Australian MPs exchange fighting words over healthcare rebate

Thursday, March 30, 2006

Fighting words were exchanged in the Australian House of Representatives over the matter of the division of Medicare safety net payments per electorate. The Minister for Health and Ageing Tony Abbott (Liberal, Warringah) had introduced a policy that the Government would pay Medicare users up to a fixed amount — the safety net — to help in addressing "gaps" in certain payments which Medicare would not cover, such as certain hospital payments. The Opposition was opposed to the idea on efficacy counts.

Abbott was asked a Dorothy Dixer in Question Time today about the benefits of the safety net. He alleged that criticism by the Opposition Health spokeswoman Julia Gillard (Labor, Lalor) that the safety net favoured Liberal/National Party coalition electorates was misleading as it was a Labor electorate, Grayndler that received the "highest safety net benefits per electorate".

This led Gillard to make a personal explanation after Question Time, stating that "the top four electorates receiving money under the Medicare safety net are Wentworth, North Sydney, Bradfield and Warringah" — all coalition electorates. The Leader of the Opposition, Kim Beazley (Labor, Brand), put a question to the Speaker of the House, David Hawker (Liberal, Wannon) asking of the Speaker his "assurance that no person is being deliberately misled by the actions of any other person".

Abbott had then interjected towards Beazley, saying "You big bellowing cow"; the Speaker asked Abbott to withdraw, but Abbott mentioned that "the Leader of the Opposition regularly interjects 'pompous ass' and 'goose', but I am happy to withdraw". Beazley then responded through the Speaker saying of Abbott, "I think that he is a sleazy, dummy-spitting, little git."

Abbott then made a personal explanation of his own, saying "The safety net benefit per person in the electorate of the member for Grayndler was $591, the highest in New South Wales...the safety net benefit in the electorate of Sydney was $589, the second highest...the benefit in the electorate of Lowe was $458, the third highest".

The matter was not further raised at the time, but after the Matter of Public Importance debate, Gillard moved a motion to suspend standing orders which would prevent Abbott from explaining his earlier claim "when this claim is totally untrue", to correct the "grossly inaccurate and misleading statement", to "apologise to all Members in this place" and to "apologize to the Member for Grayndler and his constituents". Gillard also listed the amounts of payments "released by the Minister himself", that Wentworth received $7.8 million, North Sydney received $7.5 million, Bradfield received $6.9 million, Warringah received $6.3 million; whereas Grayndler received only $3.6 million. She attempted to debate the motion but a gag motion to silence Gillard was moved and won because of Government numbers. Anthony Albanese, the Labor member for Grayndler attempted to second the motion but the gag was moved on him as well. The final vote on the motion was lost 55 to 79.


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This article features first-hand journalism by Wikinews members. See the collaboration page for more details.
  • Australian House of Representatives Hansard, March 29, 2006.