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Thursday, 5 April 2001
Page: 26591

Mr CAMERON THOMPSON (2:57 PM) —I address my question to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister update the House on any recent announcements concerning the future of 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. It is now 193 days since Cathy Freeman won a gold medal for Australia and the Leader of the Opposition tried to sneak through the ALP's biggest single commitment since the 1996 election—to keep the 30 per cent rebate without a means test or a cap. Since then, it would be fair to say that the Leader of the Opposition has been less than vocal in support of his biggest single policy commitment in five years, but his shadow spokesperson, the member for Jagajaga, has been even less vocal, if that is possible. In the 193 days she has made only one comment, and that was in the Australian on Monday, 19 February when she was quoted as saying,

We've been saying for ages that the private health rebate doesn't take pressure off public hospitals.

She went on to say that the government should spend at least $600 million extra on public hospitals. It is not often that an opposition spokesperson criticises their own policy, but we have it here. Of course we know that the increase in private health insurance take-up by Australians is, in fact, taking pressure off public hospitals. PHIAC figures for the six months up to December 2000 compared to the six months up to December 1999 show private hospital usage is up 12.1 per cent. But perhaps the strongest evidence comes from a Labor state—New South Wales—where, in the annual report of the New South Wales Department of Health, it shows that in 1999-2000 admissions to public hospitals were down 36,000, while private hospital admissions were up 35,000 during the same period—some way into fixing the problem.

I was interested in the member for Jagajaga's comments about $600 million extra going into public hospitals and I asked myself, `Why $600 million? Where did this figure come from and where is the Labor Party going to get the money to fund it?' Members might be interested to learn that I asked my department, `What would be the money saved if you took the 30 per cent rebate off ancillary cover, for example?' Guess what? The figure is $644 million. Since last September, at no stage has the opposition ruled out taking the 30 per cent rebate off extras cover. I am not surprised, when you consider what this would do to Australian families—making them pay more for dental, chiropractic, physiotherapy, speech therapy, spectacles, contact lenses, ambulance cover and a whole lot of other health benefits.

It is 193 days since the Leader of the Opposition made his $2 billion commitment, and the shadow spokesperson is yet to utter a word of support for her leader's comments. Next Thursday will be the anniversary of 200 days since the Ballarat backflip, and it gives the member for Jagajaga the chance in the next seven days to absolutely and categorically rule out that Labor is going to take the 30 per cent rebate off ancillary cover. If she does not come clean about Labor's rolling back of the rebate, it will be confirmed and millions of Australians will be confronted with the prospect of a Beazley government rolling back their health insurance.