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Thursday, 27 November 2014
Page: 9542

Health Care


Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:10): Mr President, my question is to the Minister representing the Minister for Health, Senator Nash. Given that the Prime Minister's office told journalists last night that the GP co-payment was going to be shelved—not quite dead, buried and cremated, but shelved nonetheless—why did the health minister and the leader of the Senate put it back on life support this morning? Why the mixed messages? Is there a revolt going on within the cabinet? Is the Prime Minister safe?

Government senators: Go back to the possum question!

The PRESIDENT: Order on my right! The Assistant Minister for Health, representing the Minister for Health, Senator Nash: you can answer what parts of that question fit within your portfolio responsibility.



Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:11): Thank you very much, Mr President. And in doing so I can indicate, through you, to the senator that the Prime Minister has been consistent in saying that we are committed to making Medicare sustainable. We are going to continue to do that. Medicare must be sustainable.

I would say to you, Mr President, and to those opposite and also to those on the crossbenches that we have a Medicare system that was costing us $8 billion 10 years ago. It is currently costing us $19 billion. It is going to cost us $34 billion in 10 years' time. Indeed, we are providing $263 million of free services every year. That is not sustainable. People out in the Australian community can understand that that is not sustainable, and that is why we have put forward a modest reform, a modest co-payment, with a safety net for those people who need it.

Bob Hawke many years ago saw the merit. The shadow Treasurer sees the merit in a co-payment. It is about making our future, the health system's future, sustainable. I would call on those opposite to be responsible. I understand the question came from the good senator in the Greens party, but I would call on those opposite to be sensible and to support the reforms. Those opposite have absolutely no plan for the future. They had six long years in government to prove that they had a plan for the future, and they failed. They failed dismally! We can see that it is only this side, it is only this coalition government, that is committed to a sustainable future for this nation. Those on the other side left us nothing but debt and deficit and absolutely no plan for a sustainable future. The Prime Minister has indicated our commitment to ensuring that we have a sustainable health system in the future.


Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:13): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Given that just this morning the health minister refused to rule out using regulation to cut the Medicare rebate, if the government did cut the Medicare rebate by $5 through regulation it would have to apply to every person for every visit without limit. There just could not be any exemptions for pensioners, children or concession cardholders. So if the government is not willing to rule out this option, how is it going to protect the sickest and most vulnerable members of our community?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:14): Through you, Mr President, I am not going to answer a hypothetical question in this place. What I will rule out is inaction by this coalition government when we are looking to fix the future sustainability—

The PRESIDENT: Pause the clock. Senator Di Natale—a point of order?

Senator Di Natale: Yes, Mr President, I have a point of order. There is nothing hypothetical about the question. The health minister said this morning that he would not rule out using regulation to cut the Medicare rebate—his words, not mine.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Di Natale. There is no point of order. There was a hypothetical suggestion in part of your question, but the latter part of your question did contain a substantive question.

Senator NASH: What I will rule out is this government doing nothing to fix the health system in the future, unlike those opposite, who did absolutely nothing in terms of having any vision whatsoever in where our health system was going to go. Those on the other side, when they were in government, thought it was absolutely fine to run up a debt with a trajectory of $667 billion. Those on the other side think it was absolutely fine to run up a debt of $1 billion.What we will not rule out is making sure we take solid, substantive action to ensure the future sustainability of this nation.






Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:15): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Given that leading medical researchers have urged the government not to let the proposed medical research fund become a victim of the GP co-payment debate, will the minister now work with the Greens and other crossbenchers to look at alternative ways of funding this important initiative, or will the minister continue to hold the community to ransom?


Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:16): Mr President, the coalition is determined to put in place a Medical Research Future Fund. The people in Australia know that. We could not have been clearer in saying how important it was to put in a Medical Research Future Fund. Indeed, let's look to see who it actually took to put in place a Medical Research Future Fund: the coalition government. We did not see that from those opposite while they were in government. We have not seen that from the Greens as a suggestion from them at any point in time. We are the ones who are looking to put it in place, because we know how important it is. We are the ones who understand how important research is. We are the ones who understand that for every dollar we invest in medical research we get a $2.17 return.

So I would say that it is this government that is committed to doing that. It is this government that is ensuring we have a sustainable health system and the research capacity necessary, unlike those opposite, who tried to rip $400 million out of research in 2011. (Time expired)