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Thursday, 25 September 2008
Page: 49

Mr DUTTON (2:23 PM) —My question is also to the Minister for Health and Ageing. I refer the minister to the Senate inquiry into the changes to the Medicare levy surcharge. The submission of private health insurer NIB states:

The proposal has seriously affected investor confidence in the private healthcare sector ... The consequences can only be less investment in private sector services and infrastructure such as hospital beds. Of course this will only place further pressure on the public health system ...

Will the minister guarantee that private health insurance premiums will not rise and that public hospital waiting lists will not grow as a result of the government’s changes to the Medicare levy?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —One clear thing that I can guarantee this House is that we will back public hospitals more than you ever did. Let us get that straight.

Mr Dutton interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson has asked his question.

Ms ROXON —The member for Dickson also wants guarantees about premiums. Let us be honest about this. The member for Dickson, who has been in the job only for three days, already knows that it would be totally irresponsible for us to try to make some projections about premiums when private health insurance funds—

Mr Dutton —Mr Speaker, a point of order which goes to relevance: the minister has introduced a bill. There must have been modelling as to how much this bill will increase private health insurance—

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson will resume his seat. The minister is responding to the question, and I will listen carefully to her response.

Ms ROXON —The truth is that the member opposite does not want to have an answer from us on premiums where private health insurers are the ones who make applications at the end of the year for the premiums that they are seeking. It is not the job of government to predict what that will be. It does not matter how loud the member for Dickson yells, the truth is that there is of course very commercially sensitive information—not that we are withholding it—that the private insurers themselves do not provide to government until the application round begins. I will say something else: I notice how readily the member opposite wants to quote the private health insurers. I think that the private health insurers’ views on premiums will be about as objective as the member for Bradfield’s view would be on the member for Wentworth. This is a ridiculous position.

Mr Hockey —Mr Speaker, on a point of order: this was a very serious question about the impact of government policy on public hospitals and private insurance premiums. If the minister cannot give a guarantee, she should pull the bill and apologise.

The SPEAKER —The member for North Sydney will resume his seat. It was not a point of order. The minister has finished.