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Monday, 14 September 2009
Page: 9409

Mr KELVIN THOMSON (3:36 PM) —My question is to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Will the minister update the House on the latest developments regarding the reforms to private health insurance rebates?

Ms ROXON (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Wills for his question. I know that in his electorate there are many taxi drivers, secretaries and office workers who do not believe in having to pay for the private health insurance—

Mr Dutton interjecting

The SPEAKER —The member for Dickson is warned!

Ms ROXON —of the most wealthy in the community, including members of parliament. We are determined to pursue the changes announced in the May budget. We believe that they are central to protecting the long-term sustainability of the budget. They will help reduce debt and deficit and, importantly, they will free up funding for us to be able to invest in other important health initiatives. We know that, if we do nothing, the current rebate will double as a proportion of health expenditure by 2046. We know that the opposition’s blocking of our reform plans will blow not just a $1.9 billion hole in this budget but a $9 billion hole over the next decade. The Leader of the Opposition might be happy to jeopardise our nation’s finances in the middle of the global financial crisis, but the government are not prepared to.

I thought the House might be interested in a view that was put forward about private health insurance not by the Leader of the Opposition but by another leader in this parliament—that is, the Leader of the National Party in the Senate. The Leader of the National Party in the Senate said today, ‘Now, with private health insurance we want to make sure we get as many people basically covering their own costs.’ What a good idea. That is exactly what this bill is doing. So I would suggest to Mr Joyce, the Leader of the National Party in the Senate, that, if he thinks this is such a good idea, perhaps he needs to tell his brothers and sisters in the Liberal Party that they should vote for it; or, better yet, perhaps the National Party should vote for it in the Senate even if the Liberal Party is not prepared to have the guts to pursue this matter.

These changes to private health insurance are some of the most structural saves in this year’s budget. We believe that it is vital for these changes to be implemented and we are not going to stand by idly and allow the opposition to wipe out those savings. The opportunity lost for us to invest in other important health reforms is just too high. Of course, if it takes a special sitting of the Senate to get the opposition to pass this legislation, the government is prepared to consider that. As I have said, we have taken advice on what steps could be necessary to recall the parliament in December and we are currently considering that advice. But I make quite clear, as I have before, that the government is not looking for a double dissolution trigger; what we are looking for is for this measure to be passed—full stop. The Liberal Party have that in their hands; the National Party have that in their hands; and it is about time they started supporting this measure.