30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
– I draw the attention of honourable senators to the presence in the Gallery of delegates to the Third Australasian Parliamentary Seminar. On behalf of all honourable senators I extend to the delegates a very warm and cordial welcome.
Honourable senators- Hear, hear!
– I present the following petition from 43 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia and users of the New South Wales Environment Centre, an open, community resource and information facility established with funds provided by the federal government, respectfully showeth that:
There is a growing interest and concern in all sections of Australian society for the conservation of the environment, natural and man-made.
That there are also rapidly growing pressures by powerful forces tending towards the destruction of the Australian heritage.
That it is therefore urgent to appoint the Australian Heritage Commission, which was approved by both sides of this Parliament and to give the Commission sufficient independent staff, resources and funds.
That Technical Assistance Grants and Administrative Support Grants to community organisations arc needed to partially redress the gross imbalance in technical expertise and resources suffered by community groups in pressing the community’s case against the exploiter.
That a proper balance between the government ‘s program of public austerity and the need for action in conservation would be a modest increase in the budget allocations in these areas over that of 1 975-76.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-I present the following petition from 32 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That there is a great concern and alarm of the removal of some Government support for St Luke’s Hospital, Garden Settlement and for other institutions providing care for the aged within Queensland.
That the removal of grants is causing unnecessary hardship to those aged citizens of Australia who are dependent upon continued care and accommodation.
That the removal of grants has caused unnecessary unemployment and hardship for those who were previously employed in duties caring for the aged in those centres where reduction in grants have been made.
That the aged, and others within Australian Society who are least able to defend themselves against the arbitrary acts of governments should be spared from these unnecessary cuts.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Government should reconsider its decision to cut the budgets of these institutions and immediately restore the grants to enable these institutions to continue their high standard of dedicated and unselfish care for the aged and infirm in the community.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
-I present the following petition from 29 citizens of Australia:
To the honourable the President and members of the Senate, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Subscribe to the view that the Australian Broadcasting Commission belongs to the people and not to the government of the day whatever political party.
Eschew all means, direct of indirect, of diminishing the independence of the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
Reject all proposals for the introduction of advertising into ABC programs.
Develop methods for publicly funding the Commission which will prevent the granting or withholding of funds being used as a method of diminishing its independence.
Ensure that any general enquiries into broadcasting in Australia which may seem desirable from time to time shall be conducted publicly and that strong representation of the public shall be included within the body conducting the enquiry.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the honourable the President and members of the Senate, and the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That distress is being caused to social security recipients by the delay in adjusting pensions to the Consumer Price Index months after prices of goods and services have risen, and that medications which were formerly pharmaceutical benefits must now be paid for.
Additionally, that State housing authorities’ waiting lists for low rental dwellings for pensioners grow ever longer, and the cost of funerals increase ever greater.
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to-
Adjust social security payments instantly and automatically when the quarterly Consumer Price Index is announced.
Restore pharmaceutical benefits deleted from the free list.
Update the State Grams (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act of 1 974, eroded by inflation, to increase grants to overcome the backlog.
Update Funeral Benefit to 60 per cent of reasonable cost of funeral. (This benefit was 200 shillings, 20 dollars, when introduced in 1943. It was seven times the 1943 pension of 27 shillings a week).
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Douglas McClelland.
To the honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That those who have retired and those who are about to retire, are being severely and adversely affected by inflation and Australian economic circumstances.
The continuance of the mean’s test on pensions causes undue hardship to them.
We call on the Governmnent to immediately abolish the mean ’s test on all Aged Pensions.
To ensure a pension for all on retirement, and a guarantee that all Australian citizens will retire with dignity.
Acknowledge that a pension is a: ‘right and not a charity’.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Mulvihill.
-I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move.
That the following matter be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence for inquiry and report: The need for an increased Australian commitment toward development in the South Pacific.
-Could the Minister for Education indicate to the Senate any areas where, during the term of this Government, Federal powers in education have been transferred to the States?
– If the honourable senator will contain his patience for a few more weeks the broad co-ordination, rationalisation and federalism policies of the Government with regard to education generally will be made known to him and to the Australian community. It is the intention of the Federal Government to achieve in Australia a co-operative federalism in education.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Education. Has the Minister seen an article entitled ‘Are We a Nation of Bastards ‘in a journal called Meanjin Quarterly by Professor Manning Clark? If so, did Professor Manning Clark assert that the Governor-General and his beneficiaries can expect little mercy from historians of the people; that we can judge what happens to historians in the people’s democracies of today; that historians would not be given the paper to write his defence, let alone the opportunity to publish it; and that the people’s historians judge their opponents harshly. In view of the bigoted and fascist views expressed by Professor Manning Clark and the threat to historians of the future, I ask: On what university appointments does Professor Manning Clark sit? How frequently does he act as a higher degree examiner for history theses? Can a guarantee be given that Professor Manning Clark will not use his power to stop other historians from getting paper, to have their pencils broken so that they can not write, and to have them sent to a leftist fascist Gulag Archipelago?
– Quite a number of people have drawn my attention to the article in the publication Meanjin Quarterly written by Professor Manning Clark. I can say to Senator Sim that I have read it. Since Senator Sim has read the article he will know also that it suggested that Professor Manning Clark said that perhaps history might find some justification and some support for what the GovernorGeneral did on 1 1 November. He went on and said: ‘But the emotionalism of history will not allow it to be written down’. Indeed, that may well be. It is fair to say that Professor Manning Clark has a reputation of expertise in Australian history. It is quite clear from that article and from his presence in recent days at the Sydney Town Hall alongside the whole of the socialist and Communist left that what he is at this moment is a political partisan and apologist for the Labor Party, for Gough Whitlam and for the lost cause and the distorted cause of Gough Whitlam. The simple situation is that for a person who purports to be a historian to put his name to a document which suggests: ‘Yes, the Governor-General might be found by history to be right but we will not allow it to be written’, is a corruption. I want to remind the Senate -
– I rise on a point of order. The Minister has taken the opportunity to carry out a personal attack on Professor Manning Clark under the guise of answering a question. I think it is totally unfair and it is inconsistent with the Standing Orders.
The president- There is no substance to the point of order.
– The contrary is true. I remind the historians of a very interesting point. Professor Manning Clark suggested that 13 December would be an aberration in history. History has recorded that in the 75 years of Federation in Australia the Australian people, with very good judgment indeed, have allowed the Labor Party to be in office- sporadically at thatfor a total of only 20 years. The aberration of history is the socialist Labor Party. The fact is that it may well be that Professor Manning Clark has said, in effect: ‘We learn from history but we learn nothing from history’. But the good sense of the ballot box during 75 years and on 13 December is the answer to Professor Manning Clark. The simple fact is that he now shares a platform to try to use a device of the Constitution to explain away the overwhelming defeat of the Labor Party on 13 December. This is a device that the Australian people will not wear. I repeat that he has said that the people’s judgment might find some justification for what the Governor-General did but that emotionalism will obscure it. History will prove the GovernorGeneral and the Australian people right. point mcleay aboriginal housing society
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Can she inform the Parliament whether it is a fact that the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs sent a telegram last week to the Point McLeay Housing Society assuring it that no Aborigines would be retrenched until an assessment had been made of ongoing programs? Is the Minister aware that 9 Aborigines were retrenched last Friday because of lack of funds? Will immediate action be taken to ensure that funding of the Association is resumed so that those workers who have lost their jobs will be reinstated?
– I am unaware of the facts that are implied in the question. If, as the honourable senator states, the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs sent a telegram to the Point McLeay Housing Association with the assurance he has outlined, I can give the honourable senator the assurance that the Minister will fulfil the commitments that were made in that telegram.
However, I will refer the honourable senator’s question to the Minister.
ECLIPSE of THE SUN
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Science, concerns the eclipse of the sun soon to occur in Australia. I ask the Minister: Is he aware of the occurrence of permanent and serious damage to the sight of numbers of people who have viewed past eclipses? If so, has the Commonwealth Government any plans for action or advice to prevent or to minimise the unnecessary incidence of eclipse blindness in Australia on the occasion of the coming eclipse?
-The question might well be directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health as the main body of it applies to the health of the Australian public. However, for the information of the Senate, including those honourable senators on the other side who are trying to interrupt, today is 22 September. To assist them in their childlike noises, I state that tomorrow is 23 September and a month from that date, on 23 October, a major scientific event will take place in Australia. That event is the eclipse of the sun which is to take place in the afternoon on that date. It is a very important matter and my Department and the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation have been looking at the problems that this event could create for the Australian public. The Prime Minister has shown a great deal of interest and perhaps his example will be followed by many members of the Parliament who have sought advice as to how the people of their particular electorates should view this phenomenon.
Australian scientists, as well as many scientists who will visit Australia from overseas, are interested in what will happen on that day. With the approval of the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications I have contacted the Australian Broadcasting Commission to see whether it would be possible for us on that day to publicise widely the fact that the eclipse will be shown on television. It seemed to me that it would be a major contribution to the health of the Australian community, particularly that of children, if we were to publicise the fact that on that day ABC television would directly telecast the eclipse. Within the last day or so the ABC has agreed to that. I shall do all that I can to make the public aware that there will be a direct telecast of the eclipse and I shall suggest that in schools and public offices- anywhere where there is television- people, especially children, should stay inside and watch the television rather than look directly at the sun. I believe there was some suggestion that thousands of people in Australia, particularly children, would have impaired sight following the transit on that day. The telecasting of the eclipse is to be done in an attempt to avoid such an occurrence. I understand that the ABC will be directly telecasting the eclipse of the sun on 23 October from 4.15 until 4.30 p.m. I advocate -
- Mr President, I ask that the honourable senator be granted an extension of time.
– I am only stating the facts. I noticed how interested the honourable senator was and I was only reiterating the facts to assist the honourable senator’s Tasmanian electorate.
– He is always in the dark, anyway.
– I realise that. Some have come in here quite blind and we do not want to see that occur again. I shall be circulating to the Parliament details of the telecasting of the eclipse. I sincerely hope that some commercial stations will televise the event also.
-The Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory will be aware that before cyclone Tracy a proposition was put forward to enable people in Darwin to buy government land at reserve prices. The scheme was not proceeded with due to the disruption caused by the cyclone. Would the Minister indicate whether the Government intends to reintroduce the scheme and, if so, when this might be done?
– As Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory I am unable to give a satisfactory answer to the honourable senator. At the moment I know of no proposition that would suggest that it is imminent that people will be able to purchase land in the Territory. It certainly is not my understanding that such a proposition exists. I shall look at the facts and obtain a response at the earliest opportunity from the Minister for the Northern Territory.
– In directing my question to the Minister for Industry and Commerce I refer to the Industries Assistance Commission report on the shipbuilding industry and the future of cities like Whyalla in South Australia. If the
Government accepts the main recommendations of this report obviously large scale unemployment will result. Can the Minister indicate whether the Government has any plan to encourage other industries to become established in areas like Whyalla to provide job opportunities for those who could be affected by policy changes involving the shipbuilding industry?
– I think every honourable senator has been concerned about the shipbuilding industry for some time and has awaited the report of the Industries Assistance Commission which considered this industry and updated its costs. This report was tabled in the Senate yesterday by Senator Durack, the Minister representing the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs. It is well known to the Senate that a working party has been looking at the problems that might arise from shipbuilding both in Whyalla and in Newcastle in the areas of alternative employment, alternative industry, social consequences and so on. I think it is worth observing that members of that party wanted to go to Whyalla and Newcastle and were told that there was no need for them to do so. This seems to me to be rather a pity in view of the problems which will arise if shipbuilding is discontinued. We all know that there is no doubt that if the IAC report is accepted the shipbuilding industry has a particularly bleak future.
The shipbuilding industry in Whyalla is referred to in the report of Broken Hill Pty Co. Ltd which I think appeared in the Press this morning. The company indicated its willingness and desire to try to find alternative employment and opportunities for employees of that industry. Equally, some of us realise that the Premier of South Australia has been looking at alternative employment opportunities and industry possibilities in Whyalla. A committee headed by Roy Rainsford of Chrysler Australia Ltd is doing all it can to find such alternatives. I assure honourable senators that the Federal Government has a concern, understanding and sympathetic attitude towards the whole problem.
I think it might be useful if I mentioned some aspects of the problem. I will not give all the figures available; that would take too long. But I have some relative pieces of information in relation to the shipbuilding problem. In the year 1974 the days lost per 1000 employees in total manufacturing in Australia were 2975. I invite honourable senators to compare that number with the days lost per 1000 employees in the State Dockyard in Newcastle in the same year which totalled 26 500. The days lost per 1000 employees in Whyalla were 13 750 for the same year. Therefore, while the problem is acute, grave and greatly worrying it has been aggravated considerably in past years by the industrial record of the dockyards at Newcastle and Whyalla.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development whether it is a fact that his colleagues the Deputy Prime Minister and the Minister for Primary Industry have made recommendations to the Government for either the repeal or the major modification of the Environment Protection (Impact of Proposals) Act because they are under pressure from the mining and woodchip industries.
-It is not a fact.
– I preface my question to the Minister for Science by referring to the numerous questions, telegrams, letters and detailed submissions which I have asked, sent or made in relation to the urgent matter of the restoration of the coastal weather reports to marine radio broadcasts for the benefit and safety of Tasmanian fishermen and other mariners. I refer also to the fact that next week the Tasmanian Professional Fishermen’s Association’s annual conference is to be held. I am sure that its members would like to have some information in relation to this matter. Is the Minister yet in a position to reply to my proposition that, pending the completion of the Bureau of Meteorology study of meteorological services and reports, these particular reports which were withdrawn by the Labor Government be reinstated?
– I acknowledge the work that the honourable senator has done in attempting to represent the views of the various interests in Tasmania and, indeed, in other States relating to the re-introduction of coastal reports. He certainly has been vocal about this matter, as has Senator Devitt, on behalf of the people of Tasmania. Both honourable senators have raised this matter in questions many times in this Senate. A point to be noted is the unique system which operates in this Parliament at question time whereby, as certain visitors in the Gallery will know, Ministers are alerted to important functions within their portfolios and the problems of constituents. I indicated to Senator Devitt about a week ago that I would be making a statement on this matter. In the last day or so I have been able to formalise it. In answer to Senator
Rae, with the approval of the Senate I will put down a statement on this matter at the end of question time.
– I direct my question to Senator Durack who represents the AttorneyGeneral in this chamber. I refer to the question I asked yesterday as to whether the Government had received advice from the AttorneyGeneral’s Department about legislation of the Victorian Parliament which proposes to outlaw the sale of cut price packaged beer. Yesterday the honourable senator said that the answer to that question should await a decision of the Victorian Liberal Party. That decision having been reached I now ask the Minister whether the Government has received advice from the Attorney-General’s Department and whether it received such advice prior to the Prime Minister’s statement on Sunday that such legislation of the Victorian Parliament was in breach of the Trade Practices Act.
– I have to confess that I am unaware of the decision to which Senator Button has referred. I must apologise for not being fully up to date on such a vitally important matter as the price of beer. Perhaps Senator Button could tell me afterwards what the decision was. Nevertheless, having been informed that a decision has been made on such a vital matter I certainly will make it my business after question time to find out what it was. As for the other aspect of the question, I indicated yesterday that I thought that the right time to be considering what legal steps could be taken by the Government would be after the decision has been made. Having ascertained at a later hour this day what that decision was I will then endeavour to obtain an answer to the question asked by Senator Button as to whether any advice has been received and if so when.
ADDRESS by THE GOVERNOR-GENERAL
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Education. The Minister will be aware of statements made by the GovernorGeneral, Sir John Kerr, at the annual congress of the Returned Services League earlier this week to the effect that certain forces were trying to destroy notions of freedom and democracy among the young and were campaigning to convert students to political ideologies that ran against our traditional system of freedom and democracy. He said:
There are forces at work in society today aimed directly at young people, which are calculated to influence in a fashion adverse to our traditional system of freedom and democracy, and adverse to our normal methods of democratic discussion. There is a high degree of organisation in this pmselytisation of the young in educational institutions.
– I take a point of order; perhaps it should have been taken some time ago. Honourable senators are giving far too much information in their questions. In fact they are using question time to promote propositions by some persons who may be highly placed. There is a proper place for such activity but it is not question time. I ask you, Mr President, to draw the attention of honourable senators to the Standing Orders.
- Senator Tehan, be precise with the wording of your question.
-Thank you, Mr President. I assure Senator Georges that the Minister has not had notice of this question. I ask the Minister: Does he share the concern expressed by the Governor-General in this matter? If so, will he take such steps as are necessary to see that so far as the matters which are within his portfolio are concerned the students are alerted to the dangers to the fundamental freedoms of thought, worship and expression in the philosophies of the extreme left and the extreme right of the political spectrum and that they are fully alerted to the importance of these freedoms in our own democracy?
– Let me assure the Australian Labor Party Opposition that I do not find it necessary either to stimulate or to write Dorothy Dixers. I had no knowledge of the question. It is a vitally important one. The whole purpose of Parliament is to express the views of society in terms of a free democracy in which people can come together in freedom of association and freedom of expression, without any fear of intimidation. Two fundamental points need to be stated. In a democracy there is an important right to protest and to demonstrate an alternative point of view. This Government would advocate strongly the right of persons to express alternative points of view. What is fundamental in the demonstration of protest is that the protest shall be within the law. This principle is important: Nobody should take unto himself any more rights than he is willing to give to others. In other words, the right of freedom to demonstrate should not connote the right to obstruct others in their freedom to associate or their freedom to express their views. The right of a person is a fundamental and concomitant responsibility to see that the other person has equal liberty. That must be fundamental in a democracy.
I did read in the Press the words of the Governor-General. I say emphatically that the overwhelming majority of students in Australia and of people in Australia support and practise the views which I have enunciated. It is not they who are protesting; it is a handful of people who see the weapons of obstruction and the weapons of violence as weapons of intimidation against freedom of speech and freedom of association. That is how some Labor senators have expressed their meaning of those weapons. Let me make it clear that whoever may be involved in Australia, any citizen of this country who may be involved, will have the rights of freedom of association, the rights of freedom of speech and the rights of access to any campus to express that freedom. I hope that members of the Labor Opposition, as they are here on a democratic basis expressing these things, would support this statement to their back teeth, because there can be no half measures. In a world in which violence, intimidation, tyranny and torture are growing each day and in which democracy is shrinking, we do not need people inciting violence; we need a bipartisan approach in this Senate and in another place to support these principles to our back teeth.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Education. It follows his answer to Senator Tehan. Will the Minister agree that the comments which the Governor-General was forced to make arose from a situation which he created by dismissing a democratically elected government on 1 1 November last year and that the dismissal arose from the obstruction in this place of the Opposition at that time? Will the Minister agree that that obstruction was the violence which led to the situation about which the Governor-General objected? Will the Minister not take a double stance in this situation, and will he admit his own errors and his own responsibility for the situation about which the Governor-General complained?
-Of course I will not admit it, but the question gives me the opportunity to remind the Senate and the people of Australia of what did happen on 1 1 November as the expression by the Governor-General of his clear responsibility to uphold the Commonwealth Constitution, which indeed every honourable senator in this chamber has sworn to uphold. I remind honourable senators that the Governor-General took his action fully within the terms, conditions, spirit and responsibility of the Commonwealth Constitution. I remind honourable senators that they are here today because some 76 years ago the people of Australia gave to the Senate of Australia explicit and written financial power and responsibility. I remind honourable senators that there would not be a Senate today if there had not been given to the Senate the power to accept, reject or request on finance.
Let me make this clear to the senator from the less populous State who is interjecting that if finance power did not lie with the Senate it would be possible for the other place, by the overwhelming numbers from the States of Victoria and New South Wales, to deny to Queensland- the State which the honourable senator who is interjecting represents- Tasmania and South Australia- the less populous Statesany real and fair share of finance. What happened on 1 1 November- the expression in the Senate of the finance power of the Senate- is the fundamental expression of why the Senate exists; that it has the right to accept or reject finance. The Governor-General did no less and no more than his duty. When he was confronted with the fact that there was no Supply and that Supply would not be available in the future he dissolved the Government. Since I am on my feet let me also remind the Senate that the then Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, one year beforehand had expressed full support for the principle that the Governor-General implemented one year later. I also remind honourable senators that the Governor-General was appointed by the Labor Government of the day and he was described by the Labor Government of the day as a man eminently equipped in the law, and in constitutional law, to uphold the Constitution of Australia, which he did.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I ask: Is it a fact that last week’s report by Professor E. S. R. Hughes on behalf of a working party on the organisation of clinical services in Canberra hospitals has not recommended any solution to the personal animosity extending over 2 years between private doctors and salaried doctors in the Australian Capital Territory? Is it true, as claimed in the Canberra Times this morning, that decisions as to new medical equipment could be vetoed because of political differences between doctors rather than on medical grounds, and that personal animosities are likely to continue under the working party’s proposals? What is the Minister for Health proposing to do in the near future to avoid dangers arising out of this civil war between doctors to the health of Canberra residents, not to mention any member of this Parliament who may have the misfortune to fall sick in this city?
– The matter of the organisation of clinical services in the Canberra public hospitals has certainly been the subject of discussion and concern in recent days. The report by Professor Hughes of the working party has been sent to the Capital Territory Health Commission, the Australian Capital Territory Medical Association and the Staff Specialists Council for consideration and report to the Minister for Health by 24 September. A special meeting of the Commission is being held today to consider the report. Before making any decisions on the recommendations contained in the report or making the report generally available the Minister for Health feels that he should await the comments from the Commission and the other 2 bodies. With regard to the last pan of the question about honourable senators or others who are unfortunate enough to need these services in the Australian Capital Territory, I can assure them that services will be available to them as and when required, and I hope that that is not a requirement of the honourable senator who asked the question.
-I wish to pursue with Senator Carrick in his capacity as Minister representing the Prime Minister in Federal Affairs the level of municipal rating and the impact on it of the financial assistance provided by the Commonwealth. I regret having to be so persistent in this matter but the Minister has not done a great deal to clear up the perplexing situation. In view of his belief, and his very apparent expectations based upon the assurances given to him by the Local Government Association of Australia, that municipal rates would not need to rise by more than 5 per cent this year, and leaving aside for the moment what might have happened in the past, are we now to assume that either the Local Government Association of Australia, the highest authority in the land in that field, misled him into that quite erroneous misbelief or that councils in Australia have without any justification embarked on a deliberate campaign to embarrass and discredit him?
– The series of questions asked by Senator Devitt are utterly convoluted. Let me make clear what has happened. Last financial year the Whitlam Labor Government gave to local government some $79.9m in untied grants. In that year and in the previous year, as a result of the inflation created and exacerbated by the Labor Government, and rising to 18 or 20 per cent, it was necessary for councils to put up their rates by some 35 to 40 per cent. Lest there be any doubt, they are matters of history. The Labor Party that now is so tender about the rises in rates was in the past rapacious in forcing them upwards. Let us have no doubts about this.
The next facts are simple. Rather than $79. 9m this year, the Fraser Liberal Government has increased grants by 75 per cent to $ 140m, an unprecedented increase which is acknowledged by local government throughout Australia. As a result, local government indicated that it would be able to abate its rates. Yesterday the honourable senator asked me where I got my substantial information from, so may I today enlist the assistance of one of his own aides. I think his name is Mr Wran and he comes from New South Wales. He has said that he will peg rates. So if the honourable senator wants evidence that rates can be abated and kept down, although I do not support the principle of compulsory pegging, his own supporter- if he is his supporter- the Labor Premier has indicated that the climate is such that local government rates can be considerably abated. I have drawn support from both sides of politics for the honourable senator. That ought to be enough. It is good to know that local government now has 75 per cent more revenue this year than it had last year and, therefore, should be able to reduce its tendency to put up rates.
– I wish to ask the Minister a supplementary question. I remind him of the assurances which he had given that rates would not need to rise beyond 5 per cent this year. In view of the fact that rates in some parts of Tasmania have risen by up to 33 per cent this year and that nowhere in the land have I seen rates rise merely by 5 per cent, why is it that the Minister is able to stand here and give those assurances which are misleading to the people of Australia in that they are nowhere near in accord with the facts of the situation?
– It is an extraordinary convolution of the use of words. I gave no such assurance. Let me say what happened. I was asked yesterday: ‘Where did the figure come from?’ I said that the federal body of the Local Government Association of Australia- not I- made the statement that rates need not rise further. I did not make the claim; it was the Local Government Association itself which made the claim. What happens in Tasmania is a matter for a fellow named Mr Neilson, the Labor Party Premier of Tasmania. I want to make this quite clear. Honourable senators opposite do not like this, Mr President. It is within the power of Mr Neilson- because of the surplus funds of over $4m which were not used last year, the $4.5m additional funds that Tasmania is to get this year and the $ 17.3m he has accumulated in loan funds- to provide local government authorities in Tasmania with supplementary funds. This would mean that no local government authority in Tasmania would need to raise its rates unless Mr Neilson and his Labor Government decide that they will force local government authorities to raise them. So the simple answer is that it is up to the Labor Premier of Tasmania.
– I preface my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications by saying that no doubt he is aware that many telephone subscribers and companies complain that their telephone accounts are too high due to incorrect charging to their accounts or the misuse of telephones by employees, but they have no way of proving their claim. Will the Minister table a list of the number of complaints received in each State for each of the last 6 months? Is the Minister able to say whether Telecom Australia is planning to introduce a telephone call recording system so that subscribers are able to tell when a long distance call is made, to whom it is made and the duration of the call, as, I believe, is the practice in other countries? Is it correct that Telecom Australia will not install such a system because it realises that if a subscriber could check the account in that way much better supervision of the use of telephones would be possible and revenue could fall off a good deal?
– I am aware that from time to time complaints are made of overcharging and that there is no way to check effectively whether an account is accurate. I will convey to my colleague in another place the request made by Senator Townley that the Minister make available for tabling a list of such complaints. I will also ask him to respond to the question of whether Telecom is proposing to institute a recording system. I have no knowledge of that matter.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce or to the Minister representing the Prime Minister. It refers to what I consider to be the disastrous effects upon the shipbuilding industry and the skilled employment in that industry should the report of the Industries Assistance Commission be adopted and if negotiations for a mutual solution to the problems are not concluded successfully. Now that the report has been received does the Government intend to renew its consideration of the alternative proposals put by the Premier of South Australia and the Premier of New South Wales? Has the Government agreed to discuss all these problems with the Australian Council of Trade Unions, including the trade union reaction to a former proposal by the Government offering to place orders for ships? Is it intended to discuss all these problems on the basis that a mutual solution might be found to the matter?
– I share the honourable senator’s concern about the industry and what has been happening in it. I did refer in a previous answer to the working party that has been engaged on a study of these matters, and this is being done in co-operation with the State of New South Wales and the State of South Australia where that co-operation is available. The honourable senator may expect that the Government will look at all the aspects of it and we will be waiting for a contribution from that working party now that the IAC report has been finalised and has been tabled; but there has been lots and lots of conjecture about this and about what the Premiers have proposed and the solutions they have guaranteed to find. There has been a little bit of concern but nothing very concrete has come up- only words. I did mention in the Senate that, after all, New South Wales has been talking for quite some time about the floating dock that it wants. This project involves about $40m worth of shipbuilding. I would have thought that perhaps this was something that would be of interest to the Newcastle State Dockyard.
– I ask a supplementary question. I put to the Minister the question: Does the Government agree to discuss the issues with the Australian Council of Trade Unions? The Minister has not answered that question. I understand that it is fairly common knowledge- at least it has been reported in the Press, and the Senate might be told- that there are in fact proposals to renew the discussions. Can the Minister add any positive advice about the discussions? Are these matters still available for solution so far as the Government is concerned?
– The matters are certainly available for discussion. The honourable senator will recall that Mr Wran came to Canberra and undertook to take over the problem in New South Wales. He undertook to arrange various positions, communicate those positions to the people in the Newcastle State Dockyard, get certain guarantees and to deliver them. That has not happened. I have talked on several occasions to the Australian Council of Trade Unions. If it has something to contribute towards a solution to this problem, it will be welcomed. Mr Wran, of course, is the person who has been saying he will produce that.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Primary Industry. I refer to the report of an address yesterday by the Minister for Primary Industry stating that if Australian fishermen were unable to make full use of the extended area of operation when Australia ‘s ocean limit is extended to 320 kilometres, foreign fishing boats will be allowed to operate within this limit. Will the Minister consider allowing the fishing boats from Taiwan to be given first opportunity to fish legally within the proposed new limit as I am sure that most Western Australians would support this action?
-I have not had the benefit of reading what the Minister said during his public address. But I shall ask to look at his speech and see actually what he said as against what the report says he said, because sometimes the speech and the report are not the same thing. I am a person- and I think Senator Thomas is the same- who has believed for some time that Australia does have a resource in its fishing grounds lying adjacent to its coast. We have felt for some time that this resource might have some prospect for development. I know that the people of Tasmania have very strong views about all this. I have been down there during my term of office talking to them about it.
If as a result of decisions taken at the Law of the Sea Conference the area is expanded, the opportunity will expand. It would seem to me that Australia should be looking first of all at what it can do itself with its own people and its own resources. At one stage when a committee of senators from both sides of the chamber looked at this matter we were informed that the size of the Australian continental shelf was about onequarter of the Australian land mass. This gives some idea of the size of this new resource. The fishing resource that is adjacent to a continent of this size is very great. I hope that we do something about it first of all as a nation in our own right.
– My question which I direct to Senator Durack who represents the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations relates to the initiative displayed by an illustrious Commonwealth Conciliation Commissioner, Mr Commissioner Heffernan, yesterday in issuing his decision in 4 languages because of the high migrant content involved in the dispute that had occurred. In view of the earlier response to me during the Estimates Committee discussions in which it was said that such an innovation had to await earlier priorities, which referred to the updating of the publication of all industrial awards, has this latter target been met and will we have more of Commissioner Heffernan ‘s innovations- a man, by the way, who was appointed to that position by the Honourable Clyde Cameron who was Australia’s greatest Minister for Labor- to ensure that this request from ethnic communities is met in full?
– I am very pleased to have the opportunity of answering this important question asked by Senator Mulvihill, particularly as he is a former colleague of mine on that well known committee, the Senate Select Committee on the Civil Rights of Migrant Australians, to which he refers frequently in the Senate. I share the honourable senator’s commendation of the action taken by Mr Commissioner Heffernan. I have been informed that on a number of occasions in the past members of the Commission including the President himself, Sir John Moore, have arranged for decisions to be issued in languages other than English so that they will be available particularly to the migrant work force concerned. The other matter referred to by Senator Mulvihill concerned the publication of awards as distinct from decisions. Awards are legally binding documents and their provisions are enforcible in the courts, so different questions arise in relation to them. However, I understand that consideration has been given to providing summaries of awards which would enable their essential features to be available to migrant workers in their own language. This is a fairly substantial task but work is proceeding on it.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. On Wednesday, 15 September, the program This Day Tonight showed a segment on ABC television on Aboriginal matters relating to the southern part of the Northern Territory. Appearing on television was a doctor from the Aboriginal medical centre at Alice Springs and an officer from the Department of Aboriginal Affairs at Alice Springs. They made various statements, scurrilous and possibly defamatory, against dedicated people working within the Department of Health in the Northern Territory. Other erroneous statements such as: No Aboriginal people being employed by the Department of Health ‘ were made. In fact, more than half of the people employed within the Department of Health are Aboriginal people. They comprise hospital assistants, health workers, a nursing sister and also a traditional healer. However, I understand that the Department of Health staff organisations wish to check the This Day Tonight program and have requested a copy of the interviews but have been refused by the ABC. Will the Minister, on behalf of these people, approach the Minister for Post and Telecommunications to have made available to them a copy of the transcript so that they may answer the charges made during that interview.
– I did not have the opportunity of seeing the segment which appeared on the television program This Day Tonight on 1 5 September to which he referred and which related, apparently, to Aboriginal matters in the southern part of the Northern Territory. I accept what he says as an accurate report and I accept his claim because he has expert knowledge of what is happening in the Territory. I accept it also because in my own duties as Minister for Education I find myself, in common with the Minister for Health and the Minister for the Northern Territory, constantly associating with the health activities in the Territory. I am able to say quite clearly that it is not true that Aborigines are not employed extensively throughout the Territory. Indeed, on Bathurst Island, only some weeks ago a trained nursing sister told me that the six or seven Aboriginal medical aides employed there were the finest in their quality, dedication and ability that she had seen in a long lifetime of nursing. I make it perfectly clear that those who tend to say in the first place that the Aborigines are not involved in government mattersin health, education or otherwise- are in fact not accurately reporting the scene. Those who say that they cannot carry out their duties well also are inaccurate. Because the matter is important and because people may have been wrongly reported, the matter needs checking. I will be very happy to convey to my colleague in another place, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, the request that a transcript of the proceedings be obtained.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations: Is the Government giving consideration to following the initiative taken by the New South Wales Government in providing job opportunities for younger persons by expanding its Public Service recruiting program?
– I shall pass that question on to my colleague, the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, and obtain a full answer for the honourable senator as it is a most important question and I should like to have the fullest and most up to date information for him.
– Has the attention of the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations been drawn to a report that the Adelaide Brighton Cement Co. Ltd has applied to the South Australian Industrial Commission for the insertion in its employees’ award of a clause requiring a secret ballot before any strike, ban or limitation is decided upon? Is this not a significant attempt to protect the rights of individual workers which, with other matters, could be considered by other employers, particularly those with closed shop arrangements with unions, to ensure that union rules and industrial awards appropriately safeguard their employees?
– I have not obtained any up to date information as to the move to which the honourable senator refers. In the circumstances, I believe that it would be appropriate for me to pass the question on to the Minister I represent and to obtain such information as the honourable senator seeks.
– I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs: What is the present state of relations with Cambodia? Does Australia have a representative in that country? Has the Australian Government protested against the barbarous killings by the Communist authorities of Cambodian citizens, reported to be in excess of 600 000? Is any special effort being made to assist the thousands of Cambodians who are refugees in camps in Thailand? Will the Government adopt a more generous policy towards the entry into Australia of more refugees from this area of South East Asia?
-I think that the matters raised by the honourable senator ought to be the subject of a considered answer from my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs in respect of the first questions, and from my colleague the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs in respect of the last question. I shall obtain the information for the honourable senator.
-I ask the Minister for Industry and Commerce: Is it a fact, as reported in the Industries Assistance Commission report, that Japan as a leading shipbuilding nation is now apparently reviewing its shipbuilding industry with a view to long term rationalisation and a redirection of its capacity for building very large ships towards smaller non-tanker ships. Is it a fact that Sweden, which has the greatest proportion of its work force in this industry, has also indicated that it intends to reorganise the industry over the next few years, that large reductions in employment are likely, and that yards may be amalgamated? Is it therefore not true to say that the problems faced by the Australian shipbuilding industry are not unique to the Australian industry but in some aspects are similar to those experienced by the major shipbuilding nations?
-The comments by the honourable senator are indeed the facts and in accordance with the Industries Assistance Commission report. One might add one or two other factors that perhaps the IAC did not report. I have not yet read the full report. I have read the general background and digest. I think the Japanese shipyards have been planning and are well on the way towards reducing employment in shipbuilding by over 20 000 people. Japan believes that the world shipbuilding industry is in very substantial over-capacity and is likely to remain that way for many years to come. Unfortunately lots of countries have had to stop shipbuilding. Canada has largely gone out of shipbuilding. The Scandinavian countries are very heavily diminishing their shipbuilding activities. However, some countries are expanding these activities. South Korea has expanded in shipbuilding and is extremely competitive against most other shipbuilding nations. The shipbuilding industry is a troubled industry all around the world except, as I mentioned, in South Korea which appears to be in front of most other countries.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services, refers to an article which appeared yesterday in the Melbourne Age and relates to Commonwealth Police staffing problems. I shall read the relevant sections of the article:
Commonwealth Police say they are too short staffed to fight crime effectively. The force’s assistant commissioner (crime intelligence), Mr L. S. Harper, said yesterday there had been a ‘substantial increase’ recently in crimes such as fraud, forgery and theft.
Mr Harper said Commonwealth Police needed an extra 80 detectives for crime investigation and security work.
I ask the Minister: Has this shortage of Commonwealth Police, which is so detrimental to the safety and well-being of Australian citizens, been brought about by the decision to provide an extensive personal Commonwealth Police guard for the present Governor-General to protect him against the continuous and widespread expressions of public disapproval of his actions last November and subsequently?
-I suggest that the honourable senator, instead of relying on reports in the Melbourne Age, should read the Hansard report of Estimates Committee A which met in this chamber last week. The Commonwealth Police inspector was present and answered questions on these lines. If the honourable senator did so she would get a more accurate impression of what is happening within the Commonwealth Police Force. However, I must admit that as long as yahoos in this community deliberately go out of their way to rent a crowd and cause disturbances where public figures are present, they will naturally tie up the resources of the Commonwealth Police. The resources of the Commonwealth Police are used for the protection of public figures such as the GovernorGeneral or the Prime Minister or any other citizens, including honourable senators opposite and their Parliamentary Leader in the other place. I have said before in this place that a lot of people in the community who preach violence seem surprised when it erupts. They then worry that the police force cannot deal with such violence as well as the many crimes that are committed and with which they ought to be dealing. If these people would stop preaching violence and stop calling on people to muster at certain places to express certain opinions in certain ways perhaps the Commonwealth Police would be able to do their normal work.
– In accordance with the provisions of the Commonwealth Bank Act, I lay on the table the annual reports and financial statements of the Commonwealth Banking Corporation, the Commonwealth Trading Bank of Australia, the Commonwealth Savings Bank of Australia and the Commonwealth Development Bank of Australia, together with the AuditorGeneral’s reports thereon, for the year 1975-76.
– Pursuant to section 34 of the Services Trust Funds Act 1 947 I present the annual report of the Trustees of the Services Canteens Trust Fund for the calendar year 1975.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Director-General of Health for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– Pursuant to section 36 of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation Act 1 970, 1 present the annual report of the Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– I seek leave to move a motion in respect to the report tabled by the Minister for Science.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I move:
I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– by leave- As honourable senators will be aware, the question of whether reports from coastal weather observing stations should be broadcast for the benefit of mariners, fishermen and users of small boats has been raised on a number of occasions. I have advised the Senate on several occasions in response to questions by
Senator Devitt and Senator Rae that I was awaiting a report on the matter from the Bureau of Meteorology. An interim report has now been received and I am therefore in a position to provide honourable senators with further advice. A short resume of the relevant background may assist appreciation of that advice.
In the latter half of 1975 the Bureau of Meteorology was required by the then Government to effect a reduction in its expenditure on meteorological services. After consultation with the Department of Transport, the Director of Meteorology decided that broadcasts of reports from coastal weather observing stations should be discontinued from mid-October 1975 as one measure towards meeting the then Government ‘s requirements. The reports in question had for many years formed part of the Bureau ‘s marine weather bulletins but the Bureau considered that their deletion would not be of major disadvantage to fishermen and other marine interests.
Subsequent to my assuming ministerial responsibility for administration of the Bureau I received representations from various interested parties, including a number of honourable senators, urging that reports from coastal weather observing stations be restored to marine weather bulletins broadcast through radio stations operated by the Overseas Telecommunications Commission. A number of these representations arose from a Green Paper on meteorological services published in February last which invited comment from the general community and from specialist user groups on the meteorological services which interested parties wished to see provided by the Bureau.
In light of the representations received I instructed the Bureau to arrange consultations with representatives of fishermen and other marine interest groups. Those consultations have not yet been finalised but I am advised that on the basis of the discussions to date a strong case has been established for restoration in some form of the previous practice of including coastal weather reports in marine weather bulletins.
I have therefore instructed the Bureau to recommence the broadcast of coastal weather reports as early as practicable. I am advised that the broadcasts in some States will commence this day and that the expanded bulletins will be broadcast in all States before the end of this week. As honourable senators may be aware, reports from coastal weather observing stations have continued to be available through some of the radio stations operated by the Australian
Broadcasting Commission. Hence a limited service has been available to interested groups since the broadcast of reports through OTC radio stations was discontinued last year. I therefore arranged for a thorough study to be made of the feasibility of meeting the requirements of fishermen and others for weather information by expanding the service now being provided by the ABC since that course appeared to offer the possibility of meeting the reasonable needs but at reduced cost. I am advised though that the ABC’s transmitters are not designed to give the required coverage of Australian coastal waters. Hence my instructions to the Bureau that broadcasts through OTC radio stations be resumed. However, in view of the value of normal ABC coastal weather forecasts to owners of pleasure craft not equipped to receive OTC broadcasts the Bureau is continuing discussions with the ABC on possible expansion of that service.
The service which the Bureau of Meteorology will now be providing will differ in some respects from that provided prior to the October 1975 change since it has emerged from the consultations with interested groups to which I have referred that some streamlining is acceptable with resultant savings in costs. Specifically reports from coastal weather observing stations will be included in marine weather bulletins which are broadcast in plain language through OTC coastal radio stations, but not in other broadcasts through those stations. The reports will always include information on wind speed and direction, atmospheric pressure and pressure tendency. Information on the state of the sea and swell, visibility and other weather elements will, however, be included only when operationally significant. Honourable senators may be assured that I will give close consideration to the views of marine groups before deciding upon any future modification of marine weather bulletins. I am indebted to the honourable senators who made representations to me on this matter. I thank the groups and organisations which provided valuable assistance in the recent feasibility study.
– I seek leave to move a motion that the Senate take note of the statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Unfortunately I learned only at the commencement of the sitting this afternoon that the Minister for Science (Senator Webster) proposed to put down a statement on this important subject.
My understanding is that normally 2 hours before the making of a statement such as this the Opposition is given an opportunity to study the contents of the document. No doubt the Minister has some reason for not doing so on this occasion. Because we have not had the opportunity to study the statement I am limited in the comments which I can make at this stage. I moved that the Senate take note of the statement so that if the circumstances should warrant and if the opportunity should arise those of us who have had a very deep concern in this matter for so long, and now so successfully, may be able to deliver ourselves of much wider comment than is possible at this stage.
I am delighted that the Minister assured us that he has given instructions for the resumption of these essential broadcasts. I take it that they will be in a limited sense initially, but with the prospect of their being broadened to a much wider basis later. I know that colleagues on both sides of the Parliament share my view that this is a most welcome development. It is welcome to us, but it is much more welcome to those people who have had a need of these services and who have missed them badly during the period that they have been discontinued. I am delighted that those fears and apprehensions which they had and to which I referred at length in the past will be lessened to some extent. Since I addressed the Senate on this subject in comparatively recent times there have been more tragedies in Bass Strait and off the west coast of Tasmania. I guess tragedies will continue. At least we can say now that as a consequence of our representations and conveying our thoughts to the Parliament and through the Parliament to the Minister and his Department, action has been taken. Our case has been listened to, the pleas of the people who are so deeply concerned on this subject have been recognised, their fears are understood and I think generally there is now a much better understanding of this matter than there has been in the past.
I know that governments are prone to make decisions about things. I know that they believe that when they make those decisions they are correct. I think it is good to see that as a result of efforts of elected members of the Parliament decisions can be reversed in the interests of those whom members are appointed to serve. That is the parliamentary system at work. I would like to study the Minister’s statement in greater detail. I content myself with commending the decision, in the interests of all those concerned. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Debate resumed from 21 September, on motion by Senator Cotton:
That the Bill be now read a first time.
– Before the Senate adjourned last night I was speaking to the first reading of this money Bill. I shall have to cover some of the ground again because of the interruption. I had taken the opportunity to raise a matter which has caused great concern to people who live in the northern outback areas of South Australia- the people who work at the Leigh Creek coal mine. Last night I referred to a news item which appeared on 15 September 1976 in the Transcontinental which is a newspaper published at Port Augusta in South Australia. The article caused concern not only to me but also to my colleagues who have worked with me over the years in endeavouring to have a television service provided at Leigh Creek. The item, which was headed ‘Just So Much Politics ‘, read as follows:
The suggestion made by the Premier that the State Government ‘would go it alone’ in relation to providing a television service to Leigh Creek was just so much politics, said Senator Jessop this week.
He said advice had been received from the State Manager of Telecom Australia that the Leigh Creek Station would commence operation by the end of April 1 977.
The Commonwealth Government promised it would make funds available, and as a result of their undertaking. Leigh Creek would get television ‘, said Senator Jessop.
I am very concerned, as is the Premier of South Australia, to think that Senator Jessop would make a statement like that, saying that Mr Dunstan is playing politics on this matter. If anyone has played politics -
– I rise to order, Mr President. I simply inquire whether the honourable senator now speaking gave adequate notice of his intention to continue a rather unseemly attack on a colleague from South Australia to enable that colleague to be in the chamber at the time when the attack is being made. If no notice was given I think that he should desist.
– Speaking to the point of order, if notice should have been given obviously it was the Minister’s responsibility, because everyone knew last night that Senator McLaren was speaking on this question. Everyone knew that when the debate came on again he would continue his remarks immediately. Senator Jessop knows that well enough. If the business has come on as a surprise it would be as a result of the motion moved by Senator Cotton that it take precedence over other business. Senator McLaren is not to blame for Senator Jessop ‘s lack of knowledge. If there is any responsibility it is on the Minister. I think that Senator Jessop knows full well what is going on and he has a responsibility to be here.
– The matter is not regulated by the Standing Orders.
– Let me say that as an act of courtesy to Senator McLaren this matter was put at the top of the notice paper so that he could dispose of his remarks. I do not think that it can be construed that I have a responsibility for what he might say.
– It is quite obvious that Senator Rae is adopting the same tactics as Senator Webster adopted last night because they do not want me to tell the public at large what Senator Jessop did. I want to tell the truth of the matter. I know that honourable senators opposite are afraid of that happening. What I was saying when Senator Rae, like Senator Webster last night, rudely interrupted was that if anyone played politics about the construction of the television translator at Leigh Creek, it was Senator Jessop himself. He accused the Premier of South Australia of playing politics.
I want to refer to a letter, to which I referred in this Parliament on 25 May 1976, from the Australian Broadcasting Control Board dated 22 May 1975. It said:
Dear Senator McLaren,
Further to our telephone conversation this morning, I am enclosing a summary of events to date concerning the provision of television service to Leigh Creek.
The document is headed: ‘Summary of Events to Date Concerning Provision of Television Service to Leigh Creek ‘. It reads:
During the period 1970-74, 15 separate approaches were made to either the Minister or the Board requesting adequate television service for Leigh Creek. These representations were, in the main, from various members of Parliament on behalf of residents of the town and also on behalf of the Far Northern Development Association and Leigh Creek Combined Union Council at Leigh Creek.
It will be recalled that last night I mentioned that during my speech on 25 May this year I was charitable enough to give credit to Senator Jessop for being involved at one time, back in 1972, in making representations to the Control Board. I do not deny that he was involved. His name is not mentioned in this letter but I was charitable enough to give him some credit. I will not quote the full text of this letter because it would take too long, but it continues:
In 1972, the Board arranged for a senior engineer of the Board to attend Leigh Creek to explain the difficulties and answer any questions which might be forthcoming from interested people in the area.
In March 1973 -
Note the date:
As far back as March 1973 Mr Dunstan, the Premier of South Australia, had made representations to the Labor Government for the provision of a television service at Leigh Creek. Yet last night Senator Jessop accused the Premier of playing politics. It was over 3 years ago that the moves were first initiated. The letter continues: . . and mentioned that a second class service could be provided by the establishment of a videotape ‘repeater station’, as has been carried out at a number of mining settlements in northern Australia, provided the employer (The Electricity Trust of South Australia) accepted the obligation in view of the settlement’s importance. The costs to be borne by the employer would consist of establishment costs of approximately $50,000, with annual operating costs of $30,000 to $40,000.
Following the deputation from Mr L. Wallis, M.P. . . .
He is the member for Gray in South Australia and his electorate borders the electorate of Wakefield in which Leigh Creek is situated: and Senators D. Cameron and G. McLaren, the Minister, on 10 April 1974, again wrote to the Premier of South Australia -
I mention here that Mr Wallis, Senator Cameron and I have had extensive experience in the outback of South Australia. Mr Wallis has worked on the Trans-Australian Railway for many years, working for some time on the Nullarbor Plain. Senator Cameron, my colleague, was a shearer and spent many years in the outback and later was secretary of the Australian Workers Union in South Australia. I first went to the outback of South Australia around Leigh Creek and Marree as a shearer in 1 948 so I am well aware of the sufferings of the people who live there and of their endeavours to get some useful communication with the inside world. The three of us are well aware of the needs of those people. When we went to Leigh Creek in early 1973 we met a deputation which put a proposition to us and we immediately came back and approached the then Minister for the Media, Senator Douglas McClelland, and put a case to him. I continue reading the letter from where I left off:
The Minister . . . again wrote to the Premier of South Australia, pointing out that the economic difficulties mentioned earlier still precluded the provision of TV service to Leigh Creek by the normal means, namely, a series of microwave repeaters northward from Port Augusta.
The Minister indicated that he was unaware of any development in the alternative suggestion made to Mr Dunstan earlier that the Electricity Trust of South Australia might be prepared to provide the necessary funds to finance a repeater type television station at Leigh Creek, and sought the Premier’s views on the suggestion and whether the necessary assistance towards establishing such a station would be available through the Trust.
Subsequent advice indicated that the Electricity Trust was interested in following up the proposal and that it would like to discuss the matter with the Board. Senator McLaren subsequently wrote to the Minister for the Media indicating that bearing in mind other departments besides the Electricity Trust had personnel stationed in the Leigh Creek area, and could be expected to share some of the cost of establishing TV at Leigh Creek, he had written to all Ministers, both State and Federal, who have an interest in the area, with a request that an officer from their respective departments join in the discussions between the Board and the Electricity Trust with a view to reaching a satisfactory arrangement for TV for the Leigh Creek area. The Minister for the Media then asked the Board to convene a meeting at a time suitable to all.
At the meeting of interested parties held at the Board ‘s Adelaide office on 4 October 1974, the problems involved in relation to television for Leigh Creek, revolving mainly around the high per capita cost as compared with other areas of recent television development, were outlined to those present and it was pointed out that the most appropriate method of providing a service appeared to be by means of a repeater-type station of the type which are operated at some remote mining centres in Northern Australia and which have as their program source, tape-recorded program material provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission. It was agreed, however, that after the various departments have had an opportunity to give consideration to any possible undertakings arising from the meeting, a further meeting should take place as soon as possible. In the meantime, the Board, the Post Office and the Australian Broadcasting Commission were to discuss the alternate methods of providing service to Leigh Creek, the main consideration being the provision of service at capital and operating costs which could be justified in relation to the population involved.
As a result of these discussions, the basic concept of a possible Leigh Creek service was finalised in December 1974. However, detailed technical operating conditions were still to be presented to the Board for concurrence.
So it can be seen from that letter received from Mr Connolly that the decision was taken in December 1974 by the Whitlam Government to provide a television service for Leigh Creek. Mr Dunstan made a decision that, if the Commonwealth Government was going to renege on its undertaking to provide finance, which it did earlier this year in the mini Budget, the South Australian Labor Government would go it alone and would offer to lend the Fraser Government $45,000 to get the thing off the ground. To put this in its proper perspective, I turn to Hansard of 25 September 1974 when I posed a question to the Minister for the Media.
– What happened when your Party was in power?
- Senator Rae is coming in the same as his colleague, Senator Jessop, did last night and I answer him by saying that the Labor Government had very little opportunity to do anything because of the way you people who now sit opposite frustrated the workings of our Government in this place and forced us to an election half way through our term of office. You would not let us govern. By doing that you deprived the citizens of Australia of many worthwhile things for which we were going to legislate and give to them. I have checked the Hansard thoroughly. If we look through the Hansard record we find that the questions I have asked in this place and the times I have spoken on a television service for Leigh Creek far outnumber any questions asked or speeches made by Senator Jessop on the same subject in this chamber since I have been a member of the Senate. On 25 September 1974 I asked a question and the same topic was followed up a week later by Senator Jessop. In his reply the Minister reminded Senator Jessop of the number of times I had broached the subject with him. On 3 October 1974 I asked the then Minister for the Media, Senator Douglas McClelland, as recorded at page 1646, this question:
The Minister for the Media will recall that last week he informed me that a meeting was to take place in Melbourne this week to consider a request for a television service at Leigh Creek in South Australia. I now ask the Minister whether he has any information as to the outcome of the meeting.
The meeting referred to is the one mentioned in the letter I received from Mr Connolly. In answer to the question the Minister said:
I can tell the honourable senator that there have been discussions involving officers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, the Australian Broadcasting Commission and officers from the Australian Post Office, for which my colleague, Senator Bishop, has ministerial responsibility.
The Minister went on to say what was happening. The next day there was a news item broadcast over television station GTS4, Port Pirie. This was on Friday, 4 October. It reads:
The possibility of providing a low power transmitter so that television facilities may be provided for the Leigh Creek area will be discussed at a conference in Adelaide.
This has been announced by Senator D. S. Jessop who has been told by the Minister for the Media, Senator Douglas McClelland, that officers of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board would have discussions in Adelaide with interested parties in the proposal.
I checked with the Minister. Senator Jessop was not told anything of the sort. He had lifted the answer Senator Douglas McClelland had given to me and had then made a Press statement which came over station GTS4, Port Pirie. I talked with the Minister immediately after that. Senator Jessop never approached the Minister. It is quite obvious he lifted the answer to my question and then claimed the credit that he had been told, but he had not been told at all. The information was in the answer to my question.
– This has been said repeatedly.
– Never mind about you, Senator. I am talking fact. If Senator Jessop has proof that in fact the Minister told him, I will withdraw what I have said, but to the best of my knowledge the Minister did not tell him any such thing. Later in October a statement appeared in the Transcontinental newspaper. I had to reply to that. I rang the editor of the newspaper. I do not know whether Senator Jessop had seen it because he admitted here last night he does not read the paper. That article reads:
Politicians don’t like to be outdone by each other, and Senator McLaren (ALP) rang us this week about an article we published last week, telling of Don Jessop ‘s moves to get television to the Leigh Creek area.
Appears the Labor boys have been trying equally as hard as the Libs so well leave it at that with the following letter from the Far Northern Development Association addressed to Senator McLaren and which reads- ‘The above committee wish to thank Senator Cameron, Laurie Wallis and yourself on your achievements so far with negotiations on the introduction of television for Leigh Creek and districts. ‘
On the face value it appears your joint efforts have covered more ground in three months than by others in five years.’
– Who said that?
– That was signed by the secretary of the Far Northern Development Association. That is proof that those people valued what we were doing.
– Did you see the other letter he put in?
– I will quote part of it.
-The good parts.
– Only because I do not have enough time due to interruptions by Senator R.ae. He put the other letter in setting out what had been done. The last paragraph reads:
Since the Leigh Creek meeting Senator McLaren arranged a meeting between semi-Government and Government bodies on 4 October 1974, the result of which is not yet known.
That appeared in that newspaper on 6 November 1974, and we know the results now because before we went out of office the Whitlam Government had agreed to provide a television service for Leigh Creek. Yet during the double dissolution campaign Senator Jessop was making further statements- they were published in that newspaper- that the Liberal Party had got the television service for Leigh Creek. I had occasion to ring Senator Jessop and query him about that and of course I had some hot words with him over the telephone. I think I quoted them last night, and I will quote them again. I told him he reminded me of a cuckoo that waited until somebody else built the nest and then crawled into it to lay its eggs, and that is the very thing he did. I will quote some correspondence which I have from the Premier of South Australia dated 17 July 1975. It reads:
The matter concerning provision of television to Leigh Creek is quite a complex one.
I have accordingly written to my colleague, the Minister for Mines and Energy, asking that he provide every assistance to you in this regard.
I feel that he is in a better position to co-ordinate any efforts by the South Australian Government to provide television for the people of Leigh Creek.
That was last year and, as I have said, as far back as 1973 the Premier was deeply involved in getting a television service for Leigh Creek. 1 have a letter dated 25 July from the Minister for Mines and Energy which says:
I refer to the representations you made to the Deputy Premier regarding the possible establishment of television facilities in the Leigh Creek area.
He went on to outline some of the actions he had taken. During the election campaign I got some information from Leigh Creek. I then had to send an urgent telegram to the secretary of the Leigh Creek Combined Union Council which Mr Connolly said in his statement had made representations over the years to the then Government which Senator Jessop supported and which Mr Barber admitted did not do very much- that we had done more in 3 months than it had done in 5 years. I want to quote this telegram so that there will be no doubt about what Senator Cameron, Mr Wallis and I did. I sent it to the secretary on 1 9 November 1 975. It reads:
I am gravely concerned at misleading statements being made by Senator Jessop to the effect that he is responsible for obtaining the favourable decision in respect to television for Leigh Creek. Respectfully suggest you acquaint Leigh Creek residents with facts regarding continued efforts by Senator Don Cameron and myself since our visit to Leigh Creek which resulted in our obtaining the consent of the Australian Labor Government together with that of the State authorities to provide the necessary TV service. You have my permission to make public all my correspondence on this matter.
Whenever I have raised this matter, whether by question or by speech in this place or by letter to the Minister, I have sent copies of the correspondence to the Leigh Creek Combined Union Council and to Mr Barber, who was then secretary of the Far Northern Development Association. On 25 November I received a letter from the Premier in which he stated:
Thank you very much for your work to obtain the necessary approvals for the extension of TV services to Leigh Creek.
I know that you were very instrumental in getting the necessary Commonwealth support to establish the station, and we were very pleased to add our State money to the undertaking.
Then we come to the Press release put out by Senator Withers on 10 December to which I have made a passing reference. The statement is headed: ‘Statement by Senator R. G. Withers, Minister for the Media’. It states:
After 18 months’ negotiation a television service is to be established at Leigh Creek in South Australia.
So in his opening stanza he admitted that there were 1 8 months of negotiation. He went on to say that these people were going to be given a television service. When I asked him a further question in the Senate on this matter he could not answer it. When we came back to this place on 2 March I asked him a question as to how the service was progressing. He said:
I am not the Minister responsible, therefore I cannot give the undertaking which the honourable member seeks. However, I shall inquire of my colleague in the other place who is in charge of this matter and get information for the honourable senator.
I had not had a reply by 1 April. A month went by. So I asked the Minister a similar question. He gave me the following reply:
I regret that the honourable senator has not yet received a reply from my colleague. I shall do my utmost to expedite the reply.
Again I received a letter from Des Corcoran, at that time the Acting Premier in South Australia, dated 2 April 1976. The letter stated:
I have received information from the Prime Minister that the proposal to provide television to the Leigh Creek community has now been approved.
The Prime Minister has asked that the Australian Telecommunications Commission proceed with the matter as expeditiously as possible.
On 3 April I copied Senator Jessop. I thought I had better make some Press statements just to put the people in the right picture and let them know what was going on. An article headed Town to get TV which appeared in the Adelaide Advertiser on 3 April 1976 stated:
Leigh Creek, in South Australia’s Far North, is to get a television service.
Senator McLaren (ALP) said yesterday he had been advised by the Premier (Mr Dunstan) of Australian Government approval for the installation of the service.
The Prime Minister (Mr Fraser) had asked Telecom Australia to proceed with the matter as soon as possible.
Senator McLaren said he had been pressing for the service since a public meeting in the town in February, 1 974.
Of course that is the wrong date; the public meeting was held in February 1 973. That is the way this matter has progressed. What has prompted Senator Jessop to make the statement he has made? Perhaps he was a little disturbed that the Premier of South Australia went to Leigh Creek in June this year and put out a Press statement on the Leigh Creek television service. The report of what he said to the people of Leigh Creek states:
The South Australian Government will ensure that Leigh Creek and surrounding areas get television facilities as soon as possible, the Premier, Mr Dunstan, told ETSA employees in the town today.
The Federal Liberal Government’s shabby record on this matter is disgraceful, but television services will be provided even if the State Government has to do the job itself, the Premier said.
– That was not playing politics, was it?
– Of course not, because Mr Fraser had reneged on the promise he made. He would not grant money at one stage. So the Premier put it right. This is apparently what upset Senator Jessop because the State was prepared to go it alone. The Press statement continued:
The good work which the South Australian Government, Laurie Wallis and Senators Geoff McLaren and Don Cameron have done will not be wasted.
And neither it should be wasted. The statement continued:
Mr Fraser and his Ministers have broken their word. They promised in March and April that the Liberal Government would honour its commitment to provide television to the area, but in May Mr Fraser told us that they would not be providing any money for the services.
The South Australian Government offered to lend the Federal Government $45,000 to get the job done, but we have never been given the courtesy of a reply to our offer.
All we have seen is the newspaper reports that the Minister for Posts and Telecommunications, Mr Robinson, told two Liberal MPs that the funds will now be available.
The South Australian Government has not been told when this money will arrive or when the work will start, but we are trying to get this information.
Mr Dunstan said the previous Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, had agreed last October to contribute $45,000 of the $ 105,000 needed for the television service.
Through ETSA the South Australian Government would pay the remaining $65,000 and, as well, ETSA would provide the site for the transmitter antenna and studio building.
Mr Fraser confirmed that agreement on March 19 this year. Since then they have broken their promise and now they are trying to tell the people of Leigh Creek that they have changed their mind again.
Of course we get back to the statement made by Senator Jessop last week when he said that the Commonwealth Government will provide the service. He did not say that the Labor Government had made the decision. He did not go on in his Press statement to tell the people of Leigh Creek that the Electricity Trust of South Australia which runs the coal mine at Leigh Creek was in fact funding $65,000 of the $100,000 required. To all intents and purposes Senator Jessop was saying that his Government was funding the lot. When the honourable senator makes Press statements he wants to be honest about them.
– When did he say that?
-That is in the Press statement I quoted earlier today.
– He said nothing of the sort.
– He did. He said the Government would provide. I quote it again:
The Commonwealth Government promised it would make funds available, and as a result of their undertaking, Leigh Creek would get television ‘.
Why did he not go on and say that the present Government is funding only $45,000 out of the $100,000? The Press statement made by two Liberal members from South Australia, referred to by Mr Dunstan in his Press release, was no doubt given out to other people before it was given to me, the person who has had close contact with this matter over many years. On 24 June I received a letter from Mr Robinson, the Minister for Post and Telecommunications and Minister Assisting the Treasurer. The letter was sent from Parliament House, Canberra, and was dated 24 June 1976. It stated:
Dear Senator McLaren,
I refer to your personal representations on behalf of the residents of Leigh Creek who are seeking a television repeater station in their locality. I am pleased to advise that funds will be made available in the 1976-77 Budget for this station to be constructed.
Yours sincerely, ERIC L. ROBINSON.
On 5 August I received a letter from the Premier of South Australia dated 2 August. It stated:
Dear Senator McLaren,
I am writing to advise you that the Prime Minister has indicated that a sum of $100,000 has been included on the 1 976-77 capital program for the purpose of providing an initial temporary television service to Leigh Creek.
This sum has been made available on the understanding that approximately $60,000 to $65,000 of this amount will be reimbursed to Commonwealth consolidated revenue by the South Australian Electricity Trust.
That is the whole crux of the matter. But what do we find happened on the 20th of this month. We find that another Press release headed ‘Television for Leigh Creek’ was put out by the Minister for Post and Telecommunications. I get back to where I left off last night. The Press release stated:
TELEVISION FOR LEIGH CREEK.
The Minister for Post and Telecommunications, Mr Eric L. Robinson, announced today that Leigh Creek in South Australia would be given a television service.
Mr Robinson said the station would be constructed by Telecom Australia and would be operated by the Electricity
Trust of South Australia. Recorded programs are to be provided by the Australian Broadcasting Commission.
The Minister said that the station would be established by Commonwealth Government funds with the assistance of a contribution of $65,000 from the Electricity Trust of South Australia. On the basis of present information regarding the delivery of equipment from overseas, it is expected that the station will commence operation by the end of next April.
It will operate on Channel 9 with sufficient power to provide a rural grade of service to the neighbouring township of Copley. Residents of Lyndhurst may be able to receive transmissions by installing high gain receiving aerials or a community television antenna system.
Canberra 20 September 1976
I had received a letter from him on 24 June to that effect. Yet we find that on 20 September he put out another Press statement only reiterating what Senator Withers had put out in a Press statement in December of last year during the election campaign and what the two Liberal members of Parliament referred to by Mr Dunstan had said in June. What intrigues me is, in view of the statement made by Senator Jessop last week, why Mr Robinson has followed up with this one. It appears to me as though there is quite a bit of collusion going on in the present Government trying to get credit for Senator Jessop for something in which he was involved in a minor way but in respect of which most of the ground work was done by Labor senators and the Labor member for Grey, a man who knows what is needed up in that area and who put in a tremendous amount of work in assisting Senator Cameron and myself to do what we did. I want to place on record my grateful thanks to Senator Douglas McClelland for the courtesy he extended to us during all our negotiations. I want to place on record on behalf of the people who live at Leigh Creek their thanks to Don Dunstan who is not playing politics in this matter. I want to pay particular thanks to the Electricity Trust of South Australia which in its wisdom has decided that the people of Leigh Creek are well worthy of being funded the amount of $65,000 to see that the service is provided. It is unfortunate that this matter has become a political football because it was not introduced into the Parliament in the early stages but only when a certain number of Liberal senators visited the area trying to make capital out of what government members of the day had done. I am happy that even if the Government again reneges on its financial promise the Dunstan Government has said that it will come to the party and fund the whole operation.
-I rise to make one or two comments on this subject because unlike some honourable senators opposite- particularly Senator McLaren who has just resumed his seat- I have been associated with the area of Leigh Creek for 20 years. My interest in that area is not a Johnny-come-lately interest. This whole controversy arose as a result of Mr Dunstan wandering through that part of South Australia in June of this year.
– For the first time.
-Yes, for the first time for many months, if not years. Mr Dunstan visited that area well recognising that it displayed a tremendous interest in returning a Liberal and National Country Party government at the last election, well recognising that the Liberal and Country Party vote in Leigh Creek was better than the Labor Party vote and recognising that the reputation of members of the Labor Party in that area was at an all-time low ebb. In fact, in the electorate of Grey a swing of less than .6 per cent on the last election figures is all that is required for the Liberal-National Country Party to regain that seat. I can assure honourable senators opposite that we will do just that, particularly with the help of honourable senators opposite who persistently endeavour to denigrate people on this side of the chamber. I personally object to that. That is the story. This is why my colleague opposite from South Australia rose to his feet and accused me of lifting questions out of Hansard for my own benefit. I have never been guilty of lifting a question out of Hansard. Senator McLaren referred to a news item on Channel 4 and if what he said is true my name possibly may have been put in that Press statement because that television channel is aware that I make many representations on this matter and have done so for a long period of time.
I should like briefly to examine the history of this matter. I apologise to the Senate for delaying it at this time because of what would seem to be a parochial State matter. It is a matter of importance. I will relate the history of this subject to the Senate because Senator McLaren was not in the Parliament when all this business started. I recall that in October 1972- well before the election period and in fact before the election date was known- the Hon. C. R. Kelly, the honourable member for Wakefield and I made representations -
– I rise on a point of order. Senator Jessop has misrepresented me by saying that I was not in the Senate in 1972. 1 was in the Senate in 1972.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Order!
– I came here in 1 97 1 .
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Order! You have had your turn, Senator McLaren. That is not a point of order. I call Senator Jessop.
– If that is the case, I apologise to Senator McLaren who obviously is disturbed at the success that this present Government has had in providing Leigh Creek with a television installation.
– It is just that it has taken them a long time to make any impact.
-That is right. I will go a little further and give more farts about the matter for the benefit of the Senate. In October 1972 at the request of Mr Kelly and myself the Broadcasting Control Board sent its technical officer, Mr Frank Brownless, who is the development engineer in that authority, to attend public meet,ings at Leigh Creek, Woomera and Wudinna on Eyre Peninsula to discuss the problems associated with providing television to these remote areas. It is a costly procedure to provide conventional television to these areas and at this time, it would certainly have been beyond any government’s capacity individually to pay for the installation of television in an area such as Leigh Creek. At that public meeting in October 1972 which was attended by the Hon. Arthur Whyte, M.L.C., and Mr Claude Allen- who is the State representative for that area- the Government’s policy was explained. At that time, for those areas which were unable to receive the conventional type of television, the Government had a policy whereby it provided the programming of stations and it also provided- I think I am right in saying this- an anount of money sufficient to provide the salary for an operator to attend that particular installation. The capital cost of constructing the translator station itself was left to another authority. I think the mining company that is operating at Hamersley constructed the building and the Government provided the television programs for it. At the public meeting at Leigh Creek it was suggested that the appropriate authority to provide the capital cost to construct the installation would be the Electricity Trust of South Australia. This message was conveyed to the Premier of the State by Mr Claude Allen at that time.
– When was this?
– I believe it was November or December following this meeting. Letters are available and if I had been paid the courtesy of being notified by Senator McLaren that he intended to raise this matter I would have got the letter and read it to the Senate. It was immediately after the meeting that was held at Leigh Creek at the time that I described.
– You did not give us a time.
-It was October 1972. It was about that time. As I said earlier, if I had been given the courtesy of prior knowledge about this I would have had a chance to refresh my memory. Anyway, it was two or three months after the public meeting that Mr Allen made his representations to the Premier. He asked whether State funds could be made available and, if not, whether the Electricity Trust could provide some assistance. ‘No’ was the Premier’s answer at that time. We were then unable to persist in that particular direction because of the refusal of the State Government to come to the party. However, when the Labor Party came to power I can recall how very interested Labor Party senators from South Australia suddenly became in the provision of a television service for Leigh Creek. I well recall the number of times when the Minister at that time answered Dorothy Dixers that were served to him by certain members of the now Opposition.
– It was a regular feature.
-It was. At that time I did not participate to the extent of honourable senators to whom I have referred but I kept a consistent interest in the matter. I wrote to the Minister and I believe he gave me a reply. But then, of course, the government changed and the excitement began because of various Press statements. I can recall a rumour that was circulated from Labor quarters that we were going to deny funds for the installation of the Leigh Creek translator station. I quickly made inquiries as soon as I read about it in the Press. I rang the Telecom manager in South Australia and asked him whether he could ascertain that the project would go ahead. I received a reply saying that the equipment had been ordered and was due to be installed by the end of June next year. Telecom was not the only authority involved in this matter. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation and the Broadcasting Control Board were involved also. Some problems had to be resolved between those authorities. The equipment had been ordered.
I immediately sought the assurance of the Minister that the job would proceed. That is exactly what happened. I am very pleased to say that the Minister told me- the Telecommunications Commission has confirmed this-that the installation of the station will now be hopefully at the end of April next year. Far be it from me to discredit any efforts that have been made by honourable senators opposite. I do pay tribute to the work that they did while in government to keep this matter alive. I do not think that this is a matter of one-upmanship but one does react very strongly when colleagues of one’s Party in South Australia and oneself happen to be discredited by the Premier of South Australia for purely political purposes and obviously in fear of his life that he is going to lose the next election, which is a very strong possibility.
– Although it is not my intention to answer Senator Jessop, I feel I must say something in view of his confident forecast that the Liberal Party will win the House of Representatives seat of Grey at the next Federal election. It seems to me that Senator Jessop, as the person who lost the seat of Grey for the Liberal Party, ought to put his money where his mouth is if he is so confident, resign from the Senate, and contest the seat at the next general election.
Last week we had a debate on the integrity of the Australian Broadcasting Commission and the effects upon that integrity of the Government’s appointment of one of the soul mates of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who, as Senator Withers succinctly put it, was appointed to clean up the Australian Broadcasting Commission. Prior to that appointment he had been commissioned to provide a secret report on government agencies which have disciplinary powers over companies of which Sir Henry Bland is a director. The aura of corruption which surrounds that exercise will not disappear until the Government publishes the Bland report, which I hereby challenge the Government to do.
This week I want to ventilate an even more outrageous appointment to a body charged with supervising media ethics. The person concerned ironically happens to be apparently a friend and certainly a defender of Sir Henry Bland. I refer to David McNicoll, now columnist to the Sydney Bulletin, who has been appointed as one of the 12 industry representatives on the Australian Press Council. Of course, Mr McNicoll has long been known as a standing joke around Parliament House as the Colonel Blimp of the Press Gallery- a nineteenth century fossil who has dallied too long- a ludicrous journalistic dinosaur. That view is now untenable.
An article written by Alan Ramsey and published in the Nation Review more than a month ago records that Mr McNicoll, as EditorinChief of the Sydney Daily Telegraph in 1965, deliberately falsified the news, apparently in collusion with Sir Robert Askin- then Mr Askin- a former Premier of New South Wales, in order to obtain political advantage for the Liberal Party. The article was published in the Nation Review on 20 August last under the heading: ‘Only the names have been changed to protect the party ‘. I intend to quote quite extensively from that article because it is necessary to do so. It reads:
What happened involved a reporter named David Robertson on the staff of the Sydney Daily Telegraph, the notoriously anti-Labor newspaper of Sir Frank Packer’s Consolidated Press empire. The Telegraph’s state political roundsman at the time was a journalist named Bert Birtles. In February, on the eve of the election campaign -
That was the 1965 general election campaign-
Birtles went on leave. Robertson was assigned to cover state rounds in his absence. On 16 February Robertson handed in an 83 paragraph story which he had researched for a week. It dealt with a new policy initiative on land for home building which premier Renshaw intended to announce in his policy speech a week or so later.
As written by Robertson the story said:
He was referring to the original story written in 1965. Referring to the Renshaw Labor Government, the article continued:
The slate government plans to spring the biggest shock of its 23 years reign in its state election policy to be announced soon.
The surprise is a revolutionary new plan to ‘unlock’ housing land now priced too high for many buyers.
The premier, Mr Renshaw, is preparing to outline the plan in detail when he delivers Labor’s policy speech.
Key to the housing plan is the state planning authority which the government set up early last year and which began work officially on 1 June last.
The plan so far has been known only to a handful of people including state cabinet ministers and trusted key departmental officers.
And so on, for another 78 paragraphs.
The story written by Ramsey records that after writing the story the journalist Robertson handed it to the editor of the paper. Before going home, to quote again directly from the Nation Review.
On this occasion Robertson felt he should leave the files and papers he had collected in researching the story just in case they were needed to check some point or other. So, carrying the accumulation, he walked into what he thought was the empty office of the editor’s secretary. There he found the paper’s editor in chief David McNicoll, former war correspondent and a reporter of royal weddings and the queen’s coronation, busily typing at the secretary’s desk. Robertson excused himself, put the files and papers down on the desk, told McNicoll what they were, was thanked and then left.
Next morning the 17 February edition of the Daily Telegraph had nothing of Robertson’s exclusive on what Labor proposed to do. Instead the frontpage lead story carried a headline which said Liberals plan cheap land for home sites. The story which followed read:
The Liberal party, if elected to power, would make crown land available to young home builders for nominal amounts, the state opposition leader, Mr Askin, said yesterday.
This would be fair annual rent of only a few pounds, he said.
The land would be made available on perpetual lease but those acquiring it could obtain freehold if they wished.
Mr Askin said: ‘In the federal sphere the Prime Minister, Sir Robert Menzies, is helping young people with the building of homes.
We propose to help them to acquire the land on which to build the homes. ‘
And so on, etc.
As Ramsey records in the Nation Review article:
There could be no mistake. Various paragraphs in both stories were almost word for word. For instance, in his story Robertson had written: ‘The crown land sites will be available extensively in Sydney suburban areas, in Newcastle and Wollongong, and later in country towns.’ The Telegraph story said: ‘Mr Askin said thousands of blocks of land were available in Sydney suburbs, in Newcastle, Wollongong and in country towns.’
So the article continues. It also records the following:
A few days later Birtles returned from leave.
Birtles was the regular political correspondent for the newspaper at the time. The article continued:
Robertson told him what had happened.
What follows is crucial:
Birtles in turn told Robertson that on the night of 16 February McNicoll had rung him at home to get Askin ‘s silent telephone number.
And that was that, except that on 5 March the Daily Telegraph applied one more delicate turn of the screw. Labor by then had counter attacked, not with the Robertson version of its policy (either this had been abandoned after Askin ‘s ‘announcement ‘ or Robertson had got it wrong) but with a modified scheme. The Telegraph in an audacious editorial on 5 March headlined Scrambling to keep up wilh Askin said: ‘Mr Renshaw is having some late and rather hurried thoughts about helping young people who want to build homes. If Mr Askin had not already beaten him to the gun on the subject, it seems unlikely that the Premier would have shown any more tenderness than the State government has so far displayed in its 24 years of power . . .’
For 1 1 years the story was buried. But the article continues to state:
Last January, following months of negotiations, the newspaper industry and the AJA announced agreement on the establishment of the Australian Press Council to oversee the behaviour of the media. On 22 July its 1 2 industry members, including the Consolidated Press nominee David McNicoll, met for the first time under the chairmanship of Sir Frank Kitto, a former judge now 73 years old. . . The previous day Robertson sent a letter to Kitto. With it he enclosed a copy of his old story and photostat of 1 7 February 1 965 front page of the Telegraph.
The letter said:
Dear Sir Frank,
I wish to lodge a complaint in a personal capacity before the Press council against Mr David McNicoll, of Australian
Consolidated Press Ltd. Originally I expected to make the complaint after the Press council had set down its policy on retrospectivity, but in view of the fact that according to an announcement published yesterday Mr McNicoll has been nominated to membership of the council as a proprietors’ representative, I believe the council should first determine Mr McNicoll ‘s suitability for membership in the light of this complaint .
The letter concluded:
I wish the Press council success in all its activities. It faces a difficult and no doubt embarrassing task if it is to restore the highest standards of journalism in the Australian Press.
Yours sincerely, DR. ROBERTSON
Sir Frank Kitto replied very briefly a couple of days later. He said:
Mr McNicoll has been nominated for membership of the Australian Press Council by one of the constituent bodies and I am afraid there is nothing I can do, or that the council can do, about the subject of your complaint which I notice relates to a matter more than 1 1 years old.
That was published 5 weeks ago. None of the facts has been disputed by Mr McNicoll in any way so one can only assume that the facts set out in that story are correct.
Many outrages have been committed by the Press in Australia, particularly by the Murdoch Press in the last 6 months of last year. I have discussed the McNicoll story with many journalists from a great number of newspapers. All have agreed that nothing in their experience or previous knowledge is comparable either in degree or in kind to the McNicoll incident. Mr McNicoll ‘s outrage, his ethical perversion and his corruption are without parallel in contemporary Australian journalism. To tolerate a person like Mr McNicoll on a body which is charged with regulating Press ethics is analogous to appointing Ronald Biggs to guard the payroll.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a first time.
– (4.44)- I move:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
I ask for leave to have the second reading speech incorporated in Hansard.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
In introducing the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill (No. 2)I spoke in general terms about the ceiling arrangements for the levy that are the main subject of this Bill. While the Bill, in form, repeals the Act imposing the health insurance levy for 1976-77, and enacts another in its place, the only changes of substance specify the maximum- or ceiling- amounts of levy payable in varying circumstances. I should perhaps add that, although the Bill appears to be an involved one, its provisions for application to the ordinary run of cases are quite straightforward. Its comparative length is due to the need to cater for combinations of less than usual situations. The explanatory memorandum being circulated with the Bill explains each clause and I think I need at this stage do no more than commend the Bill to honourable senators.
Debate (on motion by Senator Grimes) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 16 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Mr Deputy President, I understand that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), who is in charge of this legislation, would propose a comprehensive debate covering the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 and the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976, and that the Opposition would like the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill (No. 2) 1976 and the Health Insurance Levy Bill (No. 2) 1976 to be the subject of another debate separate from the proposed debate on the first three Bills.
The DEPUTY PRESIDENT- Is it the wish of the Senate to have 2 separate debates as proposed by the Minister? There being no objection that course will be followed.
-The Senate is debating together the second readings of the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 and the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976. These Bills are a further step by the present Government in the dismantling of Medibank which was set up by the previous Government and which the present Government in its election policy announcements before 13 December last promised to maintain. The name of Medibank may well remain but there will be a return- this is one stage in that return- to the concept of health insurance which we had before the election of the former Labor Government. Before dealing with the Bills I point out a very important difference between the approach of this Government and the approach of the previous Government in the management of the Medibank arrangements.
For a long time the Labor Party proposed a universal health insurance scheme. The proposal was opposed implacably by members of the present Government, by the Australian Medical Association and some other medical organisations, and was violently opposed by the voluntary health funds. We were told that universal insurance was unnecessary. We were told of the disasters which would arise from the exploitation of Labor’s scheme by patients. We were never told about any exploitation of any scheme by the medical profession. We were told of the inevitable deterioration of health care in this country. We were told of the destruction of the private hospitals which would follow the introduction of Medibank. Some senators opposite have obviously changed their minds but some have been utterly consistent in their views. Senator Sheil, for instance, has not changed his mind and remains implacably opposed to Medibank Mark I and Medibank Mark II. The former Labor Government produced a Green Paper for discussion. This was debated ad infinitum. The Government then produced a White Paper, a policy paper, which was vigorously debated throughout the country. There was a double dissolution. The Labor Party won it. It had consultations with professional groups and health funds and compromises were made. Despite opposition the legislation was passed. Medibank came into being, it was accepted by the community, it worked efficiently with administrative costs lower than predicted, and the utilisation rates were as predicted.
The present Government, in its election campaign last November, said that it accepted that Medibank was a fact. It said that it would maintain Medibank and would not dismantle it. It acknowledged that Medibank had indeed become a part of our health scene and was accepted by the community. No sooner was the Government in office than the Medibank Review Committee was set up- a committee of 3 wise men. I am not denying that they may in fact have been 3 wise men but we have no idea what they decided, what they reported, if anything, or to whom they spoke. They did not conduct public hearings. They did not report to the Parliament. There has been no attempt by them or the Government to justify or even to report their decisions. There was no public discussion at all. This Committee was conceived in haste. The
Labor Party believes that it was given instructions to come up with a scheme to get 50 per cent or more of the people out of Medibank.
Suddenly, earlier this year, a new concept was announced and legislation was introduced into the Parliament to amend the present scheme drastically. Booklets were produced which quickly became obsolete once mistakes were discovered. Further booklets were produced and these also became obsolete because of later changes to pensioner benefits under the scheme. In more recent weeks Medibank offices and health fund offices have been flooded with confused people. Newspapers are running special supplements to try to explain to people how to cope with the new scheme. Talk-back programs on radio are flooded with phone calls from people trying to understand the new scheme and members of Parliament spend a great deal of their time trying to explain the ramifications of the new scheme to constituents. Such is the result of the desperate desire of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) to transfer a figure from the Budget to the private section of the community. Such is the Government’s haste to placate the private health funds which assisted it so much with finance and other help during the election campaign.
Many of the clauses in the 3 Bills we are debating today contain amendments to legislation brought into this Parliament only a few months ago. Most of the clauses give witness to the hurried and confused conception of this scheme.
– For example?
-I will come to the example. For instance start from clause 1 of the first Bill, the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2), and read through to the end of it. Probably it is the most convenient Bill to start with. Despite Senator Baume ‘s great desire for information I have no intention in the short time that I have of going through the Bill clause by clause but in the second reading speech by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) he will find that amendments were necessary to previous legislation because of changes made in the very few months since the new concept was accepted.
There are some interesting concepts in this Bill. For instance, clause 13 relates to the care of people whose illness necessitates hospitalisation for more than 35 days. The Government is setting up what is called a re-insurance account or what the Minister referred to several times as a re-insurance pool for the hospital fees of these people so that they can remain in intermediate wards. This concept differs greatly from what we know of re-insurance pools in other forms of insurance in the community. Insurance companies contribute to a pool so that companies which get too many bad risks can be covered by money from the pool. However, in this case the funds are to contribute nothing. The re-insurance account is to be made up of contributors funds and $50m is to be contributed by the taxpayers of this country. The health insurance funds will get the kudos and they want it and need it because the main basis of their advertising and the main attraction that they think they have for the community is that they can provide intermediate cover. The taxpayers who stay in Medibank will subsidise that group, small as it may be, which gets into the situation of needing money from this re-insurance account. Instead of having a proper insurance procedure where premiums are set to cover all illnesses the Government is subsidising the funds to provide for what the insurance companies call the sink end- the unprofitable end of insurance- in order to make sure that the premiums for intermediate and private care do not get too high or unacceptably high.
We believe that if people think they need private insurance, if they want it and want to go to private hospitals, they should be able to do so and should be able to insure themselves with funds but we also believe that this should be an economic business and should not require a great deal of subsidy from the government without any contributions from the funds as this clause will provide. We believe that if the Government wants to set up a re-insurance pool premiums should be set at reasonable levels. They should be set at such levels that all people will be covered and then the private funds, including Medibank Private, can conduct their own reinsurance pool as is done in any other business.
Clause 20 of the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) also demonstrates the haste with which the original legislation was drawn. It demonstrates also some of the mistakes made by the Government in drawing up its new Medibank scheme. The Government has found that its guess at the cost of intermediate ward cover was about $50 less than it turned out to be. The funds found that they would have to charge a similar amount more. Those people who of their own choice like to take out intermediate cover would have found themselves paying higher premiums than they needed to pay and because of the Government’s inaccuracy would have had trouble getting the predicted cover. The Government wishes to encourage people to join private health funds and we will have words to say later about whether that is desirable. The Government is again subsidising the private health funds.
The Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2), which the Opposition does not oppose, attempts to cut out the racket in pathologists’ tests. This racket has been the bugbear of health insurance costs in this country for many years. I emphasise that this is a racket conducted by doctorsdoctors who are attracted by the inflated fees for automated tests.
- Senator, did not the doctors try–
- Senator Baume will have plenty of time to speak later. I suggest, Mr Deputy President, that he curb his excitement.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mulvihill)- Order! Senator Grimes has the floor.
-Senator Baume well knows that pathology fees in this country were set on a relative basis some years ago because in those days pathology tests were difficult, tiresome, and took much more skill than they frequently do now. In recent years kit methods of doing pathology tests have grown up. At the same time automatic machines such as the autoanalyser have grown up and large number of tests can be done on very small amounts of blood. However the fees paid for those tests have remained relatively large. For the sake of Senator Baume I will agree that the vast majority of doctors in this country have not made a racket out of pathology tests and the referral of pathology tests.
– A grudging and necessary admission.
– I have admitted it now and I have admitted it in previous debates as the honourable senator well knows. Senator Baume has to protect the vested interests that he thinks he protects in this place. Even he may grudgingly admit that there are a few unscrupulous characters who always attempted to make a racket of pathology tests and other medical tests in this country. They will attempt to circumvent this provision by doing tests on different days. They will try to do this as they have done in the past and in fact they would do it no matter what form of legislation we brought into this Parliament unless we remove the ridiculous fee for service provisions. Some people who are opposed to Medibank think that these should be removed from things like pathology tests. I believe the profession should bear a greater part of the burden of exposing these modern day vampires. We wish the Government well with this amendment. It certainly attempts to overcome a very great problem in health insurance in this country.
However, the Opposition views with a less charitable eye the deceitful amendment to the State-Commonwealth hospital agreements which are also affected by this Bill. We consider the amendment deceitful because early in September the Commonwealth Government came to an agreement with the States on the heads on which the agreements would be made. Some days later the Commonwealth announced that it was adding to the agreements a clause which had the effect of throwing on to the States the burden of any additional unforeseen costs which might arise as a result of this legislation. The Opposition, in this Parliament and in the State parliaments- both Labor and Liberal State parliaments- believes that the original StateFederal hospital agreements were valid. One State Parliament passed unanimously the State hospital agreement. Members of both major parties, Labor and Liberal, and the Independents in the Upper House of that State, on the insistence of the Liberal Party, examined the agreement. They had it examined, looked at it, considered it valid and fair and passed it. We believe, as we have stated previously, that the allegation of the invalidity of the agreements was an act by this Government to get out of its responsibilities. We believe it was an act of the Attorney-General, not as the first law officer of this country; we believe it was a politically motivated act which does not have any legal basis. I might add that this is all we would expect.
The new clause allows the Commonwealth, without agreement of the States, to refuse to accept any increase not previously discussed with the States. If something unforeseen happens the Commonwealth says: ‘Too bad, it is unfortunate that there was an unforeseen wage rise or any unforeseen cost of this type’, and the agreement to share 50 per cent of the net costs in hospitals is gone. There is nothing the States can do about it. The States are concerned about this addition to their previous agreement with the Federal Government. We share their concern. We would have shared concern about a couple of the other heads of agreement, but they came together with the Commonwealth Government and agreed. In the circumstances, if they are satisfied we would be satisfied. However, they did not agree with this addition. We do not believe this Parliament should agree with it.
The Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 establishes Medibank Private. It gives the statutory corporation, Medibank, the right to take part in private health insurance in this country. When in government and when introducing Medibank we accepted the fact that some people wanted to take out intermediate and private hospital and medical insurance. We did not interfere. We said that the 2 forms of insurance should be separate. We accepted that people should have perfect freedom to be able to choose. Hence the voluntary private health funds survived very well on private hospital insurance. Private health insurance will now be available from a statutory body and we are beastly careless about this. I express my surprise that a party such as the Liberal Party, with the support of the Country Party, which was so violently opposed to the setting up of a statutory corporation to compete with the private insurance companies last year, should be willing to allow Medibank to compete with private funds. Perhaps there is a welcome change of attitude just a little in this regard. Perhaps it is a result of the experience of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in dealing with the voluntary health funds. We know that Prime Ministers and Ministers for Health since the days of Prime Minister Gorton have had a rough time with the voluntary health funds, have had a very bad time trying to negotiate with them and have suffered from the mischievous, corrupt and inaccurate advertising in which these groups have taken part against governments of both political persuasions.
There is some hope for the conservatives on the opposite side, because yesterday Senator Townley roundly criticised the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health for taking out their private insurance with Medibank Private. Senator Townley said that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health, in taking out their private insurance with Medibank Private, were supporting a socialist organisation. We do not believe that Medibank Private is a very socialist organisation. We do not believe that the almost exact corollary of Medibank Private, the proposed Australian Government Insurance Corporation last year, was very much of a socialist organisation. It is nice to know that some people on the other side never change and that some of them occasionally are willing to criticise their leaders for not supporting those who supported them so financially and with such great manpower during the last election campaign.
The Bills, apart from correcting the mistakes of the Government’s previous hasty action, do nothing to encourage a rational health care system in this country. Perhaps they were not intended to improve health care in this country. They certainly do nothing to cut the costs of health care in this country. They may transfer payments from the government to the private sector. When we are talking about the 2 later Bills we will talk about this and the effect of the changes on the total cost of health care in this country. The Bills do nothing to encourage the development of rational health care, nor do they do anything to encourage even the discussion of new methods of health care, new approaches to the delivery of health care in this country. The Government has encouraged further the breakdown of such development by refusing to fund community health centre programs, thus destroying another avenue of health care in this country.
Every country, including the United States, realises that one of the biggest problems in health services is unnecessary operations, unnecessary pathology and unnecessary prescribing. The previous Opposition, in its fight against the Medibank legislation, joined some elements in the medical profession and blamed such overusage on patients- blamed patients for excessive operations, excessive procedures and excessive prescribing. In an article in the Australian only 2 weeks ago, a member of the House of Representatives, a doctor new to the Parliament, had the gall to blame the high incidence of the iatrogenic diseases in this country on Medibank. It is not that many years ago that Sir Theodore Fox, the distinguished editor of Lancet, came to this country and looked at the system which we had. He blamed the fee for service system for the high operation rate, particularly in tonsillectomies, hysterectomies and appendectomies. The surgery rate in this country and in other countries seems to be in proportion to the fee for service system. It is high where there is fee for service and it is low where there is not. Each time the facts and figures of the surveys in America and Canada, including Vancouver, are brought to air in this country the medical profession rises -
– What are the figures?
- Senator Baume, who is a lobbyist for the Australian Medical Association, is rising as he always does in every debate and at every question time.
– I rise to order. That is a reflection on Senator Baume which I think is out of order and should be withdrawn.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mulvihill)- I have sat in this chair through a lot of robust debates. I always allow a fair amount of latitude when somebody is making an assertion but I allow somebody else to give it back with compound interest if he wants to. There is no substance in the point of order.
- Mr Acting Deputy President, if I may address you on the point of order, to suggest that an honourable senator is in this chamber as a lobbyist for an interest is, in my respectful submission, out of order. I think that when the matter is considered in that light it will be found that it is an allegation that ought not to be made.
– Being a man of peace, I am happy to withdraw. I just make the remark which was made by the President of the United States: ‘If you cannot stand the heat please get out of the kitchen’.
– I rise to a point of order again. That again is an offensive way, as far as I am concerned, to withdraw that allegation. There are rules protecting honourable senators in this place and the rules should be applied. It is not a matter of not being able to stand the heat; it is a matter of what is proper in this place.
– Speaking to the point of order, I realise that Senator Chaney has to protect the chickens that he looks after on that side but if people on that side want to interject and are not willing to take the results of their interjections, I suggest that they are so oversensitive that they should not be here. In my opinion it is a frivolous point of order put forward in a frivolous manner.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT- I said earlier that when a person reflects on someone’s parentage or nationality I will be as firm as anybody. It would have been very easy at the time of the first interjection in this debate to pull the Senate to order. I did not do it because I believe in a robust, even flowing debate. As I understand it, Senator Grimes made a passing reference to a Presidential utterance on the give and take of debate. As I interpret it, he did not reaffirm the original inference to which Senator Baume took offence. He did not pursue the point about which Senator Baume felt resentful. I can be very firm from now on, as can other Acting Deputy Presidents, but I think that Senator Grimes has indicated that, if there are no interjections, he will pursue a narrow course but he reserves the right to respond in robust fashion. You may proceed, Senator.
– In the minute left to methere will be plenty of time in the Committee stage- I just want to say that these Bills encourage the expansion of the fee for service system, they discourage people from utilising the public health system, they dismantle Medibank as the public knows it and as the public has come to accept it, they pander to the desires of the voluntary health funds in this country to accumulate vast sums of money and to utilise that money in a manner which is not to the benefit of their contributors. The debate will continue in the Committee stages and I will leave my further detailed remarks until then.
– I rise to support the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2). A lot of nonsense has been spread about by Australian Labor Party supporters saying that the Government has destroyed Medibank. I find that pretty hard to swallow, because the Government has not only maintained Medibank but also improved it. Now, through Medibank, patients can opt for their own doctor in a hospital of their choice, in a bed of their choice, and have the additional choice of a private health fund if they so desire. Naturally, when taking over a wrecked economy, the Government had to take drastic steps to correct the excesses of the former Labor Government. Proper business procedures had to be introduced, and one of the economic problems that had been created was the health scheme which was turning into an economic dragon with an insatiable appetite and which threatened to devour massive slabs of our revenue. Therefore the Government had to reorganise the health scheme in an economic package. I think that we often lose sight of the fact that the health scheme is part of a three-fold economic package including the family allowance and tax indexation. Both of these latter measures will in the long term greatly assist the family man.
This Bill also recognises the needs of the low to medium income groups. In her second reading speech the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) said:
Because of its concern to keep the cost of this type of insurance within the reach of those with low to medium incomes, the Government decided to give a subsidy to hold the family contribution rate to $2.60 a week and the single contribution rate to $1.30 a week. This level of hospital insurance will cover contributors for public hospital charges in shared ward accommodation where they choose to be treated by their own doctor.
When this Bill was discussed in June I voiced some objections to certain clauses which, in my view, gave the Minister inordinate powers. As I appreciated the urgency of these Bills because of budgetary considerations and the desire of the Government to implement administrative changes by 1 October I offered no resistance to these measures, having had an assurance from the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and Senator Guilfoyle that those objections would be obviated during the Budget session. The Bill to which 1 am referring gives effect to amendments which satisfy all but one of my concerns. I will refer to that later. I realise that there are difficulties associated with the legislation.
I would now like to refer to the second reading speech. This is in no way a reflection on the Minister; if anything, it reflects on the speech writer in the Department. I found the speech somewhat disjointed. It commences with an explanation of clause 13 on page 5 of the Bill and proceeds, missing explanations of some important amending clauses, to clause 22 on page 13 of the Bill. It then returns to clause 12, then back to clause 3 which includes definitions of ‘the standard hospital benefits table’ and ‘the standard medical benefits table ‘ which are also involved in clause 12. Reference is then made to clause 5 on page 4 of the Bill where this Bill amends section 57b. I do not need to go any further than that except to suggest to the departmental author that in future a more sequential presentation of the second reading speech would be of great assistance to the Senate.
I turn now to the specifics of the Bill as they concerned me in June. It appears that either the clauses which I queried in the original debate have been directly amended to cover the points raised relating to health funds or the effects of amendments to other sections of the Act will meet previous objections. On page 2233 of Hansard I outlined objections I had to section 73 ba, which gave the Minister power to impose a fine of $2,000 on funds for certain breaches, and also to sections 73ba (1) (g) and 73BA (1) (k), which gave the Minister what I believed to be incredible powers. True to his word, the Minister for Health examined the measures during the winter recess and has now presented changes which meet all major objections. However, there are still a few grey areas that might be given consideration. For instance, this Bill will mean that Medibank Private is in effect absorbed by Medibank itself which, it seems, will make it difficult to assess the actual costs of Medibank Private. If these costs could be assessed separately, Medibank Private could then be absolutely competitive with private health funds. At present the costs shown could be somewhat misleading. For example, doubt would exist about the division of costs and administrative charges in respect of such things as the printing of pamphlets, postage, overtime and counter work, such as the filling in of forms which absorbs an appreciable amount of time. I would bc appreciative if the Minister would give this matter consideration. The Minister for Social Security may be able to explain it now. There may well be an explanation in the Medibank estimates from which any honourable senator could clearly see the separate costs of Medibank Private, and Medibank itself.
I am concerned with the pamphlet published by the Department in August. I do not think it clarifies properly the position of pensioners. The Minister may have already done something about this, but when dealing with pensioners it is necessary to be very explicit and to use simple terms so that they can fully understand Medibank. This would be helpful to those people who are considerably confused with respect to the change in their position. I ask the Minister whether she could do something about the distribution to all pensioners of a more simplified pamphlet. The last point that I raised during the June debate is one that I referred to before and in respect of which I am still not satisfied. It concerns people such as Christian Scientists. I recognise fully the administrative problems associated with these people. However, I would be grateful if the Minister for Health would keep this matter under review in the hope that ultimately he will find a way to overcome the compulsion for these people to belong to Medibank when they object through religious beliefs to attending a doctor or going to hospital. I do not think it is an insurmountable problem and I hope that the Minister will find a solution for them.
These Bills when passed will provide the foundation for a more effective and rational health service in Australia. I thank the Minister for Health and Senator Guilfoyle for their cooperation in re-examining the passages that previously were of concern to me and other honourable senators. I have great pleasure now in supporting the Bills before the Senate.
-I rise to speak in the debate on these Bills because I believe that we are witnessing one more chapter in the demise of Medibank. I would like in the first instance to reply to some of the comments of the previous speaker. He began by saying that it is nonsense to suggest that the Government had destroyed Medibank. He said: ‘We have in fact improved it’. During the course of my comments I will show that it is not nonsense and that in fact Medibank as we know it has been destroyed, not improved. It has been turned into a debacle. Senator Jessop also spoke of an economic package, of tax indexation but, given the chance to speak later on the 2 Bills that are to be debated separately from these 3 Bills, I will point out that although we have tax indexation it has been made a farce because we now have an additional tax which people will have to pay. It is called a levy; it is nothing but a tax and taxation will be very much the same. Finally Senator Jessop said that he found the second reading speech disjointed. I am not surprised. That correlates with what Medibank has been made.
I said when I commenced that we were witnessing one more chapter in the demise of Medibank. We should not be witnessing it at the moment because the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) made a promise during the election campaign that Medibank would be continued. Most people expected, at least until now, that Medibank would be continued in the same form as it was at that time last year. Despite the Prime Minister’s promise, there were changes to Medibank early this year and have been since May. Medibank has been turned from a simple effective scheme into something which is very complex, something which people find very difficult to understand. It has become so complex that I was amazed the other day to find in the mail at my office- I am sure that most other honourable senators received it too- a draft Press release from Medibank. This draft Press release was styled so that we could fill in our name, the location of our office and our telephone number to make it read as a Press release from the senator whose name appeared on it to the effect that he was in his office to help people with their problems on Medibank. Granted, most of us do try to help our constitutents and most people know that their members and senators will help them if they go to them. But fancy an organisation, finding things so complex, with so many difficulties, sending draft Press releases to members and senators saying that those members and senators would be able to help the public.
The last time I spoke on Bills relating the Medibank was after the announcement of the changes in May. As far as I can recall I said that wherever possible I would help my constituents who were having problems deciding what they should do about Medibank. Like most other honourable senators and, I am sure, members of the House of Representatives, from both sides, knowing that this legislation would go through because the Government had the numbers, I made an attempt to understand fully what the Medibank proposals were and, again, like most other honourable senators and members, my attempt to understand them was successful. So when asked I set out to explain to people what their options were. Unfortunately, whilst we were in recess there were so many changes that not only did the public become confused but also did many members of both Houses. When I spoke in the debate on those proposals there had been a pamphlet issued by Medibank which said: ‘Medibank and You. High Quality Health Care for You and Your Family. It is Your Choice.’ The size of the pamphlet, including the cover, was 6 pages. That was distributed before we went into recess. Whilst we were in recess there was so many changes that we ended up having delivered to our offices and the people of Australia had distributed to them a pamphlet of some 20 pages, including the cover, to explain the Medibank proposals. The phamphlet is 3 times the size of the original one. Was that an indication that the proposals had been made 3 times as complex? I would begin to think so. I believe that the original proposals that were handed down in May were ill-considered and illprepared. I am reminded of the times when I had students to whom I was responsible. If they had handed in to me work that was as ill-prepared as the original proposal for Medibank that this Government produced they would have failed miserably. I believe that in fact the Government has failed miserably in its proposals.
Let me indicate to the Senate some of the background to the matter we are dealing with at the moment. Senator Grimes outlined how the Liberal and National Country parties have maintained continuous opposition to the Labor Party’s universal health insurance schemes. He outlined how the Labor Party when in Opposition put forward proposals for a universal health insurance scheme. These proposals were well debated not only in the Parliament but also outside. When we came into power they were again debated. When we came into power in 1 972 the scheme was revised to make sure that it had as little inconsistency as possible and was the best possible scheme. Of course, legislation would not have been prepared for this scheme and it would not have been passed by the Parliament had it not been for the double dissolution that followed our original election in 1 972. And then it was even opposed all the way. It was not only opposed in the Parliament but it was opposed outside as well. It is interesting to note that this sort of opposition is continuing.
I recall that back in May or early June when we were debating these proposals I commented on the number of pamphlets and posters that one would see upon walking into one’s private medical practitioner’s surgery before Medibank was introduced. I believe that some of these posters and pamphlets were almost libellous. But the fight still goes on. In today’s Australian I read an article which was headed: ‘Funds urge boycott of Medibank ‘. The article, in part, states:
The head or Australia’s private health funds has urged every doctor throughout the nation to persuade his patients to boycott Medibank Private.
Mr W. K. Moon, president of the Voluntary Health Insurance Association, representing 57 private health funds, sent a letter to all doctors as the battle to attract contributors by October 1 heats up.
The article goes on to mention a number of points which he raised in his letter. So the battle is still going on. People outside the Parliament are using their influence to try to ensure not only that Medibank is reduced in effectiveness, as this Government is doing, but that it will fail altogether. I mentioned yesterday in this place that a well known surgeon in Queensland is urging people to keep away from Medibank Private. So not only was the fight going on then; it is still going on. There is an attempt by forces outside the Parliament to undermine Medibank.
In his policy speech for the Liberal and National Country parties in 1975-1 alluded to this earlier- Mr Fraser, the caretaker Prime Minister at the time, stated:
We will maintain Medibank and ensure that the standard of care does not decline.
Most people thought at that time that ‘we will maintain Medibank’ meant that Medibank as we knew it in November 1975 would remain. A further statement seemed to indicate that this would be so, at least until this time this year. The brief statement made in Mr Fraser’s policy speech was amplified during the course of the election campaign. For example, at a Press Club luncheon on 8 December 1 975 Mr Fraser replied in part to a question that Medibank: . . will be continued as it was introduced until we can assess properly its virtues and whatever faults might be revealed as a result of experience. Then public statements would be made about that and everyone would have an opportunity to express their views in relation to it.
What opportunity have the people had to express their views in relation to any public statements about Medibank? The Government’s decision on this matter was a fait accompli. The Government brought legislation before the Parliament and any debate or any opportunity we had to discuss it fell on deaf ears because the Government had the numbers to put legislation through both Houses.
In January 1976 the Liberal and National Country parties appointed a Medibank Review Committee to examine the operations of Medibank and to make recommendations about possible and /or desirable alterations. The report made by the Committee to the Government has not been made public. But the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has stated that the Committee’s comments and decisions were considered when the Government was working out its revised Medibank scheme. If the report was made, why was it not made public? After all, Mr Fraser during the election campaign, said that everyone would have the opportunity to express his views in relation to it after public statements had been made. Of course, the report was not made public. Perhaps there was a report, but we did not have the opportunity to debate it. We did not have the opportunity to say what we thought about certain proposals in the report. In fact, we do not even know that the Government did consider what was in the report, if there was a report, when it was revising its Medibank scheme.
I would like to outline some of the changes that have been made to Medibank by this Government, not only changes that were made before we went into recess but ones that were made after. Let us take a look at the original statement made on 20 May this year. The Minister for Health gave details of proposed modifications. Amongst these were that there would be the introduction of a 2Vi per cent levy on the taxable incomes of those who wished to remain in Medibank and who wished to be covered for 85 per cent of scheduled medical fees, and standard hospital ward accommodation with treatment by a hospital doctor. So in one fell swoop the Government introduced a levy which it had opposed not too long before. I will not dwell on the levy because that is the subject of another Bill and I hope I will be able to speak then about this subject. The statement went on to mention how there would be a ceiling to the levy. It pointed out that people may choose to insure against the cost of intermediate or private accommodation in public or private hospitals, the fees of a doctor of their choice and ancillary charges. This statement went on to say that medium and low income earners could remain in Medibank by paying a levy and, in addition, could pay an extra premium to a private health fund for insurance cover only. This would allow them to share intermediate accommodation and to have the doctor of their choice.
There is a number of other aspects in the changes announced on 20 May, one of which was that from 1 October this year, when the new Medibank is to take effect, premiums or levies for health insurance, whether paid to Medibank or to a private health fund, would no longer be tax rebatable. It also had a rather complex scheme which provided for those people who had attained a certain level of income. The Government said that it might be cheaper for those people to opt into one fund or to opt out of another. We went away from this place for the recess thinking that we had a document such as this document- a 6-page booklet- which outlined all the options that were available for people who were to be subjected to this Medibank legislation from 1 October. It was not long before we started to hear that changes were to be made. On 8 June, only shortly after we had gone into recess, the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health jointly announced that Cabinet had decided to allow Medibank to offer intermediate and private hospital accommodation insurance for those people who wished to take out full cover with Medibank. Thus, Medibank would be able to compete directly with the private health funds at the intermediate or private bed levels. The sum of $ 10m was to be provided to underwrite Medibank Private insurance. So, by 8 June the six page pamphlet was out of date.
On 22 July another statement was made announcing further changes to Medibank. I am mentioning these to the Senate to indicate how ill-prepared the legislation was. If the legislation had been prepared properly, surely all these changes that were made during the recess when Parliament was not here to debate them would not have been necessary. On 22 July 1976 the Minister for Health announced that a ceiling of $300 per annum had been set on the 2 te per cent levy which previously had been open-ended. In fact, this was necessary. I think I pointed this out in this place before June, but that announcement was made while we were in recess. The ceiling was to be administered, it was said in the same Press release, by the Taxation Office. If we are to understand it properly, the Taxation Office was somewhat reluctant to administer this ceiling. The Minister also announced some other changes on 22 July. He said that a subsidy would be operating to hold down the cost of intermediate level hospital accommodation which would otherwise be too expensive for low and medium income earners. This subsidy was expected to total about $ 15m. I wonder whether the subsidy became necessary because the Government had not done its homework properly and had not properly costed its Medibank operations. Other statements were issued which indicated that more generous assistance would be provided to the chronically ill- Senator Grimes referred to this earlier- and that a reinsurance pool of $50m would be provided for this purpose.
On 24 August 1976, because of a question which was asked in this place, we learnt that people who held pensioner medical service cards would not be liable to pay the Medibank levy. This announcement might have been made before, but to my knowledge this was the first time that we became aware of it. On 25 August, to conclude some of the major changes that were made to Medibank, Medibank Private announced that its private bed patients would be covered for 365 days a year- the same cover offered by the private funds. These were some of the changes which were outlined by the Government. I have not discussed the technical aspects of the Bill. The technical aspects of the Bill can be well discussed in the Committee stage. I have not discussed them at this stage because I believe that the people I represent are not interested in the technical aspects of the Bill. They want a simple and effective health system. They do want a system and they do want Medibank. I make that point because one of the members of the House of Representatives, Mr Donald Cameron, who lives in the same city as I do, when speaking in the debate on the Health Insurance Bill (No. 2) 1976 on 16 September, said:
I do not profess to speak on behalf of anyone else, but my personal view is that I could not care what happens to Medibank.
He could not care what happens to Medibank but I am sure his constituents do care. I am sure that his constituents during the campaign for the next election for the House of Representatives will ask him why he said that he could not care what happens to Medibank.
– Is that the honourable member for Griffith?
-Yes, that is the honourable member for Griffith at the present time. When the electors of Griffith become aware of his statements he may find that he will have some difficulty trying to convince them that he should remain their representative. As I said, the constituents I represent want a simple and effective health system. They had one and they will demand another one at the next election. Strange as it may seem, it is not uncommon for me to agree with an editorial in the Courier Mail. I should like to point out to the Senate some remarks that were made in the editorial of the Courier Mail today. The editorial in the Courier Mail was headed ‘Medibank muddle’. In part, it states:
Confusion, uncertainty, disquiet and a fair measure of anger- this is the mood of the country as the October I starting date approaches for the patched-together national health insurance scheme.
There is no enthusiasm for it, either from left or right . . .
The new health scheme is a monstrous touch-up of Labor’s extravagant Medibank proposals meshed with the old private funds in a highly unsatisfactory compromise . . .
The non-Labor parties ‘ record on Medibank has been one of blatant inconsistency and shameless improvisation. Having opposed a levy when Labor was in power they now have imposed an even heavier one.
The present Government condemned a number of the original features of Medibank, . . . but it has been forced by its election pledge to maintain a semblance of the scheme, while committing the country to an ever more complex and grossly expensive system.
By no stretch of the imagination can one say that the editorials of the Courier Mail usually favour the Australian Labor Party. But the Courier Mail, to give it its credit, has stated what is obvious. We now have a muddle of a scheme. It is a complex scheme. It is difficult for people to understand. As I said earlier, in late May or early June, I shall continue to help the people whom I represent to make a proper decision, a decision that they have only a limited time to make before 1 October. It is a difficult scheme. It has been made very complex and I am sure the Government will have to wear the odium that it has created for itself by what it has done to Medibank.
I hope to speak on some of the aspects of the other Bills which provide a levy. When I do I shall be making further comments about how this Government has misled the Australian people. But let me conclude by saying again that the people whom I represent want a simple, effective system. They will demand one at the next general election. After the next general election, when there is a different government, they will be provided with such a system.
– I am delighted that the Opposition has picked up my implacable and consistent opposition to Medibank. After the last Vh years of debates on the subject I should be surprised if even supporters of the Government had not dropped to my attitude to Medibank. Nevertheless, in just over a week now the Government is going to take us through the jaws of what I call the Medibank monster’. I should have thought that the Opposition, the perpetrators of nationalised health, would have been more pleased with the action the Government has taken than its members have shown in the debate. They speak as if we were dismantling Medibank.
Really, instead of having just one giant Medibank we now have about 80 little ones. But they are all strictly controlled. The private medical insurance companies have their rates, rebates and methods of operation fixed in just the same way as Medibank has them fixed. Indeed, they are all required to supply an immense amount of statistical data to a huge central computer- data which is largely irrelevant to peoples’ health care, but certainly data which can lead to a lot more government control of patients and government control of the medical profession. I should have thought that the Opposition would think that Medibank, that is Medibank (Private), was on a self destruct course at the moment, particularly if it were forced into open and free competition with the private health funds. No bureaucratic fund could be expected to provide services at the cheaper cost of the private health funds. I share Senator Jessop ‘s view that we must be very careful to ensure that the costs incurred by Medibank Private are dissected from the whole Medibank machine so that we can ensure that it has no undue advantage.
I was pleased that the Opposition pointed out the inconsistency in our program, in that last year we fought like tigers to defeat legislation that would have instituted an Australian Government insurance office, yet we have now turned around and instituted an Australian Government medical insurance office. It is an inconsistency. However, as I said when I spoke on this previously, the Government was presented with a boaconstrictor to wrestle with and it has come up with the best answer it can- one that can possibly work for us without our having to be nationalised. But I think we are well down the road to nationalisation even now because of the legislation that Labor forced through a joint sitting of the House of Parliament. I remind honourable senators of a quotation I have previously made in the Senate, that is that socialised health is the keystone in the arch of a socialised state. Vladimir I ‘lich Lenin said that in 1917. We are now well down the road to serfdom and I hope that we can salvage our way out of it somehow.
The enforcement agency that the Government is going to use to implement the new Medibank scheme is going to be called the PSRO, or the Professional Services Review Organisation, or the peer review system. The Government has laid down an ultimatum to the medical profession that if the profession does not institute these PSROs the Government will introduce them. It is a mammoth task for either body. Their introduction assumes that we have knaves, rogues and incompetents in the medical profession. I note that the Australian Medical Association is going to take a pioneering role in instituting these PSROs. The AMA claims to be truly representative of the medical profession so I presume it contains its proportion of knaves, rogues and incompetents.
– Oh no!
– It was stated just a little while ago that the big faults in the profession were the over-attendance by doctors on patients, and patients being operated on unnecessarily and over prescribing. I do not think many doctors could be doing this. It is not a big problem, even overseas. But the AMA is sending observers overseas now to study what has happened as a result of the institution of PSROs over there. I hope they come back as convinced as I am that they not only have not elevated medical standards but they have reduced them. Currently the PSRO issue is quite a hot little number in the United States presidential election. It might appear strange that a little issue like that is important but it is growing in its importance in that campaign right at the moment.
I do not see PSROs for doctors as the end of it all. I think that eventually there will be peer review groups for anybody who charges for delivering or performing any health service, particularly if government has anything to do with subsidising that service. As I said, the PSROs are being brought in on the specious grounds that they will elevate our health care. Actually, when one looks at these Bills one sees that they merely institute a health insurance system and have nothing to do with health care. Neither did Medibank at the start. It was a medical insurance scheme. But the very idea presumes that our standards are low to start with and the PSRO proposal presumes that the scheme will elevate our standards and is going to maintain them. I submit that our health standards in Australia are among the highest in the world today.
Facts, reason and logic never seem to deter any government when it is moving to control something. Medibank was brought in on the specious grounds that 1 000 000 people were inadequately covered by medical insurance; that we had too many medical benefits funds and this was uneconomic; and that there were inequalities and injustices. When we looked at the matter we found that the 1 000 000 people was a mythical million as they did not exist. When we looked at the operation of the medical benefits funds we found that the very competition between them led to the cheapest medical insurance scheme in the world. But the truth did not deter the Labor Government. It hammered away and brought in Medibank in spite of the truth. It brought in Medibank not to give us better health but to give the Government control of the people.
To return to the PSROs and their trials overseas, I do not see why Australia should have to go through the miseries of other countries such as Canada, the United States of America and even Great Britain. One only has to read the medical journals over the last few years to see the lowering of standards that PSROs have caused. There are 4 reasons for their introduction.
- Mr President, I ask for leave to continue my remarks at a later stage.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I ask for leave to make a statement.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– I wish to make a short statement with regard to certain decisions of the Government with respect to the Toose report. There are many recommendations in the Toose report into repatriation. The Government is considering these; one important recommendation is being accepted, namely that a separate repatriation system should be retained. This is in accordance with the Government’s policy on repatriation announced last November that we would maintain distinct administrative arrangements for repatriation. Earlier today the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) announced an expanded role for the Department and that in future it would be known as the Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Veterans’ organisations in their comments to the Government on the Toose report unanimously supported the retention of a separate Department and Commission to administer and advise on the Government’s special responsibilities towards disabled veterans and their dependants. I am confident that veterans’ organisations and all members of the Australian community concerned with the welfare of repatriation beneficiaries will welcome the Government’s decision. An important continuing task of the Department and the Commission is to process the 303 recommendations in the Toose report on the repatriation system. The Government will take the comments of the veterans’ organisations and other interested parties into account when reaching decisions on the Toose report recommendations.
Much work remains to be done on some important proposals in the Toose report. Some of these are inter-related and will need to be taken together. For example, the Toose report proposes important changes in the war pensions system including the use of the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment for the assessment of the appropriate pension level for each repatriation pensioner. However, as the report points out, much work remains to be done on the AMA guides and such other modern guides as are considered suitable if they are to be adopted for this purpose. In turn this work needs to be completed before other key proposals in the report on a possible new pension structure can be further developed and evaluated. Decisions in this area could then affect other important areas of the repatriation system. Important recommendations in the Toose report about the restructuring of the independent statutory authorities appointed to determine claims and appeals need to be examined against the background of the development of the Administrative Appeals Tribunal recently established by the Government. The Toose report recommendation that the main repatriation legislation contained in four separate Acts should be consolidated into a greatly simplified single statute also requires very detailed examination. Consolidation of the legislation is a large task in itself, but its simplification will be an even greater task.
The Government will give priority to those aspects of the Toose report that can be dealt with in isolation while the more complex aspects are being processed. Announcements of decisions will be made as they are taken. I present the following report:
The Repatriation System- Ministerial Statement, 22 September 1976.
Motion (by Senator Durack) proposed:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
– I would like to speak to the motion:
That the Senate take note of the statement.
The Australian Labor Party welcomes at last a statement from the Government on the progress of its considerations of the Toose report. Most of us are well aware that Mr Justice Toose took a long time to produce his report. In fact, he produced a report of some 800 pages, costing approximately $800,000, at the end of last year. I must express some surprise that the Government received submissions from ex-servicemen’s organisations, including the Returned Services League, by May of this year and yet the only decision it has made about the recommendations in the Toose Report is to change the name of the Department of Repatriation. The Government’s assertion that it will retain the independence of the Department of Repatriation is a bipartisan policy which, I understand, both parties have agreed to accept.
I am a little concerned that the only other recommendation of Mr Justice Toose which is mentioned in the statement made by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Durack) is the possibility of the use of the American Medical Association’s Guides to the Evaluation of Permanent Impairment for the assessment of appropriate pension levels for each repatriation pensioner. I sat on the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs which dealt with the proposed national compensation scheme. I hope that the Minister and his Department take into consideration the findings of that Committee on the use of this guide. The Committee certainly did not think that the guide was an appropriate method of assessing compensation in this country. The guide was never meant to be a method of assessing the levels of compensation. It was produced to help medical workers and paramedical workers in their assessment of injuries incurred in various industries in the United States. To my knowledge the guide had been used by only one very small county compensation group in America. Members of the Committee did not believe, and the evidence presented to us did not suggest, that this guide was a suitable method of assessing any levels of compensation. It was heavily weighted towards injuries that involved surgical treatment. It was most imprecise when dealing with medical conditions of the type which are very common in the repatriation area.
My Party believes that as the ages of veterans are changing their needs are changing and when their needs change it may well be necessary for the Department to change and for its methods to change. We believe that consideration should be given to Mr Justice Toose ‘s report and other people’s views on the whole repatriation system. We certainly did not propose and do not now propose to alter the independence of the Repatriation Department because we believe that veterans have special needs. But, by the same token, we believe that a wide group of views must be considered and there must be a wide acceptance of community views as well as the views of veterans’ organisations on the repatriation system. I welcome the indication that the
Government is considering the report. We hoped that several months after the final submission to the Government of the views of veterans’ organisations more than this would have happened. We hope that the Government’s statement that decisions will be announced as they are taken will not mean an inordinate delay in announcing changes which may occur. I seek leave to continue my remarks.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
-Before the sitting of the Senate was suspended for dinner I was saying in regard to the 3 health insurance Bills before us that the present Government inherited the Medibank scheme from the previous Labor Government. This Government spent a lot of time, work and thought on revamping the whole scheme so that the people of Australia can have a wider choice of a better set of health insurance companies than they had before. The idea was to give back to the people control of their health care. The Government has done a grand job and come up with what is probably the best scheme it could have devised in the circumstances. There has been a lot of publicity to the effect that confusion has been reigning throughout the country. There is no need for any of that confusion because all we have really is Medibank and the private insurance funds, and also the Government private insurance fund which has been added. This gives people a much wider choice.
Every one of these insurance companies is under strict Government control. I had been making the point that we must be careful not to go down the road followed by other countries which have strict Government control of all their national health schemes. I had pointed out the danger to Medibank Private if it is run as a bureaucracy. If it is run as a bureaucracy it cannot survive against competition from the private funds. I pointed out the importance of excising its operations from the bureaucracy so that it can operate on its own.
The big thing for the whole country is to go for better health care. Finance is one thing but health is another. In this regard I had referred to experience overseas with professional service regulation organisations referred to in abbreviation as PSROs. Such bodies have been tried in several countries and they have not been a success. They were introduced in those countries on the basis that they were going to elevate health standards but experience over the last 10 years has shown that far from elevating them they have depressed them. I had pointed out that Medibank had been introduced by the Labor Government in spite of the evidence indicating that it was unnecessary, but that when that Government moved to control something it took no note of facts, of truth, of reason or of logic. It introduced Medibank not to give us better health care but to give it greater control over people.
Referring again to the professional service regulation organisations, or peer reviews, they sound very nice when looked at theoretically. People rendering services have those services reviewed by their peers in order to make sure that they maintain adequate standards. But even now the Government, having insisted on these PSROs, which are a type of enforcement agency in my view, has told the medical profession that if it does not introduce them the Government will do it for them. The Australian Medical Association has accepted that there is a problem in this area. It realises the magnitude of it and is sending officers overseas to study experience there.
I have been overseas and have looked at the effect of introducing these peer review organisations. They are introduced on four main grounds. The first is to establish cost effectiveness. I would point out that in supervising any medical service cost effectiveness is not the way to assure the effectiveness of the service you get. The second reason for which they were introduced was to accredit not only doctors and their surgeries but also hospitals, laboratories and equipment- indeed, all buildings and equipment or anything else used to deliver health services to people. Thirdly, they were introduced to prevent abuses of the system by both the doctors and the patients. Fourthly, they were introduced to find areas of under-use of the system.
Honourable senators can see that before any of these PSROs can operate they have to gather a mass of information that is totally irrelevant to the standard of health care achieved. They have to establish information on national standards for almost every medical function, particularly the common ones. They have to establish standards for each hospital because all hospitals are different and function in different ways. They have to establish standards for medical record keeping and standards for medical libraries. On top of that they have to establish a lot of standards to compare performance with the standards set. Getting personnel to do all that work may solve our unemployment problem but the expense of it will be monumental and the benefits less than nil. We will not get better health care as a result of these PSROs. On the contrary, I think we will get worse health care. What will happen is that the Government will get more control. The effect of their introduction will be to put the profession in a strait-jacket. PSROs stifle initiative, imagination and ingenuity. They stifle that spark of experimentation that leads to development because doctors become frightened to try anything thai is not part of an acceptable government standard. As has happened in other countries, doctors may retreat even further from the patients than they are now and start practicising defensive medicine. Under this system doctors start to treat patients not as they think best but so as not to offend against any acceptable government standard and so that they can justify their performance to the peer review committee. This is important because a recommendation of a peer review committee could hold the key to a doctor’s licence to practise.
One of the things I noticed was that goodwill disappears from the practice of medicine in countries that have these schemes because doctors practise not to satisfy patients but merely to satisfy the peer review committees. For example, if a computer reveals that one doctor’s prescribing habits are different from those of other doctors in his area, if it reveals that he has his own particular or peculiar prescribing habits, the bureaucracy then notifies the local PSRO which then hauls the doctor before a committee of inquiry and asks him why his figures are different from those of the area average. Doctors will not submit to this kind of thing. Instead of practising as they think fit they will practise so as not to disturb the government computers.
While on that point I would like to refer to what the Department of Health has required from the medical insurance companies. I refer to an article that appeared in the Australian Medical Association Gazette on 1 9 August 1 976. The Australian Department of Health sent a circular to medical insurance companies informing them of the data that would have to be supplied, and supplied on a service-by-service basis. The first thing which the Department wants is the medical benefits schedule item number. Each number is associated with a certain condition. That number is wanted so that the central computer which, I take it, is not connected with Medibank but is a general collecting computer, will know the medical condition of each patient who has seen a doctor. The computer will know whether a person is a diabetic, an epileptic on treatment, someone with a duodenal ulcer or whether he has ever seen a psychiatrist. The second thing which the Department wants to know is the fee charged. It also wants to know the schedule benefits paid. It wants to know the date of service and the date that benefits are paid. The next 2 things which are wanted are unique provider identificationthat is, the name of the doctor who is treating the patient- and unique patient identification. The article in the AMA Gazette states:
Among other requirements, the Department says there must be separate particulars and identification of the individual services in bulk fee groups so that the bulk fee charged can be allocated to individual services.
The article also states that the information would enable certain things to happen. It lists a lot of things. The third thing which it will enable is:
Preparation of data for committees of inquiry, peer review activities and analyses of servicing patterns. These activities will be aimed at detecting actual and possible cases of overservicing. Actual and possible cases of over-servicing must be identifiable, and hence it is necessary to uniquely identify providers and patients, and to know the date on which a service was rendered.
The circular acknowledges that the data requirements present funds with a major task.
They also present funds with a major expense. The article points out the dangers and difficulties that lie ahead. These are things which I have seen and of which the Government must beware. These are things which we want to avoid. So far the Government has diluted the original Medibank scheme to such a stage that at least it is manageable by the country. I think we can profit from the experience of people overseas, because they have been through some miserable times as a result of government interference in health care. Let us hope that now, with this scheme, Australians can go on to better and better health care. I wish the Government well in the implementation of its Bills. I wish the country well. I know it is a lot better off now than it was under the original Medibank scheme. I wish honourable senators good health.
– We have just heard an exercise in selfinterest both on behalf of Senator Sheil and the Party which he represents. For some reason he seems to believe that his profession should be excluded from the ordinary requirements which society imposes to prevent what could be abuses of a very important area of professional behaviour. It seems to me that his closing remarks reveal the true fear of the medical professionthat in this country it may come under a surveillance which will expose what has been exposed overseas, particularly in America. I refer to a misuse of the health services, not by the people who require the services but by the doctors who supply the services. This is the great problem of any medicare system. This is the main problem. A substantial section of the profession, not the whole of the profession, misuses the system to the disadvantage of the community and to the disadvantage of the government of the day which must meet the costs of a health care service.
– In justice, it is a minority.
– Yes, it is a minority, but a minority of sufficient size to bring the whole of the system into disrepute. No one can deny the experiences of the investigating committee overseas. One of the problems of any profession or any business activity in the community is that a small minority in that profession, that industry or that business can debase the whole of the service and can force upon the rest of the community the need for surveillance. Some of the medical profession seem to fear Medibank because it is a single scheme, gathering in as a single organisation information from a variety of sources for use by the community or by individuals. The activities of doctors could be one of the things upon which it gathers information. Being a single scheme, the information is gathered in a single way. Therefore, results of abuses or under-uses are quickly exposed. That is the problem with the computer system and with the computer age into which we are entering.
Surely the health care system of this country ought not to be denied the right to see that there is no abuse economically or no abuse of the standard of service. At present the Taxation Office carries out a surveillance of the payment of tax. It does so on behalf of every individual in this country. Any over-use is quickly shown by the computer system, and a query goes out. Honourable senators opposite can argue against that if they wish, but it is necessary for efficiency that the tax gatherers of this country have that information to prevent a misuse of the system. All of us suffer as a consequence of those who seek to avoid paying the correct tax. Similarly in this system we are forced to impose a surveillance to keep the rogue at bay. I am not singling out the medical profession. I am speaking about all professions. I am speaking about all business activity.
– What about professional politicians?
-Yes. I am speaking about all people who participate in an activity. In hire purchase and financial arrangements and agreements it is necessary to maintain a surveillance to keep the rogue at bay. If not, the whole community pays. This is the problem that we face tonight. For that reason I take very strong objection to the fact that the Medibank system, which was evolved during the period of the last Government and which was subjected to scrutiny and resistance by this chamber, has now been interfered with to the disadvantage not only of the scheme but also of the community and of the profession. We are not speaking about a health delivery service as such. All we are speaking about is a scheme to pay for the services- a simple scheme of paying the doctors, nothing more or less, for the services which they deliverand to take some care that the doctors do not misuse the system. Surely from a point of view of efficiency and economics the simple system which was evolved, to which this Parliament agreed in the past, proved, in the short term that it was operating, to be efficient because the administrative costs of the system amounted to only 4 per cent. The administrative costs of the previous system amounted to 1 5 per cent.
– In Victoria it was 17.8 per cent.
– In Victoria it was 17.8 per cent, as Senator Primmer said. The great damage that is being done by this legislation is to the administrative costs of the Medibank scheme. They will be lifted to this level, for a variety of reasons. That scheme required no membership catalogue. It was a simple system. A person went to a doctor, obtained a service, and either the doctor bulk billed or the patient presented his bill to a Medibank agency and, on the evidence of that service, was paid. It was simple enought to put it into a computer, take the information out of the computer and pay the person. But in a single stroke this Government has forced on Medibank the conditions that the private funds previously had to have- 200 systems each competing against the other, each seeking support by considerable advertising, each having to keep a membership register, each having to maintain that register accurately with people moving in and out of schemes. That sort of system is now being imposed upon Medibank, and the cost of Medibank will rise to the level that the private funds have maintained for quite some time. In other words, what the Government has done is to thrust the previous inefficiency of the private funds upon the Medibank system which this Parliament evolved. For that reason the Government stands condemned. It has submitted to the attitudes of the private doctors and, as one sees from looking at the legislation, has bought their co-operation.
– It has reduced some of their fees, Senator.
– It has not reduced some of their fees. In no way has it reduced their fees. In fact it has given them a bonus of 1 5 per cent for bulk billing. The doctors said magnanimously: ‘We are entitled to a 15 per cent increase in our fees but we will not take 1 5 per cent. We will take 7.5 per cent. This is an example of restraint to the community. We are prepared to take half of what we think we are entitled to. ‘ If one looks at the legislation one finds that there is now to be a payment of 15 per cent to the doctors for bulk billing.
– There is no wage restraint there.
– There is no restraint there. Now all doctors will suddenly realise the advantages of bulk billing. Previously they resisted it- not for economic reasons but for ideological reasons. But even then 40 per cent of doctors were bulk billing. Now of course they will all bulk bill because by doing so they can add to the sum total of their charges a further 1 5 per cent. It will be 15 per cent upon the 7.5 per cent which they granted to themselves. What wage restraint and what an example to the community! The example is an example of self interest. The doctors of this country are a law unto themselves. I agree with Senator Baume that the profession itself has certain ethical standards which it endeavours to impose, but it is facing great difficulty because of the general greed of members of the profession who seek to take out of the community as much as they possibly can and who seek to be assured of payment by a divided device of inefficient schemes, which will assure the doctors of their payment but which will also ensure that the community will pay much more. I am pleased to see that the profession is to be self regulated. Senator Sheil mentioned it. He condemns it. He ought to encourage it. Self regulation is something which the profession demands because it fears a bureaucratic supervision of its endeavours. Senator Sheil is opposed to self regulation. It seems to me that he personifies the attitude of the Government more so than anyone else. He personifies an attitude of this Government which endeavours to drag us back to an outmoded system of living, a laissezfaire system, a catch as catch can system, where the skilled and the strong always gain an advantage and where the weak and the timid always go to the wall. That is what Senator Sheil personifies.
– I rise to order. I must say that I enjoy listening to Senator Georges but I would like to suggest that one of these 3 Bills is about a reinsurance pool, one is about agreements between the Commonwealth and the States and pathology services, and one is about the setting up of Medibank Private. I am interested to hear what the honourable senator has to say on these particular subjects. At the moment he has been moving on to other topics which I do not believe are the subject of the Bills under discussion.
– I wish to speak to the point of order. This is the second time today that we have seen this little performance from the Government. We are dealing with these 3 Bills in a cognate fashion. The combined effect of these 3 Bills results in the destruction of the Medibank system. Senator Sheil ranged far and wide about his overseas experiences, the effect of self regulation and the evils of government regulation in the health centre. I suggest that Senator Georges is far closer to the Bills than Senator Sheil ever was. It is the tradition in the House in a cognate debate such as this that a certain amount of latitude be allowed, and I suggest that the point of order be not upheld.
– The point of order is not upheld.
– I thank Senator Baume. I needed a break.
– So did we. Why do you not sit down and make yourself happy?
– I could begin to refer to my notes.
– Not copious notes?
– Copious notes. Senator Sheil stirred me to the heart of this matter. His approach really exposes the position of the Government. When we hear of its policy of federalism, if I may be permitted to stray for a moment -
– Keep to the Bills, Senator.
-By way of explanation may I say that one can compare this particular Bill and the attitude of the Government to this particular Bill to its general attitude expressed in its policy of federalism which, to my mind, is an attempt to dismantle the nation and to take us back to the nineteenth century whereas under the previous Government we were progressing rapidly to the twenty-first century. I turn now to the matter of reinsurance which Senator Baume mentioned. This reinsurance scheme is a device which has been forced upon the Government by its attempt to break down Medibank and to support the private funds which, if they had to stand on their own feet, could not possibly survive in competition with Medibank. This reinsurance scheme takes the load and responsibility for chronic patients off the private funds. Apparently the Government is making a provision of some $50m with an open ended arrangement so that the private funds can escape from the responsibility for chronic patients and pass that responsibility on to the reinsurance scheme. The breakdown of the Medibank project forced the Government to devise this reinsurance scheme, but we say it is a device to assist the private funds. The question should be asked whether the reinsurance scheme is available to Medibank Private contributors. This has not been explained anywhere but I take it that from a just point of view it would be available. The breakdown which has been forced upon Medibank gives me concern because I believe that we are on the path which the Government is determined to follow to disadvantage Medibank, to force at least 50 per cent of the participants in Medibank into private funds and thereby to increase the administrative costs of Medibank so that later the Government can say: ‘Medibank is not efficient. Look at the administrative cost per head. Compare it with what it ought to be. It is a failure and the private funds do it much more effectively’. Medibank would become another government initiative, another public enterprise to be sacrificed on the Fraser altar of so-called private initiative. The costs of Medibank have been constantly referred to by spokesmen for the Government and, according to my notes, one Government supporter speaking about Medibank, Mr Lusher, gave the typical position on cost in a speech in the other place on 1 6 September when he said:
We can no longer accept the tax pool concept of funding Medibank. We do not have a bottomless pit from which to draw finance for ever and a day.
The implication of this approach of the conservative government is that if Medibank is financed by way of a levy and if a substantial number of Australians joins private health funds, the deficit will be reduced. Everyone agrees that someone has to pay for the health service. The community has to pay. It pays either through taxation or by way of a levy of 1.35 per cent, as we intended originally but which the Government Parties resisted. This levy has now escalated to 2.5 per cent. Someone has to accept payment for the health service provided it is kept at moderate levels by reasonable and sensible restraint by doctors. The records do not show any gross misuse by patients. The misuse of the health scheme is by doctors. Nevertheless, if there is restraint by doctors and they maintain an admirable ethical standard the health care cost of this country can be kept at around $2,000m; and the community will pay.
– What about the State governments ‘ share?
-Queensland ‘s share is a considerable amount.
– They are part of the equation.
– Yes. They are part of the equation but the community pays. We are suggesting that instead of this Government abrogating its responsibilities and endeavouring to show that the deficit is down by passing the cost of health care to the private funds, it ought to accept the responsiblity of providing the simplest and most efficient way of meeting the costs. That simplest and most efficient way is through Medibank and Medibank alone. As I said before, the administrative costs of Medibank would be much lower if there were only a single scheme. What the Government has devised here is an administrative monstrosity. No one really knows about it and confusion reigns. I shall tell honourable senators how I deal with confusion. I sit pat, and my advice to everyone outside is to sit pat and to continue to support Medibank until the dust settles. This Government will get itself into a terrible stew with the mess that will be created by the legislation that is before us tonight. Nothing can properly describe what the Government is about. Even the Australian Taxation Office is at loggerheads with the Department of Health. The Taxation Office suddenly has realised that it can accumulate millions of dollars by not properly applying the exemption clauses on forms people have to submit. This means that many people will have to pay when they do not need to pay. However, the Taxation Office does not worry very much about that. It gets a sort of provisional health taxation.
Let us look at the equity of this scheme. The Government has backed in and out of it. It has shilly-shallied. It came under pressure from trade unions and it retreated. It came under pressure from doctors and it capitulated.
– Do you not think we should?
– What has the Government done? How many times has it retired from its position? And what is the position now? We now have a ceiling on the levy and every honourable senator should feel ashamed to be considering legislation that provides a ceiling which means that they will pay no more than $300 a year. There it cuts out. The rich are protected; the well paid are protected. The ceiling is $300. Above that, who cares? But below that we will find that people with an average take-home income of about $150 a week will pay very little less than the ceiling and this is an inequity that this Government has imposed. It is grossly unfair. I refer to the example of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) and his driver. Let me see whether if I can find in my notes exactly what their positions will be.
– Can’t you find the page?
-No. I cannot as a matter of fact. Anyway, if I referred to my notes I would be accused of reading my speech. The Prime Minister, and I give a plug to Medibank, has enrolled with Medibank, and so he should. I take it that Senator Sheil, being a supporter of the Government that has introduced this legislation also has enrolled with Medibank and that everyone else here has enrolled. Medibank is our scheme, no less.
– You said we had abolished it. Make up your mind.
-No. It is still Medibank but you have mutilated it to a point where you may as well have abolished it. The Prime Minister will pay $510 because he has enrolled in Medibank, for example, the Prime Minister’s salary is now in excess of $50,000 per annum. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, if he elected to take the top level of Medibankprivate family cover- he would be charged $5 1 7 for a full year on current rates, which is less than one per cent of his salary. Yet his car driver, a married income earner with dependants on the June 1976 average weekly wage of $180 a week- and he would have to work considerable overtime to get that- would pay $504.40 on current rates, which is about $13 less. I reckon that inequity is a disgrace to a Government which believes, as it says from time to time it does, in tax justice and in other forms of justice. That is approximately 5 per cent of the annual income of the person on $ 1 80 per week. A person on $ 1 00 a week with dependants would pay $440 per annum or about 8 per cent of his income. This is all the more staggering when it is recalled that most people are in the $7,600 to $12,000 income range. This means that the middle and lower income earners are in effect subsidising the health care costs of the higher income earners.
– That is nonsense.
-What I have said is correct and you know it.
– Your arithmetic is wrong. Did you say $ 100 a week?
– Yes-$ 100 a week. I will repeat the figures. Let us check them. I am talking about a person taking cover similar to that taken out by the Prime Minister.
– But you are talking about the levy.
-That is right. If a person on $100 a week decides to take the options that the Prime Minister has taken for $5 1 7, that is to insure himself for private cover -
– I did not say that.
-That is what I am talking about. I suppose you are saying he is not entitled to private cover, that he has not got a choice, that he should not have a choice.
– I did not say that, senator.
-That is what you are saying.
– I did not say such a word.
– Of course he has a choice.
– No, he has not, because he cannot afford it, Senator, and you know it. A man on $100 a week cannot afford $440 a year for medical insurance. If you think he can you possibly think that all he needs to do is go out to work to earn the $100 a week and pay for health care after paying for dental, food and education expenses for his kids and do all the other things that are necessary. Now Government supporters are telling me you are giving him a choice. You have given him no choice. The only choice he has got is basic medical cover and public ward accommodation. That is the sort of economic choice that this Government representsfreedom of choice for those who can afford to pay and devil take those who cannot afford to pay-
– Is that what you think of the public hospitals?
-The public hospitals -
– Order! The honourable senator’s time has expired.
– It is with the greatest pleasure that I rise- and this pleasure is based mainly on a sense of relief- to speak on the Government’s legislation amending Medibank. The tactics employed by the Opposition and their crying over spilt milk are the sorts of things that only engender pity. It is pity because those on the other side have been unable to recognise the truth of the disaster that Medibank would have been had it not been altered. The rapid escalation of costs, the lack of self-discipline inherent in the system and the Opposition’s paranoid concern for controlling people, in their health care right down the line- these things are the most evident aspects of that blueprint that Labor drew in May 1974 and which would have wreaked disaster upon this country in the years ahead.
Fortunately the Fraser Government was elected in December 1975 and it has approached the issue from an administrative point of view having due regard to the concerns that are really worrying the people- the cost of their care, their choice and the real interests that they have in choosing their own form of health care. Of course the Government has honoured its election promises and retained the fundamental principle that was set out by the Labor Party and compaigned upon in several elections; that is the universality principle. The system remains compulsory and without any doubt that promise to the Australian people has been honoured.
There are 4 main thrusts in this legislation. First, the Bills are of a socially reforming nature. For instance, consider the reinsurance pool of $50m. One of the main objections to the previous private health care system was that it possibly did not meet the needs of those with longer term chronic illnesses. This major step that has been introduced in these Bills will help to solve that problem. Under this legislation people who remain in hospital for more than the 35 days limit will be able to draw on this fund, which will be contributed to by the private funds, to the extent of their premiums applying for periods over the 35 days in hospital, and they will have 365-day cover. The pool will meet the costs of their health care for the full year. This differs substantially from the special account system the Labor Party was involved in and which was totally open-ended and maintained no selfdiscipline as regards costs.
The second main thrust is the establishment of the needs principle and the approach to priorities. Special attention is being paid to low income earners. The introduction of the $135 premium to assist intermediate ward patients through a subsidy of $ 12m to $ 15m will provide them with a choice. It is interesting to note that 30 per cent of pensioners are still insured privately, so even persons on incomes of their level are still interested in choosing the form of health care that they want. The low income earners who are insured for standard hospital cover will be covered under the provisions of these Bills. Those things will bring dignity to the low income earners. This is a major redistribution of wealth in their favour and it is an example of the Fraser Government’s approach to social reform.
The third main thrust is that of choice and the provision of the diversity of services by virtue of these Bills. Before Medibank came in approximately 92 per cent of the people were covered by private funds. Apparently 4 per cent did not wish to be insured and another 4 per cent were obviously in the category of those who could not afford insurance. The universality principle is retained in order to take care of that situation. It has been a major thrust of the Labor Party’s arguments in this matter that it is necessary to maintain one standard system in order to provide care universally for all. Yet we find that today even 70 per cent of the people are still carrying private health insurance- 15 months after Medibank came into being. The desire for individual choice is obvious in the Australian community and one which these Bills recognise. The provision of the new Medibank Private insurance cover established in the Bills is obviously based on sound evidence. Published costs indicate that private funds are able to provide a cheaper cover through their insurance method. I suppose that that fact stems from their experience over a long period of time in being able to assess the actuarial circumstances perhaps more carefully than Medibank is able to and while there has been some rumoured use of reserves the fact that there are reserves means that these funds have been so well managed in the past that they have been in order to accumulate those reserves out of profits. Consonant with -
– Where did this bloke come from?
– I come from South Australia. We have the most efficient private health care funds. The Mutual Hospital Association Ltd and the National Health Services Association of South Australia are the most efficient private insurers in Australia. Consonant with the Government’s view that competition should in all cases be fair where public enterprise is in direct competition with private enterprise, Medibank Private will of course be contributing to Consolidated Revenue by way of payroll tax, sales tax and stamp duty. This will ensure that there is fair competition between the private funds and Medibank Private.
I was interested to read what was said when this legislation was discussed in the House of Representatives. Mr Hayden-we cannot quite figure out these days whether he is shadowing Defence, Treasury, Health or any other departmentreferred to private hospitals as surgical mills. He referred to them as though they were in a way a sort of parasite on the health system. Obviously private hospitals have a very important part to play in the overall health scheme in Australia. They take the load in respect of specialist cases away from the public system.
– Which it cannot handle.
-Which it is unable to handle, as Senator Baume points out. It obviously reduces the cost to the public purse. Mr Hayden should be condemned absolutely for such an unworthy statement. The whole system as it is now envisaged by providing both for private and public hospitals will make sure that costs are minimised in those areas and that choice and a standard of health care at a maximum level are maintained.
The fourth main thrust of these Bills- and probably the most important from the administrative standpoint- is the cost control aspect. We were all interested to read about the amendments which will cover pathology fees. This subject has been canvassed earlier by Senator Grimes and Senator Baume. I am confident these amendments will help to reduce the cost of pathology which obviously has been escalating quite fast. Certainly a number of complaints have come to my ears in respect of this area.
The identification of the cost via the imposition of the levy will certainly make sure that individual subscribers to the health funds have due regard to the costs which they are incurring in the health area. This, of course, will impose its own system of control on the costs of running the health scheme throughout Australia. We all know, and even Senator Georges admitted it tonight, that there are no free lunches- we all have to pay in the end; costs have to be met somewhere, whether by a levy or in some other way. The Medibank amending Bills we are discussing tonight give us the opportunity to make a more equitable distribution of the levy in favour of low income earners. Certainly one of the very few criticisms that I have heard of the Government’s activities in this regard has been by people who say that really nowadays they would prefer not to have to pay the levy at all, that they would prefer to insure themselves. Surely this does not indicate that there is a demand for a total system which controls everybody and which imposes an overall cost that is inequitable. I support strongly the Government’s stand in maintaining the universality principle, and that is important in keeping the system viable.
The other area that is very significant in this context is the control that is now being implemented over State expenditures through the amending agreements. Previously costs being paid for by the States were totally open ended and 50 per cent of the operating costs of public hospitals were being met from Commonwealth sources. Costs have risen massively in the health area since 1972. The average wage for a senior sister, for instance, has risen by something like 85 per cent. The salary of a resident medical officer has risen by something like 60 per cent in that time.
– What are you reading from?
– I was quoting figures from my notes, senator. I am not reading my speech. On comparing my own average costs over the year I find that whereas in 1972 I was spending net after tax $200 on health care by way of contribution to a private fund and payments to doctors in hospitals, today the costs have escalated to something like $500. This is an increase of something like 1 50 per cent. It is obviously terribly important, therefore, to ensure that costs are controlled in this area and this is the fourth and possibly most important thrust of this legislation.
In respect of State agreements, I am particularly interested to see that the Government has inserted an administrative safeguard to ensure that a committee of the States and the Commonwealth draw up budgets ahead of the Federal budgets each year and to ensure that the costs will be agreed upon between the States and the Commonwealth so that they may be well considered as part of the total budget scene for the Federal Government. Obviously this is a more satisfactory arrangement than the open ended one that was previously allowed to occur through the Medibank arrangements.
I note also that there is a provision in the legislation that the States may impose their own charges on private patients. Of course, it is entirely their decision to do so. In regard to the total cost of health care in 1972, 1 make the point that whereas in that year costs for health care throughout Australia, including medical benefits and hospital benefits, were of the order of $390m, it looks as though for 1976 the total will be nearly $ 1,960m. This is a colossal escalation which the main thrust of this legislation will seek to control.
Senator Georges referred to the administrative costs that Medibank incurs. Last year these costs were something like $60m. He related that to the total provision of benefits and stated that Medibank is obviously far more efficient than the private funds. He stated that the administrative costs were some 4 per cent of total benefits whereas previously the administrative costs of the private funds were running at the order of 1 5 per cent. Obviously this is an unreal sort of comparison because we are talking about a completely different sort of scheme. The private health funds were providing benefits for a range of activities whereas Medibank last year was providing one standard benefit. It is obviously an unfair comparison in that context.
But leaving that aside, it is the question of rapid escalation in the cost of benefits that is the real consideration. When we are talking about a possible increase of the order of 40 per cent in the cost of benefits in the coming year, a rise of something like even $50m in the cost of administration is peanuts compared with a rise of $400m or $500m in the cost of the system itself.
– Who do you blame for that?
- Senator Georges I am referring only to the administrative costs of the system.
I conclude by referring to a statement by Dr Catchlove which appeared in the Minister’s second reading speech. Dr Catchlove, a member of the Australian Hospitals Association, made this point:
The Government proposals for reorganising Medibank, have we believe, made the first real attempt to come to grips with the enormous escalation in health costs, while maintaining the principle of universal health insurance.
This sums up the Fraser Government’s approach to the problem. It has instituted administratively sound devices in order to control the escalation in costs while going very deeply into and continuing its social reforming approach to the problems that are apparent among low income earners. The system is eminently workable and, above all, it is providing individual Australian with freedom of choice which appropriately fits the Government’s financial objectives. I support the Bill.
– The Bills which are currently being debated by the Senate are 3 of those 5 Bills which legislate for the Government’s proposed changes to the Medibank health and hospital policy. This policy exhibits what have become known as the standard attributes of the Fraser Government- dishonesty and inconsistency; determination to sacrifice convenience, efficiency and equity on the altar of ideological prejudice. In this particular case, subservience to the medical reactionaries in the Australian Medical Association, the General Practitioners Society -
– Order! I ask Senator Walsh to watch his remarks. He must not impute improper motive to any members of Parliament, either collectively or singly.
-Very well, Mr President. Nevertheless, I do not think it will be denied that this particular Government is more than sympathetic to the views of the Australian Medical Association, the medical profession in general and, in particular, the private health insurance funds. Finally, the attribute of the Fraser Government itself- manifest again in this legislation- is its obsession of making cosmetic adjustments to Government spending and its obsession with what it insists is saving money. That, of course, obviously arises from the singleminded obsession of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) with deficits and the size of deficits. It could be said that the only thing which matches the Prime Minister’s interest in deficits and the fascination which deficits have for him is his singular inability to understand what they are and to understand what are the ramifications of a deficit. He has a remarkable inability to comprehend just what a deficit is and what effect it is likely to have upon the economy, upon the money supply, upon inflation rates and upon economic activity.
The deficit, of course, will be reduced by this legislation in 2 ways. Firstly, the levy will be imposed. In other words, taxes will be increased in a way which is estimated to produce revenue of $250m in this financial year and $430m in a full financial year. I am not sure why the discrepancy should be so great, but they are the figures which are shown in the Budget Estimates. Secondly, of course, the Government by its own publicly stated intention hopes to force 50 per cent of the people out of the existing Medibank scheme and back into private health insurance funds. That, of course, will not save the Government money but it will reduce the volume of money which flows through the Government’s accounts. The Prime Minister, like his Treasurer (Mr Lynch), seems to be far more concerned with these cosmetic adjustments- with what is actually recorded in the accounts- and more concerned with the figures that are written down in a particular and limited set of papers than he is with reality. It will not reduce costs. It will simply reduce the amount of money which flows through the Government’s accounts.
Indeed, it has been argued by people who are outside the Australian Labor Party and have never been known to have any particular sympathies with the Australian Labor Party that the administrative costs will be enormously high. Mr Carson, who was the Manager of the Hospital Benefit Fund of Western Australia- which, incidentally, was shown in the Nimmo report to have been one of the most efficiently managed funds in Australia, if not the most efficientappeared on This Day Tonight last month in Perth. He gave his opinion that the estimate of the additional administrative costs incurred by the complexity and the confusion arising from the Government’s legislation on these health and medical Bills would double the administrative costs of providing health services. He estimated that it would double it from a current figure of about $ 120m to $240m. That, of course, appears not to worry the Prime Minister or the Treasurer. As far as they are concerned, it does not matter how much it costs as long as it does not appear in the Government’s accounts and as long as it does not affect the deficit. If it costs society $ 1 20m or a billion dollars more, that appears to be unimportant to the people who currently are in charge of this country.
There is, of course, widespread and continuing public confusion about this series of Bills and their ramifications. That is not at all surprising. Indeed, it is totally predictable that widespread public confusion exists. As recently as 1 5 August, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) issued a statement saying that all pensioners currently paying income tax would be subject to the Medibank levy. Just 9 days later on 24 August the same Minister amended that statement and said: Well, of course, pensioners who hold pensioner medical cards will be exempt from the levy’. On 20 May the initial statement was made. No suggestion was contained in it of provision being made in the legislation for the Health Insurance Commission to enter into competition for private insurance. That was amended by a subsequent statement which appeared, I think, on 6 June. Indeed, at the end of May and early June we heard the dramatic announcement by the Government- I think it was the same day that it commissioned Mr Jonathan Gaul, a former private or Press secretary to a number of Liberal Party leaders- that pamphlets would be prepared and were in fact being printed at that stage. It was estimated to cost $100,000. 1 think that figure has since been disputed but I think it has been decided that in fact it cost about $67,000. But that is not terribly important. The important point is that before the pamphlets came off the press they were obsolete and the whole project was scrapped because the Government had changed its mind. Now, instead of those original pamphlets which had to be scrapped before they came off the printing press, we have a 20-page booklet- 20 pages of fine type- which tries to explain to the public just what the implications are of the proposed changes in the Medibank legislation for which the Senate is legislating tonight. In addition to the widespread and continuing confusion amongst the public we have the enormous additional administrative load which this policy will thrust upon the Australian Taxation Office.
It is worth while, I think, to review the history of the present Government’s attitude to Medibank both before and after the election. On 7 July, in his address to the National Press Club at Canberra the Prime Minister stated:
In the election the Government gave a commitment that Medibank would be maintained and improved.
Mr Fraser, in his policy speech on 29 November, actually said:
We will maintain Medibank.
I stress that the words ‘and improved ‘ are an addition since the actual promises to the electors were made in the manner of a Stalinist re-writing history. The Government has amended in a significant way the undertaking which it in fact gave. The importance of those 2 added words and improved’ is that this Government claims that the changes it is making to Medibank represent an improvement. Some time before that statement at the National Press Club Mr Fraser had been properly taken to task by the Australian Financial Review in its editorial of 12 May. After making some preliminary comments about the fact that the Government had promised to maintain Medibank during the election campaign, the editorial in the Australian Financial Review stated:
After the campaign … Mr Fraser was asked specifically if his undertaking to maintain Medibank was limited to certain groups in the community.
These are his own words-
I think there is a commitment under Medibank to the total community.’ . . . ‘The commitment to maintain Medibank is not just a verbal use of the term Medibank. I think the concept of Medibank was endorsed. ‘
That was a remarkably accurate and honest assessment of reality. The whole concept of Medibank was endorsed by the electors. All that this Government is maintaining, in contradiction of the assurance given by the Prime Minister even after the general election, is the use of the term ‘Medibank’. The name remains but the concept has been abolished. I suppose this is not surprising when coming from a Government which promised to maintain wage indexation and that there would be no more jobs for the boys but which has since appointed a former Country Party member of Parliament as Administrator of the Northern Territory and has appointed the leading propagandist of the National Country Party to the Board of Qantas. This was done by a Government that said that it did not need -
– Which Bill are you speaking to, Senator?
– I am speaking to the nonlevy Medibank Bills which are before the Senate. The point I was making, Mr President, was simply that the failure of the Government to honour the undertakings given to the electors before the general election with respect to Medibank is consistent with its entire actions since it has come to power. It is just one of a whole series of broken promises, not the least of which was the statement of the Prime Minister in his policy speech on 29 November that we do not need a tourist as a Prime Minister. That statement was made by a man who as Prime Minister next week or the week after will embark upon overseas trip number five for this year.
On the major statement on this issue made by the Minister for Health on 20 May, the Government’s case appeared to rest almost entirely on the belief stated by the Minister that the imposition of a levy or, alternatively, the payment of an insurance premium would impose some discipline and restrictions upon the use, or particularly, the misuse, of medical services. It was argued by the Minister for Health that when people could see that they actually had to pay for these services the hypochondriacs would cease pestering doctors and doctors, because they wanted to maintain private practice and the fee for service systems, would cease encouraging patients to demand superfluous medical services or superfluous surgery and so on. As my colleague, Senator Grimes, has pointed out, it was not uncommon for doctors to do that.
It was argued by the Minister for Health and has been argued by a number of Government spokesmen since that the fact that people would be paying either a levy or a premium would deter these practices, firstly by the hypochondriacs and secondly by the venal doctors. I suggest that that belief displays quite an extraordinary degree of naivety. It is analagous to suggesting that a drunk will not drive his or her motor car home because he or she knows that if he or she were to have an accident on the way home his or her third party insurance premium would be increased. The Minister for Health has argued and the Government has based most of its case on a naive belief that the hypochondriacs will stop pestering doctors because they believe that if they pester the doctors more the health insurance premium that they are paying will rise microscopically. The point is, of course, that the magnitude of the effect upon the premium paid by an individual will not be noticeable by that individual, whether he uses medical services unncessarily every day or whether he does not use medical services at all.
Moreover, apart from the Government’s incredible naivety, its actions in making the provisions it has in this legislation are inconsistent with its own stated belief. If the Government really believes that there is a strong and direct association between the misuse or unnecessary use of medical services and the charge for those services, why then has the Government decided arbitrarily to impose a $135 ceiling on hospital only or intermediate cover remembering that the purpose of that ceiling is to enable people who want to be treated by what is euphemistically called ‘their own doctor’ in hospital to do so? Of course, the real purpose is to make it easier for doctors in private practice to practise on their patients inside hospitals. The doctors are being considered, not the patients.
Overlooking that, on the point of logic, if the Government really believes that people ought to pay the actual cost of their services and that if they were paying the actual cost of their services there would be no more unnecessary use of medical services, why does the Government not make people pay the full cost of that hospital only insurance? Why has it chosen to impose an arbitrary limit of $135 on that cost? Of course, it will be subsidised because the Government knows that it is going to cost more than that. I suggest that the reason that the Government has done this is that the Government wants as many people as possible to take out that hospital only insurance because that is what suits the doctors who are committed to private practice. If the Government really believes that there should be some direct and identifiable charge to the patient for medical services, why then has the Government permitted the private funds to pay up to the full 100 per cent of the scheduled fee for medical consultations? Does the Government believe its own propaganda and, indeed, the propaganda that it used when this subject was being discussed when I first came into the Senate just over two years ago that if people had to hand over a doller every time they went to the doctor the hypochondriacs would stop going to doctors because they did not like handing out the dollars? If so, why does it allow the private funds to pay the full 100 per cent of the scheduled fee? Apparently no honourable senator on the Government side can understand why the Government has done that.
One of the Government’s most vocal spokesmen, who had a couple of articles published in the Australian newspaper, I think last week, displayed a similar, or even more outrageous weakness of logic. Dr Richardson, the honourable member for Tangney, asserted that what doctors called ‘iatrogenic’ illness was caused by Medibank and similar health insurance schemes. It was argued by Dr Richardson that every country in the world that had a scheme similar to Medibank was rampant with iatrogenic illness and that this was caused by health insurance and so on.
– Who said that?
- Dr Richardson, the temporary member for Tangney. He then, with quite heroic disregard for the rules of logic, as evidence of the validity of all his allegations, stated that iatrogenic illness in the United States was at extraordinarily high levels. What he neglected to mention and what totally destroys the argument he tried to put forward is the fact that the United States is held up by the medical profession in this country, the United Kingdom and by those reactionary sections of the medical profession anywhere in the world where a national health scheme operates as a perfect model of the practice of medicine incorporating the system of free enterprise. It is precisely for that reason that iatrogenic illness in the United States is rampant. It is because the rules of free enterprise apply to the practice of medicine in the United States; because the doctors are marketers of medical services, just like someone marketing automobiles or soap powder. The doctors market medical services and create their own demands for those medical services just as the car manufacturers of Detroit and the denizens of Madison Avenue create demands for any other commodity or service that is sold in the market place of the United States. The ultimate inconsistency and hypocrisy displayed by the Government on this issue rests in the simple fact that the same senators- there are some marginal adjustments but overwhelmingly they are the same- who a little more that 12 months ago twice rejected a Bill to impose a 1.35 per cent levy to finance Medibank will, tonight or tomorrow when the vote is taken, vote to impose a very much higher levy. I challenge any of the honourable senators who sit on the Government benches to explain that particular somersault.
– Do you think Senator Sheil will take the plunge?
– I am afraid-
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bonner)- Order! The honourable senator will be kind enough to address himself to the Chair.
– Yes, but I will respond to the interjection. I am afraid that, when Senator Sheil was speaking, I could not understand what he was talking about. It seemed to me that he was, in fact, opposing the legislation which has been brought in by his own Government. I may have misunderstood him because I am not sure whether it was Senator Sheil ‘s incoherence or the fact that I was in the Senate for only half of his speech that gave me the impression that he was opposing the legislation currently before the Senate. I do not know how he will vote on it. Apparently no one on the Government side can explain the gross contradiction and hypocrisy of honourable senators having voted against and vehemently opposed the imposition of a levy slightly more than half of the current levy a little more than 12 months ago and now meekly lining up to follow the instructions of the Liberal Party Leader in the House of Representatives as they always do and as Senator Withers has publicly admitted they do. They are meekly lining up like privates in the Army to vote for this legislation. They are contradicting the position they took 12 or 18 months ago.
The final point I make concerns at aspect that Senator Sheil raised while I was in the Senate, that is, freedom of choice. When members of the Liberal Party raise the argument of freedom of choice they usually look back upon the preMedibank system of health insurance as some sort of ideal or model which ought to be followed in respect of freedom of choice. The simple fact about the pre-Medibank health system was that everyone was compelled to pay taxes to support it. In the last few years of its operation the taxpayers paid more than 50 per cent of the total cost. The taxpayers paid most of the money for it. But in order to get refunds from the so-called voluntary funds the taxpayer who had already paid the taxes was compelled to become a subscriber to one of these so-called voluntary funds; otherwise he just paid the taxes and got nothing in return. That situation is held up by the Liberal Party and still seems to be held up by Senator Sheil as an ideal, as a model of freedom. Everyone is compelled to pay into the pool but only those who join the so-called voluntary health insurance societies are entitled to get anything out of it. The ultimate hypocrisy is for anyone who belongs to and supports any of the political parties which on the basis of lies told by a Liberal Government conscripted Australian youths to fight in Vietnam to talk about freedom of the individual. That is the epitome of hypocrisy.
– I rise to support the Bills before the Senate. Their purpose is to amend the national health legislation. This legislation provides a true national health cover. From 1 October this year, for the first time, the Australian community will be covered for every health care, every health need and every choice of health insurance. The cost of health care for those who cannot afford to pay, such as those on low incomes, the pensioner carrying a pensioner card and the repatriation recipients who have always had free health cover, will be met. All of these people will be automatically covered for health care. The needy of the community will be looked after in line with this Government’s policy. However, those who have in the past paid for Medibank and, indeed, paid heavily through their taxes- I remind honourable senators opposite that the figure is $ 1,400m- will still be paying for Medibank, but they will know that their health care is not free. It was nice to hear Senator Georges admit this tonight. It is the first time I have heard any Labor senator admit that we have not had free health care. However, people will know whether these prices rise out of all proportion. They will know when this is happening and they will have some say about the matter. There was certainly no accounting to the people for the previous Government’s expenses.
I assure honourable senators that people really thought they had free health care. Many is the time I have been asked: ‘How can we pay after we have had free health care?’ When I have replied that people had already been paying for Medibank through taxes and how much they had been paying it was the first time that these people were aware that they had indeed paid and paid heavily. As has already been mentionedbecause I consider this point of vital importance, I bring it up again- there has been a lot of criticism of our Government and the fact that it is supposed to have dismantled Medibank. Senator Walsh and Senator Georges have repeated this criticism. In fact, I think every honourable senator opposite who has spoken in the debate has done so. Medibank has not been dismantled. From 1 October the service will be identical to the service provided this year. The only addition we have made to Medibank is that of choice. It has been dismantled. If anyone wants to stay in Medibank the service will be identical to what we have experienced in the last 12 months. The fact that the Opposition does not approve of choice perhaps explains why it is saying that the Government is dismantling Medibank. It says that because we are giving the people a choice we are dismantling Medibank. Is that the only reason Opposition senators can cook up?
– It is a compulsory levy. There is no choice.
-Perhaps Senator Brown can say we are dismantling Medibank because our funding system is different. That does not mean that Medibank is being dismantled. The funding may be different but the service is identical. As I have said, the people now have a choice. There is no way that the necessity for this choice can be denied. Many members of the Opposition said that the Government should bear full responsibility for health cover, that people should have no choice at all and that all hospitals should be government owned. This is not how the Australian people see the position. Approximately 70 per cent of people are still insured with private health funds. Seventy per cent have said they want that choice. They want to pay that little bit extra to have the doctor of their choice attend them in hospital. Senator Walsh in his hate of the medical profession seems to have twisted this fact. According to him it is not a question of people wanting to have the doctor of their choice attend them in hospital but the doctor wanting to take the patients into the hospital of his choice. All I say to Senator Walsh is that such hate only does a lot of harm to his character. I would try to overcome it if I were he.
Another criticism of Opposition senators is that this legislation will create a second-class health system; yet in the same breath they say that the critically ill patient is best treated in the big public hospitals. They cannot have it both ways. Either the large public hospitals are inferior, which I certainly do not believe although Senator Georges has just said ‘the devil take the public hospitals’, or the public hospitals are so good that they best treat the critically ill patient. If that is so the levy payers will certainly get the best care. The other criticisms by the Opposition are equally false and deliberately misleading. Opposition members have tried to confuse and frighten the Australian people- and I must admit they have partially succeeded. We have seen statements by supposedly responsible leaders such as this: ‘People would be forced to pay $ 1 ,000 a year for health insurance ‘.
– Who said that?
-This was said on 27 May this year by the Minister for Health in Tasmania. He said people would pay $1,000 a year for health insurance. Similar statements have been made by other Labor members and Labor leaders. These statements are completely irresponsible and when they come from a supposedly reliable source I would say they are criminal. This type of party politics has caused members of our society immeasurable worry. Senator Grimes has said that levy payers, through their taxes, will be subsidising private insurers because of the Government subsidy for intermediate beds. Again he was indulging in falsehoods. Perhaps I should say that he was deliberately trying to confuse. I have more regard for his mental prowess than to believe he just does not know.
– I have to rise to take a point of order. Senator Grimes is not here and cannot object personally to the remark made by Senator Walters that he was indulging in falsehoods. That is not fair of the honourable senator. Perhaps she did not mean what she said. I think that if we look at the Standing Orders we will find that the remark was unparliamentary and I suggest that she be asked to withdraw it.
– I withdraw that remark and say that he gave incorrect information. Perhaps that will suit Senator Georges better. I would like Senator Georges and Senator Walsh to listen to a few figures. The fact remains that those who join private health funds will pay 70 per cent of their total health cover. Those who pay the levy and choose to join the hospital funds will pay 40 per cent of their total health cover. Those who pay the levy only will pay only 1 8 per cent of their total health cover. Therefore Senator Georges really cannot claim that levy payers will subsidise the private insurers in any way whatsoever. We simply find that as usual- and justly so- the wealthier members of the community will pay more in their taxes than the levy payers of the community and therefore will subsidise the levy payers, as is usual, through the revenue.
– So they should, should they not?
– I am not saying that they should not but we certainly will not see any of the levy payers subsidising the private insurers. The statement by Senator Grimes was incorrect and I stress that fact to honourable senators. The reason for the levy, as I have said, is that it will allow people to know whether health care escalates unreasonably, and they will be able to have some say. Up to date there has been no possible way in which they could assess it.
I want to refer now to the intermediate bed issue. The Government is aware that 70 per cent of the people wish to insure with a private fund. This covers many pensioners, as Senator Messner has said, who, for whatever reason, declare their priorities in health care. The Government has decided to pay a subsidy to private health funds. This will enable people on low and medium incomes to insure, so that they can take the doctor of their choice into the intermediate wards of public hospitals. We are told by the Opposition that people should not be allowed to do this. We are told that all people should do as they are told, that they should all have a public hospital doctor and all go where they are sent.
– Who said that?
– As I have said, people do not agree with that idea, and this Government is providing them with a choice.
– When did we say that?
-The family contribution for this accommodation is $2.60 a week and the single rate is $ 1 .30 a week.
– That is if you can afford it.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Bonner)- Order!
– I do not mind Senator Georges interrupting; he makes very amusing interjections, although none of them is correct. I am sure that this particular cover will prove to be very popular insurance. As I have said previously, members of the Opposition have been very critical, and certainly so of the changes this Government has wrought. However, if honourable senators remember, when this Bill was first introduced in May it was stressed by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) that during the winter recess it would be considered in detail and that consultations would take place with all interested parties- the funds, the unions and the hospitals. Well, the Opposition cannot really grizzle if this Government did consult and did make alterations after those consultations, particularly those with the unions. It cannot have it both ways. It said that the Government should consult with the unions, yet when it does so and when it accepts some of their advice Opposition members raise their hands in horror and say that the Government has changed its mind again. The Minister did stress the point that he would hold consultations during the winter recess and that possibly alterations would be made. Alterations have been made. The Government has agreed to enter the private field and go into strict competition with the private funds. We believe that this free competition will keep fund contributions to a minimum.
I certainly was amused to hear Labor leaders, including Mr Hawke, screaming about the huge reserves that the private funds have kept over the years. In the very next breath they abuse them and accuse them of using their reserves to keep down their contributions. The Opposition had better make up its mind about what it wants the funds to do with those reserves. What do members of the Opposition want them to do? Do they want them to hang on to them or do they want them in order to keep contributions down?
– Put them into Consolidated Revenue. Put them back into the taxation pool.
-Senator Georges would like the contribution funds to make a donation straight into the Labor Party funds. I now would like to refer to the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2). This relates to the payment of medical benefits for pathology services and to the hospital agreements between the Commonwealth and the States. Regarding payments for pathology services, I would like to point out to Senator Grimes, although he is not in the chamber at the moment, that the Australian Medical Association also brought the anomalies of the previous Government’s legislation to the notice of the Minister for Health. Opposition senators have been very critical of rackets conducted by doctors yet it was their Government which permitted those rackets. I could say that their Government virtually insisted that the pathologists claim payment for each and every service rendered even when processed all at the one time as part of the packet process to which Senator Grimes referred. The AMA pointed out the unnecessary payments being made and has assisted the Government in amending the Bill in this regard. The Government has achieved its aim by allowing the full fee to be paid to specialist pathologists of the top 3 items, and the remainder of the items to return 20 per cent of the fee otherwise allocated. Further, unless the pathologist is a recognised specialist in his field, 75 per cent of the full fee of the top 3 items would be paid, and 20 per cent of any additional items. This will effectively close the loopholes left by the previous Government.
Senator Walsh and Senator Georges either just do not understand- if they do not understand I feel sorry for them- or again they are deliberately trying to confuse. No one is forcing anyone out of Medibank. If we did not have a ceiling on the levy I could understand Senator Georges saying that we are forcing people out, because it would be cheaper for them to join a private fund. Where there is a ceiling and it is not cheaper to join a private fund anyone, no matter what his income, can stay in Medibank and effectively pay that ceiling. How he can say that anyone is being forced out of Medibank is quite beyond me. I presume only that he is doing it deliberately to try to confuse the public. Senator Walsh was pleading with us to explain to him our levy because he does not understand it. The difference between the levy that we brought down and the levy that the Labor Party attempted to bring down is that we allow a combined income, and the Labor Party has never allowed a combined income. The Labor Party decided that both husband and wife who work hard and save their money for their family and their home should both pay the levy. We do not believe that each should pay the levy. We believe that there should be a combined income and that the combined income should have a ceiling of $300 for a family. This is the difference. I hope Senator Walsh is listening in his room. If he did not understand it before, perhaps he will now.
Statements of this type by the irresponsible Opposition have caused deliberate confusion. I ask the people not to heed these incorrect statements but to make their choice. If they want Medibank, as we had it in the past 12 months; if they want 85 per cent of the doctors scheduled fee at the surgery and public hospital care with a public hospital doctor they do not have to do anything, and the levy will be taken out of their income. The levy will not be taken out of the income of a person on a low salary, a pensioner or a person who receives a repatriation benefit. They will not pay the levy. If that is the sort of cover that people want they do not do anything, and the levy will be taken out automatically. If they want private cover they should shop around to see whether Medibank Private or any of the private funds has a table to suit them. They should shop around to see which has the lowest contribution rates. They should join that fund. There is a choice for the Australian community for the first time in the last 12 months. I commend these options to the people. I commend the Bills to the chamber.
– My grievance is not with any member of the Australian Medical Association but it is with what I call the private hospital fund bureaucrats- people like Mr Cade and Mr Turner. I qualify that statement. The entire ambit of my criticism is directed at major funds such as the Hospitals Contribution Fund of Australia and the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia in New South Wales. I stand foursquare with the sentiments expressed by my shadow Minister colleague Senator Don Grimes. Honourable senators opposite think that Medibank is a revolutionary process. It is not a revolutionary process. It is in the eyes of Senator Sheil. Medibank came about because of the failure of the private hospital and medical fund system to put its house in order. I suppose I could quote Dickens and say: ‘It was the best of times, it was the worst of times’. It is the best of times because senatorial backwoodsmen like Senator Sheil would not have had a bar of any kind of Medibank, but other senators opposite say: ‘We will have it, but it will be on a sort of restricted franchise’. That is why I used that quotation from Dickens.
I begin my speech now. There is always a beginning to any story. I heard a number of Government senators say that freedom of choice- the private health fund system- is the best. I could take them across the Pacific to the United States and talk about the failure of the Blue Cross system. I suppose Senator Edward Kennedy would not be regarded as a Marxist senator, but he and Senator Mondale, who will probably be the next Vice-President of the United States, have been unremitting critics of the Blue Cross system. Never mind the Australian Labor Party criticism. I think that every Government senator ought to be forced to read a page a night of the report on health insurance which was known as the Nimmo report of March 1 969. 1 think Senator Colston would agree with me because he is a schoolteacher. Never mind what the Labor Party says. Never mind what our Leader, Gough Whitlam, or Senator Grimes says. I quote the indictment at page 9 of the report of Mr Justice Nimmo, a very sound jurist who, by no stretch of the imagination, could be called a socialist. Under the heading ‘Findings’, the report states:
The operation of the health insurance scheme is unnecessarily complex and beyond the comprehension of many.
We could say that that still applies. The report continues:
The benefits received by contributors are frequently much less than the cost of hospital and medical treatment. The contributions have increased to such an extent that they are beyond the capacity of some members of the community . . .
That leads me to the cost factor. If there had never been a Whitlam Labor government era and if we had not introduced Medibank, you people would still have had to grapple with the situation. I continue with this indictment. The report states:
The rules of many registered organisations including the so-called ‘special account’ rules permit disallowance or reduction of claims for particular conditions.
The report also states:
The level of reserves held by some organisations is unnecessarily high.
Under the heading ‘Recommendations’ the report talks about a commission. The report states, among other things, that the commission should have on it a person to represent the interests of contributors and patients. This report was presented at a time when there was a change of Minister. Both were members of the Liberal Party. One was Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, the other was Senator Ivor Greenwood. All of us know that Senator Ivor Greenwood was a tough administrator. When the hospital and health funds in New South Wales were arguing how much of their reserves would have to be set aside to meet rising costs and how much they would boost their premiums, Senator Greenwood said to me: ‘If I have my way they will be much more democratic’. He was consistent. Then, as later, he argued about rank and file consultation in a trade union. I was in the HCF and the MBF. They never called mass meetings at the Sydney Town Hall to decide how far they would go along with the Liberal Government. That is the broad gamut of all the imperfections of the system. Senator Greenwood was replaced by Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, an able parliamentarian but a man who believed in not rocking the boat. It is history that the Labor Party took this report and went across the continent saying what was wrong with the private system. If the Whitlam Government had not introduced the Medibank proposals the private systems would not be coming out now and attempting to put competitive alternative systems.
If we are talking about a freedom of choice, let us be candid. The private monopoly health insurance funds were not interested in giving a better deal to their members of funds. The funds did not attempt to democratise their organisations. As a corollary to what I am talking about now the Pandora’s Box was opened under the Wran State Government in New South Wales. I refer to the rort in the HCF. It had an inner group known as the Saturday Hospital Fund. This was the group in control. Let us stop all the double talk about the private funds being dedicated to bringing about a better way of life for Australians. As a matter of fact, one of these funds bought its own light aircraft. When they smashed it up and had to explain what happened they were not game to purchase another aircraft.
I want to talk purely about the capacity of the funds to provide service. If Senator Baume were in the chamber he would probably say to me: You have a hangup about this.’ On the rare occasions that I have been to a doctor the relationship has been good. I have a healthy respect for doctors. But let us look at the bureaucracy of the funds. In 1953-54 I joined the Hospitals Contribution Fund and the Medical Benefits Fund. I was also covered by the railway hospital fund which was a non-profit organisation. I was one of those who was conned into thinking that J needed maximum coverage. I am glad to see that Senator Townley has come into the chamber to listen to this oration because he did not think I would touch on this point. As he is not in his seat he may not indulge in interjections. Mr President, I am sorry. I usurped your authority then.
I was referring to the service provided by the private funds. I had 20 years of good health. Twice I needed attention. I needed to spend a week in hospital with a knee injury that was a legacy from my football days. That was at the time when the Liberal Government decided that I could not have dual coverage. So for about 15 years I had paid into 2 funds, but when I needed assistance I did not get back anything like the amount I had put in. I was a gilt-edged security to the funds. That was my first experience. The second one was worse. The idea was that a person could not go to a specialist unless he first went to a general practitioner. 1 had not had to go to any general practitioner so I did not know one. What happened was that 1 got an infection in my eye one day. The Western Australian member implied that every Australian has a hangup and wants maximum attention from a doctor. That is far from the truth. I did not have time to go to a general practitioner on a Monday and then to a specialist and have my eye opened up. I went along to Macquarie Street, had the eye drained under a local anaesthetic and then a couple of hours later I drove to Goulburn Ibr a by-election. Again I received nothing.
Can anyone tell me that there is justice in that situation? I was in that fund for 20 years. I was in 3 funds but when the Government chiselled me out of the dual coverage I got out of one of the funds. Let us not be foolish about it. I was swindled out of my rights for 15 to 20 years. Under Medibank I will be taxed on my earnings and I will receive justice. I did not receive it from any of those funds. There are a lot of people like me. I suppose that good health is attributable to divine providence, or perhaps a person is lucky. I am not going to argue about that here. Let us be honest about it. I was swindled by HCF and MBF. What I received from my claims was not commensurate with the amount I put in.
I have heard one or two honourable senators say that the Opposition is trying to shackle the legal profession and that health services will suffer. Let us have a look at the results of the last Olympic Games. Does anyone deny that the Eastern European teams, which are the products of a system different from ours, won more gold medals than we did? There is nothing wrong with the medical treatment they receive from the cradle to the grave. I went into Eastern Europe in 1959. In their coal mines and steel works, with a socialised health system, they have better treatment as far as on the spot attention is concerned than we have in Australia. I have seen accidents in industry. Everyone knows about the time factor involved in getting an ambulance and being taken to a skilled surgeon. That did not apply in Eastern Europe, as will be admitted by Mr Clyde Cameron who went with me into the mining industries in Yugoslavia where we inquired about bringing out additional metalliferous miners. When they compared the medical services available at Port Hedland and other places with those in northern Yugoslavia they realised that they had the edge on us. Let us get away from all this rubbish about a perfect system. It is a very inadequate system.
Let us take the United States situation. When Sir Earl Page gave birth to the system we had in Australia he said that the Blue Cross system was the best. We all know that it is not. It may be that some employers, despite the Government’s disapproval, will pick up the tab for Medibank contributions. I do not think that is a very good practice because at a later stage when typical confrontations on industrial matters occur an employer could use this as a lever to suppress a legitimate trade union demand. The point I am making is that whichever way we look at the situation, the Medibank innovation was superior to that which existed beforehand. I think that the
Nimmo report well and truly proved that. There is no question about it.
I have mentioned my own links with various organisations. I know that there are some like the western miners who will merge their hospital scheme with the New South Wales railway and transport scheme. Through the Government’s bureaucratic madness I have retained my railway hospitals fund coverage and Medibank. I am now told that if I take the Medibank package deal I cannot have separate medical coverage and a railway hospital fund coverage. I must have one or the other. So let us not talk about freedom of choice. I believe in having a uniform levy. A person’s income will vary over his life span. I suppose that in the flush years of income he will pay the highest levy. I still believe that, whether a person is 25 or 50 years of age and in his physical prime, the bookkeeping would be easier by having one uniform levy.
I suppose that the next speaker will say to me, and it has been said here before: ‘You are harping about the fact that you did not receive adequate compensation for the 2 illnesses you had. Do you not think that you are better off than people who have a lot of illness?’ I could answer that in various ways. I simply say that, if there were a universal levy, in the boom time the income of the Medibank pool would be boosted. Honourable senators opposite are always critical of Labor Party economic measures. The plain fact of the matter is that when the Chifley Government went out of office a percentage of tax was going into social security. That applied from about 1951 until the Fadden Government discontinued it. If that had been carried on right through the boom years of the 1950s and 1960s with their high employment, any GovernmentLabor or Liberal- would have had a massive fund for social security expenditure. It was decided that that was a top level, and the result was that opportunities were lost.
In 1938 and 1939 the Menzies Government had a look at the British social securities scheme which was contributed to roughly as to one-third by the employee, one-third by the employer and one-third by the Government. That was not socialism. It was an accepted scheme from the time of Bismarck. Again, the Government was frightened of it. lt exhibited timidity and that is the reason now that, with all its inner reservations, it has retained “some’ of the Medibank concept which the Labor Government received 2 mandates to introduce.
I say again and again that this is not a revolutionary proposal. I know that both Dr Cass in the other House and Senator Grimes would say that it is a form of finance for hospital and medical services. It does not deal with all the other problems with which we are confronted. I simply say this: If the Gorton Government- I believe that John Gorton was a great Australian- had brought in these innovations we would not have had all the upsets about the Medibank muddle. I want to be fair. I submitted to a former Minister for Health, Senator Sir Kenneth Anderson, information that I received in Belgium about regional authorities. Senator Davidson was with me when I received that information. Whether the scheme is the Labor Party’s original concept of Medibank or whether it is the shandygaff which the Government is offering now, I am a great believer injustice at a reasonable level. When I was in Belgium about 5 years ago people from the Belgian trade unions had a place on bodies which arbitrated on disputes.
I know only too well that no matter whether we have our scheme or the Government’s scheme, in order to adjudicate on those very difficult claims that arise one would need the wisdom of Solomon. Therefore, I am a great believer, and I think Senator Walters would agree with me here, in the idea of regional authorities which comprise a blending of the elements that make up our community to adjudicate on such matters. For example, under the New South Wales State Labor Government in the 1 950s and early 1960s- it would apply to other States as well- there were problems concerning the tenancies of new homes. Town committees comprising representatives from the Returned Services League, the Country Women’s Association, the Australian Labor Party and the Trades and Labour Council and one or two other bodies were formed. We had a good jury in those committees to adjudicate on those problems.
I believe that following the Whitlam beach head on Medibank, on to which we are grimly hanging, a future socialist government will expand the Medibank scheme. However, even under that type of government I would like to think that we had regional authority. I have never been one who said that Canberra alone should arbitrate completely but, despite whatever constructive criticism I offer, I know that I would get a better deal from a Medibank tribunal than I would from the Hospitals Contribution Fund or the Medical Benefits Fund with people like Mr Cade and Mr Turner. They are men with real hang-ups. The speech I am making tonight, as have others I have made, will be kept in a scrapbook by Mr Turner and he tells people what a so-and-so I am for making my statements. I hope for good measure that he has heard my speech tonight.
There are a lot of people like me who enjoyed good health for 20 years but when we had genuine claims on HCF or MBF we were diddled out of them. There is no other word for it. If we had justice in this country, and I suggest this to the Health Ministers, we would bring those people to the bar of the Senate and ask them to explain how they swindled people like me as they did. They were gross swindlers, there is no doubt about it, and if I saw Turner and Cade outside I would tell them the same. In New South Wales Al Capone would have been an infant compared with Mr Cade and Mr Turner. I make no apologies for what I have said tonight. It has been a crusade with me to get justice for the people. Possibly the little funds like the fund operated by the Miners Federation and the Railway and Transport Hospital Fund will give their members fair play but no one can tell me that HCF and MBF will do the same, although they may be better now because we have a very vigorous and progressive Attorney-General in New South Wales, Mr Walker, to keep them up to it. And it may well be, as Senator Walters said, that we will get competition now between the funds and to a certain degree I hope we will. However, I am one who always looks to the middle ground.
I suppose we will have another debate on other aspects of this subject but it is not a very happy commentary on a country in the southern hemisphere to reflect on the brawling that has occurred in order to bring in a form of health insurance which, as Senator Grimes has pointed out, has been accepted in Europe since the time of Bismarck. 1 suppose Scandanavian countries have advanced even further in this field. I wish Senator Carrick were here because he has a habit of talking in percentages in relation to the number of years that we have had either a Labor government or a Liberal government. Let us consider what the Attlee Government did in relation to the Beveridge system in Britain. There was a series of conservative governments and, whether headed by MacMillan or Heath, they knew in their hearts that the concept of socialised medicine was there to stay and no Conservative government since has changed it. So I end where I began, with the words of Dickens: It was the best of times; it was the worst of times. We have retained some of what we struggled for in relation to better medical and health coverage. I do not know where Mr Justice Nimmo is tonight but I pay tribute to him. His report pointed out that there were swindlers like Turner and Cade, people who should be in gaol but are not. At least there will not be any more of them.
– I welcome the opportunity to enter this debate. I am always amused and sometimes rather disappointed when I listen to Opposition senators in their ramblings about proposals of the present Government. Senator Walsh mentioned that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) had made a statement some time ago. That is correct. The Prime Minister stated that the Government would retain Medibank, and the Government has done just that. However, it has introduced many improvements and that, I am sure, is welcomed by all senators in this chamber and by the community at large. That is what these 3 Bills are all about; that is what this debate is all aboutimprovements proposed by the Government. I would like to go on record as personally congratulating the Minister for Health, the Hon. Ralph Hunt, and the Government for what they have been able to salvage. Once again we in Government have had to salvage a scheme after the 3 years of the Labor Government’s reign. This is what we are trying to do in relation to the high rate of unemployment and the economic situation in this country which resulted from 3 years of incompetence from the previous Government.
It had its grandiose scheme for national health for all people in this nation. It was to be free to everybody, but there is no such thing as a free health scheme for everyone. Somewhere, sometime, someone must pay. The only equitable method of paying for it is to apply the principle that the user must pay in accordance with his or her capacity to pay. I learnt very early in my life that you have to pay and work for anything you want. Unfortunately, members of the Opposition seem to think that money grows on trees and that government revenue is a bottomless pit. The way Medibank was headed, we would have required a bottomless revenue pit to pay for it. The Medibank scheme introduced by this Governmentthis competent Government- gives the Australian community freedom of choice which I am sure to all Australians is the basis of democracy. We pride ourselves that we still live in a democratic country.
Medibank naturally will have to compete with the private health funds but it will compete on equal terms and on an even footing. There will be no favouritism for either Medibank or the private health schemes. As we all know, competition is healthy and ensures a much better end product to the consumer. Surely even members of the Opposition would want a better service and better delivery of service to the consumer. This is exactly what will be achieved by the Government’s proposed scheme. Medibank offers full medical and hospital packages at costs which are realistic and which compete fairly with private funds. What more can we ask for than that? We live in a free enterprise system of which I am proud to be part despite the fact that there are members of the Opposition who would like to see everything socialised and all of us responsible to big brother who would be looking over our shoulders. That is not what we on this side of the chamber believe in: We believe that there should be fair and equitable competition in the provision of all services, including the delivery of medical services to the community.
When we were in Opposition we considered that the original Medibank concept did away with the basic freedom of the individual to choose. That is something that I, along with the rest of my fellow Australians, cherish. As a matter of fact, we were involved in 2 World Wars on just that issue, the right of the individual to choose. The right to choose, whether it be in the field of medicine, of job opportunities or whatever, is of prime importance. I want to be able to choose my own doctor if I go to hosiptal. I want to be able to choose the kind of hospital that I go into. If I want to go into a private hospital then I have the right so to choose. If I want to go into a public hospital, again that is my right. It is my right to go into the hospital of my choice. If I want my private doctor, my family doctor who has taken care of me, my wife and my children, my doctor who I am confident will be able to look after me when I am in hospital, I have that right. That is what people can get under this scheme as proposed by the present Government. In the past the private health funds were free of competition but with the introduction of our Medibank it will be a competitive matter, not as it was under the previous arrangements. The private funds will have to look to ways of increasing their efficiency and decreasing their overheads to remain viable and to be able to deliver to the community an attractive health package at a realistic cost. Again that is what free enterprise is all about. The people must have this. I am very confident that under our proposals Medibank will be administered efficiently and in such a manner as to be the watch-dog of the private funds, and I do not think we can ask more than that.
There are many people within the community who perhaps will not be able to afford to pay for a health scheme of any kind but the Government in its wisdom has taken care of this. Aged persons who are retired, on a pension, will not have to pay anything at all. They will still be entitled to everything free. Low income earners with families who through no fault of their own will not be able to afford to pay into a private fund will not be deprived under the present Government’s arrangements; they will be looked after. But those who can afford to pay for insurance cover will be able either to stay in Medibank and pay for all the things that they want or join a private scheme and pay the extra insurance to get the extra sevices that they want or which are important to them. I believe that is again a part of the democratic system in which we live. Even though there are many people in the community who will need to be assisted I believe it is right and proper that people should pay for any extras that they want. If I want a new suit I can go into a shop and buy either a very expensive suit or a cheap one, but again it is a matter of what I want. If I want the extra quality then I must pay for it. I feel this is right and just in this country under our system.
It is not the Government’s intention to emasculate Medibank nor is it the intention to force private health funds out of business by unfair competition from a Government-controlled body. Rather the intention is to promote a good health service for all Australians at reasonable cost. There is nothing wrong with that. If Opposition supporters can find something wrong with that kind of thinking and that kind of action then I am at a loss to understand their brand of thinking. No one will, dispute that health costs are increasing throughout the world. It is common sense that a government could not be expected to pick up the increasing tab. As I said earlier, the Government does not have a bottomless pit from which it can draw money. The money that the Government has comes from the taxpayers and it has the responsibility of ensuring that that money is spent wisely arid in the best interests of the community at large. The cost to Consolidated Revenue of maintaining Medibank in its original form would have been enormous and naturally this would eventually have been passed back to the taxpayers. We would have had to increase taxes in some way or another to be able to pay for it. Again, as I said earlier -
– Why did you oppose the levy last year?
– As I said earlier, Senator McLaren, there is nothing free in any kind of health service; you have to pay for it whether you like it or not. If Medibank as it was introduced on 1 July 1975 had been allowed to remain unaltered then it would have cost somewhere in the vicinity of $2 billion- $2,000m. I dread to think of the consequences that would have had on our economy, an economy which is now only slowly recovering from the pounding it took from 1 972 to 1975 when those honourable senators who now sit opposite played fast and loose with our economy. Let them deny it.
– It is getting worse. Unemployment is up by 20 000 since your Party gained office.
-Let Senator McLaren deny the truth of my statement. He cannot deny it because the inflation is there for all to see. The government he supported brought it about and was unable to do anything about it. There were allegations that this scheme was also subject to rip-offs and abuse by some doctors and over-use by patients. We heard something about that from Senator Georges on behalf of the Opposition. I must agree with my colleague, Senator Walters, that the only sensible thing that Senator Georges said earlier was when he explained to us that nothing is free. I must give him a pat on the back for that. It is the first time I have heard him make any great deal of sense in this chamber.
– He will probably be kicked out of the Labor Party.
-He probably will be but I hope not because he is not a bad sort of a guy. The Government has shown that it has in mind that pensioners, the infirm and the low income earners should be provided with a health service at no cost to them, and surely those on the other side of the Senate, including Senator Georges, could not object to this relief to those who are genuinely in need.
– That is right.
-Thank you very much. I am glad you agree on some points that we make. The imposition of the levy allows funds to be channelled into other major social reforms. One such reform was introduced in this chamber by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle). I refer to the new family allowances. Another, introduced in the other place, was in respect of personal income indexation.
– That is not in this Bill.
– If you had listened to me instead of cackling you might have been able to follow the trend of what I was saying. These 2 reforms rightly divert money away from the Government directly to the mothers and to the breadwinners. I hope that I will not be imposing on your leniency, Mr President, by saying that since the introduction of the family allowances I have had the opportunity of seeing the difference this has meant to many families throughout my State of Queensland. As a matter of fact I have seen the effects of it even on my own quite large family structure.
The position now is that every Australian will have the right to stay in Medibank, to choose private insurance, to go to the hospital of his own choice or to have the doctor of his own choice. As I said earlier, that is a very important thing to the Australian, who is a freedom lover, who likes to be able to make his own choice and who likes to be able to feel that he is free to do within the law the things that he wants to do. I emphasise the words ‘within the law’. Those who remain in Medibank will be covered for 85 per cent of medical fees. Doctors will be asked to continue their undertaking to accept this 85 per cent as full payment for services renedered to eligible pensioners.
Despite what Senator Georges had to say this evening about doctors, I have far more faith in doctors in this country than he has. I have no doubt that like any other profession- and I suppose politics is a profession- the medical profession has unscrupulous members. But generally speaking the medical profession of this country deserves our respect and admiration. Members of the profession have dedicated their lives to the service of humanity. Someone interjected and said we pay for it. Of course we pay for it. But so do the doctors in terms of their dedication and in their service to humanity. 1 am not one to knock doctors. I think they have done a magnificent job. Under our scheme I believe that the Australian people generally will be far better off than they have been for a long time. I certainly support the Bill.
– I listened with interest to Senator Bonner who spoke at great length on two premises, one that nothing is free and the other that Australians value freedom of choice. 1 can only agree with Senator Bonner that nothing is free. One of the worst aspects of the new Medibank arrangements is that the Government is attempting to convince the public that somehow public monies are being saved whereas in fact this is not the case. The overall effect of the new Medibank arrangements is that everybody will pay more for health insurance than he paid in the past-by way of the Medibank levy, by way of premium or by way of private insurance. It is true that free health cover is not being provided under these new arrangements. Indeed there is a restriction of choice compared with what was provided before. As the subject of choice has been aired at such length in this debate I should point out that there is absolutely no choice available now to the Australian citizen with respect to whether or not health insurance will be taken out.
– What do you mean? That is a nonsense statement- absolutely stupid.
– At this stage Australians must have health insurance of some kind. If the honourable senator would listen to what I am saying he could not possibly disagree, Mr President. At this stage we have legislation which will lock Australian citizens into one or other health insurance scheme. Certainly there is a kind of choice, and a very tenuous kind of choice it is.
– I am glad you admit it. You said there was no choice.
– There is some kind of choice offered between different types of health insurance but there is no choice to have no health insurance at all. I find it quite ironic that it is from the Government that speaks so much about freedom of choice and the rights of the individual that we have this system which locks people into one or other health insurance system.
It was put to me quite forcibly by a constituent of mine that she had a much greater choice under the Labor scheme and even a greater choice in the sense that the Liberal Party uses the concept in the pre-Labor scheme under which a person could have no health insurance cover at all. Under that scheme a person could open a savings bank account and draw interest on the money in that account. A person would not need to withdraw money from that account if he or she did not become ill. This was a kind of choice that was valued by some people.
– It is not there now.
– As my colleague Senator Mulvihill points out, that choice no longer exists. No longer can the individual save privately in order to pay for medical expenses. Now every individual must be in one or other health insurance scheme.
I would also like to point out while I am talking about choice that freedom of choice was not the top priority of the Labor Government when it set up its Medibank scheme. The top priority of the Labor Government in establishing its Medibank scheme was to ensure that every Australian had adequate health insurance and that that health insurance was paid for by the most equitable means. As it turned out it was paid for out of general revenue which I consider to be the most equitable means of sharing throughout the community the burden of the cost of the health insurance scheme. Freedom of choice was not our major priority. It has become the catch-cry of the present Government- the apparent priority of the present Government. However, it seems to me that the main effect of the new arrangement is to restrict the choice available to Australians with regard to health insurance, to increase the cost and, of course, to increase confusion generally.
I would like to draw attention to other organisations which have complained bitterly that freedom of choice has been restricted by the new arrangements. I want to quote from a letter from the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations dated 3 June 1976. The letter, in part, states:
After careful consideration by CAGEO’s Federal Officers of your Health Minister’s 20 May announcement and consequential and related Bills and other statements, we are impelled to the conclusion that if your Government proceeds with its proposals in their original form, Medibank health insurance will be less financially attractive to a large proportion of middle income earners and /or higher income earners. Within that context your Government’s proposals do not allow for a genuine free choice to be made by at least half of the Australian community.
The proposed imbalance in the cost of health insurance is recognised in the following statement contained in the pamphlet: ‘Medibank and You- It’s Your Choice’ (May 1976 R75/1434), and I quote: ‘However the cheapest way to obtain the same cover (medical plus intermediate hospital) will be to buy medical and hospital insurance from a private fund for about $350 a year’.
So we have one of the major union bodies of this country representing many thousands- perhaps millions- of taxpayers complaining specifically that its members have been denied freedom of choice by the new Medibank arrangements of this Government.
Another anomaly in the new system is the method by which spouses will pay the Medibank levy. There has been a great deal of discussion of this issue and I think some contradictory statements by various supporters of the Government. But it does appear that if a man chooses to pay the Medibank levy, the $300 family cover, his wife if working will have the $150 levy for a single person deducted from her -
– No, $ 130.
-No, it is $150 for a single person. She will have this amount deducted from her salary and will -
– Apologise now.
- Mr President, I am becoming a little tired of the interjections, particularly when they are so inaccurate in content. I realise that the hour is late but I think the community has some interest in this issue because it will affect the income, the real take home pay, of every wage earner in the land and will impose a considerable burden on many families in respect of the choice they will have to make. Therefore, Mr President, I would thank you if some of these inaccurate and distracting interjections could be stopped.
I was drawing the attention of the chamber to the anomaly which now exists in that it would appear that the wife of a working couple will have to pay cover during the year and then claim that as a refund of tax at the end of the year. In effect this will be a free loan to general revenue and one, I think, that is quite unacceptable. There is also a general point to be made about the deflationary effects of the new arrangement. Honourable senators will be aware that already some unions and some employers are talking about the possibility of employers paying the Medibank levy for their employees. If this happensand I can understand why some employees would wish it to happen- the Government’s position with regard to reducing inflation through the Medibank changes is undermined.
– You do not support the idea of employers paying?
– I am just trying to indicate the implications of what will happen if employers in some cases decide to pay the levy. If some employers decide to pay the levy then, naturally, employees of other bodies will start to demand similar types of payments from their employers.
– That is right.
– This will have an effect -
– Order! Interjections are disorderly. Senator Ryan has the floor and I ask honourable senators to allow her to speak in silence. I call Senator Ryan.
– Thank you, Mr President. What will happen if some employers decide or are persuaded to pay the Medibank levy for their employees is that other employees will start to make similar demands and we will have, in effect, increased wage demands which this Government is so convinced are inflationary. Yet, that is a real likelihood in a situation where the effect of the levy is to reduce real wages. I draw the attention of the Senate to that fact. I am not expressing any opinion as to whether it should happen. If it does happen I think it will certainly undermine the argument of the
Government that it is controlling inflation by changing the Medibank system.
Another anomaly- and one which I think all honourable senators must admit exists- is that there must be greatly increased administrative costs in administering the range of choices now available within the Medibank system. I believe- the Minister representing the Minister for Health in this chamber (Senator Guilfoyle) may be able to confirm this-that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has already received one telegram from the Gippsland Medibank office saying that it is unable to cope, with its present staff levels, with the demand being made on its office because of the new arrangements. 1 expect that many other such urgent messages will reach the Minister within the next couple of months as the new system gets into operation. The question of administrative costs seems to me to be one of the more anomalous aspects of the whole matter. We had a system of medical cover- a system that the Labor Government set up- which was working efficiently. No serious complaints were made about the nature of the operations of Medibank. The actual costs of administering the program were kept quite low but, suddenly, for reasons of political ideology rather than reasons of efficiency, economy or community needs, we find that the system is fragmented with a range of unnecessary choices introduced by this Government. As a result the administrative burdens are greatly increased and administrative costs also must increase greatly.
It has been suggested to me by several of my constituents that the single parent again is facing an unfair burden. The level of income at which the single parent- usually a single mother- will have to pay the levy is lower than the level of income at which a family with a dependent spouse will have to pay the levy, even though the single parent is likely to have a lower overall income and has a family to support, just as has the 2-parent family.
I should like now to turn to the specific Bills that we are discussing. The Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 has the effect of setting up what the Government chooses to call Medibank Private. It is not a Bill that we are opposing in substance although my colleague, Senator Grimes, will be moving amendments during the Committee stage. We are not opposing the Bill in substance because we recognise that at this stage of the development of medical services in Australia there are people who feel more secure if they know they can opt for shared ward accommodation. This is particularly true in Victoria where the public hospital system is overburdened. There are people under the present medical system who feel more secure if they can have their own doctor attending them in public hospitals or in shared ward accommodation. We recognise that these feelings exist in the community. Therefore, we do not oppose in principle the establishment of what the Government calls the Medibank Private scheme. However, it is very important to make the point that the extra cover, for which contributors can insure for $135, is not being paid for entirely by those contributors. It is not an example of the user pays principle. It is being subsidised, to a large extent, by the general taxpayer- that is, by the general community- and by the contributors to the standard Medibank levy.
It does appear, because the Minister promised earlier that there would be a ceiling of $135 on the intermediate of Medibank Private insurance, that in order to keep this commitment he has had to inject $ 12m into the system for the remainder of this financial year. Of course, that will be an expenditure of $15m for the whole year in order to maintain that figure of $135 for those who can afford to and who want to take out this extra cover. That is more money coming out of general revenue. That is more money which is taken from a progressive taxation system. It is more money for which the lower income earners are subsidising the middle income earners or the higher income earners- some of whom will choose to stay in Medibank and take out Medibank Private.
The other point I wish to raise in connection with this Bill relates to the arguments we have heard from honourable senators opposite in this debate that they are setting up some sort of free enterprise system and that in relation to private health insurance there will be a free market system and costs will be settled. They think this is free competition. That is not in fact the case. Medibank Private is at a cost disadvantage compared to the private funds. It would appear that the Government has deliberately made this so. It has been pointed out by one of my colleagues in another place that, for example, in Queensland one private health fund is offering for $380 complete cover which is similar to what is being offered by Medibank plus Medibank Private. Yet, if a person wishes to remain in Medibank and take out Medibank Private it will cost $435. That is a significant gap between what the private funds are able to offer and what the Government, through this legislation, is permitting Medibank Private to offer. That, I think, is fairly interpreted as a discrimination against those who wish to stay in Medibank Private. It is an encouragement for people to go out and join the private funds which, of course, leaves the burden of maintaining standard medical costs on those who remain in standard Medibank.
The second Bill with which we are dealing allows for a $50m Government subvention into a re-insurance pool -
– It is a free subsidy.
– As my colleague, Senator Brown, has pointed out, it is a free subsidy to the private funds. Although a chronically ill person or a person who becomes chronically ill is free to insure with the private funds and is free to pay whatever contribution the private funds see fit to charge at this stage, those private funds with which the chronically ill person is insured will not in fact bear the cost of the long term medical expenses of the chronically ill person. After 35 days the chronically ill person will transfer to the special fund which will then meet the expenses of that person. In the meantime the chronically ill person continues to contribute to the private health fund which at that point does not have to continue to meet the expenses for which the person is insuring. So the long term expenses of the chronically ill person are being met again out of public revenue and not by the private funds who, nevertheless, are profiting from the contributions of that person. I think that that is quite a serious anomaly.
The overall effect of the Government’s amendments to the Medibank legislation is an undermining of Medibank to the point where it is fair and accurate to say that this Government has broken its election promise to maintain Medibank. I am aware that many of my colleagues who have spoken in this debate have made this point at great length and very convincingly. But it is fairly clear that at least 50 per cent of contributors will leave Medibank because they have been enticed out by the special rates being offered by private funds. Indeed, some private funds are going so far as to urge a boycott of Medibank. I quote an article from today’s Australian which states:
The head of Australia’s private health funds has urged every doctor throughout the nation to persuade his patients to boycott Medibank Private.
It seems to me that that is a very serious interference with what the present Government likes to call’ freedom of choice’.
– Was that Mr Moon?
-Indeed, that was Mr W. K. Moon, President of the Voluntary Health
Insurance Association, which represents 57 private health funds. Mr Moon sent a letter to all doctors asking them to bring pressure to bear on their patients to opt out of Medibank entirely. It seems to me that that is a particularly shameful kind of behaviour on behalf of the private funds. Everybody knows that Australians over insure for medical insurance. Everybody knows that sick people or people who fear that they may become sick are susceptible to influence by their doctors. Everybody knows that if an aged or chronically ill person has been attending one doctor and having satisfactory medical care from that doctor over a number of years that person is very loath to change that doctor. Therefore if that doctor says to the patient: ‘I want you to get out of Medibank’, or brings some persuasion to bear on the patient for that patient to get out of Medibank the patient is very likely, in the patient’s susceptible state, to respond to that pressure and to join a private fund.
– It is a reprehensible action.
– It is indeed a reprehensible action. I do not think that the Government at this stage has had an opportunity to comment on it. But I would hope that the Government would be severely critical of this kind of blackmail of sick people and that it would in fact interfere with this kind of blackmail, because blackmail it is. If this kind of unfair persuasion and pressure is successful and if in the short term the ability of the private funds to undercut Medibank Private is successful Medibank will be denuded of contributions because at least 50 per cent of the contributors will leave. But that does not mean that the private funds will bear the entire costs of the medical services available to people in private health funds.
I think it has been said before in discussing this issue that if people are taken ill suddenly, in a car accident or something of that kind, they are rushed to a public hospital and treated by doctors on duty. At that stage they do not have the time, or indeed the desire, to get the doctor of their choice or anything of that kind. They make use of the public facilities. That is as it should be but in making use of the public facilities they are making use of facilities for which they are not paying one iota if they are entirely insured by private funds. I think that this is something of which the community must be aware. Even though supporters of the Government might like to talk about paying for what we use and might like to say that we cannot get anything free and make comments like that, by going entirely into a private fund a person certainly is not cutting himself off from access to the very expensive and excellent public health facilities which are available and which now will be paid for substantially from contributions to the standard Medibank fund.
I should like to draw attention to the situation which exists in the Australian Capital Territory, where the Labor Medibank scheme had worked very successfully indeed. A number of health centres were established where salaried doctors were able to provide, not free services, I agree, but services for which no charge had to be made at the time. This was an extremely efficient procedure and it was extremely popular with the public and extremely welcome to low income earners or families with a lot of children who had difficulties making on the spot cash payments which many private doctors demand these days and which, no doubt, they will demand even more now that they know every person will be insured and will be able to obtain a refund. In the Australian Capital Territory we had the development of a new, progressive, up to date health system. People had the choice of their own practitioner, of fee for service doctors at the health centre, and of salaried doctors at health centres. They had a choice of a range of excellent salaried specialists at the Canberra community hospitals. This situation has been thrown into total confusion by the new arrangements. Some health centres will now have to start charging fees. There will have to be some way of establishing the fund to which a person belongs. This will require additional administrative staff, although that staff will not be provided because there are staff ceilings on all areas of public employment in the Australian Capital Territory. So what was developing into an extremely progressive, convenient, efficient and, above all, excellent kind of health service so far as the community was concerned, will now be undermined in a very serious way by the new arrangements.
Another example of this is the operation of the family planning clinic. Under the Labor system, because everybody was covered by Medibank, family planning services were able to be offered free, that is, without direct charge to the person seeking those services. This was an extremely useful technique because a lot of people, particularly women, seeking family planning advice are without an income. A lot of them are young girls who are seeking family planning advice without the knowledge of their parents and the family planning service was able to offer proper services without demanding fees. The situation now for family planning services is that either they will have to require a cash payment, which many of the patients will not be able to provide, or they will need to know what sort of health insurance scheme the patient is insured with which will be a breach of confidentiality as far as some wives and daughters are concerned. That is another example in the Australian Capital Territory of the very disruptive effect on community based health services of the Government’s Medibank changes.
In conclusion, I should like to stress that the effect of these changes has been to create enormous confusion and anxiety in the community, which undoubtedly will lead to over insurance. The effect has been to increase the cost of health insurance and thus of health care for every Australian. There is no indication that the kind of medical services provided to the community will improve in any way as a result of the changes.
– Time for one over.
– I was wondering whether I would get an interjection before the minute went. It is with great enthusiasm that I rise at one minute to eleven to talk about the Bills we have before us.
– That should be long enough for what you have to say.
– I was wondering also whether I would get a point of order but I doubt that that is possible. One of the most perplexing problems for any government, whether it be socialist or conservative, is the health care of its country’s population. No matter what is said and what has already been said, the fundamental truth of the matter is that all of us would like to see a situation in which everyone receives sufficient attention to the health worries that they might have. But in a modern community the total cost of providing all the services that people want- I use the word ‘want’ rather than the word need’- is likely to be so prohibitive that a line has to be drawn.
– 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 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
I ) How many staff members from the former Departments of (a) Urban and Regional Development, (b) Environment, (c) Housing and (d) Tourism and Recreation, who were listed on those Departments ‘ establishments on 1 1 November 1975, are currently positioned with the Department of Environment, Housing and Community Development.
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The information is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
Has the royal assent been given to the Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1976. If not, will the Government give an assurance that consultations will be arranged with Aboriginal groups to discuss the Ordinance, with particular reference to section 122 dealing with the traditional use of land and water by Aboriginals.
– The Minister for the Northern Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Northern Territory Parks and Wildlife Conservation Ordinance 1 976 has not yet received royal assent.
Aboriginal groups were not specifically consulted as the Ordinance in no way affects their traditional rights or puts any impediment to land rights. This is well demonstrated by Section 122, which was particularly referred to. This Section provides that even within parks and reserves which are set aside for the benefit of all Australians, Aboriginal rights to traditional hunting, use of water and use of the area for traditional ceremonial purposes are protected and specially provided for.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Northern Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows: ( 1 ), (2), (3) and (4). The information sought is set out in the following table:
Outstanding commitments on 30 June 1976 amounted to $6. 8m. The level of funds being made available under the Appropriation Bill presently before the Parliament, viz. S2.1m represents the estimated amount necessary to meet existing commitments expected to mature during the current financial year.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
– The Minister for the Northern Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
Nuclear Fall-out Monitoring (Question No. 972)
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, upon notice:
– The Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Attorney-General, upon notice:
– The Attorney-General has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Science, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable seantor’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Health, upon notice:
What is the present position with regard to the building of a medical centre to serve the people of Groote Eylandt.
– The Minister for Health has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The erection of a health centre on Groote Eylandt, at Alyangula, has been included in the current Works Program 1976-77 at an estimated total cost of $800,000. The target date for the invitation of tenders is February 1977. Staff accommodation at Alyangula is also included in the current Works Program 1976-77 as a separate item. This item is estimated to cost $320,000 and the target date for the invitation of tenders is November 1976.
asked the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory, upon notice:
– The ‘ Minister for the Northern Territory has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
In 1970, the Crown Lands Ordinance and the Special Purposes Leases Ordinance were amended to allow special Land Boards to be established to make recommendations on applications for leases of land within Aboriginal reserves, and to advise and make reports to the Minister or the Administrator on matters relating to land within Aboriginal reserves. The Board consists of a Chairman or Deputy Chairman, three members, and two Aboriginal local members.
The three members arc selected by the Chairman or Deputy Chairman from the panel of available members, while the two Aboriginal local members are selected by the Administrator-in-Council. In selecting two Aboriginal local members, the Administrator-in-Council selects two Aboriginals who reside within reasonable proximity of the particular land being dealt with, but if a majority of Aboriginals residing within reasonable proximity to the land nominate one or two Aboriginals, the Administrator-in-Council is required by the provisions of sections 93 and 94 of the Crown Lands Ordinance to appoint the nominee or nominees.
The first Aboriginal Land Board meeting was held at the Jay Creek Aboriginal Reserve on 6 June 1971, and the members of the Board were as follows:
Mr B. Hart, Chairman
Mr E. L. Parkinson
Mr Jimmy Araby, Local Aboriginal member
Mr Big Bill Okai, Local Aboriginal member.
December, 1 972 announcing the then Government ‘s intention to introduce legislation covering Aboriginal land rights.
The Yuendumu Social Club Inc. had applied for a Special Purposes Lease for a caravan park. This was refused because trading activities by incorporated bodies was prohibited by the Associations Incorporation Ordinance 1 963- 1 969.
An application from the Warrabri Social Club for a 300 acre lease for miscellaneous purposes was refused, partly for the same reason, and partly because the Social Club did not qualify as an ‘approved person’ pursuant to section 91 of Part IIIA of the Crown Lands Ordinance. That section defines an ‘approved person’ as:
The third unsuccessful application was from the Papunya Progress Association, for a Special Purposes Lease for motel purposes. This was refused because the Association was not an incorporated body and therefore could not be granted a lease under the Special Purposes Leases Ordinance, and even if it became incorporated, it could still not be granted a lease due to the trading restraints in the Associations Incorporation Ordinance.
The total number of applications in this list is 118, of which the first 70 were considered to be successful (refer Part 4 of the question).
Canning Fruit Industry
– On 8 September 1976 Senator Tehan asked me a question without notice concerning the canning fruit industry. The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The question of exempting pear wines and pear ciders from sales tax was considered, but not taken up, in the recent Budget context.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 22 September 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19760922_senate_30_s69/>.