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Monday, 20 August 2001
Page: 29701

Ms MACKLIN (2:14 PM) —My question is to the Prime Minister. Prime Minister, given your claim that enough federal money is being spent on health, can you confirm that the most recent Medicare statistics show a dramatic decline in bulk-billing, with over three million fewer services a year being bulk-billed now than when your government was elected? Can you confirm that these statistics also show that the average patient cost to see a GP has gone up 35 per cent, from $8 to $11? Doesn't this show that, under your government, it is harder and harder to see a bulk-billing doctor and more and more expensive to see a doctor who does not bulk-bill? Prime Minister, what positive solution will you be proposing to reverse this alarming trend?

Mr HOWARD (Prime Minister) —I will, naturally, analyse the figures that have been put forward by the shadow minister regarding the question of bulk-billing. There will probably be something of a genre of questions from the opposition during this question time. Basically the opposition are saying that the federal government is not spending enough money on health and should spend more. I think that is what they are saying, although last week I thought that was only as important as roll-back. A few days before that, of course, it was not as important as roll-back. Our position is very clear: we have devoted record amounts in federal government support for health services in Australia.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Jagajaga has asked her question.

Mr HOWARD —Since I was asked the question by the Leader of the Opposition, I have been handed a quite remarkable chart by the Minister for Health and Aged Care.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Dobell!

Mr HOWARD —It shows that since 1997-98—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Dobell!

Mr HOWARD —Commonwealth spending has increased each year more than states spending by—

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. The point of order that I am forced to raise because of your warning to the member for Dobell—and he was drawing your attention to this—is that you are applying a double standard.

Mr SPEAKER —I am listening to the Manager of Opposition Business. I need no help from the member for Eden-Monaro.

Mr McMullan —You are allowing the Prime Minister to display to television cameras and to the House a chart which you would not allow members on this side to do when asking questions.

Mr SPEAKER —As every member of the House will be aware, and as every observer of question time will be aware, the exposure that I allowed the Prime Minister to give to the chart that he used was identical to the exposure that I have allowed members of the opposition to give to the charts they have used. The member for Dobell had the audacity to challenge what I had said. It was for that reason that he was warned. My ruling has been entirely consistent with past practice.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a different point of order which goes to relevance. The Prime Minister was asked a specific question about bulk-billing and the increase in the price of services. He is two minutes into his answer and he has not had a thing to say about it.

Mr SPEAKER —The Prime Minister was asked a question, the first sentence of which referred to the amount of money being spent on health, as I wrote it down.

Mr HOWARD —Resuming the point that I was making, this chart—which I will not display again but which has been displayed for the House to see—is very revealing. It goes to the very point of the credibility of this debate about the adequacy of the provision of public assets for public services. What it demonstrates is that between 1997-98 and 2001-02—

Ms Hall —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order which goes to relevance too. The Prime Minister is not addressing the issue of bulk-billing.

Mr SPEAKER —The member for Shortland will resume her seat or I will deal with her! I have already deemed that the Prime Minister's answer is relevant.

Mr HOWARD —This chart demonstrates that, since 1997-98, Commonwealth spending has increased each year more than state spending on public hospitals. Federal spending on publicly owned public hospitals has increased at a faster rate. The total amount that produces the gap is almost $1.5 billion. In other words, over the last four years we have increased our investment—and we are committed to continue this investment—by almost $1.5 billion more than the states. I might add, almost in anticipation of another question I might be asked later on in question time, that it is the same story with public schools.

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order which goes to relevance. This is a question about bulk-billing. It has nothing to do with public schools and it has nothing to do with—

Mr SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat! The Prime Minister's tangential reference to public schools was entirely consistent with what has happened in the past. Clearly if he dwelt on the matter, I would rule him out of order.

Mr HOWARD —It was tangentially anticipatory; I was anticipating something in a tangential fashion. I will return to the mainstream of the question asked by the Leader of the Opposition. I thought he made a reference to the adequacy of federal government support for health. Was I right?

Government members—Yes!

Mr HOWARD —The point I was making was that we have helped the states to fund their own hospitals more generously than they have themselves. Over the last four years you have watched us increase our money. The states rip money out of public hospitals and then come running along to us and ask for more so that they can spend the additional money on their own political fantasies instead of spending it on basic government services.

If you look at the record of any of the state governments—if you look at the New South Wales government, if you look at the Victorian government—over the last four years, and I do not exempt any of them from this criticism, irrespective of their political colour, I would remind the House that over that period of time we have massively increased our contribution—and that increase will go on—but the states all the while have been taking money away from public hospitals and then complaining that we are not providing enough money. They just love hearing from the Leader of the Opposition because, if the Leader of the Opposition ever got into government, he would continue to let the states off the hook; he would continue to adopt a policy of handing over more federal money but not requiring the states to make their contributions. The states have a responsibility to fund their own hospitals. We have a responsibility to help, and we are being more than helpful. They are letting the public hospitals down, and the Leader of the Opposition ought to be training his gun sights on them.