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Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2003 Week 10 Hansard (24 September) . . Page.. 3625 ..

MS DUNDAS (continuing):

system, something that sits very uncomfortably with the majority of Australians, and certainly the majority of Canberrans.

Health care should be a universal right and access to it should not be determined by the ability to pay. It is not as though the federal government is short of money when it comes to the health budget. If a private health insurance rebate was means tested or abolished altogether, more than $2.3 billion, around 5 per cent of the Commonwealth agreement, could be freed. The public health system would then be able to access those resources to help improve its services.

Regarding the amendments that are floating around before us, I am still waiting for a little bit more debate about Mr Smyth's initial amendment, but I do support both amendments put forward by Ms Tucker. I will not be supporting the second amendment put forward by Mr Smyth, as I think it is important that we do express our dismay at the Commonwealth government's tactics which would have seen the ACT people suffer substantial financial penalties.

In the area of health care, I think we do have to find a way of working better together. This is something that affects every Australian. The bullying negotiation tactics that have been used by governments in this area are quite disappointing, when really we should have the same core goal at heart and that is promoting a healthy Australia.

MS TUCKER (3.50): I will not be supporting this amendment of Mr Smyth's. I do see this as a rather self-congratulatory motion, but it is about a matter of great importance to the territory. I have to admit that I do not know all the details of the new agreement. I have not yet had time to have a briefing. I have not requested a briefing yet but I can certainly talk about the general issues.

I do believe that it is clear that, by signing up early, the ACT did get some benefits which it may not have, otherwise. Finally getting recognition of the extremely low bulk-billing rate and of the difficulty getting to see a doctor is a good thing, although it is appalling that it took this type of bribe to get that accepted. For that reason, I will not be supporting Mr Smyth's amendment.

I would also say that using the outer metropolitan model does not assist the inner city need. Apart from the specialist youth health service, there are no bulk-billing practices in the inner city. The only practice which was bulk-billing had to shut off that option last year in order to stay open. That is not to discount the problems of Tuggeranong, Belconnen and Gungahlin, but the model of inner city metro/outer suburbs is not a great match for the reality of Canberra's demography and problems.

The fundamental problem with the federal health system is that Medicare is no longer seen as the central means of delivering primary health care. Instead, the federal government has spent millions and millions on bribing people to take up private health insurance. The Medicare rebate, in real terms, is much, much less than it needs to be to allow general practitioners to run their practices, even on the basis of bulk-billing concession card holders. There are some means of treatment that are not available in the public health system.

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