New Health Minister Used Maiden Speech To Call For US-Style Healthcare

Greg Hunt used his first speech to parliament to push the idea of US-style health insurance.

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In 2002, Australia’s new health minister laid out his core political beliefs in his first speech to parliament, including his view that Australia should shift to a US-style health system.

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The first speech, once considered the MP’s “maiden speech”, is traditionally used as a way to explain political philosophies and outline beliefs.

Hunt, who delivered a “rock solid commitment” to the popular government-run health service Medicare during his first comments as health minister yesterday, spoke passionately about private healthcare during his first speech to parliament on 18 February 2002.

I believe that there are also five key social imperatives facing Australia over the next 20 years. The first is building on the achievements of the last six years, which have seen private health care coverage make the extraordinary leap from 30 per cent of Australians in 1998 to 45 per cent of Australians in 2001.

The Victorian then laid out how the government should get more people to receive healthcare coverage from their employers - like in the United States.

The next expansion in private health coverage is, I believe, through employer incentives for the inclusion of health care in workplace arrangements—perhaps through creative ways of excluding employer health care from the fringe benefits tax regime.

Hunt went on to argue that expanding employer-provided healthcare through tax breaks would allow the government to spend on other things.

The result of this, the freeing of resources which private health care generates—it is not about some special system of privilege, it is about freeing resources for the rest of society—will allow even greater funding to be directed to our elderly, who, as the then new member for Bennelong said in his first speech in 1974—when, incidentally, I was eight years old—`face the twin threats of loneliness and alienation’.

The Turnbull government has come under attack from the opposition in recent years for its approach to Medicare, including keeping a controversial freeze on GP rebates.

Lukas Coch / AAPIMAGE

When asked about whether Hunt still wanted employers to become providers of health insurance, a spokesperson replied, "the premise of your question is wrong."

“Having lived in the USA, the Minister has always been of the view that the Australian healthcare system is better, stronger and more appropriate for Australia.”

“Private health insurance has always had an important place in our broader healthcare system. But as the Minister said only yesterday, Medicare is, and will always be, the fundamental basis of our universal healthcare system.”

Mark Di Stefano is a political editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in Sydney.

Contact Mark Di Stefano at mark.distefano@buzzfeed.com.

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