Transcript - ABC Radio Program - Thursday 9 February 2012
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9 February 2012
Topics – Private health insurance, dental health
Tanya Plibersek: Well, I think that this is a very important piece of legislation and I think it will pass because of the merits of the case. We're talking about a fairness issue here, we're talking about people in the community - some of them on, say, $50,000 a year who can't afford private health insurance themselves, subsidising the private health insurance of people including very high income earners, through the tax system and we believe that that is not a fair system. So we're seeking to reduce the subsidy given to high income earners and remove the subsidy given to the highest income earners.
Compere: This measure will raise $2.8 billion for the Federal Government, this is – well, how critical is this for your return to surplus promise?
Tanya Plibersek: Well, I think it's important for the return to surplus but it's also important when you think about what's happening in the health budget. We're discovering new medicines all the time, we're discovering new treatments all the time, we've made massive investments into our public hospitals and that investment will increase as the Commonwealth becomes a 50/50 partner with states in funding our hospitals.
Obviously all of these new inventions and new investments need to be funded and we want to make room for that new investment. To do that we have to make sure that every health dollar is spent in the best possible way. And I think that spending $100 billion over the next 40 years subsidising the private health insurance of high income earners is not the best possible use of every health dollar.
Compere: You need three of the six unaligned MPs to vote for it, two have already outright said no, you're negotiating with the rest. Andrew Wilkie, who's been previously opposed to this, says this time that he is leaning towards supporting it. What have you said to him to make him reconsider and do you think that you're able to get the others across the line as well?
Tanya Plibersek: Look, I'm not going to discuss the individual conversations I've had with other members of parliament. I have, I can say in general terms, spoken to the crossbenches, I've spoken to insurance companies, I've spoken to people in the community about the fact that we want to see every health dollar spent in the way that benefits Australians most and subsidising the private health insurance of high income earners who will keep their private health insurance in any case is not the best use of every health dollar. I hope that I've made that case convincingly and we'll see over the next few days.
Compere: Are you confident, how confident are you?
Tanya Plibersek: Well, you know, many a slip between the cup and the lip. But I do believe that the Government over several years has made this case strongly in the community. It's important to remember that the vast majority of Australians will be unaffected by this change. It's important to remember that people don't - most people will not lose the subsidy entirely as, as their incomes increase the subsidy will decrease. And it's important to remember that we've got huge extra investments in health that we need to make over coming years and coming decades and it's important that we have the flexibility and the funds to do that.
Compere: The bill includes increasing the penalty for wealthy people who don't take out private health insurance by increasing the Medicare levy surcharge, the Greens don't like that but they've said that they'd drop their opposition to it if you rolled out a national dental scheme from this financial year and they've said nothing less than a billion dollars this budget would do it, can you commit to those things?
Tanya Plibersek: Well, I think the Greens and Labor and indeed the crossbenches and many people in the Coalition all know that dental care for the least well off in this country is in a pretty poor state, about 20 per cent of Australians say that their teeth are bad. We do want to do better in the area of dental and we do see it as a priority for future reform. What I'm not going to...
Compere: Is it a priority for this year? The Prime Minister seemed to indicate two days ago that it would be weighed up in this year's budget.
Tanya Plibersek: We've got a very important report coming from the Dental Council that we established to give us advice about how we best improve the health of - the oral health of Australians and we'll wait and have a look at that report.
I do expect that we will see extra investment in the area of dental but what I'm not going to start doing is horse trading on this legislation. This is important public policy. This is legislation that stands on its own merits and I'm not going to be, you know, reading the newspapers one day and making a policy announcement about dental the next just because the Greens ask it.
I noticed incidentally that the Greens policy suggested that people who are receiving rent assistance would be the priority for their dental scheme. That leaves out homeless people, that leaves out aged pensioners who own their own homes, it leaves out adult children with a disability who live in the parental home, it leaves out whole groups of Australians.
That's what happens when you make policy on the run. We cannot make this policy on the run. We need to take a responsible approach that considers who needs the most help. We need a system that is targeted and means-tested, not like the chronic disease dental scheme that the Liberals started and the Greens have protected. So, yes, we share the same aims of improving the oral health of Australians but I won't make that policy on the run and I won't horse trade on this legislation which stands on its own merits.
Compere: Thanks Minister for your time.
Tanya Plibersek: Thank you.
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