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Tuesday, 27 February 2001
Page: 24472

Mr McARTHUR (2:41 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister update the House on the progress of the government's private health insurance reforms? Is the minister aware of any recent comments concerning the coalition's 30 per cent private health insurance rebate?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for his question. Our reforms to private health insurance were designed to give people choice and to take some pressure off the public hospital system. I am delighted to be able to inform honourable members that the figures coming through are enormously encouraging. Private health insurance paid for 428,000 admissions to hospitals in the December quarter last year—41,000 more admissions than in the December quarter one year previously. Benefits for the calendar year 2000 were $3.4 billion—a record. In the December quarter alone, payout benefits were $908 million—$110 million more than for the same quarter in 1999. Perhaps some of the best evidence as to the success comes from the annual report of the New South Wales Department of Health. In 1999-2000, admissions to New South Wales public hospitals went down by 36,000 and, at the same time, private hospital admissions increased by 35,000. So you have here a shift from public hospitals—taking some of the pressure off them—to the private hospital system.

It is 156 days since Cathy Freeman won a gold medal in the 400 metres. It was a great night, as honourable members will know. The nation celebrated and it dominated the headlines for days. Something else happened 156 days ago: at a doorstop, Labor released a policy saying that they supported the 30 per cent rebate. This was in spite of the Leader of the Opposition saying in Townsville, less than four weeks previously, `You know, I've never seen so many people sold a pup as have been sold one in this private health insurance scam that's being pursued.' That is exactly the same scam that, less than four weeks later, he purports to support. In that 156 days, we have not had a single press release, we have had nothing on the Labor Party's web site; we have had no elaboration of the policy and no real idea of what the Labor Party is thinking until last night. Last night, we had three of the Labor Party's backbench enlighten us on Labor Party thinking on the 30 per cent rebate. We had the member for Shortland telling the House about the 30 per cent rebate for private health insurance, saying that the way the government bribed people to join and take private health insurance was a disgrace. We had the member for Throsby saying people had been blackmailed. We had the member for Shortland saying, `Yes, they blackmailed them, bribed them,' and then we had the member for Paterson saying:

Another point I would like to make today is the gigantic con that has been played upon the Australian community by this government. That of course was the rebate to con people into private health insurance.

So in one go we have three members of the Labor Party backbench, in a coordinated way, testing the water for Labor to abolish the 30 per cent rebate. The member for Paterson has 47 per cent of his electorate with private health insurance, the member for Throsby has 35 per cent, and the member for Shortland has 41 per cent. We will enjoy being able to inform electors in the electorate of Paterson that their member plans to take this rebate away from them. The fact is that Labor have no idea where they stand on this. They cannot take a consistent position. Quite frankly, nothing has changed. They blindly and ideologically oppose this rebate so strongly supported by the Australian people.