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Wednesday, 12 February 2014
Page: 184

Mrs GRIGGS (Solomon) (11:46): I just want to pick up on a point that the member for Wakefield made in saying that the private sector is not interested in investing in the regional and remote areas. What a load of hogwash! I live in a regional centre, and there are plenty of private sector people who want to come in and invest in the Territory. Have you heard of Northern Australia, Member for Wakefield?

Mr Champion: I lived there. I lived in Darwin.

Mrs GRIGGS: Well, you do not live there now. You do not live there now, Mr Champion. Let me tell you: there are plenty of people who want to invest in Northern Australia.

The Abbott government does understand just how important it is to have a strong private health system to support a dynamic public system. It really does. In the Territory, this is very, very obvious. The coalition recognises the importance of planning for the long term to meet the challenges that will come with an ageing population. We plan to continue to encourage growth of the private health system in order to relieve some of the pressure that our ageing population is putting on the public system. This happens in my electorate of Solomon. That is why it is very important that we have a very solid, vibrant, private health system.

The growth and stability of the private health system in my electorate is of particular importance. Under the previous government, we all saw that there were attacks on our private health system, in turn increasing pressure on our public system and putting the health of my constituents at risk, and I was not happy about that. I know that this government will protect our private health system and ensure the stability and certainty of health care for my constituents in Darwin and Palmerston.

I rise to speak on the Private Health Insurance Legislation Amendment Bill 2013 and support the coalition's plan to untangle the mess that Labor has left behind in our health system. This bill seeks to reduce the burden placed on our private health system by the previous Labor government's private health insurance base premium measures. The Labor government placed enormous regulatory burdens and implementation difficulties on our private health system, in turn complicating our system and confusing our consumers, who are our constituents.

Under the previous Labor government's changes, the government's contribution to the rebate on private health insurance would be capped and indexed by the lesser of the consumer price index or the actual increase in premiums from 1 April 2014. This would apply to every one of the 34,000-plus policy products. This measure that the previous government proposed would apply at a policy level, resulting in a complicated and costly system.

This bill will change this process by using a single rebate adjustment factor across all policies. The adjustment factor will be a ratio representing the proportion of the increase in the consumer price index compared to the average private health insurance premium increase. These changes will greatly reduce the complexity for consumers and make it easier to compare products at an industry level. It is estimated that the changes will save the private health insurance industry approximately 80 per cent of the administrative costs associated with policy level implementation.

This government recognises the importance of supporting our private healthcare system, as did the former Howard government, which left office with a legacy encouraging the uptake of private health insurance, supporting those Australians who wished to take out private cover for their families, while supporting a vibrant public health system. Following the former coalition government's introduction of measures to support private health insurance, including the private health insurance rebate, Lifetime Health Cover and the Medicare levy surcharge, the number of people with private hospital cover grew dramatically from around six million people in the late 1990s to nine million people by late in the year 2000. This has always been the coalition's approach to health care: reduce complexity in the private system and encourage those who can take out private health insurance to cover their family in times of sickness and of health. Yet the Labor Party continues to destroy our system with red tape, regulation and confusion. Mr Deputy Speaker, you know that that is the Labor way.

As I always maintain in my representation of the people of Solomon, we are in a unique position in the Territory and providing health services in such a vast and remote jurisdiction faces extra difficulties in comparison to other major cities. With the Territory's increasing ageing population, more than ever we require the support of the private health system to relieve the pressure on our public system. According to Private Health Care Australia, there are 35 private health insurance funds providing cover in the Northern Territory—a significantly smaller number than other states and territories. Nevertheless, they are there. As at September 2013, the Northern Territory had 99,983 people covered by some form of private health insurance. This included 93,386 persons with hospital cover and 99,871 persons with general treatment cover for ancillary care such as dental, chiropractic and optical services. That is around 50 per cent of the Territory's population covered by some form of health care. Yet the previous Labor government did not recognise the importance of supporting our private health system. Could you imagine the state of public health care if 50 per cent of the Territory's population suddenly relied on the public system? With that figure being Territory-wide, we can assume that the percentage in my electorate of Solomon would be much higher. Additionally, hospital coverage in the Northern Territory increased by 4.3 per cent from September 2012 to September 2013, while general treatment coverage increased by around five per cent. In the year ending September 2013, private health insurance paid benefits for over 1,000 public hospital episodes that would otherwise have been paid for by government. This is an extremely significant assistance to the public health system. We are experiencing an influx of people moving to Darwin and Palmerston and with our public system struggling to cope, there has never been a more important time to support our private health system.

The coalition recognises the importance of investing in both our private and public systems here in the Territory. That is why I pushed so hard for a new hospital in the Territory and Minister Dutton listened. I am delighted that the Abbott government has committed to $110 million of investment for a new hospital in the Palmerston area, with the Country Liberal government contributing $40 million. That $150 million for a new hospital in my electorate will alleviate strains on Royal Darwin Hospital and help to provide first-class health care to the people of Darwin, Palmerston and the greater rural area.

I commend the bill to the House.