TAKE NOTE OF ANSWERS - Education, Medicare

Senator IAN MACDONALD (Queensland) (15:21): I have a very personal interest in the debate before the chamber and that is in relation to pathology testing. I do not keep it a secret—I do not think anybody else is interested—but I have a plastic valve in my heart which was put there 20 years ago. As a result of that, I have got to keep my blood thin, which means that I am on warfarin, which means I have to have a regular tests at a pathologist to make sure my blood is thin enough on the level to go through the artificial valve. So I am very familiar with pathology services. They perform a great service to Australians. In the 20 years I have been intimately involved with them I have seen other people there. The staff at these pathology collection places are brilliant. I have actually been through one of the pathology headquarters in Townsville and looked at some of the amazing work they do. They do very significant work. My GP and other medicos tell me that it is important to be able to refer people to pathologists to double-check for various illnesses that pathology can detect before anything else. It is a great service. I have to say that when I last went to my pathology place there were little posters on the chairs saying, 'Pathology money going up as of 1 July.' I said to the people there, whom I know very well, 'How much is this going to cost me after 1 July?' Their answer was accurate: 'Nothing—as it does now.'

That is a long way of getting around to making it quite clear that the government is not changing the Medicare rebate payable to patients. In spite of the massive campaign by the Labor Party to the contrary, the facts are there. What is happening is that this bulk-billing incentive, which I think costs something in the order of half a billion dollars, is being taken away. For half a billion dollars of expenditure by the Labor Party when in government, the increase in bulk-billing rates has been one per cent—one per cent for half a billion dollars.

Mr Acting Deputy President, I make the point that this is not government's half a billion dollars spent on trying to get more people into bulk-billing and wasted, effectively, because it clearly did not work. This is not the government's money because, as I keep saying, the government do not have any money. They only use taxpayers' money. Strangely, taxpayers never like giving the government—any government—any more than they are already giving. It is a question of value for money. Half a billion dollars has been wasted by the Labor Party, as always. That in itself is not a profound statement; that is what the Australian public have come to expect. Put Labor in charge of the money and they will just waste it. That is what happened with this. I suspect they probably had a good policy thought, but if they did it has clearly not worked.

What we want to do is take away that half a billion dollars and divert it to other areas of the health budget. I understand that an area it is going to is one that I and Senator Dean Smith, amongst many others, have had a particular interest in, which is trying to help those with hepatitis C. Fortunately, this government has recently put these miracle drugs for hepatitis C onto the PBS. In rough terms, the drug costs about $80,000 to $90,000 for a 12-week course that will almost 'cure' hepatitis C, but the patients will now get it for $36. Someone has to pay for that $90,000 per treatment that is going to people with hepatitis C. Part of it will come from the half a billion dollars wasted by the Labor Party in this silly bulk-billing incentive. I repeat: the government is not changing the Medicare rebate payable to patients. That will go on after 1 July as before.

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