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Wednesday, 8 August 2001
Page: 29438

Ms MACKLIN (2:53 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, given your constant criticism of any proposal for new spending commitments from the surplus, what will you do to address the problem faced by Mr Staer, a Rosanna pensioner, who, when his wife was suffering from a burst eardrum, was refused treatment at the local health clinic because he did not have the up-front fee and the clinic refused his cheque? Why was it necessary for Mr Steer to find an old credit card before his wife got medical treatment? Prime Minister, how long will sick and elderly Australians have to wait before you do something about the growing Americanisation of our health system, where no dollars means no treatment?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —As to the particular circumstances of that case, I am not aware of them. I ask the honourable member for Jagajaga to send to my office the particular circumstances and I will make my own inquiries and satisfy myself as to what occurred. I do not think that even in the extremes of political combat in this place at this point of the electoral cycle I am expected to have a detailed knowledge of every exchange between Australian citizens and health centres all around the country, but I will find out. I share any compassion that the member for Jagajaga feels for any Australian citizen who does not get decent, affordable, prompt medical treatment.

Having said that, I will address some remarks to the generalities of the issue that have been raised. The whole basis of the political attack in the honourable member's question is that in some way the Australian health system is becoming Americanised. With the greatest of respect to the member for Jagajaga, that is not only an absurd exaggeration but it is not justified in any way by the facts. To start with, we have a system in this country called Medicare. That system was introduced by a Labor government and that system has been embraced by this government, and it has in fact been strengthened by this government. It was strengthened through the introduction of something that we still suspect that if you win office you will take away, and that is the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.

It is very instructive that the most reluctant adherent to the nominal commitment the Labor Party has made to the maintenance of the 30 per cent health rebate if Labor wins office is in fact my interrogator, the member for Jagajaga. If ever there was a reluctant supporter—and she knows it and she grins in acknowledgment—of the 30 per cent private health rebate, it is the good old member for Jagajaga. She is not really very enthusiastic about it. It was put out in the dead of night as Cathy Freeman won the 400 metres. That commitment was put out in Ballarat in the dead of night, at about half past eight one evening while the eyes of the nation were on Cathy Freeman winning the 400 metres. They snuck this out and said, `Yes, we are in favour of the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate.' I have to tell you that I am not convinced. I do not think any of my colleagues are convinced either, and I do not think the Australian public is convinced.

I think that for all the criticism in this debate—

Ms Macklin —What are you going to do?

Mr HOWARD —I have got a lot more to say about the health policies of this government; I am warming to the task, let me say to the member for Jagajaga. We have not only brought in a private health insurance rebate; we have not only provided lifetime health cover, which has dramatically increased to a level of 45 per cent private health insurance; but on top of that, under the new Australian health care agreements we have increased health funding to the Australian states by 28 per cent in real terms over a period of five years. That represents the measure of the additional dollars. The member for Jagajaga asked me about dollars. We have given billions more to the Australian states.

But on top of that we have done something else: we have introduced the greatest long-term guarantee any government can give to this country for the provision of additional public services to the needy, and that is a broad based indirect tax—a goods and services tax. If you are to guarantee services for the needy in the years ahead with an ageing population, you must secure the revenue base. The only side of politics that believes in securing a revenue base in this country is the coalition. Those who would seek to roll back the GST would seek to roll back the capacity of this nation in the years ahead to look after the needy.

It is passing very strange to me that the party that always represents itself as being the party that cares for the needy and is interested in the fate of the underprivileged is the party that, if it won government, would roll back this nation's capacity to look after the needy via a secure revenue base in the years ahead. I say to the member for Jagajaga, as I say to all of those opposite, that increasingly, as you get locked further and further into a policy of roll-back, we will remind the Australian people of the contribution that the GST is making, via a secure revenue base, to the provision of services for the needy in the Australian community. If you want decent health services, support a broad based indirect tax; if you want decent public services, support a broad based indirect tax; if you do not want those good services, you support a policy of roll-back, which is the policy of the Australian Labor Party.