ABBOTT PRESS CLUB WITH JULIA GILLARD
Posted on Thursday, 19 August 2004
Thanks very much Ken, thanks very much Julia. Ladies and gentlemen voters can judge the Howard Government on something more substantial than mere promises. They can judge the Howard Government on its record. It's a very strong record and on the basis of that record they are entitled to conclude that the Howard Government is the best friend that Medicare has ever had, that the Howard Government ministers are the truest of true believers in our Medicare system. Since 1996 health spending has gone from under 15% to over 20% of the federal Budget. Since 1996 federal health spending has risen from 3.7% to 4.3% of Australia's Gross Domestic Product. Now there are two key issues in this campaign. Which side will best keep patients health costs down? And which side can best trusted to keep Medicare safe? Now in fab the Howard - in February the Howard Government put in place new incentives for children under 16. As a result of these incentives there was an immediate leap in bulk billing from 66.5% of GP consultations to 70.7% of GP consultations and now the Government has commited to lifting standard GP consultation rebates by $5. This will make it easier for doctors to continue to bulk bill. But if your doctor doesn't bulk bill there is a higher rebate in your pocket. By contrast Labor's policy is to increase the rebate for bulk billed consultations only. So if you don't get bulk billed there is nothing in it for you under Labor. In fact I believe that Labor's policy will actually reduce bulk-billing. For instance a country doctor who bulk bills up to 70% will be $25,000 a year worse off under Labor than bulk-billing card holders and kids under the policies of the Government. And ladies and gentlemen don't just take my word for it in this week's Australian doctor magazine there was a significant poll of Australian GPs, 46% of GPs support the Coalition's policy, just 11% support the ALP policy. 15% think they will increase bulk-billing under Labor's policy but 8% say they will reduce bulk-billing under Labor's policy and 19% say they'll increase bulk-billing under the Government's policy and just 3% think it will be reduced. And the point of this is that if the doctors are not going to earn more if in fact they're going to earn less, well bulk-billing rates can be guaranteed to fall. Now ladies and gentlemen bulk-billing is important but it certainly is not the be all and the end all of Medicare. In the real world not everyone is going to get bulk billed all the time. In the real world people will face a significant expenses. A specialist bulk-billing rates have never been higher than 40%. One visit to a GP follows by a visit to a specialist, followed by an ultrasound, a CT scan followed by an MRI just that modest sequence can easily incur for people gap expenses of over $250 and that's why the Howard Government's safety net is the most important structural improvement to Medicare since it began 20 years ago. Already the Howard Government's safety net is helping 650,000 Australians with higher Medicare rebates and Labor will abolish it. Let me give you ladies and gentlemen some significant figures. I looked at the seat of Solomon in the Northern Territory, the most marginal seat in the country dlsh45 votes necessary for that seat to change hands. Well there are 1584 people in the Howard Government's safety net and they are not going to thank the Labor Party for taking it away. Dobel - 281 votes necessary for that seat to change hands there are 5221 people in the safety net and they are not going to thank the Labor Party for taking it away. Let's look at a Labor marginal seat the most marginal one of the most marginal is the seat of Brisbane - 774 votes required to change hands for Labor to lose Brisbane there are 5230 people in the safety net in the seat of Brisbane and they are not going to thank the Labor Party or Arch Bevis for taking their safety net away. But it's not just the safety net which Labor will abolish. Labor has gone cold on Medicare itself. In fact Labor's gone cold on quite a few things recently. We saw Mark Latham basically unveiling punishment policies over the last few days. There's the tax policy which is going to punish sole parents.
There's the education policy which is going to punish people at independent schools and there's the health policy which is going to punish 650,000 people with high health costs. These are Labor's losers. These are Latham's lossers and they are the people who are quite likely to decide this election on October 9th. But as I said Labor seemed to have gone cold on Medicare itself. Julia doesn't like being reminded of this but let me remind her of what she has said not once, not twice twice but at least three times including to this audience. I'll cite the AMA national conference version on May 29th. Julia said the principle characteristic of a unified national health system must be that existing Commonwealth money, Medicare, the PBS, payments to nursing homes and payments made under the Australian health care agreement are combined with the existing state and territory health care money and the combined pool of money is then applied to the population's health needs. You can't say things like that and then assume that they don't matter. You can't raise the spectre of a UK-nation health service-style health service system in this country and not explain previcely what you intend to do. And I think today's as good an opportunity as any for Julia to come clean about exactly what she means when she talks about a unified public health system. Exactly what she means when she talks about pooling health funds. How many doctor also be converted from independent professionals to employees? What drugs might be rationed under the health pooled arrangements? And who would actually run this new system? These are important questions and the ALP can't expect to go to the election on October 9th keeping voters in the dark about their health future. By contrast everyone knows where the Howard Government stands. We have proved our commitment to Medicare we haven't just used words it's been deeds and dollars that prove that in this election the Howard Government is not just Medicare's better friend but if you listen to Julia Gillard and Mark Latham talk about the philosophy of health the Howard Government is Medicare's only friend.