27th Parliament · 2nd Session
The Senate met at 2 p.m.
– Honourable senators, I have to announce that because of absence overseas, the President, Senator the Honourable Sir Alister McMullin, is unable to attend the sitting of the Senate this day. In accordance with standing order 29 the Chairman of Committees. Senator Bull, will take the Cha r as Deputy President.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull; thereupon took the Chair, and read prayers.
Motion (by Senator Anderson) - by leave - agreed to:
Thai, during the absence oi the President, the Chairman of the Committees, shall, on each sitting day, take the Chair of the Senate as Deputy President, and may, during such absence, perform the duties and exercise the authority of the President in relation lo all proceedings of the Senate and the proceedings of standing and joint statutory committees to which the President is appointed
– My question, which I direct lo the Acting Minister for Immigration, concerns our existing policy for assisted passages of migrants, ls it true that a European male migrant to Australia, if married to a non-European, is denied an assisted passage although he and his wife could enter Australia by paying the full cost of their fares?
– The honourable senator has raised a matter of policy on which I would like to obtain some further information for him. 1 therefore suggest that he place his question on the notice paper.
– Does the Leader of the Government in the Senate recall a question about petrol prices 1 asked him on 21st May - almost 2 weeks ago - and further information I gave to him that night during the debate on the adjournment of the Senate, including a reference to a statement on petrol prices and possible tax evasion by petrol companies which are exporting millions of gallons of petrol from Australia? In view of the almost completed inquiry into petrol prices by the Prices Commissioner of South Australia, which is expected quickly to determine the prices of petrol throughout the Commonwealth, and because of the urgency of this matter. 1 ask the Minister: What action has the Government taken to investigate the serious statements made by the Chairman of XL Petroleum Pty Ltd? That action was promised by the Leader of the Government on 21st May.
– I certainly do recall the question asked of me by Senator Fitzgerald. I readily recall that he gave me a Press cutting which pointed out the substance of the question he posed. As is normal with questions outside my portfolio. 1 referred the question to the appropriate Minister. I am not in a position to give any information at the moment because none has been supplied to me by way of response As the honourable senator indicated, the retail price of patrol is influenced by a decision of the Prices Commissioner of South Australia. I have no shadow of doubt io my mind that the points raised by Senator Fitzgerald as the basis of his question will be within the knowledge and awareness of the Prices Commissioner of South Australia. Therefore, I would assume that this matter has been examined at that level. Nevertheless, I will seek to obtain an answer to the question that was directed to me.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for Primary industry say whether the Department of Primary Industry is in possession of any knowledge as to the standard of slaughtering and inspection of mutton in the United States of America in comparison with that which the United States insists should be maintained in this country in respect of mutton exported to the United States? If the Department has not any specific knowledge of this matter, would it take steps to carry out an investigation, if this is practicable, as to the standard in these matters in the United States so as to p’ace beyond doubt whether the ban imposed on exports of Australian mutton is political only or really bona fide?
– I do not have details ot the differences that may exist between the slaughtering arrangements in the United States of America and those in Australia, but 1 feet quite sure that the Department of Primary Industry has some information on that. 1 shall speak to the Minister for Primary Industry and obtain what information I can to give to Senator Lillico.
– I ask a question of the Minister representing the Treasurer. In view of the urgent need to reduce rural costs during the present crisis, will the Treasurer, in framing the Budget, give consideration to making available the full petrol tax for road care by municipalities, thus enabling a reduction in municipal rates?
– The honourable senator asked a rather complex question based upon a proposal that in the Budget context the Treasurer should give consideration to a reduction in petrol tax in rural areas.
– No - to making all the petrol tax available for road care.
– Yes - making the lax available. So the concept is to gather the tax and then to make it available to rural municipalities. This is a Budget matter. As the honourable senator knows, all I can do is refer a submission put by way of a question to the Treasurer. I would not necessarily accept that if local government did get a rebate in that way it would follow that there would be a reduction of municipal rates because other considerations might come into that aspect of the matter. Nevertheless, the question is one for the Treasurer. Yes, 1 will ask the Treasurer to give consideration to the proposal.
– Has the Minister for Air seen a report in Queensland’s Sunday newspapers that Royal Australian Air Force personnel sold beer to a hotel in Southport? If they did. what action is being taken by the Minister?
– Today I saw a copy of a report of this incident, but last Friday it was drawn to my attention that some beer from the Royal Australian Air Force base at Amberley may have been sold to a hotel on the Gold Coast. I immediately called for an inqury as to the circumstances. I understand, from a preliminary report that 1 have received, that the indications are that some beer ordered for the sergeants’ mess has been sold to a hotel on the Gold Coast, lt is clear that this was not done by the member of the mess for persona! gain, lt would appear to be an ill advised action However, 1 am awaiting a more detailed report before I reply.
– I wish to ask a question of the Minister representing the Minister for Repatriation, ls the payment of a war pension, being a monetary compensation for loss of physical or mental capacity due to war service, correctly classified as income under the Social Services Act so as to reduce the level of service pension such an ex-serviceman can receive? In view of the fact that interest on servicing returns on investment and such received from property are not regarded as income, would it not be reasonable that an ex-serviceman having a disability occasioned by war service should have his monetary compensation also discounted, particularly when war pensions are. in any case, not inadequate in many instances?
– I know the honourable senator’s interest in repatriaton matters. I have not all the details and 1 would have to ask the Minister for Repatriation to have a look at his question and give him a reply. 1 suggest that he put his question on notice.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Civil Aviation. Is he able to say whether and if so, when his Department will vacate the flying boat base at Rose Bay. Sydney? To whom and under what conditions will the base be handed over?
– The future of the Rose Bay Flying boat base is interwoven with the future of air transport to Lord Howe Island. The Rose Bay flying boat base exists to serve the flying boats which transport people to and from Lord Howe Island. The general future of the air service to Lord Howe Island is also tied up with the provision of a potential air strip on that island. Discussions are going on between the Commonwealth and the State of New South Wales which constitutionally owns and is responsible for Lord Howe Island. The discussions are not very far away from reaching fruition. I hope to have something to say about them before too much longer when decision is finally reached. The decision will give some estimate of the time flying boats will be called upon to operate from the Rose Bay flying boat base. I imagine that when the time comes that the flying boat is no longer required for service to Lord Howe Island, the destiny of the Rose Bay flying boat base will be determined in the light of prevailing circumstances. This is a matter of interest to New South Wales and, as 1 said earlier, it is tied up with the provision of the future air service to Lord Howe Island.
– I ask the Min:ster for Air: ls it a fact that the Royal Australian Air Force evaluation team has returned to Australia and recommended that the Phantom aircraft be accepted by the Australian Government pending the determination of the Fill aircraft contract? In this event, is it clear that the exist ng operational air strips will be satisfactory for the operation of this aircraft when received?
– It is true that the Royal Australian Air Force evaluation team has now returned from America. At the present time members of the team are compiling a report which they will present to me. I have had preliminary discussions on some matters of the team’s report. The report will be presented to the Minister for Defence who in turn will present it to Cabinet. Further than that I cannot say anything on the matter. All operational air strips in Australia being used at the present time will be operational for Phantom aircraft.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for External Affairs. Has the Minister seen recent reports of a statement by the Secretary-General of the United Nations advocating the establishment of a permanent United Nations police force to enforce orders of the International Court of Justice and generally to enable the United Nations to become more effective as a peace and law keeping body? Can he indicate whether Australia supports the general principle of the establishment of such a police force and, if so, whether it would contribute personnel to such a police force?
– Quite obviously, that question will need to go on the notice paper and attract a reply from the Minister for External Affairs. It concerns a matter of policy.
– Can the Minister for Works inform the Senate of the stage reached in the erection of the customs laboratory project in Tapley’s Hill Road, Seaton. South Australia? How much has been expended on the laboratory up to this point of time? What will be the total cost of the project?
– The Minister for Works, I suspect, is still in the fog,, trying to get here for question time. Consequently, 1 ask that the question be put on the notice paper. I will direct his attention to it when he arrives.
– Has the Minister for Supply seen a Press statement that the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation has alleged that the Commonwealth Government has let the Australian aircraft industry down in not supporting a project that could put the aircraft industry on its feet, and has said that the Government should leave the development of the aircraft industry in this country to private enterprise? Will the Minister give an undertaking that the Government will not leave this important field of development to private enterprise?
– I saw a statement by Mr Abbott, the Managing Director of the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation. I read it in a slightly different context from that suggested in the question posed by the honourable senator. I believe that it was on a far wider canvas than was the question directed to me.I wantto make it abundantly clear that the Government has a very substantial interest in the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, We, as a government, are part of that organisation to that extent. I repeat what 1 have said here quite a number of limes: It is Government policy and it is certainly my responsibility to see that we have a viable aircraft industry. That does not mean only the Government Aircraft Factories; it means the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation, the Hawker de Havilland company in Sydney and all industries associated with the aircraft industry.
I made a statement in this place in relation to a proposal for the advanced trainer. It is true that in collaboration with the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation and the British Aircraft Corporation studies were put in hand andthat a substantial amount of the taxpayers’ money was spent on those studies. This was part of a plan in the normal working of the aircraft industry to see whether we had a capability in relation to a certain proposed type of aircraft that the Services may require in the future.
– Like the F111?
– The honourable senator is getting away from the serious answer that I am giving to the question that was putto me. I want to make it clear at all times that a tremendous amount of my Department’s time is directed to the aircraft industry by way of trying to obtain an Australian component in any aircraft requirement. The Minister for Defence made a statement yesterday. I think, in which he pointed out that, because Australia will require a certain number of helicopters - more than a hundred - for our defence Services, and this will involve an expenditure of the order of$100m. we are seeking lo let contracts which will ensure that there will be an Australian content and that there will be a sub-contractual opportunity for organisations such as the Commonwealth Aircraft Corporation,the Government Aircraft Factories and the Hawker de Havilliand company in relation to those contracts. Coming back to where I started,I think the honourable senator has placed an interpretation on the statement of the Managing Director of the Corporation which is perhaps a little more critical than he intended it to be.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Has the PostmasterGeneral ascertained the circumstances whereby a telecast prepared by the Premier of Victoria for telecasting on the Wednesday night prior to the recent Victorian State election was not telecast? Does the statement by the Victorian Manager of the Australian Broadcasting Commission that this was due to an inexcusable error mean that no excuse whatever explains the error? Will the Minister stale what the circumstances were, what the inexcusable error was and what consequent action, if any, has been taken by the Commission?
– I saw the statement attributed to Sir Henry Bolte which appeared in the newspapers and also the reply to which the honourable senator has drawn my attention. I do not know whether a further explanation was given concerning the mistake. 1 shall take up with my colleague, the Postmaster-General, the point the honourable senator has raised and obtain a considered reply to his question.
– My question is directedto the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Is the Minister aware that the present appointments of Sir Robert Madgwick as Chairman of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the Western Australian Commissioner, Mr Masel. are due for renewal on 30th June of this year? In view of the Postmaster-General’s criticism of the Commission last week, namely that the Government has a responsibility to require that expenditures by the Commission are not extravagant or wasteful, and in view of the fact that, for some time past, the Commission’s current affairs programmes have been characterised, in his opinion, by a lack of sufficient care in the expenditure of public moneys, is the Minister able to say whether the Government intends to renew these 2 appointments at the end of this month?
– The Postmaster-General is, of course, well aware of the periods of appointment of the people the honourable senator has mentioned. I think the honourable senator’s question is quite mischievous in that it implies that the Postmaster-General and, indeed, the Government would not treat such appointments in the fairest possible manner.
Stumor CANT - 1 direct a question lo the Minister representing th«; Minister lor Snipping ..nd transport. Has the Western Australian Government made application to the Commonwealth Government for financial assistance lo establish a LASH - lighter aboard ship - line of ships to service ports in the north west? If the Western Australian Government has made such an application, 1 ask: When was it made? What stages have the negotiations reached? When is it likely thai me Western Austraiian Government will receive a firm answer as to whether assistance will be given?
– I would ask the honourable senator to place his question on the notice paper, it contains a number of queries, all of which require positive answers. 1 shall obtain answers for the honourable senator from the appropriate Minister as soon as I can.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, ls the Minister aware thai some of the opposition to the proposed extension of the area of the Garden Island naval base in Sydney Harbour has been caused by the belief in authoritative circles that, with the proper and efficient land utilisation of the area, further encroachment on the harbour would not be required? Will the Minister ask his colleague to have this aspect examined by experts in land utilisation in order to see whether the proposed extensions are really required?
Recently the honourable senator asked me a question which suggested that I should ask the Minister for the Navy to transfer the Sydney facilities to Tasmania. He now follows this up with a further question. I will put the honourable senator’s question to the Minister for the Navy and obtain a reply for him.
– is the Min-ster representing the Postmaster-General aware that it is possible for people in at least 2 capital cities to make subscriber trunk dialling calls of unlimited duration for Se from some public telephone booths? Is the Minister further aware that investigators from the Postmaster-General’s Department have tapped and in some cases taped some such calls without the knowledge of the person concerned, and that some investigators have also physically shadowed the parties involved? Will the Minister inform the Parliament whether the taping of private conversations under these circumstances is legal? If so, can such tapes be used as evidence in a public court? Will the Minister further take appropriate action to ensure that the practice of taping telephone conversations ceases forthwith?
– The honourable senator raises some very serious questions concerning telephone calls, and because of their seriousness J think that I should get a considered reply from the Postmaster-General. I suggest that the question be put on notice.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. Is a document entitled ‘Australian Military Forces Pocket Book, South Vietnam’ on issue to our defence forces? If so, does it, as is claimed by the ‘Catholic Worker’, give only right wing accounts of the Vietnam war? Who wrote the document? On what authority was it distributed?
– The honourable senator asks a question about a document which I understand is entitled ‘Australian Military Forces Pocket Book, South Vietnam’. In the first place, if it is a military document, the authority for its publication will be obviously within the defence complex. But the honourable senator asked subsequent questions about the material that is contained in the document. I therefore suggest that the question should go on notice and I will get a reply from the Department of Defence.
– My question is directed lo the Minister representing the Minister for External Territories: I ask: 1-las the Government any reason for believing that the policy it has consistently followed wilh respect lo the question of selfdetermination in Papua and New Guinea, namely that self-government and independence will be granted as and when the people of the Territory themselves ask for it, is in error? If nol, will the Government emphatically stale that this is and will continue to be the policy of the present Government, and so repudiate rumours to the contrary which have recently had Press publicity?
– The Government has no reason whatsoever to vary the policy as expressed by the honourable senator, and I feel quite confident that the Minister for External Territories would endorse what 1 say. This is the firm policy of the Government at this lime.
– 1 desire to ask a question of the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Has the Attorney-General yet concluded his investigations into the question asked by Senator Greenwood, as to whether Mr Posa of South Australia had definite knowledge that Molotov cocktails were b»ing produced by peace supporters in South Australia for the recent Moratorium? If the Attorney-General has concluded his investigations, will he inform the Senate of the results of the investigation? If he has not concluded the investigation, what is the reason for the delay?
– I inform the honourable senator that no answer to that question is among the answers that have been provided to me by the Attorney-General today. I have no doubt that inquiries are proceeding. I have no reason to offer for any alleged delay, but I can assure the honourable senator that he will receive an answer in due course, after the completion of appropriate inquiries.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Education and Science. In the light of remarks made by Senator Wright on 13th May, that a meeting of wildlife authorities was being held in Darwin in the week beginning 25th May as a possible prelude to a summit meeting between Federal and State Ministers on the same subject, can the Minister now obtain for the information of the Senate full details of decisions made at this preliminary meeting and ascertain whether a date has been selected for the summit meeting of the appropriate Ministers?
– The meeting of officials was held as indicated in the previous answer and a number of resolutions were passed. However, as 1 am sure the honourable senator would appreciate on reflection, those resolutions are confidential until they have been considered by the responsible Ministers of State. So far no date has been set for the ministerial meeting.
– My question, which is addressed to the Minister for Supply, refers to Woomera. In view of the ELDO commitment and the new United States and Australian upper atmosphere research activities, is the Minister able to say at this stage whether the existing skilled staff at Woomera and at the Department of Supply’s Weapons Research Establishment will be maintained at the present level in the immediate future?
– lt is true, as Senator Bishop indicates, that we are approaching the time for the final firing at Woomera for the ELDO programme in Australia, lt is equally true that we are now embarking on some additional work at Woomera for the NASA organisation in relation to ‘Aerobee’ firings. 1 made a statement earlier in relation to the employment situation at Woomera which suggested that there would be some rearranging of personnel. However, in the light of the new angle to the question put by Senator Bishop, perhaps it would be more appropriate if I were to get a detailed reply from the Department, which I should be able to have within the next 24 or 48 hours.
– My question is addressed to the Minister in Charge of
Tourist Activities. 1 refer to the exhibition of Kingsford-Smith mementoes now on display in Kings Hall in this place. Can the Minister give the Senate any further information on the source of this exhibition? Does he expect that the exhibition or part of it might remain on. show in some appropriate place as a tribute to that outstanding contributor to Australian aviation history?
– I am pleased that it has been noticed that a display of historical records of Kingsford-Smith is on exhibition in Kings Hall, Parliament House, at present. It will be recalled that Kingsford-Smith made aviation history in 1928 by crossing the Pacific, that he followed this up by flying from Sydney to London in the same year, that he followed that by flying from Ireland to New York in the following year and then from New York to San Francisco, thus circumnavigating the globe by air. That was a feat which I feel is fit for comparison with that of Captain James Cook whose bi-centenary of the discovery of our land we celebrate this year.
The historical record in Kings Hall is the product of a devoted student of Kingsford-Smith’s achievements, Mr Byrne, who commenced his labours on this exhibition at about the time that KingsfordSmith was making history. As honourable senators will see, it consists of a model of the ‘Southern Cross’ which was built to scale from the original blueprints and consists of about 110 moving parts. This is associated with many other pictorial and literary records subscribing to the outstanding position of Sir Charles Kingsford-Smith in Australian aviation. The whole exhibit is offered by Mr Byrne to the Commonwealth Government on the basis that it would be found a home in Canberra. It is therefore being exposed for the assessment and judgment of members of Parliament in Kings Hall this week and, upon that experience, a decision will be made as to whether it will be accepted as a national historical record.
– My question, too, is directed to the Minister representing the Postmaster-General. Does the Minister obtain horse betting information from the personal columns of the daily newspapers and if so, is she aware that the code message Sue, ring Les, 16 South Street” when decoded reads ‘Brisbane, race 3, horse 16’? Is the Minister also aware that to obtain the code costs punters $20 and that the information may be obtained from Post Office Box 16, Drayton North, Toowoomba, Queensland? Will the Minister take appropriate action to ensure that Post Office facilities and the mails are not used in this manner by persons apparently operating illegally?
– I am certainly not aware of the points that have been raised by Senator Keeffe.
– 1 direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. If the document entitled ‘Australian Military Forces Pocketbook South Vietnam’ is on issue to the defence forces, and even if it is on a restricted list, will he make a copy available to the Senate for perusal?
– I will seek some information to see whether it is a classified document or an ordinary document issued to the Services or whether it is even that. I will find out the facts and faithfully let the honourable senator and the Senate know.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. In connection with the forthcoming visit to Australia of the Soviet Minister for Agriculture, is it known whether he will endeavour to use his possible powers of persuasion on members of the Australian Labor Party and the Democratic Labor Party to urge them to cease their objection to the partial lifting of the ban on the export of merino rams?
– I do not know about this.
– He is in your camp.
– Is he? lt is true that the Minister is coming to Australia and no doubt there will be inquiries made about the ranis. Other than that, I cannot say.
(Question No. 244)
asked the Minister for Supply upon notice:
Does the Australian Government contemplate taking action to safeguard Australia’s Antarctic areas from pollution, similar to that planned by the Canadian Government to safeguard the Arctic region.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
To be most effective, any measures designed to control pollution in the Antarctic would best be implemented throughout Antarctica, and not only in respect of Australian Antarctic Territory. The honourable senator will appreciate that there are other countries there.
Australia is a signatory to the Antarctic Treaty which has amongst its basic aims the preservation and conservation of living resources in the region. It could therefore be expected that multilateral action would be considered by the signatories under the Treaty if and when the need arose to control any threat of pollution to the region.
Representatives of the signatories to the Antarctic Treaty meet regularly and make recommendations about measures in furtherance of the principles and objectives of the Treaty. One such set of measures deals wilh the Conservation of Antarctic Fauna and I- 1 ora and covers such matters as harmful interference with the normal living conditions of those species - for example, each participating Government is requested to take al) reasonable steps towards the alleviation of pollution of the waters adjacent to the coast and the ice shelves of Antarctica.
There is at present no commercial exploitation of mineral resources in the Antarctic such as already exists in the Arctic region and so pollution from that source is not an immediate problem.
However, the action taken so far suggests that the need to introduce measures to control pollution in the general sense in Antarctica are likely to be kepi under review by the signatories to the Treaty.
(Question Nil. 259)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Interior, upon notice:
What is the estimated cost of the roadworks and engineering and bridge works associated wilh the construction of the new ring road on the surrounds of Capital Hill in Canberra.
– The Minister for the Interior has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The estimated cost of roadworks, engineering, and bridgeworks associated with the ring road surrounding Capital Hill in Canberra is $2,330,000. lt will be appreciated that the ring road is a basic element in the total road system linking the several major residential and employment centres of Canberra. There are therefore a number of other road works which have a functional relationship with the ring road. Some of these works have been undertaken progressively during the past live years and others are still to be completed’. There is currently a separate contract in progress for the interchange from Adelaide Avenue to Slate Circle amounting to $616,621. Works completed include the Commonwealth Avenue/Parkes Way interchange, the Commonwealth Avenue bridge southern interchange, Kaye Street and Flynn Drive, Langton Crescent and pans of Slate Circle. Adelaide Avenue and Yarra Glen Arterial extending to the Woden Valley.
(Question No. 267)
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The AttorneyGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 284)
– I point out that this question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence was placed on the notice paper on 21st April. It is necessary for me to clarify that in order to get the proper meaning of the question. ] asked:
In view of the public disquiet which has been aroused by the sighting of foreign ships within approximately 6 miles of the Tasmanian coast in the vicinity of North West Point, near Stanley, on Thursday of last week, will the Minister provide the Senate with complete details of the sequence of events which ensued from the first reports of the presence of this shipping its eventual official identification and precise location, the day after, at approximately 20 miles off-shore.
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The presence of aRussian trawler of approximately 250 tons fishing to the north west of Stanley was reportedto the Department of Primary Industry on 9lh April 1970. This followed a sighting of a trawler bearing the mark SDT M8/415 on the previous day. From subsequent investigations it was established that two trawlers and another vessel, possibly a refrigerator ship, were operating in the area ofRobbins Island in Bass Strait. These craft were identified from an aerial survey as the “Pelamida’, the Cymbl’, and the M8/415 mentioned above.
Further aerial surveillance by a RAAF aircraft on 1 1th April 1970 showed that the ships were outside the 12 milefishing zone and proceeding on a course away from Tasmania.
(Question No. 309)
Minister representing the Minister for the Army, upon notice:
What progress has been made towards the establishment of a Citizen Military Forces training depot at Macksville. on the mid-north coast.
– The Minister forthe Army has providedthe following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Commonwealth is at present negotiating for the acquisition of a suitable area of land at Macksville on which the proposed depot could be constructed.
Thus at this stage I amunable to forecast precisely when building might commence.
(Question No. 317)
asked the Minister representingthe Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Ouestion No. 331)
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
Is it customary for public servants, who are charged with neglect of duty, etc., to be charged under the provisions of the Crimes Act; if so, arc there not other measures that could be used rather than action taken under the Crimes Act.
– The AttorneyGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable senators question:
I am not aware of any case in which a public servant has, been charged under the Crimes Act with neglect of duly: indeed, there is no such offence created by that Act.Mostcases of misconduct or neglect of duty on the part of public servants are dealt with administratively under the Public Service Act. Where, however, a public servant has apparently commited in the course of his duty, an offence against a law that is of general application (for example, a law prohibiting stealing from the Commonwealth) or against a law that imposes special duties on public servants(for example, a law prohibiting the disclosure of secret or confidential information) consideration is given to laving charges under the Crimes Act. Whether a charge is laid depends upon the facts and upon an assessment of what the public interest requires.
(Question No. 334)
asked the Minister for Civil Aviation, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
At Cairns and Mackay AAA provide their own terminal and TAA have independent use of separate terminals. Both Townsville and Mackay terminal areas are listed for redevelopment in thenot too distant future.
(Question No. 355)
asked the Minister for Air, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
(Question No. 364)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice: in view of a recent press report headed Abattoir Inspectors Blamed for Meal Ban’, will the Minister take action to protect Commonwealth Meat Inspectors from being blamed for the results of an American lactic to use health measures toerect a barrier against the import of Australian mutton.
– The Minister for Primary Industry has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
It would be incorrect to blame Commonwealth Meat Inspectors for the United States restriction on the importation of mutton from Australia.
The system of meat inspection in Australia was considered by the U.S.D.A. not to fulfil the prescribed American inspection requirements for mutton.
(Question No. 375)
asked the Minister repre senting the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has provided the following 3 answers to the honourable senator’s questions:
The Commonwealth Banking Corporation has furnished the following information:
In a limited number of suitable cases, the Commonwealth Savings Bank is approving mortgage loans in excess of $8,000. The interest rate being charged on these loans ranges between 7.5 and 8% per annum. The general limit of$8,000 still applies to the normal housing loans made by the Commonwealth Savings Bank.
No, but it is expected that the loans will generally be in the $8,000-$12,000 bracket.
Loans are made for both home building and purchase.
(Question No. 384)
asked the Acting Minister for Immigration, upon notice:
In view of the changing status of Fiji, will the departmental attitude be revised with regard to applications from Fijian nationals who seek Australian citizenship.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
Upon Fiji becoming a country within the Commonwealth of Nations following the grant of independence appropriate legislative action would betakento ensure that citizens of Fiji in Australia continue to have the status of British Subjects which they now have by virtue of their being citizens of the United Kingdom and Colonies. Fijians who have been granted permission to reside permanently in Australia will accordingly continue to be eligible for Australian citizenship on the same basis as at present.
asked the Minis ter representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice: (1.) Has President Nixon issued an order to American Forces in Vietnam that the United Suites Command is to offer no infantry support in the Vietnam conflict but is only to supply air and artillery support.
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Supply, upon notice:
Has the Royal Navy negotiated to buy the ‘Ikara’ anti-submarine weapon; if so, have any been delivered, to date, and what is the unit cost.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The Royal Navy has adopted the Ikara antisubmarine weapon system. My Department played the major role in the joint development of a system to meet the Royal Navy’s requirement. Production orders have been received for substantial numbers of missiles and some parts of the shipborne equipment.
(Question No. 300)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
-The Minister for Trade and Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senators question:
(Question No. 302)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Trade and Industry, upon notice:
– The Minister for Trade and Industry has provided the following answerto the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 304)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senators question:
(Question No. 307)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry, upon notice:
When will the legislation be introduced to enable Western Australia to commence the marginal dairy farm reconstruction plan which, on 14 April, the Minister anticipated would be introduced at an early date.
Minister for Primary Industry has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Marginal Dairy Farms Agreements Bill 1970 was introduced on 14 May. The legislation empowers the Commonwealth to make agreements with the States for the operation of the Scheme. The agreement that the Commonwealth proposes to enter into with Western Australia was tabled with the Bill. Given Parliamentary approval, it is intended that the Agreement should be signed and come into force immediately the Bill receives the Royal Assent.
(Question No. 330)
asked the Minister representing the Prime Minister, upon notice:
Will the Government make a statement condemning wholesale massacres of innocent men, women and children in Vietnam by the Americans, as alleged in newspaper reports over the last six months; if so, when.
– -The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
I refer the honourable Senator to the answer given to Parts (1) and (2) of Senate Question No. 57 (Hansard. 15 April 1970. page 764).
(Question No. 344)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Navy, upon notice:
Minister for the Navy has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
(Question No. 348)
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
In each of the States, the Australian Capital Territory and the Northern Territory, what is the present average delay in the hearing of (a) undefended and (b) defended suits for divorce.
– The AttorneyGeneral has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The present average delay in the Stales and Territories between the setting down for hearing and the hearing of a divorce suit is as follows:
New South Wales- undefended: Two months; defended:ten months.
Victoria - undefended: six months; defended: nine months.
Queensland - undefended: live weeks defended: three months.
South Australia - undefended: two months; defended: fifteen months.
Western Australia - undefended: nil; defended: one to two months.
Tasmania - undefended: nil to six weeks; defended: two to three months.
Australian Capital - undefended: nil; Territory defended: two months.
Northern Territory - undefended: three months; defended: six months.
(Question No. 368)
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
What progress is being made towards the establishment of the principal seat of the High Court in Canberra?
– The AttorneyGeneral has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
No date has yet been fixed for the transfer of the principal seat of the High Court to Canberra. However, the attention of the honourable senator is drawn to the statement made by Senator Cotton on 13th May 1970 (see Hansard p. 1395) concerning the siting of the High Court building in Canberra andthetiming of its construction.
– On 23rd April Senator Milliner asked if, as the Minister representing the Treasurer, I would ascertain the reasons for the delay in the delivery of bound volumes of Hansard and. if the reason were shortage of staff in which departments of the Government Printing Office such shortages occur and the additional number of tradesmen requiredto eliminate such shortages. On13th May I provided an answer for Senator Milliner which explained that the delay was caused by the magnitude of the work the fact that binding cannot beginfor 6to8 weeks after the close of a session until the indexes have been compiled by the Parliamentary Reporting Staff and set by the Government Printer, and the Christmas close-down. On 14th May Senator Milliner suggested that my reply did not answer those parts of his question concerning staff shortages at the Printing Office. If. however, the honourable senator will look again at the reply to his original question, he will see that the delay was. in the main, caused not by shortages of staff in the Government Printing Office, but by other factors.
COMMEMORATlVE ST A M PS
– On 5th May 1970 Senator Murphy asked me the following question:
The Postmaster-General has now furnished me with the following information in reply:
Several important stamp issues have already been made this year in commemoration of notable occasions such as the Royal Visit, the Cook Bicentenary and Expo 70. The popularity of these issues has made it necessary to produce substantial printings which, in turn, have reduced the production capacity available for the remainder of the year. The printing presses will now be fully occupied for the next several months producing stamps scheduled for issue later in the year. The new stamp issues scheduled for the remainder of 1970, which, incidentally, is a particularly heavy year for stamp issues, include stamps highlighting out natural resources of bauxite, oil and natural gas; Snowy Mountains and Ord River developments; 4 famous Australians; the 25th Anniversary of the United Nations; and the 50th Anniversary of Qantas Airways Ltd. The Postmaster-General has assured me that he appreciates the importance of the Assembly of the World Confederation of Organisations of the Teaching Profession but for the reasons explained he is unable to agree to the issue of a commemorative stamp.
– On 14th May 1970 Senator Bishop asked me the following question:
My question is directed to the Leader of the Government in the Senate. It refers to the French nuclear tests which are to be held in the Pacific area.I ask the Minister what special precautions against fall out or what programme for recording fall-out over Australia have been recommended by the Government during this week. 1 also ask the Minister which of the committees have responsibility in this matter. Is it the National Radiation Advisory Committee or the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee? Have only these 2 committees been asked to makethe survey or has the Government taken some other action to ensure the safely of the Australian people
The Prime Minister has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Radio-active fall-out in Australia is monitored in two complementary programmes. One has continued 24 hours a day since 1957 and is devoted tothe low levels of long lived isotopes in fallout. Strontium 90 and Caesium137. The other programme is directed mainly at the shorter-lived radio- isotopes in fall-out which may be of signifiance only in the few months during and immediately after atest series. This short term programme is instituted for particular series of tests for which fall-out might reach Australia, such as those carried out by France in Polynesia. Results from these monitoring programmes are publishedafter the scientific journals as soon as possible afterthe measurements are completed. The National Radiation Advisory Committee was appointed by the Commonwealth Government in
May 1957 to advise the Commonwealth Government through the Prime Minister on matters concerning the effects of ionising radiation on the Australian community. The results of the monitoring programmes which are conducted by the Atomic Weapons Tests Safety Committee are made available to the National Radiation Advisory Committee. In November 1965 the NRAC in conjunction with the AWTSC undertook an assessment of any biological hazard which might arise in Australia as a result of the French Tests then scheduled to be conducted in the South Pacific Ocean area. The NRAC, after consideration of analyses from the AWTSC, was satisfied that the proposed tests were unlikely to lead to a significant biological hazard in Australia. This conclusion was confirmed by the NRAC in its reports in March 1967 and December 1967. In its most recently published report - that of March 1969- the NRAC concluded that the fall-out over Australia from the most recent series of French nuclear tests in the Pacific, like that from earlier French nuclear tests was of no significance as a hazard to the health of the Australian population. As far as further tests by the French are concernedthe same monitoring programmes and assessments will be undertaken but the NRAC can see no reasonto depart from its conclusions that the French nuclear weapons tests are unlikely to be of significance as hazard to the health of the Australian population.
Reports on Items
-I present the following reports by the Tariff Board:
Screws for wood.
Weighing machinery and weights.
Electric Shavers (New Zealand-Australia Free Trade Agreement)
No legislative action arises from the last mentioned report.
Senat or Dame IVY WEDGWOOD (Victoria) - I present the report from the Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, together with the minutes of evidence taken bythe Committee.
Ordered that the papers be printed.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- There being no objection leave is granted.
Thai the Senate lake note of the report.
In presenting this report to the Senate, I remind honourable senators thai the Select Committee tabled an interim report in the Senate on 25th September 1969. in which it listed its recommendations and suggested that the Committee be re-constituted for the purpose of completing its full report and tabling the evidence taken during the inquiry. As the Committee’s terms of reference were couched in very wide terms, the Committee considered thai it hail a responsibility to inquire into and report upon the widest possible aspects of national health and not to restrict itself lo matters relating to medical and hospital insurance. In this respect the Committee acknowledges the co-operation and assistance of the 1 37 witnesses, whose names are listed in appendix B to the report, and to those other persons and organisations who gave submissions lo the Committee. In addition to recommendations relating to medical and hospital benefits and health insurance organisations, the report contains recommendations and sections relating to a diversity of other subjects, such as nursing home benefits, domiciliary care, denial care, mental health, care of the physically and mentally handicapped and the problems of pharmaceutical costs. In this way the Committee has attempted to lay clown basic proposals for an integrated health care programme, with emphasis on the proven areas of need and the assistance required in respect of them.
The Committee has also made suggestions in chapter XVII relating to the creation or appointment of certain representative, advisory and consultative bodies and 1 particularly mention to the Senate the suggestion for the appointment of a Senate standing committee on health. Such a committee would serve the dual purpose of overseeing the national health scheme and providing the opportunity for the submission to the Parliament of the views of interested persons and organisations. The members of the Select Committee are acutely aware of the need for the value of both these functions, and the appointment of the recommended standing committee would, J am sure, prove to be of great significance to the future effectiveness of both health insurance and the national health programme. During the inquiry the Committee directed its efforts, and its recommendations, towards the areas of greatest need in the community, lt became apparent thai appropriate, timely, and adequate assistance is vitally necessary in these areas, and should be provided without delay by ail the authorities and organisations involved, including, particularly, the Commonwealth and State Governments, health insurance organisations and the medical profession. The continued existence of a viable national health programme may well depend upon such joint action being taken.
As Chairman of the Select Committee, I wish to record my appreciation of the time and effort put into the Committee’s inquiry by the members of the Committee. The success of a Committee depends mainly upon the work carried out by its members, and 1 have been grateful for the assistance given at all times by the members of this particular Committee. In conclusion, I should also like to refer again to the assistance given to me, and the Committee, by the staff assigned to the Committee. The Secretariat, consisted of Mr A. R. Cumming Thom, the Principal Parliamentary Officer in the Senate, as Secretary, and Mr M. Carroll, an Assistant Director-General of Health in the Commonwealth Department of Health, as the Committee’s adviser. The Committee is greatly indebted to both these gentlemen, and I, as Chairman, wish to express my own thanks, and the Committee’s thanks, for their dedication to the important and often onerous duties which the Committee’s inquiry imposed upon them.
Senator VI eC LEL LAN D (New South Wales) ‘3.0 - During the debate on the National Health Bill a great deal of discussion has centred around the findings of the departmental committee - the Nimmo Committee - but very little has been heard of the Senate select committee that was established to inquire into medical and hospital costs. The Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, as Senator Dame ivy Wedgwood has said, was not restricted merely to an inquiry into medical and hospital insurance; it was established to inquire into the vast area of health costs generally in Australia.
The final report of the Committee has now been brought to fruition. On behalf of the members of the Committee, I congratulate Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood who performed the task of chairman very efficiently and thoroughly As other reports of Senate select committees from time to time have acquired the name of the chairman of the committee - for instance, the Vincent report on television and the Anderson report on road safely - 1 believe that it would be fair lor this report to be referred to commonly as the Wedgwood report on medical and hospital costs.
As Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood has said, the officers oi the Committee also performed outstanding work on behalf of the Parliament, the Senate and the Australian people. Again as a member of the Committee. I personally express my appreciation to those who did so much to see this report brought to finality. The report contains a tremendous wealth of information. I believe that its contents should bt debated fully in this chamber at some timeHaving that in mind, I now seek leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
– by leave - I am sure that all honourable senators are grateful for the work that has been done by the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. I believe that the suggestion made by Senator McClelland - namely, that the report ought to take the name of Senator Dame ivy Wedgwood - is a very happy one. We have not bad the opportunity to consider the report. We have been able to glance al it in the few minutes since copies of it were distributed, lt shows evidence of a very great deal of care, attenlion and hard work by the members of the Committee, for which we are very thankful
I have a special feeling tot this Committee because it was on 2nd April 1968 that I moved for its establishment, lt is one of the ironies of politics that Government senators, including Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood, at that time voted against the motion for the establishment of the Committee. But I think I should say in fairness to Government senators that, when the Committee presented its interim report towards the end of the previous Parliament, it was agreed on all hands to reconstitute the Committee. In fact, a motion that that be done was moved by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator
Anderson). We are very grateful that the Committee moved so expeditiously and brought in its report within the time that was set. We trust that the example of expedition that this Committee has given will be followed by other committees, the reports of which are eagerly awaited by the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator McClelland) adjourned
Assent to the following Bills reported:
Appropriation Bil! (No. 3) 19;-.9-70 Appropriation Bill (No. 4) 1 969-70 Supply Bill (No. 1) 1970-71 Supply Hill (No II 1970-71
– I wish ro withdraw Notice of Motion No. I. Government Business, standing in my name. I understand that I do not require leave to do so.
STATES GRANTS (TEACHERS COLIEGES) BILL l«70
Bill received from the House of Representatives.
Standing Orders suspended.
Bill lon motion by Senator Wright) read a first time
Thai iiic Bill he now read a -second tune
The purpose of this Bill is to pui into effect the Government’s promise to extend the present program of assistance to teachers’ colleges with a further S30m in the form of unmatched grants to the States. The Bill provides for expenditure of up to $30m spread over the 3 financial years starting 1st July 1970 under the same arrangements as provided under the existing legislation. The wording of the Bill is, accordingly, substantially the same as the wording of the Act for the current period. Payments will be made to the States in respect of college projects which are selected by the States, to be erected on sites selected by the States, and in accordanace with plans and standards drawn up by the States and approved by the Minister. A schedule showing projects proposed by the States is attached to the copy of this second reading speech which is circulated to honourable senators. All ot the money is going to State Education Department colleges but at least 10% of the places attributable to the expenditure of these grants will be made available to students not bonded to State Education Departments. Winners of Commonwealth advanced education scholarships and university scholarships may apply their scholarships to courses at these colleges. These arrangements provide reasonable opportunities for those students who wish to move directly from college to teach in nongovernment schools provided, of course, that they meet the other normal entrance requirements.
I draw the attention of the Senate to provisions of the Bill which show changes from the existing legislation. First, the total amount available for the triennium has been raised from $24m to $30m. This increase is designed to assist the States with their teacher education programmes at a realistic and reasonable level and was determined in the light of current experience and knowledge of building costs. Secondly, the preliminary distribution of the $30m among the States has been determined as set out in the Schedule to the Bill. While the Bill makes provision for this distribution to be varied, 1 am pleased to say that the tentative programmes have already been developed to the stage where significant variations are unlikely. The amounts set out in the Schedule to the Bill were determined after due consideration of the many important factors involved. These factors include the population of each State and the amount available to each State in the current triennium. Another major factor is the amount of matched assistance that New South Wales, Queensland and Tasmania are receiving for teacher education in colleges of advanced education The overriding considerations however have been the needs of the States and the expected effectiveness of the grants in meeting these needs.
Thirdly, the amount available in each of the first 2 years has been set at $11m. This is calculated to enable the States’ programmes to proceed without undue financial delays and at the same time to avoid excessive fluctuation in both Commonwealth expenditure and State building activities. The expected rate of progress in the first year of the next triennium will be greater than in the current triennium because the States have planned ahead and will be able to use the grants as soon us they become available.
The need to improve the quality of the teaching force is central to the task of improving the quality of education generally and these grants will enable the States to provide new and replacement teacher education facilities at a better standard and a good deal earlier than they could hope to do from their own resources. This, of course is not the only Commonwealth assistance in this field of education. Over 40% of Government teacher trainees are in universities and the Commonwealth shares fully in the cost, both capital and recurrent, of their education. Furthermore, the Commonwealth is now supporting teacher education in colleges of advanced education - for this triennium, in New South Wales, Queensland, and Tasmania. There can be no doubt of the pressing need to increase substantially the number of places available to educate teachers for both government and independent schools. Rising enrolments, increasing retention rates at the secondary level, a progressive change from 2 to 3 years courses tor primary teachers and a steady reduction in the pupil-teacher ratios all add to this need. The grants proposed in this Bill will make a significant contribution towards meeting it. I commend the Bill to the Senate.
Debate (on motion by Senator Murphy) adjourned.
– I ask leave of the Senate to make a short statement on behalf of the Treasurer (Mr Bury) relating to the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - There being no objection. leave is granted.
– This is a statement by the Treasurer, and it is in the name of the Treasurer, ft is as follows:
Honourable members may recall that on 6th May last, in reply to a question without notice, I. informed the House that arrangements for distributing the surplus assets of the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Fund to eligible contributors were near completion and that the bulk of the payments should be made some time this month. 1 have now been informed by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board that payments will commence next week.
The surplus assets now being distributed were disclosed by an investigation of the Fund carried out by the Commonwealth actuary in respect of the 5-year period from 1st July 1959 to 30th June 1964. An amount approximating Jim has already been distributed to over 5,600 eligible pensioners. The amount now to be distributed to some 20,000 eligible contributors is in excess of S5m.
Payment will be made to those eligible contributors who are still members by cheque through their pay stations or through Sub-Treasuries, unless they are serving in Malaysia or Vietnam, in which case payment will be either in cash or by paybook credit. For those who are no longer serving, payment will be by cheque through the Department of Social Services, if the person is now a pensioner, or otherwise by cheque through the DFRB Board. 1 should again mention that not all contributors to the Fund are entitled to participate in the distribution. The persons who will benefit are being notified through their Service department or directly by the Defence Forces Retirement Benefits Board.
Consideration resumed from 22 May (vide page 1 799).
– I ask for leave to make a statement concerning the distribution of explanatory notes.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– At the close of the debate on this Bill on 22nd May Senator Murphy, supported by Senator McClelland, pointed out how difficult it was to understand fully the measures included in the Bill and asked whether something could be produced to show the effects that each claUse ‘ will have. I said that I would take the matter up with the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes.! to see what could be done. In the intervening period I have been able to have explanatory notes on the Bill prepared and these have been circulated to honourable senators. I feel sure that these will clarify the purpose and effect of each clause. I hope thai they will be of assistance in our discussions.
– I am indebted to the Minister for her action.
Proposed new clause 19b.
Senator MCCLELLAND (New South Wales) 1,3.171-1 move:
After clause 19, insert the following new clause: “ 19b. After section 3? of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: -
– (I.) Where a claim by a medical practitioner has been disallowed in whole or in part under sub-section (I.) of section thirty-four of this Act, the medical practitioner may, within twenty-one days after receipt of notice of the disallowance, appeal lo the Supreme Court of the State or Territory in which the medical practitioner resides against the decision of the Minister disallowing the claim. (2.) The Supreme Court of each State is invested with federal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is conferred on the Supreme Court of each Territory, to hear and determine appeals under the last preceding sub-section. (3.) The Minister shall be the respondent in the appeal. “ (4.) Upon an appeal under this section the Court shall have regard lo the evidence before the Committee of Inquiry and the report of the Committee. (.5.) If the Court is satisfied that the medical practitioner has, in respect of the medical services specified in the report of the Committee, been guilty of failure to discharge conscientiously his obligations under the agreement entered into with the Director-General under section thirtythree of this Act, it shall dismiss the appeal but, if not so satisfied, it shall allow the appeal and set aside the decision of the Minister. (6.) The Court may order either party to pay costs to the other party. (7.) The jurisdiction conferred by this section is exerciseable by a single judge of the Court, whose decision is final and conclusive. (8.) A medical practitioner is not liable under section thirty-four of this Act to pay an amount to the Commonwealth in pursuance of a decision by the Minister disallowing a claim in whole or in part until the expiration of the period within which the medical practitioner may appeal against the decision or, if an appeal is instituted, until the determination of the appeal.’.”.
The proposed amendment relates to the provision of an appeal by a medical practitioner against a decision of the Minister to disallow a claim in connection with the pensioner medical service. The sections of the Act relevant to this amendment are 34, 35 and 37. Section 34 refers to the disallowance of claims on report of a committee of inquiry. The section provides: (1.) If a Committee of Inquiry established under Division 2 of Pan VIII of this Act reports that, in its opinion, inthe circumstances of a particular case, a medical practitioner-
The amount that is then determined by the Minister as being liable to be repaid by the medical practitioner is then recoverable as a debt due to the Commonwealth. Under the existing arrangements no appeal is exercisable by a medical practitioner against such a determination by the Minister. In examining the absence of an appeal by a medical practitioner against a decision of a Minister in respect of a disallowance by the Minister of a claim as a result of a report by a committee of inquiry one goes 10 section 35, which states:
The Minister may, after investigation and report by the appropriate Committee of Inquiry
reprimand the medical practitioner; or
terminate immediately the agreement entered into with the medical practitioner under section thirty-three of this Act
The agreement referred to relates to the pensioner medical service. If the Minister does take such action then under section 37 the medical practitioner has a right of appeal from the Minister’s decision. Sec- tion 37 (1.) states:
A medical practitioner affected by the termination in pursuance of section thirty-five of this Act of an agreement entered into under section thirty-three of this Act may appeal to the Supreme Court of the State or Territory in which the medical practitioner resides against the decision of the Minister to terminate the agreement.
Many medical practitioners claim that it is unfair that there is no method of appeal against decisions of disallowance which might be recommended by the committee or decided upon by the Minister. The committee of inquiry conducts its hearings in camera and I understand that there is some disputation, or there has been some disputation, as to whether a doctor appearing before the committee is entitled to legal representation. The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) has said in another place that he has had discussions with the AttorneyGeneral (Mr Hughes) in an endeavour to find some appropriate form of appeal to a court in a case where the committee has found that particular medical services provided for should not have been claimed. The Minister has also indicated that because these committees of inquiry are conducted on a doctor to doctor basis and this system is the one most favoured by the medical profession therefore to bring in a judge on appeal not only on medical matters but also on legal matters will further complicate the situation.
I point out that already in relation to the immediate termination of the agreement or reprimand of the medical practitioner the medical practitioner has a right of appeal to the Supreme Court. We are also suggesting that so far as section 34 is concerned on the disallowance of claims on report of the committee of inquiry there should be a right of appeal to a court. We say that because this is recognised by the Government under section 37 if the doctor, in connection with the disallowance of a claim, thinks that there has been a miscarriage of justice, this could quite easily be overcome by a right of appeal to a Supreme Court being vested in this case. We believe that it is in the interests of justice that this amendment be carried and I have therefore moved it on behalf of the Opposition.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [3.27] - I have listened with interest to Senator McClelland and the points he has raised concerning the amendment which he has placed before the chamber. In replying on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) whom I represent here, 1 inform the Committee that the Govenmcnt must oppose this amendment but it is sympathetic with the objective which is sought by the Opposition and will certainly, after it receives the report of the Administrative Review Committee, give further consideration to the question whether it is practicable to find a form of appeal to a court or. alternatively, to an administrative tribunal in these cases. On coming to that point 1 think. 1 should go into more detail as indeed the Minister himself did. The Minister has been examining the question of an appeal against the reduction and disallowance of claims under the pensioner health medical service for some time and he has had many discussions with the Attorney-General (Mr Hughes) and the medical profession in an endeavour to find some appropriate form of appeal to a court in these cases. However, he has pointed out, and very clearly, that the principal difficulty is that the committee system itself provides for the examination of the conduct of a medical practitioner by his peers and it is considered that mis is the system most favoured by the profession generally. He also said that the provision of a right of appeal to a court would involve both legal and practical difficulties.
Let us first look at the legal aspects, lt must be kept in mind that a judge could not make any judgment on the correctness of the committee’s recommendation or on the decision of the Minister to disallow or reduce claims in accordance with the report of the committee without calling expert witnesses to give evidence as to the necessity or otherwise of the visits made to the pensioner patients. There is the undesirable feature thai particular cases would be examined and pensioners could and probably would be called upon to give evidence. In both cases there could be a serious intrusion - I think everyone will appreciate this - into the privacy of the doctor-patient relationship. A/so, as the decision of the Minister is based on the Committee’s assessment of the level of services necessary for the medical needs of the patient a court would not decide an appeal without calling expert witnesses to inform it.
The most important practical considerations - as compared with legal ones - involved in providing an appeal to a court are that if an appeal to a court were provided it would be difficult to get suitable medical practitioners to serve on the committee and a medical practitioner would be unwilling to serve if he knew that the judgment of the Committee could be examined and questioned in open court. The appeal to a court against termination of a doctor’s agreement to participate in the pensioner medical service is provided in the National Health Act, but in very few cases is the agreement terminated. Since the pensioner medical service was introduced there have been only 12 cases which represent 1% of the total of the cases examined. The effect of that proportion of cases going to court will probably not discourage medical practitioners from serving on the committee, but if this became the rule rather than the exception the Minister feels quite certain that it could discourage them, lt may be equally difficult to obtain expert witnesses to testify in open court against fellow practitioners who were willing to serve on a committee, and in any case the criterion laid down in the proposed amendment, that the court should consider whether the medical practitioner has been guilty of failure lo discharge conscientiously his obligations under the agreement entered into with the Director-General is inappropriate and inadequate. 1 am so advised by the Government’s legal advisers.
The committee may recommend disallowance of a claim on the basis that a doctor was being over conscientious in providing more services than were necessary for the medical needs of the patient. The State branches of the Australian Medical Association did not unanimously support he concept of appeals against decisions based on the committee’s recommendations. The only State branch of the AMA which has had very much to say about this matter at all is the New South Wales branch. The debate on this Bill, concerned as it is wilh the major changes in the medical benefits arrangements, does nol seem to me to be the appropriate time to consider the complex question of appeals against decisions made in relation to the pensioner medical service, lt could well be possible to develop a system of appeals lo an administrative tribunal or to the proposed Commonwealth superior court. A committee known as the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee has been established with terms of reference which include consideration of the jurisdiction to be given to the proposed superior court to review administrative decisions. The report of this Committee may well express views concerning administrative appeals otherwise than to a court, and in the Government’s view it would therefore be advisable to await the report of the Committee. That is a point which J want to stress again. I conclude as I commenced by saying that the Government must oppose the amendment but it fully sum.pathises with the objective sought and will certainly, after it receives the report of the Administrative Review Committee, give further consideration 10 the question as to whether it is practicable to find a form of appeal to a court or. alternatively, to an administrative tribunal in these cases.
– I must say that I have a great deal of sympathy with this amendment and what the Minister has said does not appear to me to advert to what I would think are matters of real significance. I am not sure and I would be grateful for the Minister’s advice as to what are the amounts or the rates which are referred to in section 34. I have a belief that those are the payments which are made in respect of the services which a medical practitioner renders under the agreements which are made by the Commonwealth with the Australian Medical Association and with the individual medical practitioners.
– And which have been queried by the committee of inquiry.
– I only raise the query because it does not appear to me that in the part of the Act in respect of which this amendment is being put forward there is any power specifically to prescribe what these rates or allowances are. As 1 said, I have an impression that they are designed to cover the services which are rendered but I would appreciate that confirmation. But then it appears to me that what may well happen - and I am told if has happened on some 12 occasions since this legislation came into existence - is that a practitioner shall be disallowed what he claims as allowances which are properly due to him. It may be that the claim should properly be disallowed. Equally it may be that the action which the committee of inquiry has taken and upon which the Minister has acted may be erroneous and some relevant factor has been overlooked. Under the arrangement which this committee has set up there does not appear to me to be any provision that the medical practitioner shall be heard. He has no knowledge and he is not required to be given knowledge as to who are the members of the committee. Indeed a decision can be made in his absence without giving him any right to present his case and when the decision is made he has no redress. 1 appreciate that this may not have been what has happened in the past and as to that J do not know. 1 am concerned with the fact thai there is before the Senate a provision which seeks to ensure that a medical practitioner who has a claim disallowed shall have the right of appeal and have the merits of his case aired before the supreme court. It may be that the supreme court is too high a jurisdiction for some of the amounts involved, and properly it could be any court of competent jurisdiction. That is not provided for in the amendment before the Senate. All I am concerned about is to ascertain whether there is any good reason why an appeal should not be available to a practitioner who feels that he has a grievance which he wants to have aired.
– Are you suggesting any court of competent jurisdiction?
– 1 had the impression that the amount of the fee could be in the. range of $500 to $1,000. It would seem an onerously expensive avenue of appeal for a medical practitioner who had a sense of grievance to undertake the initial outlay of appealing to the supreme court of a State.
– lt would be easy to make it a court of petty sessions, a county court, a district court or any other court of competent jurisdiction.
– ‘A court of competent jurisdiction’, I think, would be the appropriate expression. In Victoria it could go to a court of petty sessions or to a county court.
– I do not think that we are tied to the particular thing.
– It was only a matter of establishing the principle of a right of appeal.
– The principle of a right of appeal commends itself to me as appropriate in the circumstances in the absence of some good reason advanced by the Minister. I know the Minister said that there would be problems in requiring people to give evidence. That is to be appreciated. In some cases it would be a problem. On the other hand, however, there is the question of whether a person is properly remunerated or improperly deprived of his remuneration. These are matters of right which are equally as important as the inconvenience which may attend the giving of evidence in particular cases.
I think the Minister said also that an appeal to the court would intrude into the area of privacy which should characterise the doctor-patient relationship. 1 recognise that that is a relationship which should be regarded in cases as confidential although of course it is not the doctor’s privilege: it is the patient’s privilege which he may waive. In any event the committee or the Director-General is in a position where he may intrude into privacy in the same way as the supreme court may be required to intrude into privacy. It appears to me to be no adequate reason to say that what the Director-General or the committee may do is acceptable, yet what a court may do in this area is unacceptable. I would be grateful if the Minister could indicate whether there is any substantial reason in principle why an appeal of this character should not be allowed.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [3.39] - I have some information on a few points which I should like to give to the Senate. The first point that Senator Greenwood raised related to payments. The payment would be for treatment, and included also would be allowances such as for mileage travelled. Section 32 refers to the setting out of terms and conditions of an agreement which the Director-General may enter into with a medical practitioner for and in respect of his rendering of those services at such fees and allowances as are prescribed. I understand that these are prescribed by regulation No. 25 which provides that a medical service rendered by a medical practitioner to a pensioner, or a dependant of a pensioner, in the medical practitioners surgery, attracts a certain benefit, and a medical service rendered by a medical practitioner to a pensioner, or a dependant of a pensioner, otherwise than in the medical practitioner’s surgery, attracts another benefit. That is the kind of thing covered by the regulation.
I should like to refer again to the Commonwealth Administrative Review Committee which I said had been set up. Its terms of reference include consideration of the jurisdiction to be given to the proposed superior court to review administrative decisions.
– Do you remember when it was set up? I think it was IS months or 2 years ago.
– lt was quite some time ugo. I will try to get the exact date. The information which I am passing on relates to points which I think have been raised. The committee of inquiry system was introduced in 1953 and investigations conducted by medical services committees of inquiry into pensioner medical service cases are directed to breaches of the spirit and principles of the agreement rather than to breaches of the statutory provisions. Cases involving possibly fraud and prosecution are not, as a rule, referred to a committee. If in the course of a committee hearing it appears that the case is one of this type the matter is withdrawn. Such cases are investigated by departmental officers with a view to appropriate legal proceedings through the Crown Solicitor’s oil ice
References to a committee arise from investigations carried out within the Department. When the monthly claims by doctors are prepared for payment the vouchers are examined for any evidence of incorrect charges, over-attendance or any other practice which appears contrary to the spirit of the pensioner medical service. Where the evidence suggests that the case warrants investigation by a committee of inquiry the Commonwealth Director of Health, as delegate of the Director-General, refers the case to the committee. In practice, practically all cases considered by the committees are concerned with over-attendance on particular patients, that is, more attendances than were necessary for the medical needs of the patients.
Upon receipt of a case the committee gives it a preliminary examination and usually decides to ask the doctor to furnish clinical notes regarding each of the patients covered by the reference to the committee. Sometimes those notes are sufficient to satisfy the committee that there is no evidence of abuse and the committee therefore recommends that no further action be taken. In 58% of cases the doctors explanation has been accepted. Where doubt remains the committee notifies the doctor of the time and place at which it intends to hold its inquiry and invites the doctor to attend and to give further details. While the doctor is not compelled to attend the inquiry he almost invariably does so. Should he refuse to attend, the committee may conduct its investigation in his absence. The committee is held in private and a transscript of evidence is kept. The committee is not bound by legal rules of evidence but may inform itself on the referred matter in the manner it thinks fit. Usually the doctor and any other person appearing at the inquiry gives his evidence on oath but this is not mandatory. The doctor is entitled to be legally represented if he so desires, and in that event the committee is assisted by a Crown law officer. Only in rare cases is there legal representation.
The hearing is traditionally conducted on an informal doctor to doctor basis, the committee endeavouring to ascertain the reasons for the doctor’s high attendance rate and to determine whether the attendances were necessary having regard to the circumstances of each case. On completion of the inquiry the committee reports the facts to the Minister and recommends the action that it considers should be taken. As the committee’s discussion relating to the inquiry is not included in the transcript of evidence, the recommendation may have taken into account clinical considerations which may not be apparent from the reading of the transcript. .
– Are the procedures you have mentioned laid down in regulations?
– They are provided for in section 125 of the Act.
– I think the suggestion made by Senator Greenwood is a good one. In fact, it had also occurred to me that in some cases the sums involved might be so small as not to warrant application to the Supreme Court. Of course, in some cases even though the sums involved may be very small the nature of the matters could be such that the parties would want a determination by the Supreme Court. I suggest that to meet the cases where that was not desired, some words be inserted in the proposed new section 36 (1.) after the words ‘Supreme Court’ where they appear in the fourth line. I think the change would make it crystal clear. While I believe that what Senator Greenwood has said is correct, it may be preferable to spell it out by inserting after the words ‘Supreme Court’ in the fourth line of the proposed new section 36 (1.) the following words: district court, county court, court of petty sessions or other court of competent jurisdiction’. The proposed new section 36(1.) would then read: 36(1.) Where a claim by a medical practitioner has been disallowed in whole or in part under sub-section (I.) of section thirty-four of this Act, the medical practitioner may, within twenty-one days after receipt of notice of the disallowance, appeal to the Supreme Court, district court, county court, court of petty sessions or other court of competent jurisdiction of the State or Territory in which the medical practitioner resides against the decision of the Minister disallowing the claim.
Consequential changes will be necessary in the proposed new section 36 (2.) in which the Supreme Court is referred to twice. I suggest that after the words ‘Supreme Court’ first appearing the following words be inserted: ‘district court, county court, court of petty sessions and other court of competent jurisdiction’. After the words Supreme Court’ second appearing I suggest that the following words be inserted: ‘or other court of competent jurisdiction’. The proposed new section 36 (2.) would then read: 36 (2.) The Supreme Court, district court, county court, court of petty sessions and other court of competent jurisdiction of each Stale are invested with federal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is conferred on the Supreme Court or other court of competent jurisdiction on each Territory, to hear and determine appeals under the last preceding sub-section.
In the proposed new sub-section (7.) reference is made to a judge of the court, but 1 think that that expression would be construed to apply to the person who is exercising the function - a justice, judge or magistrate. Senator McClelland is signifying that he approves of the changes to his proposed amendment. I think they are in line with the reasonable suggestion made by Senator Greenwood.
Senator MCCLELLAND (New South forward by Senator Murphy and ask for leave to amend my proposed amendment accordingly.
– ls leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– The proposed new sub-sections (1.) and (2.) of the proposed new section 36 will therefore read as follows: 36. (I.) Where a claim by a medical practitioner h.ii been disallowed in whole or in part under
Mib-se.ct.ion ti.) of section thirty-four of this Act. lbc medical practitioner may, within twenty-one da>s after receipt of notice of the disallowance, appeal to the Supreme Court, district court, county court, court of petty sessions or other count of competent jurisdiction of the State or Territory in which the medical practitioner resides against the decision of the Minister disallowing the claim. 36. (2.) The Supreme Court, district court, county court, court of petty sessions or other court of competent jurisdiction of each State is invested wilh Federal jurisdiction, and jurisdiction is conferred on the Supreme Court or other court of competent jurisdiction of each Territory, lo hear and determine appeals tinder the last preceding sub-section.
Senator BYRNE (Queensland) [3.5 lj- We are dealing now with the medical service to be provided by general practitioners, because no specialist service is available under the pensioner medical scheme. The Minister indicated - this would particularly a If eel my judgment on this matter - that the Australian Medical Association has nol been particularly concerned to obtain an alteration to the present procedure, although one branch - the New South Wales Branch - has shown concern. During the course of this debate on the Bill generally some concern has been expressed about the dichotomy of the views of the general practitioner section, of the Australian Medical Association and the final opinion that emerges from the Australian Medical Association as expressed in another context. lt could well be that if there has not been pressure from the AMA, as part of the breakdown of communications from general practitioners to the Government in relation to the pensioner medical service, their advocate may not be the appropriate advocate in this field, and therefore when the general practitioners were consulted as such they may have been holding lo a view different from that represented on their behalf by the AMA. If it were not for that factor 1 would feel that in the absence of any pressure from the medical profession, obviously this section is operating satisfactorily, but in the light of that factor it is probable that it is operating unsatisfactorily. As the appropriate body to present the situation has not been heard from, I cannot accept the alternative.
In dealing with sections 34 and 35 of the principal Act it should be noted that section 35 provides for an appeal in certain circumstances; that is, where a doctor has been reprimanded or an agreement has been terminated. After a hearing before the Committee there is a right of appeal to the Supreme Court. We appreciate that as being of major consequence, but as for the argument that in the course of proceedings there may be a public rediscussion of confidential matters of particular practitionerpatient concern, that would equally be available as an argument against the provision of a right of appeal in section 35. I could imagine that that type of matter would have to be canvassed equally and an appeal would lie under section 35 where a doctor had been reprimanded or an agreement had been terminated or recommended for such action by the Committee, as it would in proceedings under section 34. For that reason also I cannot see that that would he an adequate argument to resist the proposed amendment.
Finally, I feel that proceedings under section 35 may well follow from proceedings under section 34. In other words, if charges are wrongly made under section 34. that may bring a doctor under the jurisdiction of section 35. It would therefore be strange that he would be required, if he wanted lo appeal, to be brought under the provisions of section 35 when an appeal would be available, where more appropriately an appeal should be available under section 34. and the possibility of his coming under section 35 may never arise or emerge. In those circumstances I feel disposed, in the absence of explanations that might dismiss the 3 propositions I have presented, lo support the proposed amendment in the amended form, giving an area of appeal jurisdiction slightly lower than that of the Supreme Court in appropriate circumstances. 1 should be glad io hear the views of the Minister on the mutters I have had an opportunity to present.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [3.53] - I draw the attention of the Committee to section 37 (5.) of the principal Act, which I think shows clearly a point which is rather important, lt states:
If the Court is satisfied that the medical practitioner has, in relation to bis provision of medical services under this Part or under the repealed Regulations, been guilty of failure to discharge conscientiously his obligations under the agreement or of conduct which is an abuse or contravention of this Aci, the regulations or the repealed Regulations or shows him lo be unlit to enjoy his privileges under the agreement, ii shall, subject to this section, dismiss the appeal. 1 think we should consider that provision. In replying to the points that have been raised I turn now to a matter to which I referred earlier: that is the possibility that pensioners may be called to give evidence. J think we must give this possibility deep consideration. When replying earlier in this debate I said that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) feels very strongly about the necessity not to damage the relationship between patients and their doctors. This is very important.
– The doctor-patient relationship could come up for public investigation, applying sections 35 and 37, on appeal, could it not?
– Yes. But I think that in relation to this point the court has to concern itself with the doctors’ agreement wilh the Commonwealth. I believe that we need lo look very carefully at the point I made earlier when I said that the Government must oppose the amendment because it has this Administrative Review Committee studying all these matters and working under particular terms of reference. I believe, as the Minister said in another place, it is important that we should sec and receive the report from this committee, give it the consideration which we believe it deserves and then ascertain whether it ls practicable to appeal to a court or, alternatively, to an administrative tribunal in these cases. I believe that this is the way in which this matter should be dealt with. We should wait until the report of this Administrative Review Committee is presented so that the matter may be reviewed in the light of that report.
– 1 know that on two or three occasions the Minister referred to the Administrative Review Committee as one reason why this matter ought not to be persisted in. My recollection is that the Committee has been in existence for well over–
– lt was set up in September 1968.
– I was certainly under the impression that it was well over 12 months ago that the Committee was set up. My impression is that at this stage one of ils members has ceased io be a member in the capacity in which he was appointed and that another member of the Committee has been overseas for a considerable part of the last 12 months. I had doubts as to whether the Committee was still in existence. I remember ii.sk ing not so long ago a question of the Minister representing the Attorney-General. This debate brings to my mind that 1 have not yet received a reply to that question. Irrespective of whether the Committee is undertaking what undoubtedly would be a task which would take a long time to perform when these mailers come before the Senate I would have thought that they should be considered on their merits because if a desirable appeal which at a subsequent stage should be brought into another appeal system altogether is provided there is no reason why at that later time the necessary changes could not be made. 1 feel that I must support this amendment because I sense that there could be instances of injustice arising because a doctor disagreed with a decision made and he would, in effect, have no redress.
– 1 do not intend to lake up unnecessarily the time of the Commii.ee, but I press the amendment on behalf of the Australian Labor Party. As the Minister said in reply to Senator Greenwood, the Administrative Review Committee that has been established by the Department to inquire into this and other matters has been sitting since September 1968. lt has been sitting longer than it took the Nimmo Committee to investigate hospital and health charges in Australia and to make its recommendations, lt has been sitting longer than the Senate select commit tee which was appointed to inquire into health and hospital costs in Australia sat.
– 1 think the committee has a very difficult task to perform. ] am not being critical of it.
– The other committees had a very difficult task to perform also. This committee has been sitting since September 1968. It is now June 1970. We feel that now this Bill is before us - and the committee has not presented a report to the Minister who in turn has not reported on the matter to Parliament - we should see that rights of appeal are established under the legislation now before Parliament. The Minister has said that the departmental committee may conduct its inquiry in the medical practitioner’s absence. The committee is not bound by legal rules of evidence. The committee is conducted in camera on a doctor-to-doctor basis. The transcript is not available for publication. Only on rare occasions are doctors represented by legal practitioners. These statements by the Minister are strong reasons why perhaps, on a very rare occasion, a doctor might feel that a great injustice has been done to him and therefore he should have the right of appeal to a court of competent jurisdiction. We believe it is an important matter of principle and an important matter of justice. Therefore, on behalf of the Opposition, I press the amendment.
Senator Dame IVY WEDGWOOD (Victoria) [4.0] - I ask the Minister: How many members constitute this Administrative Review Committee? Senator Greenwood said that he understands that one member is no longer a member and that another is overseas.
– He was overseas.
– He was overseas. Could we have the number?
– I ask the Minister whether, in the operation of sections 35 and 37 which provide an appeal to the Supreme Court, any appeals have taken place and, if they have taken place, what form the appeal has taken. Has it been a hearing of the matter de novo? Has it been by way of rehearing or has it been an appeal on the record of the original Committee hearing?
– I am informed that, as far as my advisers are aware, no appeal has taken place under these sections.
– 1 thank the Minister. I asked that because the Minister, in her initial explanation, said that to provide this type of appeal would require the adduction of additional evidence, calling further witnesses and one thing and another like that. I would contemplate an appeal of this nature - an appeal under sections 35 and 37 - as an appeal on the record of the orginal hearing. Additional evidence would not be called and a new hearing would not take place. If this is so, the situation as visualised by the Minister in her reply that additional witnesses would be called and that the matter would be recanvassed would not apply. That would be my understanding of the nature of the appeal contemplated under sections 35 and 37. That ;s why 1 asked whether an appeal had taken place and, if so, what form the appellant proceedings took.
– Would the honourable senator not think it is simply an appeal from the Minister’s decision and nothing more?
– The appeal would be dismissed or allowed and there would be nothing more than that.
– I would like to hear the honourable senator’s view on what form he thinks the appellant proceedngs would take. Being an appeal from the Minister’s decision, I suppose it would have to be an appeal as lo whether the Minister’s discretion was properly, improperly or arbitrarily exercised. That would require a canvass of the record but no more, lt would not require any evdence that was not in the record. At least, that is what 1 would visualise. If that is so. the difficulties visualised by the Minister as administrative difficulties - the adduction of further evidence and witnesses being called - would nol in fact arise.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.4] - Section 37 paragraph 5 of the principal Act reads as follows: lt the four’ is -satisfied that the medical practi tioner has, in relation to his provision of medical services tinder this Hart or under the repealed Regulations, been guilty of failure to discharge conscientiously his obligations under the agreement . . .
My reply to the honourable senator is that the Court must bc satisfied.
– -On what material?
– The hearing starts from the beginning with completely fresh evidence, as requested. All the evidence is taken as new evidence. 1 still have not obtained the details for the Committee but I hope to have them. I want to make a point about the Administrative Review Committee. I think it is important and I think it should bc recorded in the right way. I answered Senator Greenwood by interjection that the Administrative Review Committee was set up in September 1968. 1 now confirm this. Senator Greenwood said he understood a Committee member had resigned or retired and another one was overseas.
– He does not now occupy the position to which he was appointed.
– Your concern was whether the Committee was in operation. I answered you rudely by interjection. I now confirm that the Committee is in operation and is functioning. As soon as I can obtain the full list of members I will advise Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood.
– Senator Byrne raised the matter of appeals under sections 35 and 37. lt seems to me that the nature of appeals is one of the most vexed subjects in the law. I would not expect the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) who in this chamber represents the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) to answer very easily the apparently simple question asked by Senator Byrne when this matter has plagued some of the courts here and overseas - in all parts of the British Commonwealth and in the United States of America - as to exactly what is involved in some of these propositions. Some very great cases exist as to what the nature of the appeal would involve - whether it is a true appeal to be decided on exactly the same material as was before the person or body from whom the appeal was taken or whether it is an appeal in the sense of a hearing de novo, or commencing from the beginning.
This is expressed to be an appeal and the court is directed to have regard to the evidence before the committee of inquiry and the report of the committee. I think it is sufficient for the Senate to decide at this stage that, in principle, there ought to be an appeal. This is what we want to do here. If any difficulties arise in the course of the administration of this, no doubt the Administrative Review Committee, to which the Minister has referred, will be able 10 deal with them. But 1 think it is enough, if the Senate is so minded, that we do the best we can at this stage. As the Minister is not able to advance any satisfactory reasons against the appeal, so far as we are concerned, 1 suggest that we adopt this amendment without really being tied to any details on the basis that we would be pre? pared to modify it if experience or fun her thought on the matter showed that some modification was necessary or some further provision as to the taking or not taking of evidence was desirable.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.8 1 - I would like to reply to Senator Dame Ivy Wedgwood. The information I am endeavouring to obtain concerning the Administrative Review Committee is no: a matter for the Department of Health. It is a matter for the Attorney-General’s Department. The information has to come from the Attorney-General’s Department. That is why there is some delay. The information will be obtained as soon as possible.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Clause 20 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 20a.
Senator MCCLELLAND (New South
Wales) [4. 10] - On behalf of the Australian
Labor Party I move:
After clause 20, insert the following new clause: “ 20a. Section 46 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: -
Where a person receives hospital treatment in an approved hospital, there is payable Commonwealth benefit of Two dollars for each day.’.”.
This request for an amendment stems from a hangover of the days when public hospital treatment in Australia was free. In 1948 the Commonwealth Government paid 80c for every occupied bed day. In 1948 the patient was subjected to no means test and no charge, but when voluntary health insurance was introduced in 1952 the Commonwealth benefit became $1.20 for contributors who were insured for fund benefit of at least 60c a day. In 1952 this provided a combined benefit of SI. 80 a day. In 1958 the Commonwealth benefit was increased from SI. 20 to $2 for contributors to funds who were insured for at least $1.60 a day. thereby giving a total benefit of $3.60 a day. These two combined benefits equalled the usual public ward charge then applicable. But of course there has been a gradual increase in hospital charges. Today the generally applied public ward charge is approximately $10 a day. The Commonwealth benefit has remained at $2 a day for 12 years. The difference between the hospital charge and the Commonwealth benefit has generally been borne by the contributor through the health insurance scheme. But if people are uninsured the hospital authorities receive only 80c a day. This throws a burden on the State of Queensland which is the only State where free public hospitalisation exists.
As was given in evidence before the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs it appears that comparatively few Queenslanders are members of hospital benefits funds and thus the State of Queensland receives, in the main, for public patients in a public hospital the sum of only 80c a bed day from the Commonwealth. The Senate Select Committee in its interim report presented to Parliament in September last year said:
The Nimmo Committee, when it inquired into this subject, also made some comments on it.
– In paragraph 4.32.
– At page 23, in paragraph 4.32, as Senator Sim has said, the Nimmo Committee had this to say:
In the overall consideration oi the question of benefits for uninsured patients we think there are two distinct groups in respect of whom special consideration is warranted. The first comprises public ward patients in Queensland. The Queensland Government has long pursued a policy of free treatment in public wards for everyone regardless of the patient’s financial stale. So long as this policy is pursued there is no real reason for Queensland people who are satisfied with public ward treatment to take out hospital insurance. In view of the Queensland Government’s policy there is no basis for an agreement between it and the Commonwealth Government on the lines we have recommended earlier. The Queensland Government’s policy gives full effect to the Commonwealth objective of affording the community adequate financial protection against the cost of hospital treatment. While the policy continues it is our view that the Commonwealth should pay its full benefit (at present $2 a day) to Queensland hospitals in respect of all public ward patients
We say that this amendment is important. We believe it is fair and just, particularly for those members of the Australian community who are resident in Queensland. We believe it is in the interests of the health of the community generally. Therefore I make the request on behalf of the Opposition. 1 point out that if this request for the amendment is agreed to I will be moving amendment No. 13 on the list circulated in my name; but if this request is negatived I will be moving amendment No. 14 on that list.
– I must indicate my support for the amendment. As a member of the Senate select committee that unanimously recommended that the payment to patients in Queensland public hospitals should be $2 a day, in all justice I cannot now oppose that recommendation to which I was a party. I am also conscious of the recommendation of the Nimmo Committee which Senator McClelland read out. I believe that there is justice in this recommendation and that there is unfair discrimination against the people of Queensland. Therefore, I indicate my support for the amendment.
– I wish to speak briefly to the amendment.
The points that were stated by Senator McClelland are factual. J am pleased to see a member of the Government parties supporting the amendment, too. I point out that the free hospitals system in Queensland has been in existence over a period of many years. Unfortunately, because of the attitude adopted by the Government a subsidy has not been payable. So, over the years since the introduction of the National Health Act Queensland has suffered considerably financially.
It has suffered to such a degree that today many of the hospitals are operating in buildings that badly need renovation and in many cases badly need replacement. There are considerable problems in adequately staffing the hospitals. There are problems, particularly in provincial cities and country areas, in obtaining up to date equipment. It is largely because of the decision of the State government of the day to stick to the free hospitals scheme and the subsequent penalty placed upon it by the Commonwealth Government that this financial starvation has taken place. 1 believe that if this amendment is carried it will go some way towards alleviating the distress that has been caused.
Senator MILLINER (Queensland) [4.20 - I support the amendment moved by Senator McClelland on behalf of the Opposition. The Government must be conscious of this very important point: Two committees, completely independent . of each other, have recommended that the S2 a day should be paid. In those circumstances I fail to see how any government could insist that the present unfair situation continue. After all is sard and done, a report has been furnished to this chamber today by the Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. The words of the Committee in that report are very clear. In paragraph 109 the Committee states:
On the question of Commonwealth benefit lo Queensland hospitals. the Committee believes thai the non-availability of the insured benefit of $2 per day for the large percentage non-insured has the effect of discriminating against he ( citizens of Queensland, because they happen to have a system of free public ward’ treatment. The Committee therefore recommends the payment of the insured benefit for inpatients at Queensland public hospitals, irrespective of whether the patients are insured or nol. 1 think honourable senators would agree that, under the system under which we operate at the present lime, if the free hospitals system in Queensland is to be maintained - obviously that is the wish of both the Government and the people of that State - the money must be found to administer the hospitals. If the money is to be found to. administer the hospitals without the full entitlement from the Commonwealth Government, obviously some other services in Queensland will suffer as a result. 1 believe that among the principal bands of people who suffer because we have the free hospitals system in Queensland are the nurses. Their rates of wages are inferior to those in other parts of the Commonwealth. Their conditions of training and their working conditions are also inferior to those in other parts of the Commonwealth. So we have a situation in which people for whom each and every member of the Senate would have a great deal of sympathy are the victims, if you like lo put it that way, of the free hospitals system because the State Government just has not the money to assist them. Let me refer now to another field, that of education. I believe that the education authorities in Queensland could quite sensibly demand additional money for education facilities in that Stale; but because the State Government has to contribute to the free hospitals system it is unable to provide the Department of Education with the necessary finance to equip schools properly. 1 believe thai the committees have brought down a fine recommendation in that direction. I ask the Government lo accept the amendment moved by Senator McClelland and supported by other honourable senators.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.24] - I inform the Committee that these amendments are not acceptable to the Government. They would have the effect of making the Commonwealth benefit of S2 a day payable in respect of every person in he , community who is hospitalised in an approved hospital whether or noi that person was insured against the cost of hospital treatment. This is entirely contrary to the Government’s philosophy thai the national health scheme should encourage voluntary insurance. The amendments are completely opposed lo he philosophy concerning voluntary insurance which we are encouraging. Points have been made concerning the situation in Queensland. Let us have a look at the situation in Queensland.
I have said that the Government encourages health insurance. If this amendment were accepted the Commonwealth benefit would be paid regardless of whether the person concerned was insured against the cost of hospital treatment. When a person goes to a hospital the normal situation is, of course, for the hospital to impose a charge which the patient has to meet. The Government then assists the insured patient to meet the hospital charge by the payment of this benefit. But because of the free hospital system in Queensland, which has been referred to during this debate, hospitals make no charge and therefore patients have no charges to meet. So this is quite separate from the point which has been raised in the Bill itself in relation to the encouraging of voluntary insurance and the payment of this benefit to those whose are insured to assist them in meeting their hospital charges. I repeat that the Government is opposed to the amendment.
– I have been stirred into participating in this debate by the remarks of the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin), who represents the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) in this chamber. I am one of those who think that this Bill is a patchwork piece of legislation which does not adequately remedy the present situation. The Bill will not result in the community receiving the type of health service to which it is entitled. I was of the opinion that it was a rather vain gesture on the part of the Opposition to endeavour to improve the Bill because it is almost beyond improvement. However, we are trying to correct some of the more obvious discrepancies.
The statement which the Minister has just made concerning hospitals in Queensland is one which has to be answered. Admittedly, the hospitals in Queensland impose no charge. The Minister has stated that because no charge is imposed the Commonwealth benefit should not be paid. The Minister implies that the provision of services costs the hospitals nothing. It is against the expenditure which the hospitals have to meet that the benefit has to be paid. The reports of 2 committees of inquiry have been quoted during this debate. Incidentally, both reports were prepared by people who had received expert evidence or were themselves experts in the field. The report of the
Commonwealth’s Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance - the Nimmo Committee - shows that the Queensland Government meets 73.2% of the cost of hospitalisain that State. This was the position in 1967-68, but, relatively speaking, the figures are true as at this time. The New South Wales Government has a contribution rate of 48.9%. The Commonwealth Government, by neglect, has imposed on the Queensland Government a burden which it cannot meet. The result is that the standard of hospital services in Queensland has been reduced considerably.
Senator Milliner has said that the amount paid to nurses in Queensland is the lowest in the Commonwealth. The service which is being provided is also falling away, lt is completely unjust for the Minister to say that there is no reason why the people of Queensland should receive the benefit of the full $2 subsidy which is paid by the Commonwealth. Does the Minister realise that denial of the Commonwealth benefit costs the Queensland Government $2m each year? This is unjust. Both the Nimmo Committee and the Senate Select on Medical and Hospital Costs have supported the payment of the full subsidy. For the life of me 1 cannot understand why the Government refuses to pay it. !
This Bill was rushed through the other place in a most intemperate manner. When a similar amendment to this one was moved in the other place it was ruled out of order. At least we have had a chance to discuss it in this place. However, the attitude of the Minister for Housing is similar to the attitude adopted by the Minister for Health in the other place. 1 wish to quote from the report of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs. Perhaps I will be able to get through to the Government by doing so.
– It was tabled only today.
– Yes, the report was tabled only today. It is just one of the reports which the Government has decided to neglect. Paragraph 107, at page 32 of the report, states:
Two particular aspects of hospital benefits were considered by the Committee, as they obviously were also by the Nimmo Committee. These matters are (i) the disqualification of the Queensland hospital authorities from receiving the Commonwealth insured benefit of $2 per day for the relatively large percentage of non-insured patients in that State, and fu) the payment by the Commonwealth of an amount of 80c per day lo hospitals in respect of patients who are not insured for fund benefits.
This seems io be contrary to the Minister’s interpretation. The Government will pay 80c a day. but for some reason or another it will not pay the full amount, which would involve an extra $1.20 a day. Paragraph 108 stales:
Wilh respect to these two matters, which were mentioned in the previous report, the Committee received suggestions that the payment of 80c per day should be abolished, and that the Commonwealth should pay the Commonwealth insured benefit in respect of public ward patients in Queensland hospitals.
Paragraph 109 stales:
On the question of Commonwealth benefit lo Queensland hospitals, the Committee believes that the non-availability of the insured benefit of S2 per day for the large percentage non-insured has the effect of discriminating–
And 1 repeat the word ‘discriminating’- against the citizens of Queensland, because they happen to have a system of free ‘public ward’ treatment. The Committee therefore recommends the payment of the insured benefit for inpatients at Queensland public hospitals, irrespective of whether the patients are insured or nol.
Paragraph 110 of the Committee’s report, states:
Briefly, the Committee believes that the provision of the amount of 80c per day has, to some extent at least, a negative effect on encouraging insurance, and is of no significant advantage, lt was a benefit initiated in 1946 (when the amount was 60c per day), raised in 1948, and absorbed, somewhat paradoxically, into the present scheme in 1952. lt has no place in this scheme.
The present attitude of the Government and the Minister is outright discrimination against Queensland. If they persist in this attitude it will mean virtually the destruction of the hospital system in Queensland, which has been maintained for many years at great cost by the people of Queensland.. The Government has placed a burden on Queensland which it cannot properly bear. 1 ask the Minister and the Government to have another look at the situation. 1 support the Opposition’s amendment.
– 1 am not quite clear of the destination of the S2 which is referred to in the amendment. The amendment states that where a person receives hospital treatment in an approved hospital there is payable a Commonwealth benefit of S2 for each day. The amendment does not say to whom the payment is to be made, lt would appear from what my friends from Queensland have said that they are assuming thai the $2 a day will be paid lo the hospitals in Queensland. Could the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) tell me whether the S2 a day will be paid io the patient or to the hospital?
14.34) - I do not know whether the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) would prefer to reply to the query of Senator Prowse before I contribute to the debate?
– 1 deferred making any contribution to the debate on this amendment in the hope that the Minister would give a fuller explanation of the position. To my mind, with due respect, she has failed to do so. Hence we had the query from Senator Prowse concerning who would benefit in the event of the Government agreeing to this amendment. Would it be the patient, the hospital authorities or the State?
– The hospital always receives the money, even if the benefit is paid to the patient.
– Indirectly, yes.
– Not if there is no charge by the hospital, ls that not right?
– At the present time, hospitals in all States except Queensland are paid $2 a day even for non-insured patients. In Queensland hospitals are paid 80c a day. One cannot help but be impressed with the report of the Nimmo Committee of Inquiry on Health Insurance. I do not want to engage in tedious repetition, I do not want to read all of this passage because 1 believe that some of it has been quoted, but I believe that these paragraphs are important:
At the present time a benefit of 80c a day is paid by the Commonwealth to hospitals on account of patients who are not pensioners and are not insured wilh a hospital insurance organisation. Payment of this benefit is not really part of the health insurance scheme, lt is a relic of the system which was followed in the late 1940s. Eligibility for payment has been continued, but the rate has not been varied since 1948. At the present time payment at the rate of 80c a day is clearly of little significance to the patients who are eligible for it, bearing in mind that their hospital fees, even at the standard ward level, are in the vicinity of $10 a day in most States.
In the overall consideration of the question ot benefits for uninsured patients we think there are two distinct groups in respect of whom special consideration is warranted. The first comprises public ward patients in Queensland. The Queensland Government has long pursued a policy of free treatment in public wards for everyone regardless of the patient’s financial state. So long as this policy is pursued there is no real reason for Queensland people who are satisfied with public ward treatment to take out hospital insurance. In view of the Queensland Government’s policy there is no basis for an agreement between it and the Commonwealth Government on the lines we have recommended earlier. The Queensland Government’s policy gives full effect to the Commonwealth objective of affording the community adequate financial protection against the cost of hospital treatment. While the policy continues it is our view that the Commonwealth should pay its full benefit (at present $2 a day) to Queensland hospitals in respect of all public ward patients.
In addition to that we have the report from the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs.
– At page 103 of that report, which refers to the appendices, the whole method is spelled out.
– That is right, but on page 32 it states:
On the question of Commonwealth benefit to Queensland hospitals, the Committee believes that the non-availability of the insured benefit of $2 per day for the large percentage non-insured has the effect of discriminating against the citizens of Queensland, because they happen to have a system of free ‘public ward’ treatment. The Committee therefore recommends the payment of the insured benefit for inpatients at Queensland public hospitals, irrespective of whether the patients are insured or not
We are influenced in this connection by the reports of both Committees. I would counsel the Minister to accept the amendment and bring the Commonwealth health scheme into line with the recommendations contained in these 2 reports.
– Who should receive the money?
– The hospitals.
Senator Dame IVY WEDGWOOD (Victoria) 14.39] - There seems to be some doubt in the minds of honourable senators as to how hospital benefits are paid and what amounts are payable. 1 refer honourable senators to pages 103 and 104 of the report of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs which was brought down in the Senate today. They will find there that these matters are all spelled out.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.40] - 1 was asked a question about th» payment of the benefit. 1 would refer the Committee to section 47(1.) of the National Health Act, which states:
Commonwealth benefit und’er this Division is payable to the registered hospital benefits organisation that conducts the hospitals benefits fund to which the contributor concerned is a contributor
The Opposition, in its amendment, refers to a person who receives hospital treatment in a private hospital, lt is saying that everybody, whether he be insured or whatever he might be, should be paid this benefit. 1 can only reply, as 1 replied earlier, by stating that the Commonwealth feels that this is completely contrary to our philosophy that the national health scheme should encourage voluntary insurance, so that when a patient goes into a hospital and the hospital makes a charge, we pay a benefit to the fund to assist the patient to meet the hospital charge. The amendment is not acceptable to the Government because it is completely contrary to the things which, by this legislation, we are encouraging people to do.
– I still cannot see how the proposed amendment will provide any benefit to Queensland hospitals. I do not know whether the Minister answered that question, but I did not receive an answer.
– I should like to make a quick comparison. The Commonwealth Government pays a subsidy to nursing homes. The Minister can correct me if I am wrong, but I believe that the Government pays the subsidy to the hospital itself on the basis of per day of attendance, treatment or convalescence of a patient. Why can the same principle not be applied to the payment of the Commonwealth benefit to hospitals? Can the Minister explain why the benefit cannot be paid overall to the hospital rather than to the patient, because the end result is exactly the same?
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.43] -I thinkI have answered this question. We are encouraging people to insure themselves. We are encouraging voluntary health insurance. This is the whole point I have been making since we commenced to discuss this question. 1 think that if Senator Prowse refers again to section 47 (1.) of the Act he will find the answer to the question he has asked. Of course, I am not the mover of the amendment. The Opposition has brought forward the amendment. I can only refer to the payment of the Commonwealth benefit as set out in the Act. Section 47 ( 1 . ) provides:
Commonwealth benefit under this Division is payable to the registered hospital benefits organisation that conductsthe hospital benefits fund to which the contributor concerned is a contributor.
So we pay the benefit to the fund to which the contributor concerned is already contributing. Whether theOpposition, by its amendment, intends to pay the benefit to a person who is not insured, or to the patient, or how it plans to do it, is a matter for the Opposition to decide.
– I still am not satisfied with the argument that has been advanced in favour of the amendment - that it would have the effect of benefiting Queensland hospitals. From what the Minister has said, it will not achieve that purpose. The Commonwealth will pay $2 a day to the patient, but this will not necessarily contribute towards alleviating the situation in which Queensland hospitals are placed. So the amendment, by itself, would be ineffective in achieving the result which the Opposition intends.
That the request be agreed to (Senator McClelland’s amendment).
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority .. .. 12
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Request for proposed new clause agreed to.
Clause 21 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 21a.
– I move:
After clause 21, insert the following new clause: “21a. Section 53 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (i.).”.
This request is consequential upon the request which has just been agreed to by the Committee. Sub-section 53 (1.), which is under Division 4 - Uninsured Patients and Pensioners in Approved Hospitals - states:
Subject to this Part, there is payable to the proprietor of an approved hospital in respect of a qualified hospital patient who is not a contributor, Commonwealth benefit of eighty cents for each day on which the patient is a qualified hospital patient in that hospital.
– I find myself in the unenviable position of having been a member of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs which recommended that the provision of 80c a day should be abolished. Paragraph 110 of the Committee’s report states:
Briefly, the Committee believes that the provision of the amount of 80 cents per day has, to some extent at least, a negative effect on encouraging insurance, and is of no significant advantage. It was a benefit initiated in 1946 (when the amount was 60 cents per day), raised in 1948, and absorbed, somewhat paradoxically, into the present scheme in 1952. It has no place in this scheme.
Having been a party to this recommendation and to these comments I can do no other than stand in my place now and support the recommendation of the Senate Select Committee.
Senator Dame IVY WEDGWOOD (Victoria) 14.53] - I support what Senator Sim has said, but 1 do nol fmd myself in any unenviable position. I believe that this is right and I am quite prepared to vote for it.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.54] - I can only reply, as I did in relation to the previous request, that the Government cannot accept the amendment.
– In view of the way in which the Parties appear to be intending to vote I would appeal to Government supporters and remind them that much of the material that they have been quoting lo the Committee is contained in a report which was introduced into the Senate today. The Government has not had an opportunity to study the report or to review the propositions that are involved therein. Undoubtedly it will in due course accept many of the propositions that are put forward in an excellent report but these recommendations affect very greatly that which the Government has put forward in an excellent National Health Bill and I feel that we should not be taking from now on just the prepositions that are put in the Committee’s report. I would be very anxious to accept many of them, but the Government has introduced legislation which it has considered over a period of years and the views that the Opposition is putting before us have not had the consideration necessary for us to make better legislation out of this matter.
– Perhaps the answer to what Senator Webster is putting up is that in truth the report of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs was made to this Senate in September 1969 and it put forward this proposal which is now being put up by Senator McClelland. The Committee recommended:
That the payment by the Commonwealth of hospital benefit of 80 cents a day for uninsured patients should be discontinued.
So there has been ample opportunity for honourable senators and the Government to study the proposal and to be aware of the reasons for it. In any event, if it were thought that further time was necessary for the consideration of these important matters - and they are very important - then the obvnous course is to delay the passage of the Bill. What is happening is that the Government is insisting on pushing forward with the Bill so that the Opposition is hardly to be blamed when it says: ‘Here is a proposal, a very reasonable proposal, first put up by a committee of the Senate after great consideration, in September. Now we are faced with the Bill the Government says that this is the time and this is the hour for dealing with the matters and so they are dealt with on the basis of the material which we have.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Proposed new clause 21b.
– The consequential amendment No. 13 having been disposed of, I now do not request amendment No. 14 in my name but proceed to my request lor amendment No. 15. I move:
Section 58a (1.) of the principal Act comes under division 5a which refers to handicapped children in approved handicapped persons homes. Under section 58a(I.) a benefit payable is in respect of handicapped child care under the present scheme of Si. 50 for each day on which the handicapped child receives handicapped person care in that home. The amendment was not permitted to be moved in another place on the basis that it would have had the effect of increasing expenditure, but we say that the deletion of the amount of SI. 50 and the insertion instead thereof of the amount of $2 only brings this provision into line with provisions affecting everyone else in the community. The amendment relates to benefits payable in respect of handicapped person care and it is moved to bring this provision into line with Commonwealth benefit for hospital patients generally. In its interim report the Senate Select Committee made some reference to this aspect in chapter 10 at paragraphs 149 and 150 in relation to physically and mentally handicapped persons.
– Are you referring to the Wedgwood Report?
– I am referring to the interim report of the Wedgwood Committee, it recommended:
That Commonwealth and State Governments should conduct a thorough joint inquiry into the problems associated with the special care and treatment of the physically and mentally handicapped, of all ages, for the purpose of establishing the most satisfactory practical forms of assistance.
I emphasise the words ‘of all ages’ which were used by the Select Committee in its report. The Nimmo Committee had something to say on this matter at page 57 of its report under the heading ‘Particular Ailments Services’ at paragraph 15.16. lt stated:
Some of the most seriously afflicted people in our community such as paraplegics, quadriplegics and victims of multiple- sclerosis, who have ceased to bc hospital cases, arc in need of facilities and treatment which they cannot afford. Voluntary organisations exist to help them but have insufficient funds to meet their needs. Representatives of several of these organisations appeared before us i related their experiences when they sough’ government aid to supplement what their organisations were able to raise to relieve the suffering of those for whom they were concerned. They stated that the Commonwealth informed them that health’ was a State matter and that they should approach their State Government for assistance. Their State Government informed them that it lacked the funds to grant their request and that they should go to the Commonwealth Government, for it alone had the financial capacity to provide the aid they required. It is obvious that this is another area in which the governments urgently need to get together and plan a programme of relief for people the present plight of some of whom can only be properly described as pathetic.
Handicapped children are under a great disadvantage compared with the normal child in the Australian community and we believe that the handicapped child should not be further deprived of benefit by having the amount of $1.50 included in an Act of this nature when the general provision for all other sections of the community is $2. We believe that this is an important measure. It will place the handicapped child at least on the same basis financially as other sections of the community which are receiving benefits under this Act. We say that it is an important matter which is in the interests of the handicapped children and 1 have therefore moved the amendment on behalf of the Opposition.
– Whilst I sympathise with what the Opposition hopes to achieve with this amendment 1 feel that at this stage 1 would not support it, particularly in view of the recommendations made by both the Nimmo Committee and the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs which envisaged consultation between the Commonwealth and Slate governments lo devise the best form of assistance.
– Are you referring to the interim report or the Wedgwood Report?
– The recommendations are the same in both reports. I am referring to the Wedgwood Report, chapter 10, paragraphs 254 and 255. Here, I believe, we envisage the Commonwealth and State authorities getting together and working out the best and most effective form of assistance that could be given in this very tragic area and I think it would be unwise for us to suggest that the Commonwealth should act unilaterally in this field. That may well, on history, discourage the State governments from acting at all, because they do in this field have certain responsibilities. I would rather urge upon the Commonwealth the need to discuss, as early as possible, with the State governments to try to find areas where together they could alleviate the suffering and the high costs involved. Therefore on those grounds I oppose the amendment.
Senator Dame IVY WEDGWOOD (Victoria) [5.5] - 1 should like to refer the Senate to the report of the Select Committee in which we say:
The Committee makes no specific recommendation as to the most appropriate form of assistance as insufficient investigation appears to have been conducted into the problems and the Committee itself could not undertake such a task.
Therefore whilst I would always be sympathetic to the needs of the handicapped child I would not be certain in my mind that the payment of $1.50 was the correct way of assisting them. There is so much that money cannot provide for the handicapped child - that is in terms of a small benefit or subsidy on behalf of the child - and [ would hope that the Commonwealth and the States would be able to develop schemes to assist physically handicapped children which would be much more generous than the payment of$1. 50.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing)[5.7] - Everyone in this chamber is conscious of the sadness of a handicapped child. Everyone, 1 know, is concerned with what can be done for both the parents and the child, and with the future of the child. 1 believe, however, that we have to look at what is being done. The payment at the present rate of $1.50 per day was introduced by the Government after very careful consideration of all the relevant factors. This benefit has provided very valuable assistance to the parents of handicapped children and is considered to be adequate in the present circumstances and having regard to the Commonwealth’s overall commitments in the field of health.
The rate of this benefit cannot validly be compared with the rate of hospital benefit. It should be noted that where a handicapped child who is covered by hospital insurance receives hospital treatment, the full Commonwealth benefit of $2 is paid. Also, if a child is receiving nursing home care and the institution is approved as a nursing home, then the benefits are paid accordingly. The section now under notice refers to the handicapped child who is in a handicapped children’s home where the medical treatment required is not so intensive. After full consideration the Government believes that the legislation should remain as it is. Therefore it opposes the amendment which has been moved by the Opposition.
Thatthe request (Senator McClelland’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the negative.
Request for proposed new clause negatived.
Clauses 22 and 23 agreed to.
Proposed new clause 23a.
Section 69 of the principal Act relates to the furnishing of information by applicant organisations. We feel that the word ‘shall’ should replace the ward ‘may’ in sub-sections (I.) and (2.) of section 69. The present provision amounts to the holding of a gun at the head of an applicant organisation. Section 69 provides: (1.) The regulations may make provision for and in relation to the manner and form in which applications for registration are to be lodged and the documents and information which are to be famished in support of. or in connection with applications. (2.) The Director-General may refine to entertain an application for registration unlessthe applicant organisation furnishes, in accordance with the regulations particulars relatingto the affairs, finances, rules and conduct of the organisation.
The Opposition believes that there should be no discretion; that it should be mandatory; that the regulations should make provision for and in relation to the manner and form in which applications for registration are to be lodged. We say that it should be mandatory for applicants to provide documents and information in support of or in connection with applications by those organisations, and that in the event of such material not being forthcoming, it should be mandatory for the Director-General to refuse to entertain an application for registration.
The Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) had something to say on this matter on 4th March. Senator Murphy reminds me that the interim report of the Senate Select Committee on’ Medical and Hospital Costs - the Wedgwood Committee - also had something to ‘ say on the matter at paragraph 97 of its report. The Nimmo Committee dealt with the matter at paragraph 11.20 of its report. In dealing with management expenses it suggested that rates lower than those set out in its report could be achieved when the results of measures it had recommended earlier had taken full effect. We believe that it is the responsibility of the Government to ensure that information of a full and frank nature is provided by applicant organisations; that it should be mandatory for the Director-General to refuse registration unless the information is submitted. Therefore on behalf of the Opposition I have moved the amendment which has been circulated.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [5.17] - Section 69 of the principal Act provides the power for the making of regulations for the registration of organisations. The use of this power is at present discretionary and to substitute the word ‘shall’ for the word ‘may’ as proposed in the amendment would make it obligatory for the regulations to be made. Such a course would tighten this aspect of the Act with regard to organisations, but would have little practical effect having regard to the experience of the Department of Health over the years and the administration of the national health scheme. There is no secret about the details which the application form requires from organisations. Copies of the application form are made available to any interested organisation and there has never been any difficulty with any organisation with regard to this matter. The Government is opposed to the amendment moved by the Opposition because it believes that it would introduce unnecessary rigidity into the scheme.
– As I interpret the Minister’s last remarks, she feels that we have learned nothing from the past. Senator McClelland has quoted from various reports of committees and it seemed from the recommendations of those committees that the Government might institute certain reforms. I remind the Minister particularly of the high pressure advertising that was undertaken by some of the funds and may even now be contemplated for the future. The Opposition is seeking by its proposed amendment to shackle such activities of the funds. The Minister referred to the accessibility of the information on the application form and to the fact that nothing is hidden. What I have to say may not be strictly applicable to the section with which we are dealing, but my idea of the rights and equity of contributors is such that never again should any hospital and medical benefits fund be able to purchase a light aircraft without consulting its members. I remind honourable senators that in the days of the friendly societies and the participation of trade unions in such organisations the members had some say in their administration.
The Minister has indicated that the Government is opposed to our amendment. I would like to know whether the Government has any proposal to make the funds live within their income. Alternatively, is there any proposal to make them disgorge their profits over and above, say, onequarter of subscriptions paid by members during a year?
– I direct the attention of the Committee, in dealing with the amendment proposed by Senator McClelland, to sub-section (2.) of section 69 of the principal Act and the information detailed therein; that is, particulars relating to the affairs, finances, rules and conduct of an organisation. These are vital matters in a contributory scheme, a so-called voluntary contributory scheme. Contributors to a fund should know all the facts of those funds, many as they are. A person who wishes to examine the rules of a fund should bc able lo obtain a copy of them. The Minister said thai certain details ace available. 1 applied for a copy of the rules crf the Hospital Benefits Fund of Western Australia, but 1 have not been able to get it. Copies of the rules are not available to the general public. They may be available to other people, but they should be available to all contributors to the fund..
We ali are aware of the disgraceful position of the various funds throughout Australia in that huge amounts have been built up as reserves over the years on the pretext that it is necessary to provide for emergencies that might arise at a time of an epidemic. If ever an epidemic breaks out in Australia requiring the expenditure of sums of money as large as the funds wish to hold as reverves, it will be a lime of national emergency to be dealt with by this Government, and not a time for the funds to deal with the people affected by such an emergency. The word ‘shall’ should apply to the finances of the funds handled on behalf of their contributors. No discretion should be provided in sub-section (1.) of section 69 in that the regulations may provide for these matters. I direct the attention of the Committee to the proposed new section 76a, which provides:
The Director-General shall, as soon as practicable after the thirtieth day of June in each year, commencing wilh the year one thousand nine hundred and seventy-one. furnish lo the Minister a report of the operations of registered organisations during the year ending on that date.
That provision is that a report shall be furnished to the Minister, ls the report of the Director-Genera? of Health to be confidential to the Minister? ls it to be tabled in this Parliament so that the elected representative of the people will be able to examine it? Where do we go? Proposed section 76a(2.) states:
The report shall include, in respect of each medical benefits fund or hospital benefits fund conducted by the registered organisation during the year to which the report relates, the following information in respect of the fund or, if he fund includes a special account, in respect of the part nf the fund other than the special account:
contributions payable lo the fund;
other amounts payable to the fund:
medical fund benefits or hospital fund benefits payable out of the fund;
other benefits payable out of the fund;
other amounts payable out of the fund;
the balance of the fund as at the end of that year; ami
such other information as the Minister requires to be included.
That is a shall’ to the Minister, but by section 69 the Government wants to make it permissive. We say that the word ‘shall’ should be included and that the amendment should be carried because we think that this information should be made available when the organisations are reporting. To make regulations that may provide for these things is all right. The regulations that provide for these things may not be made. We think that there should be no discretion with respect to this. We think that unless the full facts of the affairs, finances, rules and conduct of the organisation are made available to the Director-General of Health the organisation should not bc registered.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [4.27] - I confirm what. 1 have said already. The Government feels that the Act as it stands is best for what is required. We have to realise that this section deals purely with the application of an organisation for registration. It is not thought that the section should be unnecessarily rigid. I again inform the Senate that the Government opposes the amendment.
– 1 suggest that this is another instance of what has been referred to already and that is that in a new area it may be necessary to commence firstly by giving great discretion to public officials in relation to various matters, but as they gain experience the matters ought lo be brought into the area of law and not of discretion. If reforms are being made, the regulations should cover these. If they need amendment from lime to time, let that be done. But the requirements ought to be matters of law and not of the say-so of the official. Those requirements ought to apply to all bodies. They can be fairly general in their terms, but some definite conditions ought lo be laid down for applicants for registration and the public official ought to require that ail applicants conform with the conditions set forth in the regulations. That is the way the Law should progress. This is a simple instance of that
Apart from that general consideration, my observation is that where voluntary associations greatly affect numbers of people and where they have public functions to perform - whether they be medical benefits funds, political parties or other voluntary organisations - experience shows that there ought to be requirements for the details of their handling of financial affairs to be kept in some records which are open to some public scrutiny. Otherwise experience shows that there is likely to be mishandling, there are likely to be scandals and no-one will be satisfied until the associations are kept under some proper scrutiny. That is the unfortunate experience of human affairs and we have had plenty of that experience within recent times.
– I was interested in what was said on this amendment because, frankly, I had an open mind when it was introduced.I do not think that the case put forward by Senators McClelland, Mulvihill, Cant and Murphy really supports the proposition which they put. I think we are all concerned, in the light of what the Nimmo Committee said and in the light of what the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs said, about the need for firmer control over some of the activities of these health organisations. As I see it, that is not what the amendment is designed to achieve. The section of the Act which is sought to be amended deals purely with applications by organisations. Organisations either want to be part of this scheme or do not want to be part of this scheme. If they want to be part of this scheme, they will make the best case they can to be accepted. When they make that case it is up to the DirectorGeneral to refer the application, the documents and the information furnished in support of the application to the Registration Committee for its examination. This requirement is contained in the existing section 71 of the Act.
I think that an organisation would be concerned to put the very best case that it could in order to get registration. It may be that from time to time the manner and form of application will have to be prescribed. I do not know. But I think that the very character of the situation does not necessitate that there must be a manner and a form in which applications for registration are to be lodged simply because there does not appear to be any compelling reason why one must have a form which is filled out in a particular way and why one must have certain matters lodged. If one does not lodge that which is capable of being ascertained by inquiry that the Director-General requires, one will find one’s application rejected. I would have thought that, as a principle, it is far better to have a permissive ‘may’ rather than a mandatory ‘shall’. Unless a strong case is made out for a mandatory ‘shall’, the section is best left as it is.
– I am not so worried about the first amendment of ‘may’. If the Department does not want to make regulations and does not have the interests of the public at heart, it will not make regulations so I am not really interested in that amendment. The second ‘may’,I think, should be changed to shall’ otherwise the Director-General may refuse to entertain an application. I do not think it should be left in his hands to waffle. In the second instance 1 think it is important that the word ‘may’ should be changed to ‘shall’. I shall support that.
– What if the regulations have not been made? That is one requirement of the section.
– Then I suppose I shall have to support the ‘shall’ in the first instance. That one did not worry me because I presumed the Department had the interests of the public at heart - it keeps telling us that it has - and therefore it would make the regulations. I am happy to have ‘shall’ both times. It is essential to have the second ‘shall’. If Senator Greenwood thinks that the first ‘may’ should be ‘shall’-
-I do not think the honourable senator can split it in the way that he is doing it.
– Then I shall support ‘shall’ in both places.
That the clause proposed to be inserted (Senator McClelland’s amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority . . . . 5
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Clause 24 agreed to.
Section 73 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-section (1.) and inserting in its stead the following sub-section: - “(1.) The Minister may, after considering the report of the Committee, grant subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit, or refuse, the application and, if he grants the application, he shall registerthe organisation accordingly.”.
– On behalf of the Australian Labor Party I move:
This clause refers to the registration of organisations. As the Bill stands, proposed section 73 (1.) states:
The Minister may, after considering the report of the Committee, grant, subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit, or refuse, the application and, if he grants the application, be shall register the organisation accordingly.
The Australian Labor Party seeks the addition to that section of the words ‘by regulation’ to make the section read: (1.) The Minister may by regulation, after considering the report of the Committee, grant, subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as hethinks fit. refuse, the application and, if the grants the application, he shall register the organisation accordingly.
At the present time clause. 73 (4.) reads:
A register shall not be open for inspection except by a person authorised in writing by the Minister.
The Australian Labor Party seeks the deletion of that sub-section and the insertion of a new sub-section to read: (4.) A register shall be open for public inspection.
The Australian Labor Party asks that subsection (6.) be dealt with by way of regulation. At the moment it reads: (6.) The Minister may, upon a recommendation by the Committee, vary or revoke any or all of the terms and conditions subject to which an organisation has been, or is deemed to be. registered under this Act and impose terms and conditions additional to those terms and conditions, and the terms and conditions as so altered or added to from lime to time shall be deemed to be the terms and conditions subjectto which the organisation is registered.
We say that it should read: (6.) The Minister may, upon a recommendation by the Committee, varyor revoke by regulation any or all of the terms and conditions subject to which an organisation has been, or is deemed to be, registered under this Act and impose by regulation terms and conditions additional to those terms and conditions, and the terms and conditions as so altered or added to from time to time shall be deemed to be the terms and conditions subjectto which the organisation is registered.
We say that it is important that these matters become more the subject of public scrutiny than they have been in the past. We believe that these amendments will considerably control and bring to the public knowledge the manner of operation and activities of these organisations. We say that it is in the public interest that these amendments be made. Therefore I have moved them on behalf of the Opposition.
– I enter this debate because section 73 contains some important provisions. It leaves matters to the discretion of the Minister. In another field of activity we have always opposed that. The BDI provides that sub-section (1.) shall read:
The Minister may, after considering the report of the Committee, grant, subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as be thinks fit . . .
That empowers the Minister to be the determining authority in regard to terms and conditions. It is contrary to what we have been advocating in this chamber for some time. Why should the Minister have the power to determine the terms and conditions when we do not establish the criteria as to the terms and conditions? The Bill provides that the Minister may determine such terms and conditions, if any, as he thinks fit, or refuse the application. That is despite the fact that there may be compliance with the report of the Registration Committee. I will not refer to the question of public inspection. Senator McClelland has dealt with that.
A similar principle applies to our 2 proposed amendments to sub-section (6.). The first reads:
Sub-section (6.) reads:
The Minister may. upon a recommendation by the Committee, vary or revoke any or all of the terms and conditions . . .
This is another control exercised entirely by the Minister without any sanction by the Parliament and without any consideration by the Parliament. What the Opposition seeks to do by inserting the words ‘by regulation’ after the words ‘revoke’ and impose’ is to see that the Parliament has the say. At least there will be legislation.
– There will be public scrutiny.
– Yes, there will be public scrutiny, and at least there will be a regulation which will have to be gazetted, and the representatives of the people- will have the right to say whether the regulation is justified. In situations in which the Minister is given power to act under the existing legislation, his action will be subject to public scrutiny; the Parliament will have the right of scrutiny of it. Sub-section (6.) says:
The Minister may, upon a recommendation by the Committee, vary or revoke any or all of the terms and conditions . . .
The Minister does not have to accept the recommendation. No matter what the Committee says, he may revoke the terms and conditions under which an organisation has been, or is deemed to be, registered under this Act and impose terms and conditions additional to those terms and conditions. I believe that everything that we have brought up from the Regulations and Ordinances Committee is offended by the existing Act and the amendments proposed by the Government in the Bill. Senator McClelland’s amendments seek to rectify the situation by taking the power out of the hands of the Committee and placing the matter under public scrutiny.
[5.50] - 1 inform the Senate that the Government is opposed to the amendment that has been moved. The first part of it relates to the approval or refusal of an application by an organisation for registration. The amendment proposes that the Minister shalL give his decision on the application by regulation. lt is felt that such a step is quite unnecessary. Provision exists in section 80 of the Act for an appeal to a State Supreme Court against any decision by the Minister not to grant registration. Also, the registration of organisations is part of the normal administrative process and, in the view of the Government, in this case legislative processes are not appropriate. The processes associated with the making of regulations could delay unnecessarily the approval of an organisation which applies for registration.
The proposed amendment to sub-section (4.) of section 73 of the principal Act would make the register of organisations, which is presently open only to persons authorised in writing by the Minister, open for public inspection. The effect of the proposed amendment would be to make public knowledge the terms and conditions under which the registration was granted to an organisation. We believe that this would serve no useful purpose as there is a requirement in the Act that particulars of registered organisations will be gazetted each year in accordance with section 81. Proposed new section 76a, which is contained in clause 27 of the Bill, provides for the tabling of an annual report setting out details of the financial operations of each individual fund.
The same comments apply to those parts of the amendment which relate to the registration of organisations, lt is, in the view of the Government, cumbersome and pointless to require the use o,f the legislative process to implement a purely administrative decision to revoke or vary any or all of the terms and conditions under which registration is granted to an organisation. Let me add that the Minister cannot do anything by regulation. The GovernorGeneral, of course, makes regulations. A grant is made by a person and cannot be made by a regulation. A grant is a particular executive act, whilst a regulation is a general law. I believe that those points bear out the statement that I made at the beginning, namely, that the Government opposes the amendment.
– The Australian Democratic Labor Party will not be supporting the amendment. Before making a decision we waited for the Minister’s explanation. Her explanation has satisfied us that the clause should stand as printed.
– The merit of this amendment is obvious to me. I propose to support it. I believe that the power that is contained specifically in sub-section (6.) of section 73 is one which, as it stands, is frightening in its width. Of course, it is a power that depends upon a recommendation coming from the Registration Committee. The Committee consists of the Commonwealth Actuary or a person appointed by him to act in his stead and 2 officers of the Department of Health appointed by the Director-General. In that circumstance there could well be a ready acquiescence by Minister and Department in what for the time being was felt to be a desirable departmental policy. If the Minister has received such a recommendation, he may: . . vary or revoke any or all of the terms and conditions subject to which an organisation has been, or is deemed to be, registered under this Act and impose terms and conditions additional to those terms and conditions. . . .
When he does that, the terms and conditions subject to which an organisation is registered shall include the new terms and conditions that he imposes. As Senator Cavanagh said, there is no limit to the terms and conditions that the Minister may impose. They may be reasonable; they may be onerous; they may be far ranging and crippling; or they may be moderate and in the public interest. Whilst making all presumptions in favour of the Department, the width of that provision is great.
I would like to know why sub-section (6.) is in the Act at all. It appears to me that, if there are terms and conditions which have to be changed as a result of operation, either they can be the subject of an amending Bill or at least they can be the subject of some provision by way of regulation.
I understand that the intention of the proposed amendment is to submit to the scrutiny of the Parliament any decisions which will impose added burdens upon registered organisations. I dislike the whole scope of the power which is contained in section 73 of the principal Act. I would rather have something far more precise. But if the section were amended in the manner proposed it would at least ensure that regulations would be made and these regulations would be subject to examination by the Parliament and to disallowance if they made the rights of individuals unduly dependent upon administrative decisions. For that reason, I support the amendment.
I would be grateful if the Minister for Housing (Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin) would elaborate on 2 things which she said. Firstly, she said that in some way section 80 of the principal Act is designed to give the right of appeal. I take the view that section 80 is limited to appeals against cancellations and suspensions of registration.
– In relation to section 79.
– As Senator McClelland has said, it relates to section 79. The other point’ is that the Minister said that the phrasing of the amendment simply to say ‘the Minister may by regulation . . ‘ would be ineffective to confer the power which is is obviously the intention of the proposers of the amendment to confer. I feel that this is a desirable aspect of the amendment. 1 should be grateful if the Minister would indicate whether the view she expressed is that the amendment would nullify the power which is sought to be conferred. 1 appreciate that regulations are generally made by the GovernorGeneral, but it may also be that any regulations made by (he Minister will be required to be laid on the table of the Senate. 1. should be grateful if the Minister would elaborate on those points.
– 1 feel that the matter which is now before the Committee raises very important principles. It is an attempt to reconcile the purity of the law and civil rights wilh what we might call administrative demands. This is always a very difficult problem. Ministers who have the responsibility of administering statutes and departments are often very widely entrusted with discretion. This is a built-in pari of the system of government under the Parliament. This is particularly so in a case like this where ministerial discretion is endowed and apparently - at least in some respects - is subject to appeal. I agree with Senator Greenwood that there do not seem to be appellate provisions in relation to this section. I agree with that proposition. If this amendment were carried it would really create in this Parliament an appellate jurisdiction over the decision of the Minister. However that might be in relation to the purity of the regard for rights, whether it is consonant with any smoothness in his departmental administration is the very difficult matter which has to be resolved.
If the endowment of the Minister with discretion in this case were completely untoward and unusual, perhaps it might then come under critical scrutiny. But this is no different, 1 take it, from many other discretions conferred an Ministers under many other statutes. Parliament would be put in an impossible position if every ministerial action which involved the exercise of discretion were regulated and had to come before the Parliament, one chamber or the other, and be subject to disallowance. I feel that it must inevitably have the effect of completely stultifying the processes of government and, in particular, the processes of this Parliament.
Sitting suspended from 6 lo 8 p.m.
– I have very little more to say. 1 was merely pointing out that if this principle, which is implicit in the amendment, were written into this statute, it would have the effect of unjustifiably frustrating the legitimate use of ministerial power in the administration of departments and statutes. 1 pose one question: Why should it finish in this statute or in this section of the Act? Once the principle is written in in these circumstances, there could be 100 or 1,000 similar circumstances in other statutes where we would have to write it in. 1 think it would be completely unwise for the Committee to adopt the principle, because al a later stage it may be insisted that it be written in here and written in there. As I say, there would be total frustration of the processes of government. 1 would not like anyone to think that 1 am not as jealous of the exercise of discretionary powers in statutes as any other honourable senator, or that 1 am less solicitous of individual or group rights. But there must be that conciliation between those demands and the legitimate demands of government in the preservation of order and the administration of law. lt is that reconciliation that we in this chamber are always trying to discover. I feel it would be a tremendous blow, if such reconciliation has already been obtained, if this principle were to be adopted in this way.
– I enter into this debate to deal very briefly with the proposed amendment. We have before us a very dramatic and quite significant, change to the National Health Bill, lt brings into being a quite large area of change, and whether we like it or not. whatever happens in the early days of this concept - and 1 use that word for want of a better term - which is expressed in the Bill will place tremendous demands upon the Department of Health. 1 would not like to see this Bill, when it becomes law in whatever form it ultimately takes, inhibited too much by the application of the regulatory power. I was very impressed with Senator Byrne’s observations before the suspension of the sitting for dinner that there are huge administrative problems in the present Act, even before we begin to alter it by this Bill. For instance, there are the various funds. There are the big funds, such as the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the Hospital Contribution
Fund of New South Wales, and hundreds of thousands of people subscribe to those funds. A limitless number of contingencies could arise in relation to any one of the subscribers to any one of those funds. From an administrative point of view we want to give very wide administrative authority to the Department, at least in the early stages of the new Act.
A tremendous change was brought about by the original medical benefits scheme introduced by the late Sir Earle Page. But if we had written into that original scheme, restricting or inhibiting regulations, I doubt whether it would have come into being. There has to be a certain amount of trial and error, whether we like it or not. We are legislators, and we can say: ‘This has to be done in an Act’, or: That has to be done in an Act’, or: ‘That has to be protected by regulation’. I would say that perhaps in 12 months time we might reach the stage where we can say that in the light of experience a particular area may well be considered to be covered by regulation. We could do that to narrow an administrative area; to make it tighter in terms of legislation by regulation.
I have had experience of medical and hospital benefit funds. Down through the years as a senator I have made representations on behalf of certain organisations - I am thinking now about some of the smaller ones. If the Department of Health, the Minister for Health and their advisers had not had the authority to have discussions, to make arrangements and to adopt procedures, great hardship would have been experienced by the funds and, ultimately, by the subscribers to the funds. When we are talking about the bigger funds, it is all right, but do not let us forget that some organisations have grown up through the years. One can think of them and can name them. Perhaps they have not been top level funds in terms of administration, but they have given service to thousands of their lodge members and contributors. I would suggest that if, in the early stages, the original scheme had been limited, firstly, by very rigid legislative provision and, secondly, by very strict regulations, the subscribers to the funds would have suffered.
I understand the principle of doing something by regulation, but in the early stages of this Bill when it becomes law I think there should be fairly tolerant administration which is capable of meeting situations as they arise. Later on, if we want to tighten the field or narrow the scope of the legislation, we can introduce a regulation, but in the early stages 1 think there is a good case for not being too severe in imposing regulatory power which, after all, has to be descriptive. When we put down a regulation we have to be descriptive. Even in my experience I could think of hundreds of areas in which there would be great difficulty in the early stages in doing it by regulatory power.
– 1 again rise as a result of the contribution made to the debate by the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Anderson), because I have some sympathy with him and with whoever has to administer the National Health Act if we spell out that everything has to be done by regulation. But this amendment does not stipulate that. It refers only to the question of the registration of an organisation, and to the power of a Minister to grant or to refuse a registration without any criteria being laid down at all. If the organisation to which I may belong applies for registration under the Act, it is in the Minister’s power to say whether he will grant that registration. If we lay down some criteria, which a regulation would require, then if my organisation complied with such criteria and the Minister refused the registration, there would be a right of appeal - and there seems to be some doubt about this question at the moment. The Minister could argue that although the organisation complied with the criteria he would still refuse the registration. The Minister has the complete right to refuse a registration, but if there is a right of appeal to someone, to succeed in the appeal the organisation would have to show that the Minister, I suppose, acted capriciously and the organisation would have to justify its whole existence.
This is the question: The whole matter is in the hands of one man. A Minister of the Crown, after considering the report or recommendations of the committee, may grant the registration subject to such terms and conditions. Even if the committee made a recommendation which was in favour of the registration of an organisation, the Minister may still refuse it. What the amendment seeks to do is to write into the legislation the terms on which the Minister has he power to refuse a registration. lt should be done by regulation so that this Parliament has an opportunity to discuss the regulation and to disallow it. It becomes solely a question of whether we believe in ministerial control or whether we believe in the right of the elected representative of the people to decide these issues. That is the issue involved in this amendment. In addressing himself to this question Senator Byrne, 1 think from loyalty to the first speaker for the Democratic Labor Party, said that he saw something different in this proposed amendment from the amendment in respect of which he fought so hard for parliamentary control rather than ministerial control. “The whole question in dealing with this resolution lo impose restrictions, to revoke a licence, to grant a licence or to withhold a licence is whether Parliament should have that power - whether it should be done by regulation which Parliament has a right to disallow - or whether the Minister should have exclusive right lo permit an organisation lo operate or to deny it that right.
[8.Ill - ‘ intervene only because I feel, on hearing Senator Cavanagh for a second time, that he has a complete misconception of the section under discussion. First I remind him that it is not the Minister unguided who has the power. Section 70 of the Act Se’i up a registration commilt.ee and it is under that, committee’s advice that the Minister can be presumed to act, after the committee has taken into account all the matters that are set out in section 73.
– The Minister is compelled to consider the report but is not compelled to act upon it.
– I know. But we would be well advised and quite prudent to proceed on the basis that in 99 cases out of 100 a Minister acts according to statutory guidance.
– Yes, but it is the 1 case out of the 100 that I am trying to protect.
– I know there is always the exception. We come- then to section 73 in respect of which I suggest there is a complete misconception as evidenced by the Labor Party’s amendment which is supported by Senator Cavanagh. Section 73 states that the Minister may, after taking into account the report of the Committee, register the organisation. The act of registration is an administrative act. As Senator Byrne pointed out and as Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin said to the Committee, this administrative act is entirely different in nature and function from a regulation.
– But do you ignore the proviso ‘subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit’?
– I certainly do not. I shall come to that in a moment, but I am hoping that Senator Greenwood will be content to listen to a few observations briefly submitted to dissipate what 1 suggest is a manifest error. I have been referring to the act that the Minister is required to :-> : v om. th-ti >s. the act of registration, which is an administrative act. If we want a regulation we could have it in such terms as it exists under the Companies Act and have a general law whereby any organisation which would be entitled to be registered should have a specified number of persons, have a certain capital, have directors of such and such, and lay down rules to which it shall conform. But to say that the Minister may by regulation register an organisation is a piece of absurdity from the point of view of legal conception. Before I come to these inviting terms ‘subject to such terms and conditions’, I remind the Committee that in subsection (6.) the amendment .treks lo introduce, in relation to the words ‘vary or revoke’ and ‘impose’, the words by regulation’.
In this sub-section the Minister is expected to bc exercising a specific decision in relation to a specific organisation ami if he lays down certain terms and conditions that is an administrative act in regard to a decision, just as in a court case if the court makes an order or a decree it relates to an individual person. Bui if we want regulations and we say that the terms and conditions that the Minister may impose shall be as prescribed - and we prescribe them - unless we have the power of discrimination expressed in the statute the terms and conditions would have to be applicable to all organisations. Then we would have a uniformity in that we would be laying down a set scale of conditions that would apply to all.
– Regulations bring in uniformity.
– That is what the honourable senator has said. He beggars any knowledge that he might be presumed to have as to the way in which terms and conditions should vary in relation to different organisations. Then, having dissipated all that, we find comfort in section 73 where certain conditions are expressly permitted by the statute. We find that when an organisation has been registered under the Act, the Minister may suspend or cancel the registration under section 79, but in that case a thoughtful Parliament of previous years inserted section 80 which gave the organisation a right of appeal against any wrong decision on the part of the Minister. So I submit that it is quite a misconception to use the term ‘regulation’ as used in Labor’s amendment to section 73. It is a complete misapprehension to emphasise terms and conditions in relation to a specific decision if one gives proper effect to sections 79 and 80.
– I have heard some extraordinary speeches from the Minister for Works (Senator Wright), who has just resumed his seat, but his speech tonight was one of the most extraordinary. I believe that he set out not to argue what was in the Bill but to belittle what Senator Cavanagh had said. It is the Australian Labor Party’s proposition that these things should be done by regulation as they apply to the registration of organisations. There is little difference between the amendment and what is contained in sub-section (1.) of section 73 of the principal Act. Sub-section (1.) states:
The Minister may, after taking into account the report of the Committee, register the organisation subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit or refuse to register the organisation.
There is little difference between that and what is proposed in the amendment, except that he shall register the organisation accordingly. We think that in what is perhaps a minor field of administration, as it was referred to by the Leader of the Government (Sena:or Anderson), we should proceed by regulation. This should be not merely a matter of administration - simply the registration of organisations based on the advice of a committee that has been set up. The Minister is not bound to accept the advice but the advice is available to him. It is known that under the old section the Minister has exercised his discretion in the registration of organisations where the rules of the organisations have varied greatly. For instance, in Western Australia we have organisations to which people pay contributions but under the Workers Compensation Act the medical and hospital benefits are limited. When people exhaust their entitlements under the Workers Compensation Act if they are members of benefit organisations they can then start to receive benefits from those organisations. But there are 2 funds in the State that have been registered by the Minister despite the fact that they refuse to pay benefits after the exhaustion of the benefits under the Workers Compensation Act, so people pay into these funds and do not get benefits out of them.
These are the sorts of things that we do not want to occur. We say that this should be done by regulation so that provisions are somewhat uniform- I do not want everything to be restricted - and the Minister does not have discretion to register funds which will be able to take benefits from people in circumstances so very greatly different from the circumstances under which people receive benefits from other funds.
– But even your amendment says: ‘Subject to such terms and conditions (if any) as he thinks fit’.
– This is the regulation, though.
– No, the Minister may by regulation grant-
– Subject to such terms and conditions as he thinks fit.
– Is the Minister going to have a regulation for every benefit fund?
– This is what the Minister is proposing when she says that it is subject to such terms and conditions. I want to move on to the proposed amendment to sub-section (4.) which states that a register shall be open for public inspection. Why should it not be?
– They publish an annual list.
– The Act provides that the register shall not be open for inspection except by a person authorised in writing by the Minister.
– Look at section 81.
-I am looking at section 73. We will probably get to section 81. We say that proposed section 73 should be amended by making provision in subsection (4.) that a register shall be open for public inspection. What is there to hide? Why should not these things be open for public inspection? The Government constantly talks about this being a public benefit, that the people should belong to the funds, that it is public insurance. Are the people only to have the interest of paying contributions and taking out benefits, whatever benefits the funds might pay out to them and whatever benefits the Government might pay out to them? Are they not entitled to examine the register? Are they not entitled to know that the fund that is encouraging them to join it is a registered fund? Surely they are entitled to examine the register. I support the amendment.
Senator GREENWOOD (Victoria) 8.23 -I am quite unrepentant in my very firm support for this amendment. 1 regret very much that I cannot see this regulation or this amendment in the way in which the Leader of the Government (Senator Anderson) and the Minister for Works (Senator Wright) see them. When one looks at the National Health Act one finds that an organisation, which is the body with which we are concerned in the amendment which is before the Committee, is defined as meaning a society, body or group of persons, whether corporate or unincorporate, which conducts a medical benefits or hospitals benefits fund. It may be in the traditional sense a proprietary body. It may be an aggregation of individuals and in that sense a voluntary body, but it is nevertheless a legal entity which is concerned to become an organisation under this Act. It makes an application to the Director-General with a view to being accepted as an organisation. By the amendment which the Committee has earlier passed it must comply with certain provisions which are contained in regulations. The organisation does what it is required to do and when the application is received everything connected with that organisation is examined by a commitee. The committee then reports to the Minister and the Minister, under what the Government proposes, is then given a power to grant, subject to such terms and conditions, if any. as he thinks fit, the application which has been made. On the other hand the Minister is given the power to refuse the application.
The section which is proposed by the Government says that if be grants the application he shall register the organisation accordingly and what one has therefore is an application accepted and a registration made, and an organisation is registered subject to such conditions as the Minister determines.I would have thought that that situation, even if it is called an administrative act, has with it all the elements which can work justice or injustice according to the way the Minister looks at it. This organisation may find itself subjected to conditions which the Minister imposes which are different from the conditions which are imposed by the Minister on a similar organisation. There is scope for discrimination; there is scope for injustice.
– But the amendment about which you are so unrepentant still gives the Minister the right to determine the terms and conditions that he thinks fit.
– I accept what the Minister says and I propose to advert to that in due course but 1 would ask him, as he asked me, to listen to what 1 have to say. But where there is an element of discrimination and where there is an element of injustice that, 1 believe, should excite the attention of any honourable senator to whom these arguments are addressed. It is an administrative act and there must of necessity in the course of government be many administrative acts, and if it was simply a matter of the Minister accepting or refusing an application I would recognise that that was within the area of administration. I think I would probably be striving to have some element of appeal, but when we have a power to grant or to refuse an application and there is a power to impose upon the grant terms and conditions which nobody can challenge and which may be unjust and totally discriminatory, then it appears to me that one ought to be on guard against giving such a wide power to a Minister.
– That is involved in both the Government amendment and the Opposition amendment.
– I am coming to that.
– I wish you would all address yourself to the Chair and not to each other.
– I accept your rebuke, Mr Temporary Chairman, and I will address my remarks to you. But having accepted the viewpoint which Senator Wright has expressed that the amendment contains the same provisions as I see objectionable in what is contained in the Bill, I think there is one significant difference and that is that the unlimited power of the Minister which is involved in the proposal which is contained in the Bill is not so unlimited when one looks at what the Bill would be if it were amended by what is proposed. What is proposed is that any decision of the Minister will be by regulation and I understand that those words by regulation’ will involve that whatever decision tthe Minister makes imposing what terms and conditions he desires will be open to the scrutiny of the Parliament, and if there be an element of leaving to ministerial discretion terms and conditions which may work justly in one case and unjustly in another then the Parliament has the ability to scrutinise those terms and conditions. That is why I feel that this amendment is desirable. I have not heard from the Minister why she said before dinner that the expression ‘by regulation’ would be nugatory because the Minister cannot make regulations, that it is only the Governor-General who can make regulations. I would be interested to hear what she has to say. I expect that the Minister can make regulations as the Governor-General can make regulations, but having briefly perused this Act I suspect that there is no power in the Act for the Minister to make the regulation and I would suggest to the mover of this amendment that the objective which is sought to be achieved would be more properly achieved if the words of the amendment were ‘the Governor-General may’ rather than ‘the Minister may’.
–But it is the Minister.
– 1 hear what Senator Turnbull says and 1 accept that in practice it is the Minister but in terms of the parlance to which lawyers and the courts subscribe it should be expressed as ‘the Governor-General’, lt may be that this is the point to which Senator Dame Annabelle Rankin, as the Minister, was referring. Where there is a power to grant an application which carries with it consequences of whether you can carry on an activity which you have been geared to carry on, and if there are terms and conditions to be imposed which may cripple your ability to carry on or which may enable you to carry on without any problems, 1 feel that it is very important that those conditions should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny, lt is simply that view which I take which, as I said when I rose, makes me unrepentant in my belief that this amendment has merit which 1 feel requires support.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [8.32] - Senator Greenwood raised 2 points before the suspension of the sitting which I said I would answer. He mentioned that section 80 of the Act applies only to the cancellation or suspension of an organisation and not to an application for registration. That is correct. However, on the introduction of the new health benefits plan all existing organisations will have to apply for registration to operate from 1st January 1971. If any application for registration is refused, either in respect of the whole organisation or in respect of an organisation’s operations in a particular State, the Bill provides in clause 53 (7.) that the application will be treated as a cancellation of registration. In this event the organisation will have the same right of appeal to a Supreme Court as would an organisation whose registration was cancelled or suspended. I think that answers the queries the honourable senator raised and in relation to which we had a little crossfire before the sitting was suspended.
The honourable senator also expressed doubts regarding the intention in the drafting of the amendment, lt is true to say that to require the Minister to act by regulation would be ineffective. As I have pointed out already the Governor-General, not the Minister, makes regulations. Regulations cannot grant something; the granting of something is an act carried out by a person.
I think that covers the point he raised. Senator Wright and Senator Byrne both enlarged very splendidly on this aspect when replying to the queries raised by the honourable senator. I say again that the Government opposes the amendment.
That the clause proposed to be left out (Senator McClelland’s amendment) be left out.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack) Ayes . . . . . . 30
Majority . . . . 6
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clause 26 agreed to.
Section 76 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are inserted in its stead: - “ 76. - (1.) A registered organisation which makes any report to all or any of its members at any time after the thirtieth day of June. One thousand nine hundred and seventy-one, shall, within one month after making the report or within such further time as the Director-General allows, furnish a copy of the report to the Director-General. “76a. - (1.) The Director-General shall, as soon as practicable after the thirtieth day of June in each year, commencing with the year One thousand nine hundred and seventy-one, furnish to the Minister a report on the operations of registered organisations during the year ending on that date. “ (2.) The report shall include, in respect of each medical benefits fund or hospital benefits fund conducted by the registered organisation during the year to which the report relates, the following information in respect of the fund or, if the fund includes a special account, in respect of the part of the fund other than the special account: -
– I move:
I ask the Committee to note that in paragraph (k) we propose that the report of the Director-General should include such other information as the Parliament requires, and not as the Minister requires. It has been mentioned previously in this debate that the reports of the Nimmo Committee and the Wedgwood Committee contain comments which castigate the management of some of the hospital and medical benefits funds. The Nimmo Committee said, amongst other things: ‘The operation of the health insurance scheme is unnecessarily complex and beyond the comprehension of many’; ‘The benefits received by contributors are frequently much less than the cost of hospital and medical treatment”; ‘Contributions have increased to such an extent that they are beyond the capacity of some members of the community’: ‘The rules of many registered organisations, including the socalled special account rules, permit disallowance or rejection of claims for particular conditions’; The application of those rules has caused serious and widespread hardship’; ‘An unduly high proportion of contributions received by some organisations is absorbed in operating expenses’; and The level of reserves held by some organisations is unnecessarily high.’
We believe that the matters set out in our proposed amendment constitute important public information of the activities and the financial standing of the funds.
– Did any of the matters referred to in your proposed amendment attract, particular comment from any of the committees, as lo shareholdings, for example?
– I cannot remember off hand. I have been through the reports of the Nimmo Committee and the Wedgwood Committee many times but 1 cannot remember the details. I cannot remember at the moment details about shareholders or the other matters to which we have referred, but comments were certainly made about the size of the reserves held by the funds and the manner in which some of the sums might have been invested. We believe that any other information that Parliament feels is required should be included in the annual report of the Director-General.
– That is unnecessarily restrictive. The Minister can do it far more easily than the Parliament can.
– The Minister might do certain things but Parliament might decree, after the report has been presented to it, that additional matters should be set out in the report.
– How would Parliament express its opinions?
– I suppose that Parliament could carry a motion that the report be referred back and that certain information he added thereto. I suppose that it is only a matter of parliamentary procedure.
– Parliament operates by statute.
– Surely we are entitled to ensure by way of statute that the rights of Parliament and of the public through Parliament are protected. Senator Mulvihill has a case in point. He placed on the notice paper a question relating to the activities of the Hospital Contributions
Ft,nd of New South Wales in respect of certain public hospitals in New South Wales. He had to wait a considerable time to get the information he sought. I have on the notice paper at present a question asking how many people who come within the category of underprivileged people - the subsidised people - are included as members of the funds. I sought that information on the first day pf this session. To date it has not been supplied. Surely Parliament must have the right to know what is going on in respect of the financial activities of the funds. Apart from the matter of the manner of administration of the health insurance funds, the Wedgwood Committee at paragraph 161 of its report had this to say about Commonwealth powers:
With respect lo organisations within health insurance, the National Health Act contains certain provisions relating to these organisations (see sections 30, 74, 7 J, 76, 78, 79 and 82), but the Committee is concerned that the principal powers, to cancel or suspend the registration nf an organisation, have not been used. Mr J. L. Hayes, of the Commonwealth Department of Health, told the Committee that:
Since ;he inception of the scheme the policy and practice have been that we do not intrude info the internal policies and administration of organisations.’
– You are really supporting the provisions of the Bill. You have not put your mind to your own amendment.
– Let me come to it. The Minister should not rush his fences. The report went on, quoting Mr J. L. Hayes:
Right from the outset we worked on the basis of co-operation and consultation between the Department and the organisations concerned and we have continued that policy. We have tried persuasion and co-operation to achieve the ends. This has worked winth a fair degree of success to date.
Paragraph 1 62 states:
The Committee considers that this policy has not been sufficient, and believes that it would be desirable, whenever necessary, to exercise the power of suspension and to withdraw from any suspended organisation the. payment of Commonwealth benefits, pursuant to section 28 of the
National Health Act. In such circumstances it would obviously be desirable, in order to protect the interests of contributors, that a period of time should be permitted to elapse before the operation of the penalty. By the exercise of such a power, strong pressure would be applied to all organisations to conform to terms and conditions of registration, as dissatisfied contributors would be able to transfer to funds of their choice without any restriction as to receipt of benefits.
The Minister said that as yet we have not amplified the reasons for the request that we make for the addition of the further amendments so far as names of all shareholders in the fund, equity held by each in that fund and the names of ail directors in that fund are concerned. Surely the public is entitled to know who are members of the fund, who the shareholders in the fund are, what the equity held by the fund is, the names of all the directors of the fund and how the directors are appointed. One of the major complaints that I, as a member of the Wedgwood Committee, heard was that very few funds had contributor representation on the boards of directors. Certainly the public is entitled to know details of how the reserve fund has been invested. I think to date approximately S90m of public funds are held in reserve.
—What does the honourable senator mean by ‘shareholders in the fund’?
– There are certain funds, particularly one in South Australia, in which a person can become a shareholder by purchasing shares. This entitles that person to vote at a meeting of shareholders of the fund. A colleague of mine in another place-
– It would be a registered company in that case.
– It would have to be, I assume. A South Australian member of my Party in another place mentioned that he had sought to purchase one or two shares in one of the funds so that he could get some idea of the shareholding. He was unable to do so. Surely this type of action warrants that such matters be made public.
– Perhaps he was not prepared . to pay enough for the shares.
– Whatever the reason, surely he is entitled to obtain the information especially if he is a contributor to the fund.
– Would the honourable senator not agree that if, in this instance, he spelt out that it is a compnay which will have shares, the complete shareholding and the names of the directors would be readily available by reference to the Registrar-General?
– Yes. But if it is a health fund why should not that information be available under the terms of the National Health Act?
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– I agree with the sentiments expressed by my colleague, Senator McClelland. We seek to put these funds on the same basis as other organisations such as trade unions. I support the amendment moved by Senator McClelland. Ever since the Bill was introduced in the Senate I have argued that the regulations controlling the funds should be the same as those controlling trade unions. I will give two classic illustrations. I may have been misled into this but I had joint membership in the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia and in the New South Wales Railways and Transport Employees Hospital Fund. Each time there was a change in policy the latter fund sent to its members a circular similar to that which a trade union would circulate to its members about a change of rules. The bigger fund, the HCF, did nothing like that. Senator McClelland referred to my efforts to get information on investments by funds. This stemmed from an article in the reputable Sydney journal Nation’. The article probably would not have been released until the Bill was before Parliament except that the funds wanted to put up a good image.
The point I make is that, by going to the Industrial Registrar in Sydney or in any other capital city, a person can ascertain the numerical strength of a trade union. In another place the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) sought the information that this amendment is trying to get. He got the runaround. This is nothing new. I could go back to 1957, 1958 or thereabouts. I was a member of the Sydney Trades and Labour Council Social Services Committee. We were inundated with complaints about anomalies and shortcomings of the funds. We were naive enough to write to Mr Harrop. He had a dual position. He was a director of one of these funds and he was Secretary of the Theatrical and Amusement Employees Association. He told us thai he would not give us any information about the fund and that we could go and jump in the take. As Secretary of the Theatrical Employees Association he was bound by law to give certain information to the Registrar and anyone could ascertain the membership of the Theatrical Employees Association. But in relation to the fund he could not give any information. The whole basis of the health scheme is that the Government insists that a person has to belong to a fund to obtain this form of government benefit. Therefore, there should be no distinction. If the Government errs, it should err on the side of subscriber democracy. That is why I support to the hilt the amendment sponsored by Senator McClelland.
[8.56] - The amendment moved by the Opposition is directed to the new section 76a. contained in clause 27. That section provides for the Minister to table each year in each House of Parliament a report of the Director-General on the operations of registered organisations. The new subsection (2.) lists 7 heads of information that are to be included in the report of the Director-General. The list is not an exhaustive one. Paragraph (h) enables the Minister to require additional information to be included, lt. follows that the Government contemplates that, if it appears desirable in the light of experience, the Minister will require additional information, it is made possible by the extra head in this section. In considering this amendment it is relevant, I believe, to keep in mind the various types of organisations that are registered under the National Health Act. Numerically, the main group of organisations is those registered under State law as friendly societies. The second important group includes the larger organisations registered under State law as guaranteed companies. Other State law exists, such as legislation applicable to co-operative societies, charities and benefit associations, which applies to organisations which are not friendly societies or guaranteed companies. lt follows that the majority of organisations, and certainly all the larger ones, are to a greater or lesser extent subject to dual control, that is, by both the Commonwealth under the National Health Act and a particular State or States under the appropriate State legislation. It is felt that the legal provisions relating to all those organisations are adequate for the general control and the protection of the contributors. At the same time it is realised that the Commonwealth’s interest in the activities of these organisations is a vita! one. lt is for this reason that the Bill provides additional measures directed to activities of organisations. From what I have said, it is apparent that the amendment would probably not have application to all organisations but only to the larger funds - the guaranteed companies under State law. For instance, the information sought in the amendment would not appear to be relevant in respect of friendly societies whose financial transactions, reserve investments, etc., are closely supervised under the powers conferred by State friendly societies legislation.
I reply to the mover of the amendment and to the Opposition that at this point of time the Government would prefer not to commit itself to the additional information that is sought to be included in the report to be tabled in Parliament. Some of the information sought in the proposed amendment could be relevant in an examination of an individual organisation’s affairs, but unlit the Government has had an opportunity to consider the overall effects of including such information as is sought by the amendment in the report, the Government would prefer to have the Bill not made more specific at this stage. On these grounds, although not rejecting the objectives sought by the amendment, the Government cannot accept the proposed amendment which has been placed before the Senate. In view of the purpose of the Bill 1 believe the reasons which have been set out are very sensible and I support the Minister in rejecting the proposed amendment.
– Amongst other things the amendment moved by Senator McClelland asks for details of how the reserve funds have been invested. With respect to the Minister. I think ibis is a very pertinent question. These are sums of money paid by the contributors to the fund. They do not belong to the Government; they do not belong to the fund. They belong to the contributors. Whilst it is practical for any fund which is operating in a risk industry to have some reserves, it is not a practical proposition that the reserves of the various funds operating throughout Australia should be running at the rate of S63m. The schedule in the report of the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs shows that the free reserves, as they are referred to, have increased from $1,658,894 in 1951-52 to §63,723,467 in 1967-68, which is the latest figure I imagine the Committee was able to obtain. This is an enormous amount of money which belongs to the contributors to the fund. Whilst funds are allowed to build up such enormous reserves the payments by the contributors to the funds must be increased continuously to maintain those reserves. I cannot accept as valid the reasons given by the funds for maintaining reserves at their present level. The Senate Select Committee recommended:
That the reserves held by health insurance organisations should be limited to an amount equal to 3 months’ contribution income, in addition to provisions’, as clearly defined.
– What page are you reading from?
– lt is page 34. The Committee recommended:
That all reserves in excess of ‘provisions’ and an amount equal to 3 months’ contribution income, held by ‘open’ health insurance organisations, should be transferred to a special health insurance stabilisation account, established and controlled by the Commonwealth Government.
When one looks at the schedule which, for the information of Senator Greenwood, is on page 136, one sees that $63,723,467 represents 7.1 months reserves, lt is obvious from the report by the Senate Select Committee that the reserves are excessive. We have heard nothing in these debates yet - and I have been in the Senate chamber for most of them - to indicate whether the Government intends to have any control over the reserves of these funds. I think it is essential that Parliament should know the details of how the reserve funds have been invested.
Again I say that these funds belong to the contributors - the shareholders in the registered organisations.. The shareholders in the registered organisations, like the shareholders in most organisations, have little control over finances and how they shall be invested. The so called reserve funds could be invested in any sort of wild cat scheme. That sometimes happens. That has been happening recently in the stock markets. These funds could be lost. This has not only happened in wild cat schemes; the blue chip industries have fallen remarkably over the past few weeks. I say that it is valid for the Labor Party to ask that the reserve funds be included among those things which should be reported. It is not unreasonable, I think, to ask for the names of the shareholders in the fund, the equity held by each shareholder in the fund and the names of all directors of that fund. This is not an unreasonable thing for the Parliament to know and for the report to show. Remembering all the time that this report is made to the Minister, section 76a(1.) provides that the Director-General shall report these matters to the Minister. It does not necessarily mean that the Minister will report to the Parliament. I would have liked an amendment that the Minister be bound to report to the Parliament once each year.
– Section 76a (4.) provides that the Minister shall lay each report under this section before each house of the Parliament.
– If the information is to be made available to the Parliament I apologise for what I have just said. I think the matters put forward by Senator McClelland on behalf of the Australian Labor Party are valid matters for this Parliament, with particular reference to the reserves. We think we should know about these reserves. We should know how much they are and where they are located. It is interesting to note that the Senate Select Committee debunked the proposition of the funds with respect to holding reserves for emergency, epidemics or catastrophes.
– The proposed amendment seeks the details of how the reserve is to be invested, not the amount of it.
– You cannot tell me, Mr Temporary Chairman, that so many million dollars have been invested in Broken Hill Proprietary Company Limited without telling me what the amount is. The amount of the investment must be revealed if one is asking for the investment.I do not know how one would get around not revealing the amount of the investment
– I pointed that out just to be obedient to the Standing Orders and to get you to argue in the context moved by the honourable senator.
– Thank you, Mr Temporary Chairman. The Senate Select Committee in paragraph 123 of its report said: 123. The submission of the Commonwealth Department of Health stated that:
Organisations need to maintain reserves for various reasons, for example: to provide a buffer which can absorb fluctuations in costs from year to year, as a safeguard against rising rates of claims as the Schemes develop and utilisation of medical and hospital services increases; to secure them against the increasing cost of claims as the age of the member increases; as a provision against heavy claims resulting from epidemics or catastrophes’, and with the exception of thelast of these reasons, the Committee agrees that they form the basis for retention of adequate reserves.
Reverting to your reminder, Mr Temporary Chairman, whilst the amendment moved by Senator McClelland deals with the details of how the reserves have been invested, if those reserves are not invested in a sufficiently liquid form they would not be available for the purposes for which the funds say they are required. So the amount of the reserves and how they are invested are relevant to whether they are available for the purposes for which they are required. Therefore I support the inclusion of the words proposed by Senator McClelland.
– I wish to draw attention to one matter, namely, proposed new paragraph (k), which reads:
Under the Constitution, of course, the Parliament is the Senate, the House of Representatives and Her Majesty the Queen. Therefore, the only way in which the will of the Parliament can be expressed is by statute. So it seems meaningless to insert a provision such as such other information as the Parliament resolves by statute; in other words, when this Act is further amended. In effect, that is the only meaning that could be given to these words that are proposed to be added.
I believe that it would reflect very poorly upon the Senate if such a provision were to be written into an amending statute. It certainly would expose the Senate to some degree of ridicule, in my conception. Therefore, I personally would not be prepared to be identified with that proposed new paragraph. In addition, this type of provision has the effect in some strange way of tying the hands of another Parliament. We would be resolving that certain particulars which this Parliament indicates should be required by another Parliament by statute. That seems to be an extraordinary situation. I rather doubt the actual validity of efficacy of that proposed new paragraph, being in that form and purporting to achieve that position. For that reason I shall be unable to accept that proposed new paragraph - quite apart from any of the other proposed new paragraphs to which I do not advert at this stage.
– I have a view somewhat similar to Senator Byrne’s. I believe that the argument that proposed new paragraph (k) - Such other information as the Parliament requires to be included’ - is preferable to paragraph (h), as set out in the Bill - ‘such other information as the Minister requires to be included’ - cannot really command acceptance. The Minister can act far more readily and easily than the Parliament can act in this area. That is what the whole case made out by the Opposition in this respect is designed to achieve.
But, equally, Senator Cant made out a case which would appear to me to be persuasive with regard to the aspect of reserves. 1 do not believe that any case whatsoever has been made out for new paragraphs (h) and (j) as proposed by the Opposition. I do not know whether there is any procedure by which these paragraphs can be voted on separately. I believe that, if the objective of the Committee is to have as one of the requirements that the DirectorGeneral shall report upon to the Minister each year and which the Minister shall report upon to the Parliament each year, the desirable course is to determine the best set of conditions or criteria that one can.
To that extent, but from a different viewpoint, I indicate a view somewhat comparable to that which Senator Byrne has expressed.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.14] - I wish to make just a few points in reply to the comments Senator Cant made. I believe that the proposed new section 76a (1.) and (2.), in which are set out under various headings the matters that are to be included in the report, answer the points he raised. Those headings clearly refer to contributions payable to the fund, other amounts payable to the fund, medical fund benefits or hospital fund benefits payable out of the fund, other benefits payable out of the fund, management expenses, other amounts payable out of the fund and the balance of the fund as at the end of the year. I believe that the last paragraph - such other information as the Minister requires to bc included’ - is clearly preferable to the paragraph proposed in the amendment. The proposed new section also states that the report is to be tabled within 15 sitting days of the House of Representatives and the Senate after it is received by the Minister. I believe that the proposed new section, in fact, covers all the matters about which Senator Cant expressed concern.
– The position of members of my Party is that we can see good reasons for proposed new paragraph (i) and good reasons for proposed new paragraph (j); but we can see no reason at all for proposed new paragraph (k) which, as Senator Byrne has pointed out, is completely unnecessary. In regard to proposed new paragraph (h), I do not think any particular reasons have been given for including the names of all shareholders in the fund, the equity held by each in that fund and the names of all directors of that fund. That information would be obtained if proposed new paragraph 0) were included. It refers to details of the shareholdings of the directors of the fund in certain organisations. So, it seems to us that it would be advisable for these proposed new paragraphs to be put seriatim. If they are put seriatim we will oppose proposed new paragraphs (h) and (k) and we will vote for proposed new paragraphs (i) and Q).
– I wish to speak to this amendment in order to make a suggestion so that we may have the will of the Committee expressed. I suggest that Senator Greenwood or Senator McManus move an amendment to Senator McClelland’s amendment in the form of the deletion of whichever paragraphs they believe should be deleted. That amendment would be voted on first. I believe that that would be a way of assisting the Committee to overcome this difficulty.
– If I am permitted to do so under the Standing Orders, I move as an amendment to the proposed amendment:
Leave out proposed new paragraphs (h) and (k).
– Those are paragraphs (h) and (k) in the amendment circulated in the name of Senator McClelland, are they not? (
– I oppose the amendment, even as it would be amended by Senator McM anus’s amendment. It seems to me that somebody is wishing to engage in some sort of a witch hunt. It is true that both the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs and the Nimmo Committee found that the reserves held by many of these funds were far too high and could not be justified, and reported accordingly. I think it is also true that the Department of Health was somewhat concerned. Perhaps we should not be critical of the Department for relying on persuasion to try to convince some of these funds that they should act differently.
The Department was reluctant to use the ultimate power of suspension or cancellation. I believe that it had good reason for adopting that attitude, namely, fear of disenfranchising hundreds of thousands of contributors in some cases. From the outside we can be critical, perhaps, and say that the threat of the use of this power may have discouraged some of these funds from developing large reserves. But what is the Opposition trying- to achieve by this amendment? If we delete proposed new paragraphs (h) and (k), we are saying that the DirectorGeneral and the Minister should present to the Parliament details of how these reserves are invested.
With the greatest respect to the Parliament, 1 suggest that we are not in a position to argue whether these reserves are invested wisely or unwisely. We could stand in this place and argue for hours as to the wisdom or otherwise of investments. I suggest that the people who should exercise their power properly are the Department and the Minister, and not necessarily the Parliament. After all, Senator Mulvihill might have one idea and 1 might have a completely different idea as to the wise investment of reserves. Senator Cant referred to the funds investing their reserves on the stock exchange. Who would have had the foresight 3 months ago when Poseidon shares were rising to the sky to say that they would not be a sound investment? It may be that they are still a sound investment, today.
– Superannuation fund reserves are invested.
– But who is to judge whether an investment is a sound or unsound investment? 1 do not believe that it is the responsibility of the Parliament to make such a judgment. I refer now to paragraph (j) of the Opposition’s amendment, which relates to details of direct or indirect interest in shareholdings held by directors of a fund in organisations in which the funds reserves have been invested. I would regard this as the most glorious opportunity for anybody who wishes to do so to engage in the most outrageous witch hunt of all times. The fact that a director or somebody else has a shareholding in another company does not mean that investment in it by a fund would not be an honest or sound investment. For a Parliament to make a judgment on this would mean that it is engaging in a witch hunt. The fact that a fund invests in a company in which a director or shareholder of the fund has an interest does not mean that it is an unsound or unwise investment. 1 cannot follow the argument that it is the responsibility of the Parliament to make these judgments and these decisions.
One could speak at some length on this subject, but I do not intend to do so because I cannot see the purpose of the amendment. I believe it is adequately covered by the provisions of the bill. Subsection (1.) of proposed section 76a states that the Director-General shall, as soon as practicable after 30th June each year, furnish a report to the Minister on the operations of the funds. Sub-section (2.) of proposed section 76a goes on to detail the type of information which shall be furnished to the Minister. Paragraph (h) refers to such other information as the Minister requires to be included. These provisions will give the Minister very wide powers in relation to supervision of the funds and their investments. He will have a week to week or month to month control of the funds. Subsection (4.) of proposed section 76a states that the Minister shall lay each report under this section before each House of the Parliament within 1 5 sitting days of that House after it is received by the Minister. This will give the Parliament an opportunity to debate the report and, if it wishes, to seek further information. 1. believe that the whole situation is adequately covered by the provisions of the Bill. Therefore, on these grounds, I strongly oppose the amendments, including the amendment to the original amendment.
– The question is: That the amendment moved by Senator McManus to the amendment moved by Senator McClelland be agreed to’.
– What were the terms of the amendment moved by Senator McManus?
– The amendment moved by Senator McManus relates to the deletion of paragraphs (h) and (k) of Senator McClelland’s circulated amendment. Paragraph (h) of Senator McClelland’s circulated amendment relates to the names of all shareholders in the fund and the equity held by each in that fund and the names of all directors of- that fund. Paragraph (k) relates to such other information as the Parliament requires lo be included.
– I want to be clear about the procedure which will be adopted. If the amendment moved by Senator McManus to the amendment moved by Senator McClelland were to succeed we would be left with the remainder of Senator McClelland’s amendment and we would have to vote on it
– I would like to clear my mind on this matter.
When deleting paragraph (h) would we be deleting only paragraph (h) of the amendment?
– That is correct.
– We would not be deleting paragraph (h) of subsection (2.) of proposed section 76a?
– Would 1 be correct in saying that the run of the lettering will be undisturbed if this happens? In other words, will the paragraphs left in the amendment of Senator McClelland be paragraphs (i) and (j) and will they follow paragraph (h) of sub-section (2.) of proposed section 76a?
– That is on the assumption that the amendment of Senator McManus to the amendment of Senator McClelland is carried.
– The question is: That the amendment moved by Senator McManus io the amendment moved by Senator McClelland be agreed to’.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– The question now is: “That the amendment moved by Senator McClelland, as amended, be agreed to’.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
– May I ask for a recommittal for the purposes of clarification, Mr Temporary Chairman. I am sure that the votes were taken under a misapprehension in relation to paragraph (h). I am advised that paragraph (h) disappears altogether.
Paragraph (h) will remain in the terms of the Bill, which relates to such other information as the Minister requires lo be included.
– Paragraph (h) of sub-section (2.) of proposed section 76a wilt’ remain?
– That is correct.
– My understanding is that it may not remain.
– Before going any further, I think it should be made clear lo the Committee what it has been pressured into agreeing to.
– I want to make it clear that I understood that paragraph (h) will remain as in the terms of the Bill, but the Minister has been advised to the contrary. I think she is entitled to have it cleared up. I seek some advice from the Chair as to the way in which the clause now stands. I think that would clarify the matter,
– I have been advised by the Clerk that as the position stands at present paragraph (h) has disappeared from the Bill, and that is the matter which concerns you.
– May I move for a recommittal in order to take another vote on this matter because I do not think that we should let it go without a vote?
– I think that the ruling of the Chair is completely correct. The amendment which has been moved on behalf of the Australian Labor Party states that at page 19, clause 27, line 23 of the Bill leave out paragraph (h) of sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 76a and insert 4 paragraphs in its stead. The amendment which has been moved by Senator McManus to the original amendment has resulted in the deletion of 2 of those paragraphs. The amendment now reads, as f understand it, that we leave out paragraph
– I want to make it clear that I regret what has happened. I was definitely under the impression that my amendment to the amendment of Senator McClelland would mean that paragraph (h) of sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 76a would remain. If any procedure can- be suggested which would ensure that course will be adopted, I am prepared to agree to it.
– Is it the wish of the Committee that the motion be recommitted?
– I wish to offer a suggestion, Mr Temporary Chairman. With respect to what you have ruled on the advice of the Clerk and what Senator Willesee has said, I think that your ruling was quite correct. I think that paragraph (h) of sub-section (2.) of proposed new section 76a has gone out and that any recommittal of the amendment, unless people are prepared to change their minds, will result in the same consequence, and paragraph (h) will go out. But appreciating the point which the Leader of the Government in the Senate is wanting and which I think would have general acceptance throughout this chamber, whatever specific matters are included in the actual section as it finally leaves this chamber, it is also desired that there be a paragraph which states: ‘Such other information as the Minister requires to be included’. I think this is what he is desirous of achieving. Maybe that would be capable of being determined by leaving the position as it is at the moment and seeking the suspension of the Standing Orders to have that paragraph at this stage included in the Bill. I think that would have the unanimous support of the Committee.
(Senator Sir Magnus Cormack) - As there appears to have been a misunderstanding, is it the wish of the Committee that we put all the questions from the beginning again and get it sorted out?
– 1 am in the hands of the Committee.
– Another suggestion that appears to me’ to be more attractive - and 1 do not want to be presumptious - is that we should move for the suspension of the Standing Orders and then the Minister could move that paragraph (h) as in the original Bill be included. Then we could have a clear vote on that.
– Is leave granted for that procedure to be followed?
[9.32] - If I am in order I move:
– The question is, as moved by the Minister:
That paragraph (h) - ‘Such other information as the Minister requires to be included’ - as in the original Bill, be included.
– There was a little cynical laughter when I suggested that the Senate did not understand what it had agreed to and therefore did not understand what it had in fact knocked out of the Bill. We are now in the situation where the Committee has expressed approval that there be included in the Bill a paragraph which reads: ‘Such other information as the Minister requires to be included’. 1 suggest that if the Committee knows What it has left in, what it has added and what it wants to add, some honourable senators should be able to say: ‘This line in (i), (j), (k), (I) or whatever the letter is will appear in the printed document’. At the moment it does not appear to me that that is known. We have an amendment to the Bil! before us which refer to paragraphs (a), (b), (c), (d), (e), (f), (g) and (h). We are told that paragraph (h) is out. We are told: ‘We want paragraph (h) in, but we cannot have paragraph (h) in because there is a new paragraph (h)’. I want to know what letter precedes the line that we are asked to : agree to, namely: ‘Such other information as the Minister requires to be included’. Being told that, I believe that the Committee should be told what remains in the Bill from paragraph (a) down to whatever letter is now signified.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [9.36] - As I understand it, and I believe this to be correct.I think this is the result of the motion thatI moved a few moments ago. The proposed new section 76a (2.) would read as follows:
– There seems to be some doubt in the minds of honourable senators as to what has taken place. Surely it would be very easy to sift this out. There was an amendment to the Bill. What were the terms of the amendment? Then Senator McManus moved an amendment to the amendment, which is an unusual thing, but there it is. We should know the terms of that. By working from the amendment to the Bill and the amendment to the amendment, it should be very easy to clarify the position and to find out what the result was.
– The Minister just read it out.
– I cannot understand it.
– The question is:
That paragraph (h) stand as printed in the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clause, as amended, agreed to.
Clauses 28 and 29 agreed to.
After section 80 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted: “80a. The regulations -
– I move:
In proposed section 80a, paragraph (a), leave out ‘may’, insert ‘shall’.
In proposed section 80a, paragraph (b), leave out ‘may’, insert ‘shall’.
This would mean that proposed section 80a of the principal Act would be amended in relation to the limits in respect of management expenses of funds.
We suggest that where the word ‘may’ appears in paragraphs (a) and (b) of proposed section 80a, there should he a mandatory power or a mandatory prescription. Therefore we suggest the use of the word shall’. We believe that the principles which were enunciated earlier in the debate on amendments which were moved successfully by the Opposition should apply here. As Senator Cant said earlier in the debate, section 76(1.) makes it mandatory for each medical benefits fund or hospital benefits fund to furnish certain information to the Director-General in respect of its organisation. We say that so far as management expenses of funds are concerned it should be mandatory and that a prescription in respect of limits of management expenses should be set out.
The Bill should provide that the regulations shall empower the Minister to deduct from any Commonwealth benefit payable to a registered organisation in relation to the conduct of medical benefits funds or hospital benefits funds by the organisation an amount equal to the amount by which any management expenses in relation to that fund exceed any limit so prescribed that is applicable in respect of that fund. The question of management expenses of medical and hospital funds was dealt with fairly voluminously by the Senate Select Committee on Medical and Hospital Costs, which I shall refer to as the ‘Wedgwood Committee’. At paragraph 129 at page 40 of the Wedgwood Committee’s report it is pointed out that for the year 1968-69 preliminary statistics showed that the total amounts expended on management expenses by registered medical and hospital benefit organisations, in ordinary account, were as high as$11,425,063, which was 15.5% of contribution income, for medical benefit funds and as high as $11,720,598, which was 10.7% of contribution income, for hospital benefit organisations. It was understood, of course, that there were more difficulties in the management of medical benefit funds than hospital benefit funds but, nonetheless, these were running pretty high. Paragraph 134 of the Wedgwood Committee report states:
In view of the amount involved, and particularly in view of some of the advertising and other expansion activities revealed in evidence, the Committee considers the existing situation to be most unsatisfactory and wasteful of contributors’ funds.
The report then went on to say that the criticism could not be directed at all organisations in all States but was more relevant in Victoria and in New South Wales where the 2 largest open funds operated in strict and apparently fierce competition. The Nimmo Commonwealth Committee of Inquiry on Health Insurance also had condemnatory remarks to make about the management expenses of funds. The Committee said at paragraph 14.15:
As it is impracticable for contributors to large organisations themselves to maintain close control of the activities of the organisation, the responsibility falls to the Commonwealth Government to exercise controls on their behalf. It is for this reason that we recommend that new forms of control be conferred on the National Health Insurance Commission.
In this Bill there is no national health insurance commission being established or contemplated. We believe it is important that these matters be made mandatory in respect of management expenses of medical and hospital benefits funds, that the regulations should prescribe limits for management expenses and then, that being so, the regulations should empower the Minister to perform certain administrative acts. We believe that these 2 amendments are important. In our opinion they improve the Bill. Therefore, I move them on behalf of the Opposition.
[9.45] - These amendments are directed to the regulation making power in regard to the level of management expenses and would require regulations to be made prescribing the limits of management expenses and require the Minister to deduct from Commonwealth benefit reimbursements management expenses in excess of the prescribed level. The requirement that open organisations shall seek separate registration in each State will enable the separate identification and assessment of the financial experience of the organisation’s operations in each State. Approval for an open fund to operate in a particular State will not be continued unless it is shown that economic and efficient operations in that State can be expected. This should result in the management expenses of all funds being reduced to the desirably satisfactory level already achieved by the majority of organisations. Also, the economies which will be associated with the single medical table will assist all the funds to reduce their management expenses to the level of economic and efficient operation.
The fact that contribution rates payable under the new scheme will be determined for each fund having regard to its particular financial position will enable contribution rates to vary as between funds. This in itself provides an incentive for funds to achieve economic and efficient operation, as it is in this manner that they will be able to reduce their contribution rates and compete effectively against other organisations. At this stage the Government is of the view that the measures I have outlined will be sufficient. However, if these measures are not effective in reducing management expenses and do not achieve the desired result, the time will then be appropriate to employ the regulation making power of clause 30. I believe that the points that I have mentioned show the view of the Government on this occasion.
That the amendments (Senator McClelland’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority .. .. 2
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Clauses 31 to 40 - by leave - taken together, and agreed to.
Section 82q of the Principal Act is amended -
– On behalf of the Opposition I make a request for an amendment No. 21 in the list of amendments circulated in my name. I move:
After paragraph (b). insert the following pa ragraph: “(ba) by omitting from paragraph (e) of subsection (2.) all words after ‘Social Services Act 1947-1969’; and”.
This amendment relates to Division 3 which refers to assistance by the Commonwealth under what I might call the master Act. For the purpose of following the reason for the amendment it would be as well for members of the Committee to refer to page 70 of the master Act. This refers to the interpretation section of Division 3, the subsidy provision for the underprivileged section of the community. As the Opposition sees it. the fact is that the means test under this section is more onerous on a person than is the means lest imposed under the Social Services Act. Section 82q (2.) (e) slates:
Forthe purposes of this Division - (e)the means as assessed of a person shall be determined in accordance with Part III. of the Social Services Act 1947-1969 but, in determining those means as assessed -
the definition of ‘income’ in section eighteenof that Act has effect as if the reference in paragraph (e) of that definition to a payment under Part VIIa. or Part VIII. of that Act were omitted and as if paragraphs (hi and (j) of that definition were omitted: and
the definition of “means as assessed’ in that section has effect as if the words apart from anypension were omitted.
Section 18 of the Social Services Act comes under the heading of Part HI. which refers to age and invalid pensions and we find that income, amongst other things, does not includein paragraph (e): “a payment under Part V, VI, VIIa or VIII’. Now. it is proposed under this Bill to delete a reference to Part VIIa or Part VIII. Part VIIa relates to sheltered employment allowances and Part VIII relates to Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service payments . In addition, we note that paragraphs (h) and (j) of the definition appearing in the Social Services Act are to be omitted for the purpose of assessing income under this Bill. Sub-section
For the purpose of assessing whether a person is entitled to receive subsidised medical insurance, payments made under the Social Services Act in relation to sheltered employment allowances and Commonwealth rehabilitation services, payments under section 9 of the Tuberculosis Act, and a service pension received by the spouse of a claimant or a pensioner where that claimant or pensioner is not in receipt of a service pension under the Act - in other words, a female former member of the forces in receipt of a service pension - is taken into account so far as income is concerned in assessing whether or not a person is entitled to receive subsidised assistance. We believe that this discriminates against those in the community who already are in need, the people who are receiving some form of sheltered employment allowance, people who are receiving a Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service training allowance, people who are receiving some form of assistance under the Tuberculosis Act and indeed a female who is in receipt of a social service pension where the spouse of a claimant or a pensioner is not in receipt of such pension. We believe that very little would be involved in allowing these matters to be included, so far as income is concerned, for those seeking a subsidy. We feel that it is just, reasonable and equitable that our amendment be carried by the Government and I press it on behalf of the Opposition.
[10.1] - Senator McClelland has referred to section 82q of the principal Act and and has told us how it relates specifically to the manner of assessing the eligibility of low income families for assistance with the costs of health insurance. To understand sub-section (2.) of section 82q it is necessary to appreciate that the Social Services Act provides for certain forms of income to be exempt income when calculating the means as assessed of a person for pension purposes.
Paragraph (e) to which the honourable senator has referred provides that certain forms of income are not to be excluded when calculating means as assessed of low income families for the purpose of assistance with the costs, of health insurance. The forms of income which are not to be excluded are sheltered employment assistance paid under Part VIIA of the Social Services Act, rehabilitation allowances paid under Part VIII of the Social Services Act, tuberculosis allowances paid under section 9 of the Tuberculosis Act, service pensions paid under the Repatriation Act and age or invalid pensions. The policy behind paragraph (e) is to provide that the various categories of eligible persons generally receive assistance from only one welfare source. The assistance with health insurance for low income families is directed to those groups in the community which are not otherwise assisted by way of pensions or allowances under the Social Services Act, the Repatriation Act or the Tuberculosis Act and by virtue of the payment of those pensions or allowances are usually eligible for medical, hospital and pharmaceutical care under the pensioner medical service.
In assessing the eligibility of low income families for assistance it is necessary to place the applicants on the same relative basis. If the income falling within the categories I have mentioned was excluded when assessing eligibility, then it would place the recipients of the income in an advantageous position as compared to other families and this would give rise to anomalies. Therefore the amendment could not be accepted by the Government.
– I want to raise a couple of aspects of the amendment proposed by Senator McClelland. The subsidy on the medical contribution is not payable in respect of a person receiving benefits under the Tuberculosis Act, the Act relating to sheltered workshops and the Act relating to the Commonwealth Rehabilitation Service. As the Minister has said, in most of those cases the people concerned would be receiving some form of medical service. I raise with the Minister the case of the male, the head of the family, who is receiving treatment and benefits under the Tuberculosis Act and whose dependants may require medical or hospital treatment. The onus then would be on the person receiving assistance under the Tuberculosis Act to take out insurance to protect his dependants.
I do not know what benefits are payable at present under the Tuberculosis Act. I know that over the years they have been rather generous when considered in relation to other social service benefits although not extremely generous. They were set down as an encouragement to persons to go into hospital and be treated for tuberculosis knowing that there was sufficient income for the family to live on while the treatment was being received. So the benefits under the Tuberculosis Act were much better than the benefits under the Social Services Act but they were never more than the minimum wage. A person receiving benefits under the Tuberculosis Act would also be receiving free medical treatment for his condition but his dependants would not receive free medical treatment and out of the meagre income, if I might so term it, that the tuberculosis patient would be receiving he still would have to pay for some form of medical insurance to protect his dependants.
Much the same position would apply to the person working in a sheltered workshop and to the person in a Commonwealth rehabilitation centre subject, of course, to the fact that a very strict means test is applied to persons in Commonwealth rehabilitation centres. They have to comply with certain requirements of the Department of Social Services and their remuneration is not very great in relation to benefits under the Social Services Act. Nevertheless they would have to take out some form of medical and hospital insurance to protect their dependants. For this reason we say that this Part should not be included in the Act, that the restrictions contained in it are much greater than those in the Social Services Act and that it would be better to delete the words as proposed by Senator McClelland.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing)[ 1 0.7.] - I am informed that the dependants of the people who have been mentioned - those working in sheltered workshops, the tuberculosis patients and the others - are covered by the pensioner medical service.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clause agreed to subject to a request.
Clause 42. 42.- (I.) Sections 82R 82s and 82r of the Principal Act are repealed and the following sections inserted in their stead; - “82r. . . . “82s.- (1.) Where-
the organisation pays to, or to a person on behalf of, the contributor, as fund benefit in respect of that hospital treatment -
– I move:
The proposed amendment if carried would fit into section 82s of the principal Act. It relates to the waiver of contributions and reimbursement by the Commonwealth of the fund benefits where a contributor to a fund is in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefits. The Committee is aware that when a person is in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefits and was a contributor to a fund before it became necessary for him to receive those benefits, as a member of a medical benefits fund he could be accepted as having continuity of membership of the fund from the time of receipt of the unemployment and sickness benefits. The proposed new section 82s provides that where a contributor to a fund, being a person in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefits, lodges with the organisation conducting the fund a claim in respect of a professional service that has been rendered to him, and the professional service was in fact rendered to him during the period in relation to which the proposed section applies in respect of the contributor, and under a provision included in the rules of the organisation the contributions were not payable by the contributor, then the organisation pays to, or to a person on behalf of, the contributor fund benefit in respect of the professional service and there is payable to the organisation by the Commonwealth an amount equal to the fund benefit referred to in paragraph (b) of sub-section (1.) of the proposed section 82s. In other words, if a person in receipt of unemployment and sickness benefits goes to a doctor and receives treatment from him, assuming that the rules of the organisation enable him to remain a contributor to the fund for the period during which he receives the unemployment or sickness benefits, he will then receive a Commonwealth benefit and the fund benefit. Out of his own pocket he will have to pay any specified excess that is detailed in the Schedule to the Bill.
The Opposition believes that the Commonwealth should ensure that the complete medical expenses of a person in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefits are met and that there should be payable to the organisation for payment to him the complete medical fee involved. We feel that he should receive the Commonwealth benefit, the fund benefit and the excess, bringing the amount up to the common fee prescribed in the Schedule. We believe that this is a matter of simple justice for an unemployed worker in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefits. He cannot afford in that position to pay the excess and he should not incur any disability financially. That is all I wish to say at this stage in respect of the amendment proposed by the Opposition and I request that it be accepted by the Government.
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing) [10.14] - The amendment moved by the Opposition, dealing with the proposed new section 82s (1.), is presumably intended to provide for the Commonwealth to meet the specified excess or patient gap for medical services rendered to unemployment and sickness beneficiaries. I would like to point out to honourable senators that the amendment in its present form would not achieve this purpose. It would have the effect of increasing the reimbursement to the organisation but would not increase the payment of benefit by the organisation to the contributor, which is governed by paragraph
By subsidising benefits in full for unemployment and sickness beneficiaries the Government has placed them in the same position as other contributors to the medical benefits scheme, without their having to pay any contributions to funds. The only payments that they will have to make towards their medical and hospital care are the relatively small amounts they will pay for medical services. These will not exceed $5 even for the most serious operation and the services directly associated with it, when the doctors charge the common fees. The Government is of the opinion that so far as the relationship of the patient to the doctor is concerned, these persons should be treated the same as anyone else. It is a basic concept of voluntary health insurance that the patient should make some small payment towards meeting the cost of medical services he receives.
However, it should be kept in mind that the fee for a medical service is a matter to be settled between the doctor and the patient. As 1 have said, doctors are not bound to charge the most common fee and in the case of unemployment and sickness beneficiaries and low income families it is most likely that most of them will relate their fees to the benefit rather than the most common fee. It has been the practice of the medical profession in the past to vary fees in accordance with a patient’s means and I can see no reason why this should not be done in future. In fact, the abolition of the old rule limiting benefits to 90% of the charge will enable them to charge patients no more than the benefits payable for the service. The same considerations apply to amendments Nos. (24), (25) and (26) proposed by the Opposition, which relate to low income families whose benefits are subsidised in full, or to the extent of two-thirds or one-third. I repeat that the Government could not accept the proposed amendment.
That therequest (Senator McClelland’s) be agreed to.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority . . . . 3
Question so resolved in the negative.
– I now move the request for amendment No. 23 in my name on behalf of the Opposition as follows:
At end of sub-section (2.) of proposed section 82s add the words “ but in no case will a contributor receive less than an amount equal to the daily cost of public ward treatment in a public hospital in his State for each day he is charged for hospital treatment “.
This section relates to reimbursement by the Commonwealth of fund benefit where a contributor is in receipt of unemployment or sickness benefit. In this instance the section relates to a person who is subject to the receipt of hospital benefits. Section 82s (2.) (e) provides:
Where the organisation pays to, or to a person on behalf of, the contributor as fund benefit in respect of that hospital treatment -
the amount of fund benefit in accordance with the scale of benefits for which the contributor is a contributor; or
ifthatamount exceedsthe prescribed amount, anamount equaltothe prescribed amount, and no more, there is payabletothe organisation . . .
That is the hospital fund -
We now seek to add: but in no case willa contributor receive less than an amount equalto the daily cost of public ward treatment ina public hospital in his State for each day he is charged for hospital treatment.
By this amendment we want a guarantee that what has been recognised as the public ward cost is the absolute bedrock that will be received by the person and we want to ensure this in case a situation arises in which a fund might not pay the full public ward cost involved. We believe that these people should not have to meet any cost when they are in a public hospital.’ The situation could well be that where the means of the public ward patients in Slate hospitals are very stringent these people could be in difficulties and in that event the patient could be charged a certain fee. By this amendment we suggestthat we will guarantee that what was recognised as the public ward cost is the absolute bedrock as the amount of refund due to the patients. It is for that reasonI move the proposed amendment on behalf of the Opposition
Senator Dame ANNABELLE RANKIN (Queensland - Minister for Housing)[10.27] - The proposed amendment moved by the honourable senator is directed at ensuring that unemployment and sickness beneficiaries whose benefits will be subsidised by the Commonwealth shall receive not less than the cost of public ward treatment. There are 3 points to this. The first is that the proposed amendment is directed to section 82s which relates to unemployment and sickness beneficiaries and no similar amendment is proposed with respect to section 82t which relates to low income families. This would create an anomalous situation. The Government desires that these 2 groups should be treated similarly. Secondly, the position in practice has been and will bethat these patients wilt receive fund benefits and Commonwealth benefits at least equal to the public ward charge.
The Bill provides that the Minister may determine an approved scale of benefits which will be paid to unemployment and sickness beneficiaries and low income families. This is provided for by the amended section 82r in clause 42 of the Bill. The difference between the Bill as it is drafted and the proposed amendment could be one of legislative approach as the approved scale of benefits determined by the Minister will at least equal the public ward charge existing in the respective States. This means that eligible patients in no case will receive lessthan the public ward charge. Thirdly, I want to draw attention to specific wording of the amendment. It provides: but in no case will a contributor receive less than an amount equalto the daily cost of public ward treatment . .
I emphasise that the word “cost’ is used and not the word ‘charge’. If this proposed amendment were successful in its present form, it would appear that for eligible patients the Commonwealth would have to meet the cost of the public ward treatment and not the charge. Such a situation would be completely unacceptable, the Government feels.
– Do I take it from that long dissertation that what the Minister means is that each patient will get as a minimum the hospital bed chargefor that State?
– The charge, but not the cost.
– What is the difference between the cost and the charge?
– In some instances the costs are higher than the charge.
– I understand. The cost of the bed could be astronomical, but the charge to the patient is a different item. All I am interested in is that the patient will not receive less than the bed charge in the State concerned.
That the request (Senator McClelland’s) be agreedto.
The Committee divided. (The Temporary Chairman - Senator Sir Magnus Cormack)
Majority . . . . 4
Question so resolved in the negative.
– Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Temporary Chairman do now leave the Chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative. (The Temporary Chairman having reported accordingly)
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bull) - Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 10.36 p.m.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 2 June 1970, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1970/19700602_senate_27_s44/>.