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Thursday, 2 December 2004
Page: 125

Senator KEMP (Minister for the Arts and Sport) (5:30 PM) —Normally I would thank honourable senators for their contributions to the debate but I think they were distinctly patchy, from the ones I have heard. I listened very closely to Senator Michael Forshaw, a man who normally says things that are worth tuning into, but this time his contribution would have to be marked F for fail. For Senator Forshaw's information, the government is committed to protecting and strengthening Medicare—quite contrary to what you said, Senator—and to delivering high quality and affordable health care to all Australians. Senator, you spoke about the 1993 election—and you know it hurts us when you speak about 1993—but I would point out to you in a caring manner that we have won four elections since then, and health has always been an important subject of debate. The Australian community, quite contrary to the claims you have made, have obviously supported our position rather than yours. I noticed Senator Murphy seeking to claim credit for a variety of things—and I do not blame him; it's a tough game, politics—and making wild threats and accusations against The Nationals. I am not sure that is a great help, Senator Murphy, but we listened to you, as we always do. We welcome the support that the Labor Party is giving to this bill, and we note that, despite the criticisms, the support will be given.

The measures in the Health Insurance Amendment (100% Medicare Rebate and Other Measures) Bill 2004 will make medical services more affordable in two ways. Firstly, the government is investing more than $1.7 billion over four years to make GP services more affordable for Australians. From 1 January 2005 the Medicare rebate for general practitioner services will be increased from 85 per cent to 100 per cent of the Medicare schedule fee. This means that for the standard GP surgery consultation there will be an increase in the Medicare rebate of $4.60 for each patient visit. All patients will benefit from this measure. There should be more bulk-billing—quite contrary to what was said in some of the contributions from the other side, because bulk-billing doctors will secure higher rebates—and there will be more money in the pockets of patients where doctors do not bulk-bill. This measure will be complemented by an increase in the fees paid by the Department of Veterans' Affairs for GP services provided to eligible veterans and war widows. This measure builds on other recent government initiatives aimed at making GP services more affordable, such as bulk-billing incentives targeting Commonwealth concession card holders and children under 16 years of age. Secondly, this bill confirms the government's original policy on the Medicare safety net and FTB A. This amendment will allow the minister to determine that all families who are eligible for the FTB A are also eligible for the lower safety net threshold. Australia has one of the best health systems in the world. Australians trust Medicare and they can trust this government to make a good system even better through measures such as those in this bill.

Question agreed to.

Original question, as amended, agreed to.

Bill read a second time.