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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2205

Senator HERRON —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. The minister will note that I am wearing suitable attire for his political demise. I remind the minister of promises made to the women of Australia on securing increased funding for breast cancer research; to the Aboriginal community for additional funding to improve their health resources; to the research and medical fraternity to right the weaknesses of Medicare; and, finally, to the people of Australia to improve upon the public and private health care system. Is the minister now saying to all these people that he does not have the political guts to take on the Prime Minister in these important areas? Or is he saying, on the other hand, that the Prime Minister will back him on all these reforms? Will he give me an answer, yes or no?

Senator RICHARDSON —It would be very difficult to stop the Prime Minister from granting very significant increases in funds for medical research because he outlined the promise to do that in the election. We have had the Bienenstock review of the NHMRC, which has now come out with a series of recommendations which, by and large, I am sure the government will adopt. The plans for that are well and truly advanced. In terms of recommitting ourselves to Medicare and a whole range of things, I have a pretty fair idea of what the government will be doing. Just because I am making an announcement later today about my future does not mean that I can break the rules and start telling honourable senators what is in the budget.

Senator Ian Macdonald —You need a holiday Richo; you need a holiday.

Senator RICHARDSON —I would not mind one from Senator Macdonald. The whole building would like a holiday from Senator Macdonald. I could safely say that the plans I have laid down will be well and truly adhered to. On the question of what happens with private health insurance I, for one, will be fascinated to see. I have strong views which I put to my party and my leader and I will certainly put them to my successor as well. But, in the end, something will be done about it because something has to be done. Everyone has agreed I have identified a problem; not everyone will agree with my solution—and nor should they. It is a democracy, and people are entitled to disagree. Senator Macdonald disagrees frequently, and that is his right. But, I believe it is a problem and have no doubt that the government will address it. I cannot pretend to be able to address everything from somewhere else, and will not be trying to do so.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. The minister on 9 February said:

I want to do something about them—not just today, but over the next decade and beyond.

The minister said further:

Over the next couple of years I intend to convince the government to have a massive recommitment to infrastructure in public hospitals; in other words, to Medicare.

Minister, why did you change your mind?

Senator RICHARDSON —I did not. I do not believe there is any need now to convince the Prime Minister or the party or anybody else of that commitment to Medicare because they agree; that is done. It did not take two years—it took two minutes. Fortunately, we have a party concerned about such issues. One does not have to get into an argument to get one's colleagues to reconfirm Medicare. Of course, as far as opposition senators are concerned, they are pretty late on board, but they got there in the end, and we are all grateful. Senator Woods did not like the opposition getting there, but it got there. I hope that very small degree of bipartisanship on some aspects of Medicare can grow.

  I did not choose to make this an argumentative answer. I did not change my mind, but if one wants to leave this building one does not advertise to everyone in advance. Later today I shall go through some of the events of the last couple of months and the opposition will be a bit more enlightened.