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Thursday, 24 June 2004
Page: 31521


Ms LEY (2:21 PM) —My question is addressed to the Treasurer. Would the Treasurer inform the House of the economic imperative to keep the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme sustainable? Are there any other more flexible approaches to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme and the costing of policies?


Mr COSTELLO (Treasurer) —I thank the honourable member for Farrer for her question. I can inform the House that there is an economic imperative to keep the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme financially sustainable. As I said when these measures were introduced back in 2002, no area of Commonwealth expenditure is growing faster. It increased 14 per cent before we announced that measure and 14 per cent afterwards. Its cost has quadrupled over the last decade and, according to our Intergenerational Report, would rise to a very substantial proportion of GDP over the next 40 years.

The copayment is an instrument of good policy. A $2.50 copayment was introduced, in fact, by Labor with the support of the coalition. For the reasons that the Labor Party introduced it in 1990, this government announced in the 2002 budget that it would be increased so that we could share the cost of new pharmaceuticals between the taxpayer and the person concerned, with an adequate safety net. So there is a good economic and health case—and a public policy case—behind the measures which the government announced in relation to the PBS.

The Labor Party, which now support it, could of course make that good case as to why they are supporting it. But the problem for the Labor Party, of course, is that they cannot actually enunciate the case for supporting these good policy measures because for 25 months the Labor Party engaged in opportunism; they engaged in needless scare tactics and they tried to defeat good policy in this country for their own shabby political advantage. Let me quote, for example, from Mr Stephen Smith—the member for Perth, I believe—who said this:

Treasurer Costello's comments ... confirm that the Government's proposal to increase PBS co-payments across-the-board ... never had anything to do with health and everything to do with propping up a budget bottom line.

That is what Mr Smith said. What is the reason for the Labor Party's support for these measures? It would not have anything to do with propping up a bottom line, would it? Or take what was said this morning on AM:

Many Labor MPs are still smarting over the prescription medicines backflip, after arguing for two years that making drugs more expensive would hit the poorest and sickest. `Dumb and lousy' is how the unhappy MPs see the new policy—

I ask the House to listen to this—

When one angry frontbencher was asked how he could sell it to the voters, he answered, `Pretend it didn't happen.'

Pretend it didn't happen. Can I say that the Labor Party are making a very good job of pretending it did not happen. If you look up the ALP web site as at this moment—click it up—there is absolutely no mention on the ALP web site that the Australian Labor Party are supporting the government's PBS measures. It just does not exist. It is almost as if it was never announced.

After making sure that it was not on the web site that they had backflipped, I wondered what would happen if we went to Labor Party web sites to see whether they were still maintaining their opposition on their own web sites. It is very interesting. If you go to the web site of the member for Jagajaga, she still has a statement up there which she put up there in June 2002. Listen to this. This is how the Labor Party was campaigning. The site says:

`Pensioners such as Mr Bill and Mrs Thelma Rogers from West Heidelberg are unhappy with the Howard government's proposed increases on the cost of prescription,' Jenny Macklin, federal member for Jagajaga, said today.

I wonder if the member for Jagajaga has rung back Bill and Thelma Rogers and told Bill and Thelma that she supports these measures. I wonder if she has. It was good enough to bring Bill and Thelma into the public debate when they could be used to oppose PBS measures, wasn't it? I wonder if she has had the decency to ring up Bill and Thelma. Then we have a long statement there about Bill and Thelma's plight, and the statement finishes up by saying this. Listen to this, the member for Jagajaga. It is still up on the web site, by the way. It says:

I would like to assure local residents that the Labor Party will strongly oppose these proposed increases in the cost of prescriptions. I have also created a petition to put pressure on the government to stop this unfair proposal.

Listen to this; it is still there on the web site. It continues:

Please contact my office on 9459 1411 if you would like a copy of this petition, and I will make sure your voice is heard in parliament.

Can I suggest that the member for Jagajaga ring back every person who has signed that petition and tell them the petition is now closed—that putting your signature on this petition to oppose the PBS is not going to do much good. And can I suggest that maybe, just maybe, now that the Labor Party has changed its position, she could ring every one of those people that signed the petition and say: `It was all a fraud. It was all opportunism. The Labor Party supports this policy and I am sorry to have misled you over the last two years.'