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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 2 Hansard (5 March) . . Page.. 534..


Health-bulk-billing

MS MacDONALD: My question is to the Minister for Health, Mr Corbell. Minister, the Prime Minister said yesterday that bulk-billing was never intended for all Australians. What will happen to Canberra families who cannot afford to go to a doctor where there is no bulk-billing?

MR CORBELL: Thank you, Ms MacDonald, for your question. This is an important question for Canberrans because Canberra has the lowest rate of bulk-billing of any state or territory in the country. Federal proposals that impact on the availability of bulk-billing will have particular impact on Canberrans, in particular Canberra families and older Canberrans.

From this government's perspective, bulk-billing is a central tenet of the universality of Medicare. As health minister, in discussions with other health ministers around the country, I will not for one moment accept the argument that bulk-billing was never meant to be universally available. It clearly was.

Let me outline the government's concern. If we move away from bulk-billing being available on a universal basis, the next argument will be: "Why does everyone have to pay the same amount of Medicare levy? Why can't I opt out of paying my Medicare levy?"All of sudden there will be a two-tier health system: a second-class system for those who cannot afford anything else and a first-class system for those who can afford it. Then there will be the people stuck in the middle: not poor enough to access the welfare system; not rich enough to pay for their own health care.

That is not a circumstance I want to see occur nationally, let alone in the ACT. Our rate of bulk-billing is 51.2 per cent; it is the lowest in the country. But let us remember: that does not mean that 51 per cent of the population is accessing bulk-billing. It means that a smaller proportion of those people who access GP services-particularly elderly people and younger families-are getting bulk-billing. There are tens of thousands of Canberrans who are unable to access bulk-billing because of our rate of bulk-billing.

Let me put this example to you, Mr Speaker. Would a working family, with children, that earns $30,000 to $40,000 per year be able to get free health care? No, they would not.

Mrs Dunne: I rise on a point of order, Mr Speaker. I seek your guidance. As far as I can tell from a quick perusal of the administration orders, this minister does not have responsibility for Medicare. Is this entirely in order?

MR CORBELL: I wish to speak to that point of order, Mr Speaker.

MR SPEAKER: I uphold the point of order.

MR CORBELL: I am responsible for the negotiation of the Australian Health Care Agreement between the Commonwealth and the territory. That agreement is essentially about bulk-billing arrangements, and it is entirely in order that I answer the question.

MR SPEAKER: Mrs Dunne, schedule 4 of the self-government act makes it clear that the ACT Legislative Assembly can make laws in relation to public health, and the


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