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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3010

Senator ROBERT RAY —I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. It relates to the decision of private health insurers to increase health insurance premiums. The Prime Minister recently stated:

If I had known, if I had been told about these increases, I would have requested that they be announced publicly and openly before the budget was brought down.

How do you reconcile this with the fact that Dr Wooldridge received a letter from the National Mutual Health Insurance on 26 July advising him that the health department had approved increases in premiums? How do you reconcile this with Dr Wooldridge's claim on budget night that the tax rebate would `remain in the pockets of contributors,' when it was clear that he knew this was incorrect? Minister, when did Dr Wooldridge first learn that the funds had applied for increases and when did he learn that they had been approved?

Senator NEWMAN —I do not see that there is anything inconsistent with the statements that Senator Ray has drawn to the Senate's attention. As I understand it, the health minister, minister Wooldridge, continued a system which had operated during the Labor years of having the department make decisions on requests for private health insurance premiums. The advice which the Prime Minister and I were given is that that system continued in the early months of this government. As the Prime Minister has previously said, the department did not inform the minister—

Senator Bob Collins —He got direct written advice himself.

Senator NEWMAN —Apparently any more than they did during your term of government.

Senator Crowley —This is interesting, Senator Collins—keep talking.


Senator NEWMAN —I am interested that the opposition is not prepared to allow this to be made very clear. On 29 August, according to the briefing that I have, the government received advice from the Department of Health and Family Services that the minister—this is advice to the government while the minister was overseas—had not been informed by them of any of the premium increases granted since the election. That has been confirmed in a formal minute dated 6 September. As the Prime Minister stated on 29 August, the only way that the minister had been finding out about premium increases was when the funds themselves had written to him as a matter of courtesy.

Senator ROBERT RAY —What we want to know from Senator Newman is when Dr Wooldridge found out about these increases. Did it occur on 26 July, well before the budget, and therefore was his comment made on budget night an absolute fabrication when he said: `All increases will remain in the pockets of people who receive them'? We want to know not when he got the advice from the department, although that was useful information—thank you for that—but when he had first knowledge of this. I understand that at least one company, maybe two, wrote to him and informed him of this decision before the budget, which I think he has also acknowledged.

Senator NEWMAN —I understand that the minister's office did receive correspondence from health funds as a courtesy but that that information was not translated or transferred to the minister.