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Tuesday, 14 October 2003
Page: 21307

Mrs DRAPER (3:16 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware of any possible changes to the government's 30 per cent rebate on private health insurance? What would the impact be on Australians and our public health system of such changes?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Makin for her question, and I acknowledge her deep commitment to ensuring that Australians have the best possible access to affordable high-quality health care. The member for Makin and everyone else in the government believes that private health insurance is a very important part of Australia's health system. Private health insurance enables people to have choice and it takes the pressure off the public hospital system, particularly off public hospital waiting lists for elective surgery. Unfortunately, the opposition has always disliked private health insurance, and under the former government the percentage of Australians with private health insurance plummeted towards 30 per cent. But, thanks to the policies of the Howard-Anderson government and particularly the private health insurance rebate, the percentage of Australians with private health insurance has gone up to nearly 44 per cent—that is, almost nine million Australians have access to private health insurance and to the security and reassurance that private health insurance brings.

I have been asked about possible changes. I regret to inform the House that the Labor Party's policy is to rip the guts out of the private health insurance system. In particular, the opposition is now considering a proposal to means test access to the private health insurance rebate. This is the opposition's latest attempt to penalise success and to play the politics of envy. The member for Werriwa knows how counterproductive the politics of envy can be—at least he does on his good days—but he has had no success in persuading his colleagues, who are still following the economic policies of Jim Cairns. They still think that Jim Cairns is the great guru of economics. For the benefit of members opposite, as they will demonstrate later on today—

Opposition members interjecting

Mr ABBOTT —Do you want me to say he is not the great guru of economics? Not today, surely.

The SPEAKER —Order!

Mr Albanese —That is outrageous.

The SPEAKER —I will deal with the member for Grayndler if he persists in interrupting the chair.

Mr Latham —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. In the middle of the condolence motion, because this debate will be resumed after question time, it might be deemed inappropriate for the minister to make such comments. It has caused offence on this side on the chamber.

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

Mr ABBOTT —If members opposite do not like any reference to the importance of Jim Cairns's economic policy in the Labor Party, I withdraw. For the benefit of members opposite, let me point out to them that if the private health insurance rebate was restricted to families earning less than $50,000 a year, 4.3 million Australians would be excluded from access to the private health insurance rebate—the families of 4.3 million Australians would lose $750 each a year thanks to the policies that the Labor Party now has under consideration. Without the private health insurance rebate, these families would face a 42 per cent increase in private health insurance premiums. That means the private health insurance rates would collapse and the pressure on public hospitals, particularly on public hospital waiting lists for elective surgery, would increase. I call on members opposite to come clean about exactly where they stand on the private health insurance rebate so that millions of Australians know who they can trust with their health care.