Discussion of New Matilda in Parliament

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This is an extract from Hansard on Wednesday October 11, 2006. See here for the full transcript (pdf).

(3.06 pm) Mrs Markus: ‘My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware of claims that Australia should have a single monopoly health insurer for all mainstream health services? How might this damage the private health insurance system? What is the government's response?'

Mr Abbott: ‘I thank the member for Greenway for her question. I assure her that support for private health insurance is one of the signature policies of the Howard government and, thanks to policies such as lifetime health cover and the private health insurance rebate, almost nine million Australians now enjoy the security and choice afforded to them by private health insurance, including 61,000 people in the electorate of Greenway.

Today we saw a rare unity ticket between the Leader of the Opposition and the woman who wants to take his job when we saw a joint press release headed up ‘Only Labor will save Medibank'. What is clear is that Labor wants to keep Medibank Private in government ownership but scrap the policies that make Medibank Private work. Let us be clear about this: Medibank Private is not successful because of government ownership; Medibank Private is successful because of this government's policies—policies which members opposite are pledged to destroy. First we had the Leader of the Opposition's well-known statement that the private health insurance rebate is one of the worst pieces of public policy ever to come before the parliament. Then we had Medicare Gold, Labor's secret plan to destroy the private health insurance rebate as revealed in The Latham Diaries.

Just yesterday we had the member for Lalor endorse a report by the so-called the Centre for Policy Development organisation calling for the complete abolition of the existing system of private health insurance. Yesterday this Centre for Policy Development group, headed by a former Whitlam government official, released a report calling for ‘a single universal health insurer'. It went on to say, ‘Private health insurance should be confined to peripheral services.' The member for Lalor immediately endorsed this report and she said that it ‘correctly identified the major issues facing our health system'. I really was not surprised by the alacrity with which she endorsed the Centre for Policy Development report because I went onto the Centre for Policy Development website and I found this comment: ‘I don't think Beazley will ever find his ticker because he hasn't got one.' It is no wonder that the member for Labor is suddenly a great enthusiast for the Centre for Policy Development.

Labor does not just want to keep Medibank Private public; they want to nationalise the whole private health insurance system. It is quite clear: this government supports private health insurance; the opposition do not support private health insurance. There has been no repudiation of the Latham statement about Medicare Gold, there has been no unambiguous statement of support for private health insurance rebate and a refusal to means test it.

Opposition members: ‘Oh, we are all Maoists!'

Mr Abbott: ‘I am not saying that; I am saying that you certainly do not support private health insurance. I have often said in this House that the Howard government is indisputably the best friend that Medicare has ever had. What is becoming even clearer than ever is that the Howard government…'

Mrs Irwin interjecting

The Speaker: ‘Order! The member for Fowler is warned!'

Mr Abbott: ‘is the only friend that private health insurance has.'

(3.28 pm) Ms Gillard: ‘Mr Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation.'

The Speaker: ‘Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?'

Ms Gillard: ‘Always in questions time by the Minister for Health and Ageing.'

The Speaker: ‘Please proceed.'

Ms GILLARD: ‘There are two times I wish to complain about today. Firstly, in question time today the minister for health claimed that I had endorsed the policy content of the Centre for Policy Development report released yesterday, A health policy for Australia: reclaiming universal health care. I actually welcomed this contribution to the debate and the fact that the Centre for Policy Development were pointing to a significant void in the debate caused by the absence of participation by the Howard government in the health reform debate. I believe in democracy in a variety of voices. I am sorry the minister for health does not.'

The Speaker: ‘The member has made her point.'

Ms Gillard: ‘Thank you, Mr Speaker. Secondly, the minister for health today claimed that I am opposed to the 30 per cent private health insurance rebate. This is not true. The minister for health has in fact himself on an earlier occasion conceded on national television that support for the private health insurance rebate is now bipartisan policy. I use his own words against him.'

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