Is Tony Abbott’s GP co-payment scrapped or not? Government frontbench in confusion

Co-payment scrapped? Frontbencher Alan Tudge says so.

Co-payment scrapped? Frontbencher Alan Tudge says so. Photo: Andrew Meares

There are further signs of disarray within the government with frontbenchers publicly contradicting each other over whether or not the GP co-payment has been scrapped. 

Shortly after staring down an attempt to oust him from the Prime Ministership, Tony Abbott pledged that “good government” would begin this week.

But he has since been beset by internal confusion about the future of the GP fee and pursued by the opposition over how the government plans to buy new submarines.

Or is it? Parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O'Dwyer contradicted Mr Tudge.

Or is it? Parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer Kelly O’Dwyer contradicted Mr Tudge. Photo: Ken Irwin KEN

This has been backed up with conflicting messages about the fate of the GP co-payment.  On Monday, the Prime Minister’s parliamentary secretary Alan Tudge twice said Tony Abbott had scrapped the GP co-payment and repeated his claim in a radio interview with the ABC on Thursday.

“We’ve dropped the Medicare co-payments and we’re starting again from scratch,” he said.

He reiterated: “The policy which we had on the table in January and February is gone, so we’re starting again from scratch in terms of a deep conversation with the Australian people and with the medical profession as to how to make Medicare sustainable.”

But that position was news to fellow frontbencher, parliamentary secretary to the Treasurer, Kelly O’Dwyer, who was being interviewed on radio a short time later.

“There has been no announcement to scrap it,” said Ms O’Dwyer after being played Mr Tudge’s comments.

“I never like to contradict a fellow member of the team,” Ms O’Dwyer added.

This is not the first time this week that the government has appeared confused about the fate of its controversial GP co-payment. Immediately after the leadership spill ballot was defeated on Monday morning, one of the backbenchers who moved the motion appeared on Sky News and said the Prime Minister had promised to dump the policy in the partyroom.  But Luke Simpkins later said in the same interview that he was mistaken about what the Prime Minister had actually promised and retracted his earlier claim. A source inside the room said it was unclear from the Prime Minister’s address to his colleagues about the status and future of the GP fee.

The GP co-payment is one of the government’s most contested measures announced in last year’s budget. It has no support in the Senate and was revised down from a $7 up-front fee to a $5 cut to the Medicare rebate for some doctor’s visits, although many believe that cut would also lead to an increase in GP consultation fees. Health Minister Sussan Ley is consulting on the policy and her office confirmed the co-payment has not been scrapped.    

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