Matter Of Public Interest - Saving Medicare

Mr Deputy Speaker, you cannot imagine the excitement that rippled through the opposition benches when the Minister for Health stepped up to the dispatch box.

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We anticipated this was truly going to be a red-letter day—this was going to be the day when the Minister for Health unleashed the fourth health policy that the coalition had put before the Australian people in no less than four months—that is right, four health policies in four months. If we wound it back to the election, it would have been the fifth health policy since they had occupied the Treasury bench. We all remember the solemn promise of the Prime Minister that there would be no cuts to health and no cuts to Medicare. That lasted until budget night in May, when the Treasurer stood over there and dropped the budget night bombshell that there was going to be a $7 co-payment. He argued for it passionately, as did his former minister for health. When we on this side of the House pointed out that this was going to have a terrible impact on pensioners and sick people and old people, the Minister for Health defended their policy saying, 'That's right— but we can't exclude them because pensioners and sick people and old people go to the doctor and if we exclude them we won't get the revenue from the GP tax.'

That lasted from May until November, and at the end of November, after parliament had packed up for the year, we saw the November step-back. This was a lonely, orphan policy because it was the policy under which they were going to convert the $7 co-payment to a $20 slashing of the Medicare rebate. I say it was an orphan policy because nobody would own up to it. The health minister was pointing at the Treasurer, the Treasurer was pointing at the Prime Minister and all of them were saying they didn't own it, it was not their idea—it was somebody else's. It was an orphan of a policy, and little wonder that the health minister interrupted her sojourn to the Australian Open to introduce her own little foot-fault, the GP tax mark IV. This was a policy that lasted not four weeks—it did not have the stamina to last four weeks. He we are on this red-letter day when we were expecting the government to announce their fourth policy in four months, and still they have provided no detail to the Australian people and no detail to the Australian parliament.

It is quite clear from this sorry passage, from the last election to today, that, being as committed as they are to their GP tax, it is as difficult to dump as their own Prime Minister. We can imagine the hope that many of them had on the backbench—they thought that if they could not dump the policy because the Prime Minister was so wedded to it, perhaps they could put all of their faith in the Duke of York, the member for Wentworth—the Duke of York, the member for Wentworth, who so recently marched his troops up to the top of the hill and then marched them back down again on Monday. They had hoped that the Duke of York was going to rescue them, until they heard him say this:

I support unreservedly and wholeheartedly every element in the budget.

He went on, thundering to Alan Jones:

Every single one … I support every element, of course, including the Medicare co-payment.

There we have the Duke of York, the alternative Prime Minister upon whom the backbench based their hope that if they dumped the Prime Minister they could also dump the GP tax—but that was not to be, because he was as wedded to this horrendous policy as the current Prime Minister. Here we all were, thinking that today, on this red-letter day, after four goes at getting a health policy, they were going to provide some detail and some information. Our hopes were dashed. We got a preschool lecture from somebody masquerading as a health minister, and we are still waiting. 

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