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Tuesday, 5 May 1987
Page: 2565

Mr BRUMBY —Is the Minister for Health aware of claims in recent Press reports that $5.8 billion could be slashed from Federal Government health spending while still providing protection for disadvantaged groups? Can the Minister inform the House as to the impact of cutting health expenditure by $5.8 billion?

Dr BLEWETT —I am aware of suggestions that the health budget in this country should be cut by $5.8 billion. I understand that Mr McLachlan of the National Farmers Federation has called that rationalisation. It would be better described as the devastation of millions of families in this country. The first difficulty that I have with the proposal from the National Farmers Federation is that the health budget is only $5.3 billion, so it is just a little difficult to cut it by $5.8 billion. But let me give Mr McLachlan credit for meaning the whole of government health expenditures, including health related expenditure of departments such as Community Services and Veterans' Affairs. If one looks at the Budget papers one will see that total expenditure is $7.3 billion, so all Mr McLachlan will leave in direct expenditures for the Commonwealth Government in the health area is $1,500m. That is simply sufficient to cover the medical bills of pensioners and the disadvantaged.

Therefore, what would go? All nursing home benefits and support for nursing homes in this country, which at present totals $1 billion, would go; $400m spent on medical expenses for veterans would go; the pharmaceutical benefits scheme would be simply destroyed. The honourable member for Cowper asked me last week about six particular medicines which had been removed from the pharmaceutical benefits list. Mr McLachlan's proposal would remove from the list 1,000 medications which are provided free to pensioners at the moment because the pharmaceutical benefits scheme would be ended. A whole host of other activities would be ended. There would be no money for flying doctor services, for example, which might worry National Party members. There would be no money for prevention campaigns. There would be no money for acquired immune deficiency syndrome services or drugs services. There would be massive impacts on the cost of health insurance to ordinary families and that would have a massive impact on the cost of living in this country. All I can say is that we on this side of the House repudiate proposals which would devastate millions of families in this country.