Federal Politics

Confusion over $7 GP fee deepens as Joe Hockey contradicts PM's office

Treasurer Joe Hockey has added to the confusion surrounding the federal government's proposed $7 GP fee declaring it remains alive even after the Prime Minister's office had briefed several journalists at different media organisations that the policy was to be shelved.

Mr Hockey said the government still intended to take its co-payment to the Parliament as Liberal senator Ian Macdonald threatened to cross the floor and vote against the fee if it was introduced.

Dump GP co-payment says AMA

The government should end uncertainty around the co-payment and dump it says AMA President Brian Owler.

The Treasurer's intervention as the most senior economic minister in the government has put him at odds with the Prime Minister's office because he is suggesting the government's policy hasn't changed - and that it still hopes to get it through the Parliament.

There are now three competing versions on the future of the co-payment ranging from benching it, to modifying it and pursuing it through regulation to bypass the Senate, or attempting to pass it as set out in the May budget.

Speaking in Canberra on Thursday, Mr Hockey said "our policy stands" and the government would pursue it in the Parliament when it was able to do so.

Mr Hockey would not concede it was a "barnacle" as flagged by the Prime Minister earlier in the week.

"We will take it when we are able to take it. There's lot of work before the Parliament at the moment," he said.

Mr Hockey added that he would not speculate on suggestions the payment could be modified or reduced to lessen its impact.

Treasurer Joe Hockey insists the government still intends to bring the GP co-payment proposal before Parliament.
Treasurer Joe Hockey insists the government still intends to bring the GP co-payment proposal before Parliament. Photo: Andrew Meares

"Not speculating on discussions but we have an obligation to strengthen Medicare and we have an obligation to do what we can to address the problems that were left to us by the Labor Party in government," Mr Hockey said.

"We are doing that. We're doing it carefully, methodically, we are working our way through all of the challenges and we'll continue to do so and at the same time the Australian economy is strengthening and that's what we're focused on as well."

Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has threaten to cross the floor over the GP fee proposal if the government brings it ...
Liberal senator Ian Macdonald has threaten to cross the floor over the GP fee proposal if the government brings it before Parliament. Photo: Alex Ellinghausen

In question time on Thursday, Opposition Leader Bill Shorten asked Prime Minister Tony Abbott if he was still committed to the GP tax or if he planned to scrap it.

Mr Shorten said the government's own ministers "can't get their lines right" on the subject, which signalled the government was in "complete chaos".

Mr Abbott said repeatedly the government was committed to keeping Medicare sustainable and "we think there should be price signals in the system".

"As economists have shown, the ideal model shows a small co-payment, not enough to put a dent in your weekly budget but enough to make you think twice before the call the doc and the idea is hardly radical," Mr Abbott said.

"It's a very good position and it's the position of Labor's shadow assistant Treasurer so, Madam Speaker, our position when it comes to the Medicare co-payment is exactly the same as Bob Hawke's position, it's exactly the same as the shadow assistant treasurer's position and it is the position that we are doing our best to negotiate with the Senate cross bench now."

The Australian Medical Association has called on the government to make a clear statement on the whether it has shelved or is still pursuing a GP fee.

Earlier on Thursday, Senator Macdonald told Sky News he did not think a GP fee was the right way to go and he would vote against it.

"I think a price signal is important, I think the scheme that they introduced by surprise, I might say on budget night, is not the right way to go," he said.

"I've had several discussions and correspondences with the Health Minister and the Prime Minister about this.

"I recognise the real danger the health budget is in in the years ahead but I don't think this is the right one and I've indicated to the Prime Minister and others and to the partyroom that I will be opposing it should it come forward in its present position."

On Thursday morning, Health Minister Dutton told reporters in Canberra he would not "rule things in or out" and the government was "determined to make Medicare sustainable".

In an interview with Radio National on Thursday morning, the government's leader in the Senate Eric Abetz also refused to speculate "as to different methodologies that might be employed" to introduce some form of GP fee.

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