Feb 28, 2006

Questions without Notice: Private Health Insurance

QUESTIONS WITHOUT NOTICE: Private Health Insurance

28 February 2006

Mrs GASH (2.39 p.m.)—My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Would the minister inform the House how private health insurance is delivering good value to about nine million Australians? What is the government doing to support the private health insurance rebate, and are there any alternative policies?

Mr ABBOTT—I thank the member for Gilmore for her question and I point out to her that support for private health insurance has been one of the signature policies of the Howard government. Thanks to measures such as the private health insurance rebate, almost nine million Australians enjoy the added security and choice that private cover brings, including one million earning less than $20,000 a year. No-one likes price rises, but I point out that the annual average private health insurance price rise has been 5½ per cent since 1996. It was 11 per cent a year during the term of the former Labor government.

Without the rebate, which the Labor Party wants to abolish, the average Australian family would be paying nearly $1,000 a year more for their private health insurance. The Leader of the Opposition described the private health insurance rebate as a boondoggle in one of his less verbose moments. We had the member for Lalor cook up Medicare Gold as a secret deal to destroy the rebate. Labor’s old guard hate the rebate, and so do the union hacks who are now seeking to take their places. We have the AWU and Mr Bill Shorten, the future member for Maribyrnong and the self-styled next Labor Prime Minister, the self-styled Messiah of the Labor Party. He says the rebate is a ‘subsidy to the rich’. We have the NUW’s Martin Pakula. If the ACTU website is any guide, he thinks the rebate ‘drains resources from public hospitals and undermines bulk-billing’.

Mr Pakula may be very appealing to Cambodian-speaking people, who are just two per cent of the electorate of Hotham but 30 per cent of the Labor preselectors of Hotham. What about the 42 per cent of the electors of Hotham who have private health insurance? I read in the Australian last Friday that he still has the Greek branches but he has lost the Spanish branches, the Vietnamese branches as well as the Cambodian branches. I could not help but think, ‘Are there any Australians left in the so-called Australian Labor Party today?’

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER—Order! There is far too much noise. Deputy Leader of the Opposition, the Speaker is on his feet.

Mr Albanese —On a point of order, Mr Speaker, the minister should withdraw that extraordinarily outrageous slur on every Australian who does not have an Anglo-Celtic name in this country. We have heard the dog whistle from this mob one after the other, but this minister, as usual, has gone too far and I ask him to withdraw it.

The SPEAKER—The member for Grayndler has made his point.

Mrs Bronwyn Bishop—Mr Speaker, there is no point of order. The honourable member across the way in fact was just debating the question. There is another time and place for that.

The SPEAKER—The member for Mackellar will resume her seat. I have not ruled on that matter. I was listening to the answer by the Minister for Health and Ageing. I did not see that as offensive, but if the member would like it withdrawn—

Mr Albanese —Mr Speaker, I did and 46 per cent of my electorate will find that offensive as well.

Mr ABBOTT—Mr Speaker, if it would assist the member for Grayndler I am happy to withdraw anything that is giving him offence, but I say this: I think the Australian people are entitled to reject the way the Australian Labor Party constantly put people into ethnic ghettos. That is what they are trying to do to people. We should have Australian branches in Australian political parties—

Ms Gillard—Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. As you would hopefully recall, Mr Speaker, this was a question on private health insurance. If the minister has a comment on private health insurance, maybe he should make it.

The SPEAKER—I thank the Manager of Opposition Business. Has the minister completed his answer? The Minister for Health and Ageing will come back to the question.

Mr ABBOTT—I just want to point out that to his great credit, the embattled current member for Hotham does support private health insurance.

Opposition members interjecting—

The SPEAKER—The minister has only just started to continue his answer. I will call the minister and listen carefully to what he has to say.

Mr ABBOTT—I was saying that, to his great credit, the current member for Hotham does support private health insurance. When he was the leader, he said: ‘I accept that families have factored into their budgets the cost of private health insurance and I am not going to disadvantage them.’ Well, good on the member for Hotham. In fact, it is precisely because of these sorts of attitudes towards private health insurance that I am sure his friend the member for Batman said:

Simon Crean is the most honest and sincere leader of any political party in the last 50 years.

I beg to differ. There are more honest and more sincere leaders of some political parties in the last 50 years. After listening to what the Leader of the Opposition has said today, I certainly think the member for Hotham is the best leader Labor has had in the last five years.