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Thursday, 26 September 2002
Page: 4996

Senator TIERNEY (2:11 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing, Senator Patterson. Will the minister update the Senate on how the Howard government has restored balance and choice in Australia's health care system? Is the minister aware of recent comments or announcements concerning the future of the coalition's 30 per cent private health insurance rebate?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank Senator Tierney for his question. We have restored the balance and choice in Australia's health system, unlike Labor that was letting private health insurance run down to a level which was totally unsustainable. We have pursued policy options and every step along the path the Labor Party, through its blind ideological opposition to private health care, has been unable to acknowledge the success of our policies. The fact is that almost nine million Australians have private cover. Each of them enjoys the benefits of the coalition's 30 per cent rebate. The rebate and lifetime cover have been the cornerstone of our policies and they have taken the pressure off Medicare and taken pressure off our public hospitals.

The latest figures from the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare, based on figures provided by the states, show that in 2000-01, public hospital admissions fell nationally by minus 0.1 per cent, while private hospital admissions rose by a massive 12.1 per cent. This was even before the real impact of lifetime health cover. The figures are even more interesting when broken down by state. New South Wales public hospital admissions fell by 7,370—or minus 0.6 per cent—while private admissions went up by 35,486—or 5.9 per cent. Queensland public admissions fell by minus 2.7 per cent, and private admissions went up by 16.3 per cent. South Australia public admissions fell by minus 0.8 per cent, and private admissions went up by 15.3 per cent.

In the face of this obvious and overwhelming success, the Labor Party maintain their mindless and ideological opposition to private health care. Only two weeks ago, Labor's health spokesman, expressing views held by those on the other side, described the 30 per cent rebate as a public policy crime and a felony. We have the most gross example of political hypocrisy here. Labor governments in Queensland and South Australia have sought expressions of interest from private health funds to manage their state ambulance services. I am advised by my department that if Queensland were successful in this approach, the additional cost of the 30 per cent rebate will be in the vicinity of $26 million. The fact that two state Labor governments are unwilling to invest additional funding into their ambulance services and are attempting to bludge off the 30 per cent rebate—a policy that each and every Labor politician has decried at every opportunity— is an example of gross political hypocrisy. It is an example of gross cost shifting.

I can inform the Senate that I am not going to entertain either Queensland or South Australia taking this step. Whether through the health care agreements or regulation, I am not going to allow these states to shirk their responsibilities and avoid their own responsibilities to invest in their ambulance services and pass that on to the Commonwealth. They simply have no excuse.

In the life of the last health care agreement over the past five years we have seen a 24 per cent real increase in payments to the states. There was no clawing back of money after the increase in private health insurance, as was agreed. They have got $3 billion in additional funding, and here they are trying to pass the buck and cost shift to the Commonwealth because they cannot manage their ambulance services. Queensland and Western Australia owe it. The other states already do it and have been doing it for years—and I have got my eye on them, I can tell you.

I also look forward to hearing views from senators opposite whether they agree that is okay for the states to shift funding from the states to the Commonwealth by using the 30 per cent rebate. On one hand they decry it while on the other hand they are going to abuse it and try to cost shift. It is total hypocrisy. It is totally unacceptable, and the Commonwealth government will not accept that as a means of cost shifting. They ought to get their houses in order and manage their affairs much better and deliver better health outcomes to their states with the money that they have been given, which is significantly more than they were anticipating. (Time expired)