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Tuesday, 13 May 2008
Page: 1503

Senator COLBECK (3:05 PM) —I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Minister for Human Services (Senator Ludwig) to questions without notice asked today.

Today we have seen what I think could only be described as a reversion to the past by Labor where the decisions that they have been making with respect to health are more about ideology than they are about addressing the real health issues that we have here in this country. They are nothing to do with good policy. In fact, if they had been to do with good policy Labor would have actually used some of the processes that they have put in place to actually implement and study good policy. As Senator Ludwig said, the government has set up the National Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, which at this point in time has only had the opportunity to make one interim statement, just one communique. The major report in respect of state and Commonwealth health funding will be in November this year, with a full report in July next year.

What we are seeing now are decisions that will have a significant impact on the delivery of health services in this country being made completely outside that context, with no consultation with industry and no consultation with its own health and hospitals reform commission. You can only wonder whether this particular body is being relegated by this government to being just another voice, as we have seen so many times before.

With respect to consultation with industry, Dr Michael Armitage has said that the Prime Minister used ‘weasel words’ before the election to give the health insurance industry the clear impression that the surcharge would not be changed. The AMA President, Dr Capolingua, has said that this decision by the government will tell Australians that they should drop their health insurance or not take out policies in the first place.

In the late nineties we saw a significant fall in the number of Australians who had private health insurance and at that point in time we were legitimately concerned about the issues that surrounded that, the sustainability of the health system. There was universal concern, so the then government brought in first the 30 per cent rebate and then lifetime cover. That increased the rate of private health insurance from where it was, at close to 30 per cent, to 44 to 45 per cent—a significant change—and it has remained there ever since. It made a real difference.

This tells younger people that they no longer need to stay within the private health system and it potentially provides the scope for a collapse of the system. What we risk with this decision is a return to the downward spiral that we saw in private health insurance during the 1990s, when Labor were, again, part of the decision-making process and had this philosophical opposition to providing private health insurance. The industry itself projects that 400,000 policies will drop out of the system.

We know that families are under stress. We have seen that all around the country. I have spent the last few weeks on the Senate Select Committee on Housing Affordability in Australia. We know that families are under stress and we know that they are looking for ways to support their budgets, but this is not a way to do that because it is going to have detrimental effects at the end of the road. Also, as I have said before, it is not in concert with the overall health strategy that the government has put in place. Why would you be making these decisions completely outside the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission, when its task is to address the overall delivery of health services across the country? It is just ludicrous. The government has even put back its state and Commonwealth healthcare agreements for the funding of hospitals because it wants to wait to get a report from the Health and Hospitals Reform Commission. That is a sensible decision and it is a decision that the opposition supports. Yet here we have two ad hoc decisions that have been made, supposedly in the interests of health policy, that are completely remote from the process.

The government committed to ending the blame game and has put in place a process to deal with it. Yet what it has done is completely ignore that process. It would be legitimate to expect that, having put that process in place, the government would actually go through the process and take note of its work. We note that the government today refused to say that there was any modelling in respect of either of the two decisions it has made— (Time expired)