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Thursday, 11 March 2004
Page: 21405

Senator NETTLE (3:32 PM) —This morning Professor John Deeble, the architect of Medicare, said that his system of universal health care was officially dead. That is thanks to this government and four Independents, who have decided that a system of universal public health care in this country is not what they want. That is not the direction that they want public health planning to go in in this country. Instead, the vision that this government and the Independents have for public health care in this country is for Medicare to become a welfare measure. It is for us to have a safety net that is not based on health care needs but on people's income level—or the fact that they happen to be in the coalition's demographic for voting: self-funded retirees, who have a health care card. Perhaps it is based on the type of family you are part of, whether you have children or not being the determining factor. It is based on income levels. This safety net system is not based on health care needs.

A single working person earning as little as $340 a week is not eligible for a health care card. They do not qualify for a bulk-billing subsidy. They get lumped in the same category as Kerry Packer in terms of the safety net they qualify for. That is certainly not based on any of their health care needs. There is nothing universal about that. There is nothing universal about the sort of welfare measure system that this government wants to pass off as a public health system. The AMA says that the system undermines universality—that it is unjust, that it is unfair, and that it will not fix access and affordability problems. The question was asked by the vice-president of the AMA on the radio this morning: why are some Australians more equal than other Australians? That is a good question to put to this government because it appears that it believes that future health planning in this country should not be based on equity or any concept of universality but on being low cost to the government. It only spends the money it needs to spend to buy four votes here in the Senate.

Is this package going to do anything to increase bulk-billing rates? We have had the minister in here and the health minister make it quite clear that this is based on a government assumption of having no increase in bulk-billing rates. The minister in this chamber has said that he hopes that bulk-billing will increase. Minister Abbott has said that it should improve bulk-billing rates, but that is not the assumption on which they have based this model. That is simply not good enough for the Australian Greens and it is simply not good enough for the Australian people. Australians love Medicare. They love the fact that they pay their taxes, based on their income; pay their levy; and then get the service. When they are sick and when their kids are sick they can go to the doctor. They do not want a system like the one this government wants, where you pay your taxes, you pay your levy, you pay whatever gap fee the doctor decides to charge and only then get your service. You will pay three times—user pays, user pays, user pays—before you get any health care under this government.

The Greens believe in universal and strong public health care in this country. We know that there is $2.4 billion of public money that this government is putting each year into the private health insurance rebate. That is before the premiums go up, as this government just approved. That is $2.4 billion of public money that should be being put into the public health care system. The minister in here indicated quite clearly that if people are supporting the Greens that is what we are saying: `There is $2.4 billion of public money. Let's put it into the public health system.' That is our position, and we are proud to be supporters of a strong public health care system in this country—not the model that this government and four Independent senators have for public health care in this country, which means that Medicare as we know it is officially dead. Only a sick government would want to destroy Medicare.