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Thursday, 8 February 2007
Page: 8

Mr BARTLETT (2:45 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister advise the House how the government’s support for private health insurance is taking the pressure off our public hospital system? Is the minister aware of claims that private health insurance costs might rise? What is the government’s response?

Ms Roxon interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! The member for Gellibrand!

Ms Roxon interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Gellibrand is warned!

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —If the member for Gellibrand had a policy, rather than shrieking across the table, she would certainly be doing better about establishing her credibility.

Ms King interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Ballarat is warned!

Mr ABBOTT —I know how important this is to the member for Macquarie, because 75,000 people in his electorate have private health insurance, and they are relying on the Howard government to keep it affordable for them. Thanks to the policies of the Howard government, some nine million Australians now have the security and choice that come with private health cover. This is nearly three million more than under the Keating government, and it includes one million people earning less than $20,000 a year. All of these people have the potential to avoid state Labor’s public hospital waiting list.

Yesterday, the member for Gellibrand said that costs might rise under the government’s planned changes to health insurance legislation. Let me say that Labor are the past masters of premium increases. In 1987, premiums went up 19 per cent under Labor. In 1992, premiums went up 17 per cent under Labor. On average, under Labor, premiums increased by 11 per cent every year compared with just 5.6 per cent since 1996. Let us make it very clear: the member for Gellibrand is not trying to improve private health insurance; she is trying to sabotage it. She once told this parliament that the government should stop ‘pouring enormous amounts of money into private health insurance cover and instead put that money into public facilities’. We are in the mood, it seems, opposite, to repudiate statements, and I ask the member for Gellibrand: will she now repudiate that previous statement of hers? Indeed, I say to the Leader of the Opposition: on the subject of private health insurance, as on so many other topics, will the real Kevin Rudd please stand up? Does he still think, as he once told this parliament, that private health insurance is about the Americanisation of our health system? One day he was a mere staffer; the next day he is the de facto Premier of Queensland. One day he is the philosopher prince of Labor; the next minute, he reads comics for his inspiration.

Mr Tuckey interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for O’Connor is warned!

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order with regard to standing order 104.

The SPEAKER —I have been listening carefully to the minister, and I am sure he will come back to the question.

Mr ABBOTT —I am asking the Leader of the Opposition to resolve where he really stands on private health insurance. One day he is not a socialist and he never ever has been and, the next day, he has been a Christian socialist since Keir Hardy’s time. When will this enigma—

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order: the minister is now defying your ruling.

The SPEAKER —The minister is in order.

Mr ABBOTT —One minute he thinks that the coalition has tried to commandeer God; the next minute he thinks that Jesus is standing for a Labor Party seat. When will this enigma finally resolve itself?

Mr Kelvin Thomson —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The minister was asked whether he is aware of claims that private health insurance will rise. I ask you to draw him back to the question he was asked.

The SPEAKER —I call the minister and ask him to come back to the question.

Mr ABBOTT —I certainly will, Mr Speaker. Let me just say to the Leader of the Opposition: trying to be all things to everyone will not work. On private health insurance, as on so many other topics, he needs to come clean and say what he really believes. If he does not have a clear position on private health insurance, he does not have any credibility in his bid to lead this nation.