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Tuesday, 15 December 1992
Page: 5054

Senator PATTERSON (8.52 p.m.) —On behalf of the Opposition, I move:

  Clause 6, page 5, proposed Medicare Principles, after Principle 3, add the following principle:

``Public private partnership

  ``Principle 4: Eligible persons have the right to choose health care in public and private hospitals supported by private health insurance''.

This amendment seeks to include an additional principle in the Medicare principles; namely, that eligible persons have the right to choose health care in public and private hospitals supported by private health insurance.

  The 40 per cent of the population—in fact, the diminishing numbers of people, but currently the 40 per cent of the population—who choose to take out private health insurance will, in the run-up to the next Federal election, be interested to know that the Minister for Health, Housing and Community Services (Mr Howe), in a press release earlier this month, stated:

The Federal Government supports the right of Australians to take out private health insurance to provide those extra services not available to public patients.

This would appear to be a total backflip from the position of his predecessor, Dr Neil Blewett, who in 1985, stated:

I have always maintained that Medicare's continued success and high popularity is dependent on the maintenance of a strong, viable private health care sector.

This backflip has been taken purely for political reasons. In the run-up to the next election, the Government wishes to continue to perpetuate the myth that Medicare provides a universally accessible and viable free public hospital system. This is simply not the case.

  I understand the Minister's concern, given his personal experiences, to ensure that people have access of the sort he has just described, but I am sorry to say that he has failed. I only have to give the example of the newsagent near my office who rang me to convey his concerns about the old lady who comes into his agency. That is one example of this Government's failure reflected in some 70,000 to 100,000 people on the waiting lists.

  Those people probably feel just as strongly as the Minister does about equity and justice and access to hospital but they are not getting it. The Minister cannot kid me that they are. It is about time that the Government realised that privately insured Australians underwrite our public hospital system and save the Government $3 billion in expenditure every year.

  The Minister has only to come with me to visit little hospitals in country Victoria—I suppose he could go to visit hospitals in country Tasmania—and they will say to him, `The thing that is killing us is the fact that we no longer have privately insured patients'. One hospital told me that it had gone from 75 per cent to 25 per cent. It said, `We cannot continue to exist'. The hospitals are saying it. The Private Hospitals Association and the Australian Public Hospitals Association have jointly put out a statement—it is unprecedented for those two organisations to get together—and put the same point of view, that we ought to support private health insurance and recognise that it is an integral part of our health care delivery service.