set of savings measures which would mean that these copayment increases would be either wholly unnecessary or minimised. But the government has not cooperated and the opposition acknowledges that some things can only be done with the resources of government. There are some major savings to be made on the PBS which we can only crystallise as savings with the resources of government.

The argument we are having today is the following argument basically, and it ought to be understood by the Australian people: if the Australian people vote for the coalition government with John Howard as Prime Minister—and whoever he chooses to make health minister after the election, because I will warrant it will not be the current person holding the job—then there will certainly be a 30 per cent copayment increase on the PBS on 1 January. That is what people will be voting for. If people vote for and elect a Mark Latham Labor government, the incoming Labor government will crystallise the major savings we believe can be made on the PBS. That might mean that there is no need for any copayment increase on 1 January; if there is the need for any copayment movement, it will be a very minimal movement. So we understand that we need to make the savings. We believe there is a better way. We believe that we may be able to make those savings entirely without any increase in copayments. Any increase that may be required, if we cannot wholly make those savings through other measures, will be a very modest increase.

The choice could not be clearer: vote for the coalition and get a 30 per cent increase in Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme copayments and, of course, the continued destruction of Medicare, once they get out of the electoral cycle and go back to their normal behaviour—which is the destruction of Medicare. They pretend, Mr Speaker, as you would be aware, to support Medicare, but they only do that in the run-up to elections, when it is convenient to put ads on the television; the rest of the time they go about the business of destruction. So a vote for the coalition government will be a vote for a 30 per cent increase in copayments and the destruction of Medicare; a vote for a Latham Labor government will be for no increase in copayments or a very modest increase in copayments and a revitalisation and strengthening of Medicare for the long term—by the political party that created it and is the only political party that has continuously believed in it.