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Thursday, 6 March 2003
Page: 9419

Senator KNOWLES (3:07 PM) —If I had a few copies of Hansard here, I would be so bold as to move the incorporation of the last 10 speeches I have made on this subject, but unfortunately I do not, so I suppose we will just have to go through the motion again of setting the record straight on the subject of bulk-billing. I want to start by talking again about where the Labor Party were on this particular issue. The Labor Party brought in Medicare. Let us not forget that; that is point No. 1. Dr Blewett was the Minister for Health in 1987, and he said:

What we have mostly in this country is not doctors exploiting bulk billing but compassionate doctors using the bulk billing facility to treat pensioners, the disadvantaged and others who are not well off or who are in great need of medical services, which was always the intention.

Senator Eggleston —Was he a health minister under Labor?

Senator KNOWLES —That is right, Senator Eggleston; he was a health minister under Labor. That is the principle under which Medicare was put in place by the Labor Party. Now, because Mr Crean's leadership is at an all-time rock-bottom low and he does not know what to do about health, we start getting this furphy that bulk-billing for some reason has to be for everybody. It has never been for everybody, even under a Labor government. It is only because Mr Crean's leadership is at huge risk and Mr Smith comes up with these harebrained ideas every Sunday—Mr Smith is pushing for the abolition of the 30 per cent rebate; Mr Crean is saying, `Not too sure about that, sport. Don't talk about that just yet. We are going to keep that as a little surprise,' and Mr Smith is saying, `No, we are going to abolish the 30 per cent rebate because it is unfair'— that we have now got this other little line running that somehow Medicare bulk-billing has to be for everybody. Goodness gracious me! It has never been for everybody. Under the Labor Party it was never for everybody and under us it has never been for everybody.

Senator Ludwig —What about the word universal? Don't you understand that?

Senator KNOWLES —How interesting: a member of the Labor opposition interjects to say that it is meant to be universal. What is universal is the facility for people to go to the doctor and everyone get the same rebate. That is the system that the Labor government put in place.

Senator Ludwig —Why isn't it available?

Senator KNOWLES —It is available. It is interesting to note that at no stage have the Labor opposition ever said that there is not a service available. At least they have not hit that bottom of the pit yet. The interesting thing is that they still do not understand. Dr Blewett, as health minister and an architect of this scheme for the Labor government, said that universal bulk-billing for everyone was not the intention. Why is it now suddenly the intention of the Labor Party? Because Mr Crean's leadership is absolutely at rock bottom. Mr Smith has no idea what he is talking about. Clearly, every Sunday he thinks to himself, `Gosh, it is Sunday. I have to do a media interview today. I have to think of something to say.' Now we have this line running.

Unfortunately, the Labor Party record on health is absolutely appalling. This is the opposition which, when in government, ran down private health insurance from somewhere around 60 to 70 per cent to between 20 and 25 per cent. That is their record. The Labor government also ran down the Medicare rebate for a standard consultation. Since we have been in government, we have increased it 20 per cent; in the last six years of the Labor government, they increased it by nine per cent. That is hardly a record about which I would be proud if I were a Labor senator today. Do we hear them talk about that? No, we do not. Under the Labor government the Medicare rebate for longer consultations—which Senator McLucas referred to a little while ago as not being important, for some reason; I cannot think why longer consultations would not be important—was increased by five per cent. We have increased it by 23 per cent. (Time expired)