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Tuesday, 27 February 2001
Page: 24473

Ms LIVERMORE (2:45 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Transport and Regional Services. Minister, are you aware that the number of GP services which are bulk-billed has dropped by nearly three million consultations since it peaked in 1996 at a national average of 80.6 per cent of services, and that half of this fall has happened in the last six months? Are you aware that the bulk-billing rate in rural Australia now averages around 61 per cent—another widening gap between the city and the country in terms of access to affordable GP services?

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Capricornia may not advance an argument.

Ms LIVERMORE —I am coming to my question, Mr Speaker. Is it not a fact that Australians in the bush have been losing affordable access to GPs—just one more reason why public confidence in you and your government is collapsing?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —Mr Speaker—

Opposition members interjecting—

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Capricornia has asked her question. The House will come to order.

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —I thank the honourable member for her question. As the responsible minister, I am happy to answer. The honourable member, I believe, is using figures that the Australian Medical Association have used. On recent records, it would be very unwise to rely on anything they have said. The simple fact is that, when you look across the whole range of medical services, bulk-billing levels are at a historically high level. Across all medical services, bulk-billing is more available today than it has ever been. In general practice, it is true that there is one specific problem; that is, for a long time the rebate went up by half the rate of inflation, and this has angered doctors. The reason that it angered doctors is that the government of the day promised that, when they introduced the Practice Incentive Program, they would not change rebates. In fact, the government of the day broke that commitment and indexed rebates by half the level.

Mr SPEAKER —If the member for Jagajaga seeks the call, I will grant it to her. Otherwise she will remain silent.

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —So, if there is any challenge in the issue of bulk-billing rates for GPs, it relates directly to the issue of the broken promise made by the then government. This actually happened in the period 1990 to 1993 under the former health minister, Brian Howe. Then the Labor Party promised that they would keep rebates at the full level—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Jagajaga.

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —and instead they broke that promise. Who was the adviser to the minister for health in the period when the groundwork was laid to cause any challenges in general practice? It was the member for Jagajaga. It is extreme hypocrisy to talk about bulk-billing rates when your own incompetence caused it!

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order and it goes to relevance. The question was about a collapse in the last six months—not five years ago.

Mr SPEAKER —I understand the minister had concluded his answer.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Prospect is warned!