Keating bids for health care votes

ROBERT MILLIKEN

Sydney

Paul Keating, his government still trailing in the polls before next month's general election, yesterday offered Australians the most radical overhaul so far of the country's public health insurance scheme.

The Prime Minister sought to overcome the worries of ordinary Australians about their health-care system, and how to pay for it, by promising A$1bn (pounds 500m) over the next two years to revamp Medicare, the Labor government's public health system.

At the election, on 2 March, Mr Keating will be trying to win an unprecedented sixth term for Labor after 13 years in power. Introduced when Labor took office in 1983, Medicare is a national health insurance system funded by a levy on people's incomes. Doctors work privately, but have the option to obtain payment from patients, who then reclaim money from Medicare, or direct from Medicare itself.

Medicare covers most basic medical services, but it has been accompanied by an ever-increasing growth in hospital waiting lists for non-urgent surgery. It is already the government's largest public spending programme.

Mr Keating promised that the extra money would go towards reducing waiting lists and providing rebates on some services which Medicare does not cover, such as dental work and physiotherapy. The government will also offer rebates of A$300 a year to help lower-income families take out private health insurance, thereby reducing the burden on the public system. If Labor is re-elected, it will spend a further A$400m on revamping Medicare in the third year of its next term.

"It doesn't come any better than this," Mr Keating said of his proposals, which will be funded by cuts to other unspecified, public programmes. Mr Keating hopes his health policy will steal a march on that of the Liberal- National coalition, the conservative opposition, which is due to announce its health plans later this week.

The government has accused the opposition of wanting to tear up Medicare, and return to a system of competing private health insurance schemes.

How Australians respond to Mr Keating's health promises could be crucial to the government's campaign fortunes over the next three-and-a-half weeks. The opposition has maintained an opinion poll lead of 10 points since Mr Keating called the election 10 days ago.

A poll published yesterday, before the health announcement, in the Australian, Rupert Murdoch's national flagship newspaper, showed that Labor had narrowed the gap to 7 points. Mr Keating led John Howard, the opposition leader, as preferred prime minister by 42 points to 38.

Labor suffered a potentially damaging setback last weekend when the Labor government in Queensland lost a crucial by-election, putting the state government's survival in doubt. The impact of this on the election campaign, though, may not be severe. Opinion polls indicate that up to 40 per cent of voters have still not made up their minds.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer

£18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The company provides IT support...

Recruitment Genius: IT Manager

£45000 - £55000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This manager is for a successfu...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£18000 - £23000 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Recruitm...

SThree: Trainee Recruitment Consultant

£13676.46 - £15864.28 per annum + Uncapped Commission: SThree: As a Trainee Re...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at long last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific