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Thursday, 14 May 1987
Page: 3209

Mr PORTER —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Is the Minister aware that 65 per cent of all families with children carry private health insurance? In view of the fact that over the past four years families with children, of all people, have suffered the most significant reduction in the level of disposable income, why did the Government decide to target those families by further increasing their health costs?

Dr BLEWETT —I am glad that the honourable member for Barker has not completely forgotten his old shadow portfolio, although during the three years that he occupied that position he did not produce one creative idea for health policy in this country. Indeed, his disappearance from that portfolio has gone unnoticed among health organisations. In response to his question, I suggest that the first thing he does is to read the Economic Planning Advisory Council document on the social wage, which shows that the greatest beneficiaries of Medicare are families, and especially the less well off families, who directly benefit from it. That is why, in the decisions that we have made, the broad Medicare benefits have remained unchanged and underwritten by a fair levy. It is true that the health portfolio, like every other portfolio, had to contribute to the economic challenge facing this country. We believe that we did that in a fair and quite undiscriminatory way.

I noted that the shadow Minister in the other place referred to our having made discriminatory changes to health insurance. What we did was to transfer $100m from Medicare to the private insurance industry, yet the Opposition has criticised that as discriminatory. But what does the Opposition plan to transfer from Medicare to the private health industry? It is about $3 billion, which is 30 times the amount, and that is why--

Mr Howard —Do you say $3 billion can be cut off health?

Dr BLEWETT —I shall deal in a moment with the Leader of the Opposition's interjection, which was as foolish as most of his other comments about health. The Opposition's argument is that it will cut Medicare by $3 billion, which is 30 times the discriminatory amount about which they were protesting last night.

Mr Porter —We are going to reduce tax and you are putting it up.

Madam SPEAKER —Order! The honourable member for Barker has asked his question. He will cease interjecting.

Dr BLEWETT —The Opposition's proposal would mean basic insurance rates of about $27 a week. But of course, like all of its arguments, that $3 billion is a false figure. It cannot cut Medicare by that amount and properly protect pensioners. In calculating those cuts, it has neglected the fact that it will lose money from the Medicare levy. If it tries to soften the $27 per week, it will have to introduce a tax rebate, and that will completely dissipate its savings. Of course, the Leader of the Opposition has his chance tonight to explain to the Australian people how he intends to carry through those absurdities.