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Thursday, 19 June 2003
Page: 17025

Mrs DRAPER (12:57 PM) —The bills before us are technical in nature and deal with issues identified by the Australian National Audit Office in relation to section 55 of the Constitution. Section 55 provides that laws imposing taxation shall deal only with the imposition of taxation and that any provision therein dealing with any other matter shall be of no effect. The National Health Amendment (Private Health Insurance Levies) Bill 2003, the Private Health Insurance (ACAC Review Levy) Bill 2003, the Private Health Insurance (Collapsed Organization Levy) Bill 2003, the Private Health Insurance (Council Administration Levy) Bill 2003 and the Private Health Insurance (Reinsurance Trust Fund Levy) Bill 2003 address these concerns in relation to the four private health insurance industry levies.

We have all had recent cause to understand the importance of prudential regulators, and the Private Health Insurance Administration Council is the independent prudential regulator of the private health insurance industry. The amendments in these bills will ensure the ongoing funding by the industry of the operations of the council.

Ensuring equity in the provision of health insurance has long been the aim of this government. The system of community rating ensures that people wanting to insure themselves cannot be discriminated against by health funds in either access to insurance or availability of health insurance products on offer. This has been supported by the reinsurance trust fund, which redistributes money within the industry to protect health funds from high costs associated with acute or chronically ill members. Amendments in these bills will ensure that this can continue, thus protecting community rating.

Finally, as a further protection to consumers, the collapsed fund levy enables the health insurance industry to be levied to ensure that if a health fund collapses members of that health fund will be protected and any liabilities owed to the members will be covered. I do not believe that anyone could seriously question the necessity to approve these amendments and thus continue to protect existing and future private health insurance fund members.

Australia enjoys one of the best health systems in the world, if not the best, and this is largely due to the dual nature of the provision of health services. All Australians enjoy universal health care coverage and the Howard government has done more than any previous government to ensure that this remains the case. At the same time, we are committed to the provision of choice for all Australian consumers.

Private health insurance is a vital component of the overall provision of health services in Australia. One would not expect any argument with this basic fact, but the Labor opposition have demonstrated time and time again their ideological opposition to private health insurance. Even a cursory inspection of their record makes their position clear, and we now have the new shadow minister for health proposing amendments that would end up costing families $750 per year. This is outrageous. When they were last in office they almost destroyed the private health insurance industry and denied the people of this country the option of purchasing coverage for their own health requirements. Only with the election of the Howard government was this situation rescued, and today we have more than 40 per cent of Australians opting to insure themselves and their families, which of course takes the pressure off our public health system and our public hospitals.

The government is working both to strengthen Medicare and to facilitate the provision of private health insurance to make our health system better for everyone in a fairer and more accessible way. While members opposite complain about increases in prices for private health insurance, do they really believe that there have been no cost increases in the provision of health services? We have had a large uptake of membership and therefore uptake of medical services. We have also had many technical advances in health, which are also expensive. As I said, we have the best medical and health system in the world. Labor remain opposed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate, which just shows how out of touch they really are. The measures contained in these bills will protect Australia's health system, and I commend them to the House.