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Tuesday, 25 September 2001
Page: 31367

Mr NEVILLE (3:21 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Aged Care. Would the minister update the House on how the Howard government's 30 per cent private health insurance rebate is continuing to restore balance to Australia's health care system. Is the minister aware of the significance of today's date for the future of the coalition's rebate?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Aged Care) —I thank the honourable member for Hinkler for his question. One year ago today, I was at Homebush Bay with my family, cheering Cathy Freeman. But Cathy Freeman was not the only one running fast that day. The Leader of the Opposition was sprinting as well. He scurried up to Ballarat—

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for Dickson!

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —and, under cover of the biggest sporting event in this country's history and of one of the biggest events in the world last year, he announced that the opposition was going to keep the government's 30 per cent rebate, thereby leaving the member for Jagajaga in the starting blocks. For two years, Labor had railed against the 30 per cent rebate. We had 32 media releases in 18 months, including such releases as `Thirty per cent rebate a dismal failure' in May 1999, `Health rebate attracts little new demand' in February 1999, `Costly rebate will hit most Australians' in December 1998, and `Health insurance bill $1.7 billion down the drain' in December 1998. Not only that, the member for Jagajaga described it in parliament as the worst example of public policy ever seen in this parliament; and the Leader of the Opposition, while not exactly enthusiastic, said—just three days before his backflip in Ballarat—`You know, I've never seen so many people sold a pup as have been sold this private health insurance scam.' So you can imagine how surprised I was 12 months ago when I saw the Leader of the Opposition do his doorstop and announce that he had changed his mind. I can also imagine the look on the face of the member for Jagajaga.

Twelve months later, wherever the Leader of the Opposition goes, he talks about Labor's 80 policies. They are all up on the web for anybody to see.

Mr SPEAKER —I warn the member for McMillan!

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —I thought that, given this was the 12-month anniversary, I should look on the web and see if I could find anything about private health insurance among Labor's 80 policies. All I could find was a press release from November last year which said, `Wooldridge scaremongering on health insurance'. It is interesting that Labor should choose to quote me far more often than the opposition spokesperson on health in the only thing on their web site on private health insurance. The fact is that during the recent Aston by-election the Labor Party candidate in Aston refused to sign a pledge saying that he would work to not make any changes to the 30 per cent rebate.

The Leader of the Opposition has consistently failed to rule out removing the rebate from ancillaries, grandfathering the rebate, leaving it without high front-end deductibles, making ineligible those products with exclusions, or paying the rebate only at base rate premiums. He has wriggled; he has used weasel words consistently over the last 12 months. He has refused to rule these out, and he will be condemned for it at the election.