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Thursday, 18 September 2003
Page: 20501

Ms GILLARD (2:06 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. I refer to his comments when launching his so-called A Fairer Medicare package on 28 April. He said:

I don't think there is anything in this package to encourage doctors to inflate their fees.

Is the Prime Minister aware that the Department of Health and Ageing has stated that it has done no modelling on the impact of the government's proposed changes to Medicare on the increase in out-of-pocket charges to patients who do not have a health card, the changes to bulk-billing rates as a result of the package, or the inflationary impact of the package? On what evidence did the Prime Minister base his conclusion that nothing in his package will cause doctors to increase their fees? Given the Prime Minister's apparent confidence in the government's package, will the Prime Minister guarantee that the government's package will not lead to an increase in doctors' fees?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I stand by the statements I made. I certainly do not intend to retract those statements. I am grateful that the member for Lalor has asked me a question about the veracity of claims concerning Medicare because I have in my possession the latest example of ALP push polling. It is on the subject of Medicare and bulk-billing, and this is what was said by none other than the member for Lowe, who I had always thought was a cut above in terms of candour. He nods; he really is, yes.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As you know, the member for Lowe is an outstanding member of this House. But he was not the subject matter of the question that was asked of the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister should in fact be relevant to the matters that were raised by the member for Lalor.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa would be aware that I was listening closely to the Prime Minister's answer. There have been many instances in which members who were not the subject matter of a question have nonetheless been involved in the question.

Mr HOWARD —I think the member for Werriwa ought to be beating up on Bob Carr over stamp duty and not John Singleton.

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister will come to the question.

Mr HOWARD —This pamphlet, which has come out under the signature of the member for Lowe, has the heading `Medicare and bulk-billing'. It makes this assertion: `Now the federal government wants to charge a $20 fee for every time you visit your doctor.' That is downright wrong. It totally misrepresents our policy. I invite the member for Lalor to ask a few more questions and we can expose the Labor Party for having in other areas misrepresented the extent of the policy changes.

The government remains strongly committed to the maintenance of Medicare. The government remains strongly committed not only to the maintenance of Medicare but also, unlike the Labor Party, we will retain in full the 30 per cent tax rebate for private health insurance. The Labor Party asked me for a guarantee. I ask the Leader of the Opposition to give a guarantee.

The SPEAKER —Order! Member for Lalor! Leader of the Opposition!

The SPEAKER —Minister! The minister might have to listen more closely or follow the Hansard record.

Mr HOWARD —I ask the Leader of the Opposition to give a guarantee that if he were to become Prime Minister of this country—

Mr Crean —Mr Speaker, I seek leave to answer the Prime Minister's challenge.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. It is a frivolous point of order.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat!

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —Order! I point out to the Leader of the Opposition that the style of answering questions by asking rhetorical questions is not outside the standing orders and has been used by members on both sides of the House in the time that I have been in the House.

Mr HOWARD —The Leader of the Opposition has had numerous opportunities to guarantee—

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The Prime Minister has the call!

Mr HOWARD —that the existing private health insurance arrangement will be maintained in full—

The SPEAKER —The member for Paterson will resume his seat!

Mr HOWARD —and he has repeatedly passed up those opportunities.

The SPEAKER —The member for Canning!

Mr HOWARD —The Labor Party is intent on running a campaign of fear and distortion about Medicare. We remain committed to Medicare. We also remain committed to the maintenance of private health insurance. We have also massively increased money to the states for public hospitals. The package we announced a few months ago is for a fairer and an even better Medicare, which has been the result of this government's policies over the last 7½ years.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order.

Honourable members interjecting

The SPEAKER —The minister will resume his seat.

The SPEAKER —The member for Mitchell will resume his seat.

The SPEAKER —The member for Werriwa! The minister is seeking the call, is entitled to the call and is entitled to be heard in silence, including by those behind him. I call the Minister for Employment and Workplace Relations, Leader of the House.

Mr Abbott —Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order. I was listening intently to the Prime Minister's answer and I was unable to hear the Prime Minister's answer because of the constant interjections—the constant yapping—of the Leader of the Opposition. I respectfully request that standing order 55 be upheld.

The SPEAKER —If the Leader of the House checks the Hansard record of events over the last seven minutes he will find there were a number of interventions of which he was unaware.