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Tuesday, 30 August 1994
Page: 560

Senator NEWMAN —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Human Services and Health. Given the minister's longstanding and well-publicised opposition to medical co-payments, what action does she now intend taking as a result of the effective reintroduction of the co-payment by the minister for health? What effect will this new co-payment have on the battling families and the self-funded retirees of Australia?

Senator CROWLEY —It is very strange, but not hard to understand, that it has taken so long for the opposition to ask a health question. Out of one side of its policy mouth it tells us that it supports Medicare and out of the other side it wants to argue, particularly through the shadow spokesperson, about the terrible state that health is in.

  Dr Lawrence is taking to cabinet in the next day or so what she is planning to do for health. When that comes back from cabinet and when it is public we will certainly talk about it in detail. For Senator Newman to be asking about—

Senator Woods —Mr President, I raise a point of order. This is a very specific question about the impact of co-payments. It is not about what the minister is planning to do or what she might be taking to cabinet. It is about what she has done already. The minister representing the minister for health is wallowing in ignorance about the issue. I do not think she even knows what the question relates to.

The PRESIDENT —I judge the answer to be relevant.

Senator CROWLEY —As I say, it is very interesting that the opposition has been so silent on health policy for so long.

  Opposition senators interjecting—

Senator CROWLEY —I beg your pardon?

Senator Schacht —They cannot even interject properly.

Senator CROWLEY —We cannot understand their interjections. The best way of dealing with this is to manage health and micro-economic reform, and to hold down the cost of health, as this government has managed to do, to about eight per cent of GDP. If I can give Senator Newman any specific detail, I will do so.

Senator NEWMAN —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Not only was the minister's answer not relevant, but also she was totally ignorant. I was referring to the fact that the minister for health has been giving commitments of her support for general practice and to the quality of care in general practice, but at the same time she has increased the GP's rebate this year by only 15c—well below anything that goes towards the costs of their practice. This will mean that those who continue to bulk-bill will be forced into an assembly line quality of care. Does the minister not care about that? It also means that those who do not go into assembly line quality of care will be reducing bulk-billing to their non-card-holding patients, and that effectively will be a government induced co-payment. Is not the minister concerned about this, considering her well-known concern about co-payments? What is she going to do about it? Is it not double standards, is it not hypocrisy, for the minister to sit there, having gained her place on the front bench through the promise of the Prime Minister to abolish co-payments?

Senator CROWLEY —It is an extraordinarily difficult thing to try to answer questions when they contain the rubbish that we have just heard. There is no co-payment introduced by the minister. I am very pleased to find that Senator Newman's supplementary question makes that clear. It is difficult to answer a question that contains utter rubbish. What the minister and the government have been doing is continue with the restructuring of general practice, not introduce co-payments.

  There are two ways in which general practitioners are being funded, and they ought to be well known to Senator Newman—through the fee-for-service rebate and through practice grants, restructuring and regionalisation of general practice. Those things do not in any way constitute a co-payment. There is no way in which this government is moving to the introduction of a co-payment.

  For some time the College of General Practitioners and the AMA—but I think not now—were very supportive of the government's proposed programs to restructure general practice. They are trying to change their minds and back off from their commitment to a continuing income for general practitioners through two levels. That, Senator Newman, is not a co-payment.