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Monday, 11 November 1991
Page: 2806

Senator HERRON —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services. As the Minister knows, evidence was given last Friday to the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs that neither the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, the Australian Community Health Association, the Doctors Reform Society nor any other authority was consulted about the effect of a reduction in rebates for general practitioner consultations. Was this decision made solely on economic grounds and was it a direction from Treasury to the Department of Health, Housing and Community Services in order to transfer $800m in funds from health to the better cities program and only unintentionally destroying the basis of Medicare?

Senator TATE —Mr President, it was made extremely clear last week that the aim, the motivation, the goal of the various changes announced and foreshadowed in the Budget by the Minister with responsibility in this area, Mr Howe, was to ensure that the best possible service is provided to Australians who seek health advice from their general practitioners, as the primary health givers and carers in this community. In particular, the question of co-payments in relation to the provision of some services needs to be correlated with other proposals, for example, to do with practice grants and so on. In other words, a complex bundle of proposals was put forward, which would indicate to an impartial observer that what was being attempted was a series of changes which, overall, if implemented, would bring about a change which would benefit those who seek the provision of medical advice, health advice, from the general practitioner.

  The question of consultation is a most important one. It was very good, therefore, to note that the Minister had met recently with the President of the Australian Medical Association and the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners in order to set up a structure whereby departmental officials and those nominated by those two bodies would be able to consult in a very structured way over the various issues which need to be looked at. Those particular consultations are being undertaken with a view to ensuring that the outcome of those proposals is workable and that it can be implemented in a way which not only satisfies the medical profession as to the professional integrity of those proposals, but ensures—

Senator Herron —I'll ask again when they walk out!

Senator TATE —Senator Herron says that he will ask again when they walk out. If he already knows that the AMA and the Royal College are going into those negotiations and consultations with bad faith, he ought to say so, and he has now perhaps said so publicly. I think that would be extremely unfortunate, because the Minister had a much better hearing, I understand, when he put the proposal for consultations to the presidents of those two august bodies, the Australian Medical Association and the Royal College. I believe that those consultations will be undertaken, certainly on our side, in good faith.

  The overall aim must be to provide better health care for Australians. This will be done, but it will not be done simply by looking at one aspect in isolation. It will be done by the whole constellation of proposals put forward in the Budget Papers.