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Monday, 30 August 2004
Page: 26645

Senator MOORE (2:51 PM) —My question is to Senator Patterson, the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Ageing. Does the minister recall the Prime Minister's promise before the last election that private health insurance premiums would fall? Isn't it a fact that, since the last election, private health insurance premiums have risen by 22 per cent? Why should the Australian people believe any promise that the Prime Minister makes about health in the coming election?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —Australia has very good systems of public and private health, which have enabled us to deliver better health outcomes than almost any other Western country. The Prime Minister indicated that we will maintain downward pressure on the cost of private health insurance. With the increasing costs in health—for example, a prosthesis for a hip replacement costs up to $15,000—you cannot not expect increases in private health insurance premiums. From memory, under Labor the increase was 12 per cent each year. I will stand corrected on that, as that is from the top of my head. In one year alone there was a 17 per cent increase in private health insurance premiums under Labor, when people were fleeing private health insurance. Only those who were older and sicker and were going to cost more were left in private health insurance. Labor had no plan to ensure that private health insurance was sustainable into the future. The government brought in a rebate which Labor said for a very long time that they were not going to support and now, before the election, they say that they will. But I would bet my bottom dollar that, if they ever got into government, you would see that 30 per cent rebate disappear faster than you could say `Jack Robinson'.

Another thing the government did was to ensure that younger people who went into private health insurance and stayed in for a long period, making a commitment to private health insurance, were not penalised by someone coming in as a Johnny-come-lately 30 years later and getting the same benefit. If people came into private health insurance later, they would pay a two per cent surcharge each year. We put in place measures to ensure that private health insurance was sustainable. A former senator, Graham Richardson, said when he was health minister in a Labor government that private health insurance was not sustainable. I know there are people on the Labor side of politics who actually detest private health insurance and do not take it up. A former Labor health minister, Dr Lawrence, said that she would not take out private health insurance. Labor had a Prime Minister who said that he would not take out private health insurance, and you have a leader who took up a public hospital bed when he could have gone into a private hospital bed. You have demonstrated that you do not support private health insurance.

Opposition senators interjecting—

The PRESIDENT —Order! Minister, I remind you to address your remarks through the chair and ignore interjections.

Senator PATTERSON —Mr President, they are a bit sensitive about it. You cannot narrowcast. Mr Latham likes to narrowcast. On radio today he said to John Laws, `No, we don't have a payroll tax,' but they are going to pay for their maternity payment by getting rid of the Medicare safety net and putting a payroll tax in place. You cannot narrowcast.

We have put in place measures to maintain membership of private health insurance. Had it been left the way we inherited it, you would not have private health insurance that is affordable, particularly for many older people on pensions who maintain their private health insurance. Labor have said that they are not going to support our giving an increased rebate to people over 65 and a further increase to those over 70. I am sure every Australian over 65 and every Australian over 70 with private health insurance will, when they go to vote, be looking very carefully at the fact that you have no commitment to private health insurance.

Senator MOORE —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Is the minister aware that Professor Ian Harper, in his recent report Easing the pressure: the intergenerational report and private health insurance—which the Minister for Health and Ageing regularly cites as authoritative—has stated that health insurance premiums will rise by an average of three per cent above inflation for the next 40 years? Isn't this authoritative proof that the Prime Minister's promises on private health insurance are utterly unbelievable and should be exposed as the political dissembling that they are?

Senator PATTERSON (Minister for Family and Community Services and Minister Assisting the Prime Minister for the Status of Women) —What is undeniable is that private health insurance premiums would increase under Labor. They increased at, I think, an average rate of 12 per cent. In one year alone private health insurance premiums increased by 17 per cent. What we will see is that people over 65 and people over 70 who take out private health insurance will not, if Labor has its way, get an increased rebate. That is the message for Australians; that is the message about private health insurance. That is the message that Australians, particularly older Australians, ought to take on board when they decide how to vote at the next election.