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Tuesday, 10 February 2015
Page: 268

Health Care

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:18): My question is to the minister representing the Minister for Health. The Prime Minister announced yesterday that he would not pursue Medicare changes without the support of doctors. He said:

It is important to maintain the support of the medical profession because, let's face it, they have the best interests of their patients at heart.

In response, AMA president Brian Owler said:

The Prime Minister must ditch the disastrous Medicare co-payment model, the $5 cut to the Medicare patient rebate, and the freeze on Medicare rebate indexation until 2018.

It is not just the AMA's view. It is the view of every doctor I have spoken with, right across the country. Minister, will the government now explicitly rule out the co-payment and the Medicare freeze or was yesterday's statement just another porky pie from the Prime Minister?

The PRESIDENT: Senator Di Natale, you need to withdraw the last inference.

Senator Sterle: You should just say 'lie'!

Senator Cameron: Just say 'lie'!

The PRESIDENT: Senator Sterle, you will have to withdraw that too.

Senator Sterle: Mr President, I withdraw.

A government senator: And Senator Cameron.

The PRESIDENT: I only heard Senator Sterle. Senator Di Natale, you have to withdraw that final inference in your question.

Senator DI NATALE: I will just ask the statement about whether the government would explicitly rule out the co-payment, consistent with yesterday's question, or was the Prime Minister again misleading the parliament.

Senator Bernardi: Mr President, I raise a point of order. You have asked Senator Di Natale to withdraw and he has not withdrawn.

The PRESIDENT: He has rephrased the question. I am satisfied that Senator Di Natale has corrected the error in the first question.

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:20): Can I say at the outset that perhaps the Greens have not been listening to what the coalition government has been saying. We have stated very, very clearly that we will be consulting with the sector, including the very doctor that the Greens senator has just referred to. I can tell you, Mr President, that one thing everybody, across the medical sector, across our communities, including our rural communities, and the coalition government, agree on is that the Medicare system and the health system in this country need to be sustainable. This government have been very clear that, unlike the previous Labor government, we actually have a plan to go forward and make sure that we have health services—

Senator Di Natale: Mr President, I raise a point of order on relevance. I asked a very specific question. Yesterday, the Prime Minister announced that he would not pursue Medicare changes without the support of doctors. I have asked whether the minister will explicitly rule out the co-payment and the Medicare freeze, which are not supported by doctors. It is a very straightforward question.

The PRESIDENT: It did have a very long preamble. The minister has one minute and six seconds left to answer the question. I remind the minister of the question.

Senator NASH: I have a very straightforward answer: the Prime Minister said he would be consulting with doctors, and now he is going through the process with his minister to do exactly that. He has been very consistent in what he has said. The previous Labor government left us with a mess in health care. The previous Labor government left us a trajectory to debt of $667 billion that this coalition government has to fix. Included in that was a trajectory of $34 billion in 10 years if we do not fix it. The government recognises that, unlike the previous government, we need to have a responsible approach to health care in this nation. In spite of the fact that the Greens might stand here and ask questions today, the Prime Minister has been very clear in making his comments about consulting with doctors, making sure that the broad backing is there for the medical—(Time expired)

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:23): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Minister, you state that concession card holders are protected under your Medicare co-payment proposal. Given that we are apparently in Day 2 of good government and that yours is a government that now listens, have you listened to the GPs who told a Senate hearing just last week that they plan to stop bulk-billing concession card holders if the indexation freeze and the co-payment are implemented?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:23): This government has been very clear in making sure that our position is known: vulnerable people will be protected. I am sure the Greens senator knows, as a former GP himself, that GPs act at their own discretion as to how they make their charging arrangements. In terms of the arrangements that we have put in place, we have indicated that vulnerable people will be protected. We have listened to the concerns out in the community, and those vulnerable people—concession card holders and those under 16—will be absolutely protected. It is important that we get this right. Unlike the previous Labor government—who made a complete mess of the economy and who did not have any kind of plan for making health care sustainable in this nation—this government does and we will proceed to do that.

Senator DI NATALE (Victoria) (14:24): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. Minister, are you aware that some GPs—GPs such as Dr Ian Kamerman who runs a 15-doctor practice in Tamworth—have said that if these changes go ahead, non-concession card holders in his practice will face massive fee increases and will soon be charged $100 for a visit?

Senator NASH (New South WalesDeputy Leader of The Nationals in the Senate and Assistant Minister for Health) (14:25): I would say that that is a question that the senator should ask Dr Kamerman about the way he runs his practice. This government is absolutely committed to ensuring that we not only protect people who are vulnerable, including concession card holders and those under 16 but that we also make the system sustainable. Perhaps those on the other side have not been listening but, as we have very clearly indicated, we will be working with doctors, with communities, with people from right across the sector—as indeed I have been with the Rural Doctors Association—to make sure we get the right things in place to protect not only those vulnerable people but to ensure that we have a strong and sustainable health care system in this country that the Australian people deserve and that the previous Labor government did not deliver.