Home - Claire Moore - Labor Senator for Queensland


I move:

That the Senate take note of the answers given by the Assistant Minister for Health (Senator Nash) to questions without notice asked by Senators Sterle and Lines today relating to charges for medical services.

It was interesting to hear Minister Nash who, in her responses today-or in the partial responses that we were able to get-was unable to talk specifically about government but could clearly talk about the Commission of Audit. In fact, I think for the first time in answers from Senator Nash in her area, we heard that the Commission of Audit has been set up to look specifically at a range of issues. Our questions were to the much publicised issues around the co-payment for GP visits and also around the general issue of bulk-billing.

There has been no shortage of political and public statements made about these issues. There has been almost a running debate for several months in the major media about what the impact of such changes would be; about comments that have been made-although never hearing any specific comment from the minister; and about a range of issues, such as the cost to the overall health system and the impact of the growing demand for health care. But none of this was backed up by specific data, because there are issues around the actual cost of our medical system. We all share a commitment to having an effective, responsive and sustainable medical system in our country. A number of surveys on a number of issues have been run across the media in our country asking how people feel about these two particular issues and about the core of the Medicare system in our country, which is the access of all Australians to free, as-needed medical services-access they have had for many years.

The answers that we heard today from Minister Nash gave no direct response to the questions which were asked, even though-as we found out during Senate estimates, when we asked questions both of the minister and of her department-the department has been doing work on issues of co-payments. Departmental officials were open about that, and they put on the record that, over a period of time, they were looking at what kinds of things were happening to our process in relation to the question of co-payments. In terms of how it happened, we know the department is working on it.

We know also, having sat through many Senate estimates hearings, that consistently questions have been: 'If there is work being done on these issues, will you share it with us? Share with us the costs and the issues that impact on how the policy could be introduced. Share with us the background and the impact-in particular, the impact on the most vulnerable people in our community, who have concerns about where they operate within a health system for which we in this place all know there has been a clear direction over many years to look at effective preventative health motivations in our community, encouraging people to take control of their own health and their own body, to check out concerns and to take early action to look at what can impact on them and their future health.' This has been a standard message over a number of years. On both sides of the chamber, we have been encouraging Australians to have a positive relationship in looking after their own health.

Naturally this process means that people want to know what services are available in their community, they want to be able to access them and they want to know exactly what any of that would cost. The saddest thing about how this debate has gone is that there has been a sense of judgement put out into our community which blames people for accessing the health system. There have been pontifications about the impact of people overusing the health system, not accepting that the health system is there to support people's health. It is not a bad thing for people to access their health system. The kind of rhetoric that we have heard over the last two months has tended to make that into an accusation-that people are overusing the health system because it is a free system. That is offensive to so many people. It actually causes a guilt response in people who are just trying to make sure that their own health and the health of their families is looked after.

The one answer we did get, though, is that there is a Commission of Audit- (Time expired)