22nd Parliament · 3rd Session
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay) took the chair at 2.30 p.m., and read prayers.
Mr. PEARCE presented a petition from 960 members of the Pensioners League of Queensland praying that the Parliament will give immediate consideration to the question of increasing pensions to no less than 50 per cent, of the basic wage as a minimum.
Petition received and read.
Mr. BARNARD presented a petition from 2,965 citizens of Australia praying that the Government will make provision, by means of a referendum, for the alteration of certain sections of the Constitution which relate to the aboriginal people of Australia.
Petition received and read.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral several questions concerning television. Can the honorable gentleman say when he expects to receive the recommendations of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board on the allocation of television licences in Adelaide and Brisbane? Are the recommendations expected to reach the Government before the forthcoming general election? If the recommendations are received before the election, will the Government act immediately on the recommendations when they are received?
– I think it is probable that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board’s report will be available to me within a fortnight. I have not laid down a specific date for the presentation of the report, but I have good reason to believe that the report will not be long delayed. When it is received it will be considered by the Government. Any action to be taken as a result of the report will be a matter for Government determination.
– Can the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs state the Government’s attitude to the so-called “ Provisional Free Algerian Government “ formed in Cairo on 19th September?
– The so-called government referred to by the honorable member was established by the Algerian Rebel National Liberation Front, which I believe is known as the F.L.N. The Australian Government will not recognize the Algerian rebel government, because it does not satisfy accepted international criteria for recognition. The Australian Government recognizes France as being responsible in Algeria.
– I ask the Minister acting for the Minister for External Affairs a question. I pursue the question I addressed to the Minister last week, in which I suggested that Australia should consider the advisability of approaching the General Assembly of the United Nations to seek a cease fire order in relation to the off-shore Chinese islands. Any of the 81 nations belonging to the United Nations can seek such an order, which is usually granted as a matter of course if there is fighting or threats of fighting. The issue concerning these islands is clouded and affected both by fighting and threats of fighting, in which quite a few powers are concerned. This is a matter of grave urgency. The world is awaiting some action. Can the Minister now answer the question that I asked last week?
– The Australian Government is in daily contact with all friendly governments as to what is happening in the Formosa Strait. The Government is keeping in mind the suggestion made by the right honorable gentleman. At the moment I have nothing to add to what the Prime Minister and I said on this subject last week.
– Is the Minister for Primary Industry aware that Australian dairying organizations fear that a product known as filled milk may cripple Australia’s dairying industry? Will the Minister give the House an assurance that the Government will investigate fully the implications which the introduction of this product into Australia will have on the dairying industry by way of unfair competition?
– The Government is well aware of the difficulties that face the dairying industry as a consequence of the possible introduction of filled milk into Australia. Already action has been taken to see that the matter is listed for discussion at the next meeting of the Australian Agricultural Council. I think the honorable member will be aware that the question of the production of these synthetic milks comes within the jurisdiction of the State governments and is a matter over which the Commonwealth has no authority. Nonetheless, I give the honorable member my personal assurance that we will take strong action to ensure that passing off is prevented, as far as it is possible, and that filled milk is not permitted to be passed off as a true milk product.
– Will the acting Minister for Trade be good enough to inform me when I may expect an answer to the question of which I gave notice on 27th August relative to the marketing of Australian lead and zinc in the United States of America?
– The standard answer to a question such as this would be “ in due course “, but I will see what I can do to expedite the obtaining of an answer for the honorable member.
– My question to the Postmaster-General is prompted by the 1958 regulations for operators of amateur wireless stations. Regulation No. 66 states that operators in Australia must transmit and receive, in English, messages of a personal or experimental nature, and so on. Has the Minister any evidence that amateurs infringed their privileges when, prior to the promulgation of the altered regulations, languages other than English could be used? Would not the use of languages other than English tend to foster better understanding and goodwill in the international cause?
– I assure the honorable member for Maranoa and, through him, those amateur radio operators throughout Australia in whom he is interested, that the action taken to cut out the use of foreign languages does not, in any way, indicate that there has been any infringement by amateur operators in Australia of the privileges extended to them. There is no suggestion whatsoever that any infringement has taken place.
I point out that the difficulty is that the use of a large number of languages provides an opportunity for operators who are not registered to work in foreign languages in a way which would be extremely difficult to police and to determine. Therefore, as I said last week, as a security measure, action has been taken to prevent the use of foreign languages by amateur radio operators. But I say again that this does not mean that there has been any infringement by Australian registered amateurs in their operations.
– Will the Prime Minister advise the House of the present position regarding the application by the Queensland Government for a loan from the world bank for the reconditioning or reconstruction of the railway from Townsville to Mount Isa? I understand that representatives of the Queensland Government have had discussions with the Prime Minister recently and that further discussions took place on Friday of last week.
– The matter of Mount Isa involves two sets of financial considerations. One is the spending of money by the Mount Isa company itself on a development programme of enormous size and the other is the financing of a new railway at a total cost of the order of £30,000,000. The Commonwealth comes into this matter because we are competent to be a borrower from the world bank and, on behalf of the Australian Loan Council, a borrower overseas from other sources. Therefore, we have been extremely active in this matter. It is quite true that at various times in the last two months we have had discussions with the world bank, with the Mount Isa company and with the Queensland Government. About a week ago I, myself, had further discussions with the Queensland Government. There have been discussions on the official level since then, but the matter is not at a stage at which anybody can usefully say anything about it publicly.
– I address a question without notice to the Minister for Health. In view of the great need for the provision of means whereby oxygen will be available as an item of the pharmaceutical formulary for the needs of pensioners being cared for in their own homes, is there a reason why this cannot be done? At present, oxygen supplies for pensioner cardiac and asthma sufferers are provided through pharmacists. In the case of lengthy illness, the cost must impose considerable strain on meagre finances.
– The provision of oxygen as a special benefit for pensioners is not altogether appropriate. The administration of oxygen requires quite complicated apparatus for its proper use, and it requires constant supervision. I should think that most of the people referred to by the honorable gentleman are cases which should be treated in hospital, anyway. Therefore, oxygen has not been included in the formulary for that reason. There are other practical considerations with regard to making oxygen and similar gases pharmaceutical benefits. One is that they are used for other than medicinal purposes. This greatly complicates their inclusion in the list of pharmaceutical benefits.
– I ask the Prime Minister: In view of the announcement at Montreal by the Minister for Trade of the Government’s red plan to trade with Communist countries, when can we expect an announcement by the Prime Minister of the Government’s red plan with which it hopes to win the general elections in November?
– As far as I can follow the question, I would* not know.
– Has the Minister representing the Minister for Civil Aviation noted the statement that Melbourne may be by-passed as an overseas airport for jet airliners if a suitable location is not prepared at an early date? If so, as Avalon has been mentioned as one alternative site to Tullamarine or Laverton, can the Minister give an assurance that if the final decision has not been made, this very suitable site, which is situated between the fine City of Geelong and its subsidiary, Melbourne, on what will soon be a four-lane highway, will be given every consideration in any further investigations which might be made by the department?
– I can understand the honorable member’s interest, as usual, in “ his electorate. I shall refer his question to my colleague, the Minister for Civil Aviation in another place. As I know the position, myself no decision has been made yet, nor is there likely to be one for some little time.
– I address a question to the Prime Minister in his capacity as acting Treasurer. In my district, as in most districts, a number of people are very keen on assisting youths, and we have youth clubs of all descriptions, including youth gymnasiums. We find that the cost of providing equipment, particularly gymnasium mats, is very great, and it is hard to raise the money for this equipment. The sales tax makes the position worse than it would otherwise be. Is it possible to consider relieving these clubs of the payment of the tax on this gymnasium equipment?
– I am not familiar with this subject, but I shall have a look at it.
– I preface a question to the Prime Minister in his capacity as acting Treasurer by stating that, when income tax returns are submitted through agents, the taxpayer’s assessment and all subsequent communications, including the advice of intention to summons the taxpayer for nonpayment of tax, are addressed to the taxpayer, care of his agent. The actual summons is delivered to the taxpayer at his private address, and this is sometimes the first advice the taxpayer has that his payment is overdue. Will the Prime Minister consider requesting the Taxation Branch to advise the taxpayer direct, by registered mail, of the intention to issue a summons for the recovery of overdue taxes in order to spare the taxpayer unnecessary embarrassment which may be caused by the remissness of his agent?
– As I understand the question, the honorable member is contemplating a case in which the tax agent, having been informed of the intention to -issue a summons, failed to pass on that information to his client. I will find out whether this does, in fact, occur, and what can be done about it.
– My question, which is addressed to the Prime Minister, relates to the appointment recently by the Government of what is known as the National Radiation Advisory Committee, of which Sir Macfarlane Burnet is the chairman, and on which there is quite a number of very distinguished Australian scientists. I understand that no one has been appointed to the committee who has a first-hand knowledge of genetics, and, in particular, no one who has worked in the field of radiation genetics. I am also informed that no member of the committee has first-hand knowledge in the field of radiation biology, with the exception of Dr. Holman, who is experienced in the very restricted field of radio-therapy. In view of the importance of these facets of the science of radiation, will the Prime Minister endeavour to arrange for the appointment to the committee of some person having knowledge of these branches of the science?
– I will be very pleased to look at the constitution of the committee to see whether the honorable member has raised a point that deserves attention.
– In view of the forthcoming general election, can the Minister for the Interior say whether arrangements have been made for the provision of voting facilities for Australian citizens overseas? Have any steps been taken to give the fullest information to shipping and air travel offices, so that intending travellers may make plans to exercise their electoral rights?
– In connexion with the forthcoming election, the normal arrangements have been made for Australians travelling abroad to record their votes. I noted’ only this morning that adequate publicity is to be given to those arrangements, and I think the honorable gentleman need have no concern that any one will be denied the opportunity to vote for him.
– ls the Prime Minister in a position to make a statement on the reported decision of the United States Government to cut the importation of lead and zinc by 20 per cent.? In view of the drastic nature of these reported restrictions and the injurious effect they would have on our mining industry and export earnings, will the right honorable gentleman say what steps he intends to take to protect employment and trade? Has the Prime Minister received a report from Montreal from the Australian Minister for Trade on the significance to Australia of the United Kingdom’s action in relaxing controls over dollar imports into the United Kingdom?
– This problem is being investigated at .present. I am not in a position to say anything about it to-day, but as soon as either my colleague or I find it possible to do so, ohe of us will make a statement about it.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for Supply in his capacity as acting Minister for Trade. In view of the importance to Australia of the report that the United Kingdom - the custodian of the gold and dollar reserves of the sterling area - is about to drop discrimination against goods imported from the dollar area, will the Minister obtain and make public the full text of the statement on the subject made in Montreal last week by the president of the United Kingdom Board of Trade? As the purpose of our present discrimination against dollar goods is to protect the currency reserves of the United Kingdom and not those of Australia, can the Minister indicate when action parallel with that taken by the United Kingdom Government is likely to be taken by the Australian Government in order to enable Australian importers to use their import licences to import goods from North
America on the same footing as from other countries, like their counterparts in the United Kingdom? In order that interested parties may gauge the significance of the impending change, will the Minister have prepared and published a brief table showing the approximate proportion of imports into the United Kingdom, in the last two years, of commodities which United Kingdom importers have been able to purchase without discrimination between dollar and other currency source!, together with similar information for Australia?
– I think that the reply given by the Prime Minister to the previous question covers the first part of the question asked by the honorable member for Wentworth, which concerns the procuring and publication of the full text of the statement made in Montreal by Sir David Eccles. A request has been made for the text of the statement to be made available. In regard to the second proposition, concerning the preparation of a set of tables, I will examine the possibility of having that done for the honorable member.
– I ask the PostmasterGeneral: Was the Australian Broadcasting Control Board directed by the Government to investigate the applicants for television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide? Is it a fact that evidence, the transcript of which amounted to over 1,300 pages, was taken by the board and that certain recommendations were made by it to the Government? Were all the board’s recommendations completely ignored, and was the board directed to re-examine the applications and to issue two licences in each of the two cities? Does the Government’s decision indicate its lack of confidence in the members of the Australian Broadcasting Control Board, and is it intended to replace any of the members of the board by persons who are prepared to act as rubber stamps for the Government?
– I rather think that this matter has already been covered in a debate that took place in this chamber the week before last, at which, unfortunately, I was not present. However, I will answer the questions asked by the honorable member for Kingston. It is a fact that the Australian Broadcasting Control Board was instructed to hear applications for television licences in Brisbane and Adelaide. It is a fact that the board took voluminous evidence, the transcript of which amounts to some 1,300 pages. The report that was finally presented by the board was extremely good. I am glad to have presented to me this opportunity to say that it was a good, constructive report. At the same time, I point out to the honorable member for Kingston and any one else who is interested that this Government does not hand over to any board the final determination as to what is best in matters such as this. This Government has the final responsibility, and accepts it. Therefore, its action in deciding, after it had received the board’s report and all the evidence submitted to the board, that it would not follow out in complete detail the board’s recommendations does not amount to a rejection of those recommendations. It simply means that the Government, having considered all the recommendations, sees fit to adopt a course other than that recommended. The Government continues to have every confidence in the board, and the board is now proceeding to carry out its further instructions from the Government to make a further report in the light of the Government’s direction.
– I should like to ask the Postmaster-General a supplementary question. Will he place before the House any official correspondence between the Australian Broadcasting Control Board and the Government or himself arising from the Government’s decision in relation to the series of applications for television licences at Brisbane and Adelaide, together with any related correspondence, .so that the House may be in possession of the facts?
– It is quite easy to answer the question, because no correspondence has passed between me and the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. The board made a report to me, which I presented to the Government. That report has been tabled. I then announced the Government’s decision.
– Did not the Minister write to the board?
– I saw the chairman of the board personally, conveyed the Government’s decision to him, and gave personal instructions as to what was to be done. Therefore, there was no need for any correspondence, and no such correspondence exists.
– I ask the Minister for the Interior whether a conference on civil defence was held in Melbourne yesterday between the Commonwealth and the States. Is it a fact that, although this conference was called in a routine manner, in view of the graver emergency overseas, questions of the general scheme of civil defence were discussed? Will the Minister confer with the Prime Minister and the Minister for Defence so that a statement may be prepared for this House showing what the Government proposes to do and is doing in this vital matter of civil defence?
– I have no report of the meeting which was alleged to have taken place yesterday. I can tell the honorable member for Mackellar that it was not a top-level conference between the Commonwealth and the States in the accepted meaning of the terms, but no doubt arose in the course of the work of a sub-committee which is inquiring into the question of civil defence. I shall acquaint the honorable gentleman with the Government’s proposals on civil defence as soon as it is possible to do so.
– Is the Minister for Air in a position to inform me when the longdelayed transfer of the City of Adelaide Squadron from Mallala to Edinburgh will take place? By way of explanation, I inform the Minister that last Sunday, I, together with 95,000 others, was present at a magnificently organized air pageant at Mallala to commemorate Air Force Week. It seems wrong that such keenness and efficiency-
– Order! The honorable gentleman will ask his question. He is giving information.
– T have asked the question.
– I can very well understand my friend’s interest in No. 24 City of Adelaide Squadron. It is one of the most enthusiastic and efficient squadrons in the Citizen Air Force.
– It is the only one we have.
– It is by no means the only one we have. We have one in every capital city, and I am sure that there are enthusiastic members of the Citizen Air Force who would strongly resent the interjection. °
I am aware of the very close association between the citizens of Adelaide and No. 24 Squadron, and so I regret, with the honorable member for Barker, that the reequipment of this squadron with Vampire aircraft has not yet been possible. It was intended that it would be re-equipped in the first half of the present financial year, but this has had to be postponed. The Air Force at present is engaged in a large number of changes of very sweeping importance which keep it very fully occupied. No. 1 Squadron has returned from Malaya. The Lincoln aircraft of this squadron have been withdrawn from service and the squadron is now being re-equipped with Canberra aircraft. Most of the personnel of the transport wing of the Air Force are now in America taking delivery of Hercules aircraft. One Canberra squadron has moved to Malaya and the Air Force is at present engaged in the very large-scale movement of two Sabre squadrons. The first squadron, No. 3 Squadron, will begin moving on 1st December, and the second squadron, No. 77 Squadron, will begin moving from Williamtown to Butterworth on 1st February of next year. All these moves arc keeping the Air Force very fully occupied. With the honorable member, I regret that it has not been possible to re-equip No. 24 Squadron yet. It is at present planned that the re-equipment will take place in the second half of the present financial year.
Officers’ Retirement Conditions
– I ask the Minister for Defence a question without notice concerning the committee which he appointed a vear ago under the chairmanship of Sir John Allison to make the first review for ten years into the pay, allowances, retirement provisions and conditions of service generally of members of the armed forces. The Minister will remember that in June the committee made, and the Government has now accepted, recommendations on the pay and conditions of non-commissioned members. I now ask the Minister whether the committee has made any further recommendations concerning the conditions of officers and, if it has, when and whether the Government will adopt them. If the committee has not made these recommendations, when is it expected to make them? My question is particularly concerned with the retirement provisions for Army officers, who are usually compelled to retire in their middle forties after they have held positions of authority and responsibility for one or two decades or longer and when they have large commitments for the education, establishment and accommodation of their families.
– The matter of the pay of officers is at present under consideration. The benefits appertaining to service members are at present being considered by the committee, and I hope to receive a report and recommendation from it in the not far distant future.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Health. Is it a fact that there has recently been a slight increase in the incidence of poliomyelitis in certain areas in Australia? If this is correct, has the Minister any comment to make regarding the position? Has the Salk vaccination campaign produced the degree of immunity to this disease which was expected, and are arrangements under way to extend this campaign to include further groups of adults?
– I understand that there have been several cases of poliomyelitis recorded recently in Victoria - not a large outbreak but, I understand, something like eight to twelve cases - all of which have occurred in uninoculated subjects. Plans which extended the scope of the campaign to take in the age group from 15 to 44 years are in the process of implementation in all the States.
– But is the campaign being extended to other adults?
– Is the Prime Minister aware that the hire-purchase organizations of this country, including all those buttressed by the private banks, have formed a common organization designed to promote their interests? Is the Prime Minister also aware that such a promotion of their own interests by the hire-purchase companies would reduce competition, and that such an organization would be utilized to protect the right of exploitation that is at present enjoyed by hire-purchase companies? If the Prime Minister agrees that such is the case, will he create in this country a committee similar to that which was established in Great Britain, which gave its report to the House of Commons in, I think. July of 1957, on unfair trade practices and restraints on trade? I ask him to do this, of course, in the interests of defending the rights of the people against the organized rights of monopoly capitalism led by the private banking institutions of Australia.
– I am not aware of the organization referred to by the honorable member, but I shall be very glad to look into the matter.
– In directing a question to the Minister for Primary Industry I refer to the recent developments in the United Kingdom market for beef, where demand appears to have outrun supply, thus placing Australian beef exporters in a very favorable position. Can the Minister give an assurance that everything possible is being done to take advantage of this position? Can he further state what measures are being taken to turn a temporary advantage into a permanent advantage?
– I am glad to say that Australian frozen beef is selling on the United Kingdom market at about ls. per lb. sterling more than it was bringing at this time last year. That is about 26 pence, sterling, per lb. for top quality hindquarters. As to what is being done, I think the honorable gentleman will know that that is largely a matter for the producers themselves. Considerable quantities of Australian beef are being sent to the United Kingdom market, and the receipts into store so far this season are fairly large. As to the long-term prospects, the honorable gentleman will know of the benefits of the fifteenyear meat agreement, and that for the next three years, from 1st October, 1958, our minimum prices are guaranteed. Negotiations are now being continued to provide for prices under that agreement for the following three years from 1st October, 1961.
Recently I read a statement by the Argentine Ambassador in the United Kingdom in which he said that because, during the Peronista régime, the number of breeding cattle in the Argentine had been reduced to very small proportions, the United Kingdom could expect small quantities of beef to be exported to that market over the next few years and that, in the long term, the population of the Argentine would grow to such an extent that the home market would absorb most of the production. It should be observed that if this happened, it could help to ensure a profitable market in the United Kingdom for other suppliers. I think the honorable gentleman has well said that the law of supply and demand will govern this question. We have some hopes now that supplies will be much lower than had been thought a year ago.
– I ask the Minister for Health: Does he know that considerable concern has been expressed among the headmasters of schools in Canberra and members of parents and citizens’ associations about the present conditions in the school dental services in this city? Does the Minister know that the absence of one dentist for twelve months on a World Health Organization scholarship has placed a very increased burden on the five other dentists? Is it proposed to retain the present ratio of 1,493 pupil patients per dentist or will action be taken to ease the position so that the ratio of pupils to dentist will more nearly approach 850:1, which has been estimated as desirable, and which was the original figure?
– Representations have already been made to me on this matter. Of course, one of the great difficulties in Australia is the extreme shortage in the supply of dentists relative to population, but the Department of Health is doing what it can in this matter.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for National Development. In view of the action of the Tariff Board in refusing tariff protection to the mica industry of Australia, what action does the Government contemplate taking to protect the local industry so that it can compete against mica produced under cheap labour conditions in other parts of the world? The Minister must realize that, without some protection, mining of this valuable strategic mineral will cease in Australia.
– I will convey the honorable member’s comments to my colleague, the Minister for National Development. I understand that mica was recently the subject of a Tariff Board inquiry and report.
– My question is directed to the acting Minister for Trade. On 11th September, I placed a question on the noticepaper in relation to an appointment to the Tariff Board. The substance of the matter had been under close examination by the Government for nearly five years, so that there should be no delay in providing an answer. When can I expect an answer to that question?
– A glance at the noticepaper will show an inordinately large number of questions on it. I am sure the honorable member will appreciate that, as I am in an acting capacity, it is not easy for me to get round to all these matters and cover all the other work that has to be done. I am doing the best I can do to reply to questions on the notice-paper, and I hope the honorable member will get an answer in the next few days or within a week.
Message recommending appropriation reported.
In committee (Consideration of GovernorGeneral’s message):
Motion (by Mr. Menzies) agreed to -
That it is expedient that an appropriation of revenue be made for the purposes of a bill for an act to grant financial assistance to the States of South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania.
Standing Orders suspended; resolution adopted.
That Mr. Menzies and Mr. Harold Holt do prepare and bring in a bill to carry out the foregoing resolution.
Bill presented by Mr. Menzies, and read a first time.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The main purpose of this bill is to authorize the payment during the current financial year of special grants totalling £20,750,000 to South Australia, Western Australia and Tasmania. The payment of these grants was recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission in its twenty-fifth report, which has now been tabled.
The bill also authorizes the payment of advances to the claimant States in the early months of 1959-60 pending the authorization by Parliament of the special grants for that year. A similar provision was included as section 4 of the States Grants Act last year. The purpose of that is to enable payments to be made before the report is actually received or adopted by Parliament.
In arriving at the recommendations contained in its twenty-fifth report, the Grants Commission has continued to adhere to the general principle of financial need. The commission has interpreted this principle to mean that, provided the efforts made by a claimant State to raise revenue and control expenditure are reasonable by comparison with the efforts made by the non-claimant States, its special grant should be sufficient to enable it to function at a standard not appreciably below that of the non-claimant States. Accordingly, the commission makes a detailed comparison of the budgets of the claimant States with those of the non-claimant States and takes particular account of differences in levels of expenditure and in efforts to raise revenue.
Under the procedures at present followed by the commission, the special grants recommended each year are divided into two parts. One part is based upon the commission’s estimate of the States’ financial needs for the current financial year. This part is regarded by the commission as subject to final adjustment two years later, when the commission has examined the audited budget results of the States for that year. The other part of the grant represents the final adjustment of the special grant paid two years earlier, in this case of the grant paid in 1956-57. With the concurrence of the House, I shall incorporate in “ Hansard “ the following table: -
In total, the special grants recommended for payment in 1958-59 are £1,250,000 greater than those paid to the claimant States last year. There is a reduction of £450,000 in the special grant recommended for payment to South Australia, and increases of £950,000 and £750,000 respectively, in those recommended for payment to Western Australia and Tasmania. All of these variations arise largely from changes in the magnitude of adjustments to special grants paid two years previously. Further details relating to the special grants are given in the commission’s report which I have to-day laid on the table.
Although South Australia will receive a smaller special grant than in 1957-58, the total amount which it will receive by way of tax reimbursement and special grants will show an increase. The other two claimant States will, of course, be sharing in the increase in tax reimbursement grants in addition to receiving increased special grants.
The special grants recommended by the Commonwealth Grants Commission have been adopted on each occasion, and the Government considers that the commission’s recommendations should be adopted again this year.
I commend the bill to honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned. ‘
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to remove the disabilities imposed on the member of the House of Representatives representing the Northern Territory.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
Motion (by Mr. Calwell) agreed to -
That leave be given to bring in a bill for an act to remove the disabilities imposed on the member of the House of Representatives representing the Australian Capital Territory.
Bill presented, and read a first time.
.- I move-
That the bill be now read a second time.
This bill proposes to include in the Excise Act the power to pay drawback of duty, that is to say, to refund the amount of duty involved where goods on which excise duty has been paid are used in the manufacture of other goods which are subsequently exported. A similar provision relating to drawback of duty on imported goods is contained in the Customs Act.
Authority to pay drawback of excise duty, where excisable goods are exported as such from Australia, is already contained in the Excise Act. The act does not provide, however, for drawback to be paid where excisable goods on which duty has been paid are used in conjunction with other goods in manufacturing processes, thus losing their identity as excisable goods, and the manufactured goods are then exported. Clause 5 of this bill will enable this to be done. At the same time, it will allow regulations to be made to govern the procedures for the payment of drawback. These will follow the same lines as the customs procedures in respect of imported goods.
The bill also includes an amendment to empower an officer of customs or a police officer to arrest a person when the officer has reasonable grounds for believing that the person has committed the offence of assaulting an officer in the execution of his duties. Honorable members can well imagine what might constitute reasonable grounds for suspecting that an assault has been committed on an officer. The act at present provides a power of arrest in cases such as the unlawful manufacture or possession of excisable goods. The proposed extension of this power to cover assault cases is deemed necessary as a protective measure to excise officers performing official duties.
Further, the bill will repeal section 101 of the Excise Act, which requires a written statement to be given to a person who has been arrested showing the reason for arrest. That section was enacted in 1901. In 1903 Parliament passed the Judiciary Act which, by section 68, provides that the laws of each State respecting the arrest and custody of persons charged with offences shall apply so far as they are applicable to persons charged with offences against the laws of the Commonwealth committed within that State. It is no longer the practice, when conferring on a Commonwealth officer power to arrest persons without warrant, to provide that he shall inform the person arrested either orally or in writing of the reasons for the arrest, because this is adequately covered by State laws which apply by virtue of section 68 of the Judiciary Act. Accordingly, section 101 of the Excise Act is being repealed in order to bring that act into line with present practice.
The repeal will prevent difficulty arising by reason of there being one law on this matter when the arrest is made under the Excise Act and a different law when the arrest is made under another Commonwealth act or under a State act. The repeal will not allow a person to be arrested without knowing the reasons for his arrest, because the law of all States requires the person making an arrest to inform the person arrested of the offence for which he has been arrested, but it is not usual now to require that information to be given in writing.
Also, the bill will repeal sections relating to the treatment of offenders by courts and gaolers in the event of non-payment of penalties imposed for offences against the Excise Act. The sections concerned, referred to in clause 8, are now considered inappropriate in Commonwealth law. Similar sections of the Customs Act relating to treatment of offenders by courts and gaolers were repealed in 1957, as it was considered preferable for the matters covered by the sections to be left to ordinary powers of enforcement of penalties of the courts under their State legislation. The Department of Customs and Excise will rely in future on State legislation in this matter.
The bill contains some amendments of a drafting nature and a provision in clause 9 to allow time for the making of regulations for the administration of drawback procedures prior to the section dealing with drawback payments being brought into operation by proclamation. I present the bill for the favorable consideration of honorable members.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
– I move -
That the bill be now read a second time.
The need for this bill arises from the proposal agreed upon between the Commonwealth Government and the Government of New South Wales that an officer of the Commonwealth Public Service should be appointed as a member of the Joint Coal Board. This board is constituted under the authority of two complementary acts, the Coal Industry Act of the Commonwealth Parliament and the Coal Industry Act of the Parliament of the State of New South Wales.
This is the first occasion upon which it has been proposed that a Commonwealth officer be appointed to membership of the board. There is a provision in the Commonwealth act which fully protects the rights of a Commonwealth officer employed by the Joint Coal Board, but at present no similar provision exists to protect the rights of a Commonwealth officer who may be appointed to membership of the board. The rights of officers of the New South Wales Public Service appointed to membership of the board have been protected because New South Wales legislation has permitted the necessary action being taken. An anomaly exists, therefore, which means that a limitation is imposed on the Commonwealth from which the State is free. The anomaly in the Commonwealth act will be removed by the bill now before the House.
The concurrence of the New South Wales Government has been given to the amendment which is proposed by the present bill. This concurrence has been given pursuant to the requirement in the acts of the Commonwealth and of the State that if one government desires to amend the act of its parliament, the concurrence of the other government must first be obtained.
I believe that honorable members will agree with the view of the Government that the Commonwealth should not suffer any restriction where it is a question of one of its own officers being appointed to membership of the board. The amending bill before honorable members will remove the restriction that now exists. I commend the bill to the House.
Debate (on motion by Mr. Calwell) adjourned.
Debate resumed from 16th September (vide page 1243), on motion by Dr. Donald Cameron -
That the bill be now read a second time.
– The Opposition will not oppose this bill, but will vote for the motion that it be read a second time. It is very natural that we should do so because the reform which it contains is one for which the Opposition has been agitating ever since the original national health legislation of this Government was brought down eight years ago.
– You have never been heard before.
-The honorable member interjects that the Opposition has never been heard to raise this issue before. First of all, I can only direct his attention to the debate on the original bilL If he looks at it, he will see that at that time the Opposition, in opposing the injustices and hardships contained in that measure, particularly pointed to the injury which would be inflicted upon people suffering from preexisting ailments, chronic illnesses and so on.
– The Opposition opposed the whole bill.
– The honorable member is not quite right. We opposed many features of the bill, to which we are still completely opposed, and we suggested constructive improvements to the measure. One of those was that which, at this late hour, the Government has finally adopted. But in case the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) is in any doubt on the subject, if he looks at the “ Hansard “ record again he will see the numerous occasions over the years on which Opposition speakers have debated amending health measures and time and again impressed upon the Government the need to remove the hardship which the existing health scheme imposes upon people in the categories I have mentioned.
– We have been battling for this for eight years.
– As the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) says, the Opposition has been battling for this amendment for eight years, and we are very glad at last to see some fruit for our efforts. Of course, it represents an eleventh hour repentance on the part of the Government. This scheme is designed to come into operation on 1st January next when this Government will no longer be in office. Instead, the party now in Opposition will then have the pleasure of implementing the health measures of the new Labour government which will be announced to the people of Australia by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his policy speech to be delivered in the Assembly Hall, Sydney, on 15th October this year. Mr. Speaker, as you know, because of the very serious mismanagement of the finances of the Commonwealth by the present Government, it may not be possible for the new government
– Is this supposed to be a humorous speech?
– The honorable member for Balaclava interjects that my remark is surely intended humorously. I need only to remind him that this Government has been in office for eight or nine years, that it inherited £890,000,000 of credit balances overseas, that during its term of office there have been seven or eight years of good seasons and high prices and only one year of recession, yet it has allowed the affairs of this country to fall into such a condition that it is budgeting, in the forthcoming year, for a deficit of more than £100,000,000. That is not very humorous to the people of Australia, although it may be humorous to the honorable member for Balaclava, who has sat behind this Government and given it his support in its mismanagement of the people’s affairs. However, as I was saying, although it may not be possible for any succeeding administration to give immediate, full effect to farreaching measures on national health, the House may be assured that the proposals which will be brought down by the new Labour government will be fully in accord with the needs of the Australian people.
I agree with the statement of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) that there is no “ best “ national health scheme, and that what is satisfactory for one country is not necessarily satisfactory for another. I agree also that the scheme which is suited for this country is one which gives utmost respect to the professional status of the medical men and to the individual needs of the people who require medical attention.
– That was not Labour’s scheme.
– That is Labour’s scheme, and that has always been the basis of this kind of legislation which the Labour government brings before this Parliament. The basis of the present bill has been explained by the Minister as being to provide Commonwealth asssistance to enable medical and hospital benefits to be paid to persons who cannot be insured at normal rates because of age, pre-existing ailments or chronic illness. With that object, as I have said, the Opposition is in agreement.
The bill provides that medical and hospital insurance organizations will be invited to establish special accounts for the payment of benefits to aged persons with pre-existing ailments and for the chronically ill. These accounts will be operated and maintained by the organizations themselves. but they will, be guaranteed by the Commonwealth. It appears that persons who Are 65 years of age and over will be automatically transferred under this legislation to the special account section, and that -although, from now on, the societies will continue to manage this account, these people will, indeed, be insured wholly with the Commonwealth of Australia and not with any private society. Their contributions will go into the special fund and their benefits will come out of it. To the extent that their benefits are not provided for by their own contributions, they will be provided direct from Commonwealth revenue. So, although the societies will remain, nominally, the managers of the scheme with relation to persons 65 years of age and over, in fact such persons from now on will be members of a truly national scheme, paying their contributions into a public fund and having their benefits paid entirely from public revenue.
That is a very important point in the Minister’s legislation to which he, himself, did not direct particular attention, but I think it is an indication of the way in which national health plans will obviously trend in the future in this country for persons 65 years of age and over. Although the managerial capacity of the societies is retained, from now on, to all intents and purposes these persons are truly insured with the Commonwealth of Australia. They pay their contributions to the Commonwealth, in effect, and their benefits come from Commonwealth revenue direct.
With regard to those who are under 65 years of age something of the same position arises. The societies will have the option of retaining the accounts of persons under 65 years of age even though they are chronics or suffering from pre-existing ailments or have reached the stage when the maximum benefits payable under the society’s rules have been paid to them. It will then rest with the society to decide whether it will continue to accept them and pay the benefit to them or to transfer them to the special account. Once persons under the age of 65 years in this category are transferred to the special account they will be in the same position as persons of 65 years and over. In other words, the society, in respect of these people, will be only the nominal insurer. The actual insurer will be the Commonwealth of Australia. Their contributions will be paid into a special account guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Australia and their benefits will come from -that special account out of moneys provided by the ‘Commonwealth of Australia.
Although the Minister did not indicate this, it is a very big step forward along the path to a national health scheme, directly financed by the Commonwealth without the agency of private societies.
The Opposition, of course, has no objection whatever to the existence of private medical and hospital funds. Indeed, it thinks that they are very valuable institutions and it would encourage, so far as may be possible, every one in the community to belong to such funds. But the Opposition is strongly of the opinion that it is immoral and utterly wrong in principle to require a person to belong to a private society or a private association as a condition of obtaining a Commonwealth governmental -benefit. We regard it as being-
– As the honorable member for Wilmot says, we regard it as being scandalous.
– Is he the oracle?
– In contradistinction to the honorable member for Hume, every interjection that the . honorable member for Wilmot makes, to my mind, is helpful to the debate and to the Parliament. But we regard it as a bad departure from principle to require a person to belong to a private association as a condition of collecting a public benefit. Governmental pressure should never be placed upon a citizen to belong to a private association. The whole principle of freedom of association is involved.
– As in trade unions.
– I thoroughly agree with the honorable member for Barker. Nothing in the philosophy of the Labour party is contrary to what he has said.
– Order! There are too many interjections. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro is making his speech.
– With some help, for which I am very grateful.
– The honorable member should be able to make his speech without that help.
– On future occasions I may be able to do so, but for the present, I will be glad of any help that I can get. As I was saying, the Labour party, while believing in voluntary insurance and in encouraging citizens to belong to private societies, is utterly opposed to the indirect compulsion involved in the present Government scheme which withholds the Commonwealth benefit, for which the citizen has contributed by taxation, from him unless he first joins a private association. We have maintained our objection to that system ever since this legislation was introduced eight years ago and we ourselves will, of course, put an end to it as soon as our opportunity in government comes about.
The Minister for Health has explained that it will not be permissible for people who are covered by the special account to make a profit from their benefits. In other words, they will not be allowed to collect more in the way of benefit than is necessary to meet the medical or hospital charges with which they are faced. That seems a quite reasonable proposal, and we accept it. Obviously, the deficits in the special account will all have to be met by the Commonwealth, and the person covered by the special account will draw far more in benefits, normally, than he will provide in contributions.
There does not seem to be nearly so much reasonableness, however, in the further proposal that there must be a minimum waiting period of eight weeks from the time a new contributor joins an organization, before benefits will be payable either for hospital or medical treatment. That condition has applied all along, I understand, to hospital services, but it is a new condition in relation to Commonwealth medical benefits.
The reason given for it by the Minister is easy to understand. It is that it would be quite wrong and quite out of accord with insurance principles for people to be allowed to defer insurance until some health disability had struck them and then to insure merely for the sake of immediately collecting the benefit. But why should Commonwealth benefit be withheld from those people? Why should they have to insure at all in order to obtain that benefit? Why should the insurance principle be concerned with the collection of the Commonwealth benefit? Why does the Minister now find it necessary to withhold the Commonwealth medical benefit until a person has been a member of a society for at least eight weeks? Personally, I can see no valid reason for that.
I can understand the reasoning of the Minister that people should not be allowed to collect benefits from, a private society merely by waiting until an illness develops, then insuring themselves and allowing their insurance to lapse immediately the period of ill health is over, knowing that they can immediately insure again should another period of ill health come upon them. But the payment of Commonwealth benefit ought not to be subject, in any way, to the insurance principle, and I can see no reason for the step proposed by the Minister. It appears to me to be a retrograde step indeed.
I am also concerned at the statement of the Minister that the new benefits provided by this bill will not be payable to people accommodated in benevolent homes, convalescent homes, homes for aged persons, rest homes, and similar institutions. At present, the people in those institutions do receive benefits under the Commonwealth health scheme. The new proposal seems to me to be open to serious question, and I should like to hear from the Minister the reason for it.
– The proposal will not disturb those who are at present in receipt of benefits.
– But surely the class of people with which the Minister is dealing is the class which is most in need of help in the community. It consists of those suffering from chronic illnesses and those who, because of age or other reasons, are particularly in need of care and medical attention.
– I do not want to interrupt you now, but there is a perfectly lucid explanation for this which I will give at the end of the debate.
– 1 will be glad to hear the Minister’s explanation, but as he did not give it in his second-reading speech I have to deal with the point without the benefit of the further explanation. Therefore, I simply say that, on the face of it, it appears that the Minister is shutting out from the benefits of this legislation people in certain institutions who are, apparently, most in need of the kind of help that this legislation is designed to give.
As I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Opposition will vote for the second reading of the bill. It is in accordance with a proposal that we have put to the Government on many occasions during the last eight years. While the present form of national health scheme exists, we believe that this provision is very necessary indeed.
.- I am glad that honorable members opposite are not opposing this bill. In fact, I am certain that they could not possibly think, in their right minds, of opposing such a beneficial bill as the legislation that has been submitted to this House by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). I believe that this is another most constructive proposal by this Government, which has always had in mind the interests of those people who are in the greatest need.
I, personally, advocated this proposal in the policy speech that I made to my electors during the general election campaign in 1955. One of the points I stressed at that time in the electorate of Fawkner was that if I were elected to this House I would do everything possible to see that a measure of this kind was introduced, because I believed that it was one of the greatest needs for a large number of persons in the electorate.
I would like to congratulate the Government on the development of this scheme. As I said three years ago, the absence of provision for benefits such as are envisaged in this bill constituted the greatest single defect in our health scheme. We have, I think, for some time failed to recognize the needs of persons suffering from chronic ailments and other ailments that prevented their participating in the voluntary scheme of health insurance. At last the Government has been able to bring down a bill to help these people, and I should like to congratulate the Minister on his far-sighted wisdom and on the way he has worked out the scheme. I know that a number of persons in the electorate of Fawkner will be grateful to this Government for the proposed development and will welcome the benefits that will be granted under this legislation.
I believe we should congratulate the Minister on the remarks he made in his second-reading speech concerning the general development of the health services. More than 60 per cent, of the citizens of Australia have now voluntarily insured under this scheme. If we take into account those who have no need to insure, such as persons receiving repatriation benefits, pensioners and others, we will probably find that more than 75 per cent, of those who could insure voluntarily under the scheme have done so. I believe, therefore, that the health scheme has received the endorsement of the vast majority of the Australian people. As the Minister said, this scheme is ideally suited to the Australian environment.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) referred to persons over 65 years of age. He suggested that their insurance will now be taken over by the Government, and that, in effect, the principle of voluntary insurance will cease to exist. What he failed to tell honorable members was that the whole principle of this health scheme is one of voluntary insurance. It is not a scheme involving merely a government pay-out, which is the kind of scheme always advocated by members of the Opposition. This voluntary insurance scheme works much better in Australia than does the compulsory insurance scheme in the United Kingdom. If we developed the scheme that the honorable member would advocate, it would mean the end of the private insurance organizations, the end of the friendly societies and the end of the whole system on which the national health services in this country are based - a system that has received the approval of the majority of Australian citizens. As I see it, if the Opposition were elected to govern this country, it would aim to get rid of the whole system.
– Why does the honorable member say that?
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro referred to his plans for nationalized health services.
– Oh, no, not at all.
– We know what Opposition supporters have advocated in the past. We know what Senator McKenna put before us in 1949. We know that the Opposition has been so scared1 by public reaction to its schemes that it has had to water them down a good deal since that time. We shall certainly be interested to see what watered-down scheme is put to the nation on 15th October.
The Opposition has referred on many occasions in the past to a system of nationalized health services. I should like to point out some of the objections to the kind of nationalized health service that has operated in the United Kingdom during the past ten years. Some of these objections were pointed out in an article in the London magazine, “The Economist”, on 5th July, 1958. I believe the people of this country should consider some of the defects of the compulsory insurance scheme that has operated in the United Kingdom, and compare it with the system of voluntary insurance that has been in existence in Australia. I feel that it would be worth while for honorable members to consider some of the objections to other forms of health services, so that they can appreciate the value of the voluntary insurance scheme operating in Australia, which was originally introduced by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and which has been developed so ably by his successor, the present Minister for Health. It is only when we consider other forms of health services that we realize the true value of our own.
Referring to the article in “ The Economist “, I shall indicate what the compulsory health insurance scheme has cost the people of the United Kingdom. In the nine years since 1949, the cost of health services in that country has increased from £435,000,000 a year to £736,000,000, which is the estimated cost for the financial year 1958-59. Another interesting point is that the principle upon which the scheme is based has not proved1 successful. The proportion of the cost of the health services borne by insurance payments has decreased, while the costs to the taxpayer have increased considerably. The net cost to the taxpayer has increased from £344,000,000 a year to £530,000,000. Even more interesting is the fact that although the socialist government of the United Kingdom proclaimed that the service was to be free, payments by patients have had to be increased from £4,000,000 to £34,000,000, and those payments are increasing year by year. These facts indicate that the system of compulsory health insurance, as advocated by a socialist government in the United Kingdom, simply has not worked. It has been proved that you cannot reduce sickness in the community simply by providing a scheme for free treatment.
A very important objection to the compulsory insurance scheme is that the burden of cost has fallen to the greatest extent on those who can least bear it. The aged and those suffering from chronic ailments have had to bear the greatest burden. They are the ones who, ten years ago, were able to get into hospitals when it was necessary to do so. Now the waiting lists are so long that unless they are in urgent need of an operation they may have to wait for periods up to four years. The fact is that compulsory insurance schemes advocated by socialist governments have not helped those people who are in the greatest need, and have actually hindered them. This is indicative of the way in which a scheme that might be advocated by our opponents differs from our present scheme. To-day we are helping the chronically ill and those with pre-existing ailments. We are helping them to obtain treatment. We are assisting those who are in the greatest need of help. This is the difference: Here we are trying to help the classes of persons who, in the United Kingdom, under a socialist scheme, have had to bear the greatest burden. In fact, the socialist health scheme there tried to spread inadequate resources over the whole population, and the people in the greatest need suffered most as a consequence. It is interesting to note the things that we have been told by the advocates of the Opposition. For instance, during the debate on the National Health Bill 1957, the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) talked about how he would centralize all the hospitals of Australia under one central organization.
– I did not use the word “ centralize “. “ Co-ordinate “ was the word that I used.
– All right, we shall use the word “ co-ordinate “. What was advocated was the co-ordinating of all hospitals under a Commonwealth organization. I presume that the suggestion is that that would help improve our hospital facilities. It is interesting to note that, under a system of co-ordinated hospital services in the United Kingdom, the development of hospital services that we might have expected has not occurred. In fact, over the whole of the last ten years, under a co-ordinated hospital scheme in the United Kingdom, only one small hospital has been built in Scotland, and not one new hospital has been built anywhere else in the United Kingdom. The funds provided for capital expenditure have gradually been reduced, and archaic buildings and obsolete equipment are still being used, because more and more of the resources of the British nation have to be spent on maintenance and on keeping the scheme going, without any chance of improving services by providing new capital equipment.
– Has the honorable member seen the hospitals in the United Kingdom?
– I am quoting the things pointed out in “The Economist” article. I have seen hospitals in the United Kingdom. Only three years ago I was there, and, as president of one of Melbourne’s leading hospitals, I had an opportunity to examine some of the hospitals doing similar work in the United Kingdom. As a result, I saw some of the defects in the United Kingdom scheme, and was able to compare the benefits that Australian hospitals have derived from the kind of scheme that we have here.
There are other defects, also, in the United Kingdom. Expenditure on mental health and the improvement of mental hospitals has been inadequate, and the institutions seeking funds for mental health work have found themselves far down in the queue. I think that the greatest objection of all - and this, again, is revealed in this article - is the fact that those who spend money on hospitals in the United Kingdom have no responsibility for the raising of those funds. Financial control is exercised arbitrarily from Whitehall. In fact, overall, there is no concern to ensure that the best value in the way of health services is obtained for the expenditure of the money allocated.
I wonder what particular advantages there would be in this co-ordinated scheme of hospital administration that has been advocated by so many Opposition members. Where would we achieve savings? How would we achieve the development that. Opposition members have advocated1 so freely without making definite proposals that would enable us to achieve it by effecting savings and making improvements? It all sounds very good in theory, but it is only when one has to run a hospital that one can see where the advantages of the present system are gained.
There are two other objections to the United Kingdom scheme. First, the patient is unable to choose his own doctor; and secondly, the doctors - both general practitioners and specialists - who have to run the scheme find themselves increasingly overworked. They find, increasingly, that they have to concentrate on unimportant jobs, which allow them less and less time for the jobs that are really important. They find that they have to evade their responsibilities. The immediate approach is to push on to some one else a patient who consults a doctor about a disease, because that doctor has not time to look at him when the appointment is sought. That is the general attitude of a large number of general practitioners. In addition, there is unnecessary use of ancillary services. Very often, a specialist has not sufficient time to examine a patient thoroughly, and he sends him for an unnecessary X-ray or pathological examination.
In answer to those honorable members opposite who have been interjecting, I suggest that the majority of people in Australia desire the form of voluntary insurance for health that we have had here for the last five years - a scheme that is in sharp contra-distinction to the compulsory insurance scheme in the United Kingdom, which has the many defects that I have tried to indicate to the House in a short time. I believe that the aims of a health service such as the majority of Australians desire should take account of the following requirements: First, the people desire above all that they should have the right to choose their own doctor. Secondly, they believe that the service given by those doctors should be the best of which they are capable. Thirdly, the cost of medical services to the patient should not be so high as to cripple him financially or to deter him from seeking the aid of the service Fourthly, the reward for the doctor should be commensurate with his contribution to the welfare of the patient and of society. Those are the aims that I believe have been achieved by the adoption of this principle of voluntary insurance. We have aimed at developing something different from the scheme operating in the United1 States of America, where, occasionally, a patient is completely crippled financially. We have also avoided the many defects of a compulsory insurance scheme such as in the United Kingdom that I have indicated. By steering the middle course of voluntary insurance, we have, I believe, achieved the aims that the majority of Australian people desire to see achieved by their health services.
There is a fifth aim that I believe to be important. We as a government should provide for those who are in the greatest need - those people who cannot help themselves. I think that, possibly too often, in talking about a voluntary insurance health scheme, we forget the other schemes that have been instituted by this Government to provide for those who are in the greatest need. It is often forgotten that this Government has introduced a number of schemes primarily to help the people who are in the greatest need. It has, for instance, developed the Pensioner Medical Service. This was conveniently forgotten by the honorable member for EdenMonaro when he spoke on the Social Services Bill 1958 last week, and he had to be reminded of it by the Minister for Health. We have developed the pensioner pharmaceutical benefits service also in order to help those people who cannot afford to pay for life-saving drugs, and under that scheme we provide such drugs for them. free. Also, we should not forget the health services provided under the Repatriation Act for those who served in the forces in past wars.
This Government has tried to put into practice the precept that prevention is better than cure. I know that the tuberculosis eradication scheme was initiated by the Labour government. That scheme has been extremely successful, and it is good to see that, as a result of the scheme being continued by the present Government, the number of people suffering from that dread disease, tuberculosis, is falling rapidly each year. This Government also introduced the free milk scheme to provide better nutrition for children and so keep them fit and healthy and out of hospital.
This Administration has also aimed at easing the burden on the hospitals by adopting the principle of domiciliary nursing services in order that sick people may be nursed in their own homes as far as possible and kept out of hospitals. The aim has been to try to help them to get well in their own homes. The development of the home nursing service which was introduced by the present Minister for Health only six months ago has proved a tremendous boon. I know of many people in the Fawkner electorate who have greatly benefited from the home nursing service. By instituting the aged persons homes scheme, under which capital grants are made to help finance the construction of homes to accommodate old people, this Government has made it possible to accommodate in such homes a considerable number of old people who otherwise would have had to occupy beds in public hospitals. By the development of the scheme which provided free life-saving drugs, we have been able to help people get better much more rapidly, so that the time a patient spends in a public hospital to-day is much less than it was, say, nine years ago. To sum up, I believe that, unlike socialist forms of health services, this scheme of voluntary insurance has obtained the best value for the money expended on it. At the same time, it has ensured that the community has not been so burdened that it cannot meet the cost of the health service.
We should remember those who operate the health scheme. I refer to the doctors, members of committees of management of hospitals and others. Sometimes honorable members opposite fail to remember these people. They should remember that any scheme of national health must take into account the fact that doctors have to be encouraged to enter the profession, and that hospitals have to be encouraged to develop their services, the specialist needs that occur to them as a result of advances in medicine and teaching and research schemes. All of this is aimed at improving the standards of the medical profession. Unless we have a health scheme that takes these factors into account, the health of the nation will suffer.
I wish to refer to one or two features of which we should take cognizance in the future. With the proposal to include sufferers of chronic and pre-existing ailments in the scheme of voluntary insurance, we have overcome the greatest objection the critics might have had to the scheme originally brought down by the right honorable member for Cowper. Although the main objections to the scheme have now been met, there are two or three items that should be considered in the future. The normal scheme of insurance is quite adequate for minor ailments and for the ordinary visits by a general practitioner to a patient at home or visits by a patient to the surgery, but occasionally a patient must meet what might be called a major catastrophe. A patient may be in hospital for a long period or may need a serious operation. As yet, the scheme does not completely remove the fear that may be with some people in these circumstances and which should not be there under a scheme of insurance. In the future, we should try to increase to an extent the benefits that are paid for the major catastrophe. I feel that only in these categories does the scheme fall short.
We should also try to help to a greater extent the sufferers from mental illness. In Victoria only this week, Dr. Cunningham Dax advocated a new deal for mental illness and a recognition that mental illness should be viewed in the same way as physical illness. Possibly a new hospital to cope with alcoholics should be endorsed. This has been done in Victoria. The fact that now 75 per cent, of sufferers from mental ailments can be cured should set us on the way to providing a new deal for the mentally retarded and the mentally ill.
We should consider the introduction of a scheme of voluntary insurance for children needing dental attention. We should try to ensure that school children receive dental attention at the time when they are in greatest need of treatment.
I hope that as a result of this bill the system of voluntary insurance will be fur ther extended so that instead of 75 per cent, of those who can insure being insured, 100 per cent, will be insured. The health service that was envisaged when this scheme came into operation six years ago is now taking one further step towards becoming an ideal health service. It is reaching a state of mature development, and I congratulate the Minister on his wisdom in introducing the bill at this time.
.- The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) reminds me of one of those gentlemen who has had a tablet called equanil which provides a twilight feeling. It is not on the free list, but it appears to me that he may have purchased it, so sublime were his comments on a scheme that is full of faults and fails to meet the requirements of those to whom the honorable member referred a few moments ago, particularly of those in greatest need.
The honorable member dealt at great length with the medical scheme operating in Great Britain, and said that the cost this year is £730,000,000. He went on to deal with what he considered were a number of faults in the scheme. If it is so bad, it is a wonder that the tory administration which controls Great Britain to-day does not remove it from the social services programme. The reason it does not do so is that the people expect that the money spent on medicine, health and social services in time of peace will be at least commensurate with the money spent on destruction in time of war. Why should any one quibble about £730,000,000 in Great Britain’s Budget? Why, even with our Budget we spent £6,000,000 a few days ago to send off a rocket! All over the world to-day, millions of pounds are being spent in seconds to prepare for the annihilation of mankind. Is it not reasonable, therefore, that humanity should expect that some contribution shall be made from national Budgets, no matter how extensive it may be, to provide for the welfare, not only of those who are aged, sick and infirm, but also of all sections of the community who require health and medical services and social justice in this modern age.
The honorable member, to my mind, needs to catch up with his homework. He is a long way out of date. The long stories that he told of what this Government is doing in social services completely omit the fact that had it not been for successive Labour governments, Federal and State, there would not have been a worthwhile social service in the community to-day. The honorable member spoke of the tuberculosis scheme which was introduced by a Labour government. The most vicious opponents of this scheme were members of the Liberal and the Australian Country parties. When free medicine was introduced by the Chifley Labour Government, members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament, who were at that time led by the tragic Treasurer, who later became the tragic Minister for Health, crossed the floor to vote against it. That does them little credit. The British Medical Association went on strike to defeat legislation designed to improve the lot of those who required free medical benefits. So honorable members opposite ought to be brought up to date on these matters in order that they will know the true position. I do not speak idly when I say that hardly one measure of social justice, one measure for medical reform and the provision of medical benefits to people in this country, has been “brought in over the years without the most bitter opposition from those who to-day espouse such measures because they know it is necessary for them to do so in order to get a few votes for themselves.
I challenge the Government to deny that the programme of health and social service benefits, put into practice by the Labour government much more widely than this Government ever thought of, was a good programme. If honorable members opposite think that Labour’s programme in this field was no good, let them tell the electors at the forthcoming general election that they are prepared to sponsor the abandonment of the programme for medical research and health and medical benefits and other social service benefits instituted by the Labour government during its term of office.
Let us look at the way in which the Government’s scheme for medical benefits operates. In order to obtain the Commonwealth benefit a person has to be a member of a medical benefits fund - a voluntary member, so-called. What do we find? It is a kind of shot-gun wedding. If a person does not belong to such a “ voluntary “ organization thatperson does not receive theCommonwealth benefit. In other words, by pressure of the most vicious kind, members of the community have been forced to join privately operated funds in order to receive from the Commonwealth benefits for which they are already paying taxes every day of the week. This is a monstrous approach to the question of the provision of medical benefits. But do not misinterpret me. Like the honorable member for Eden-Monaro,the Labour party is concerned with the work of the friendly societies. We realize their very great contribution to the Australian community and its welfare, and we do not wish to have word’s put into our mouths which would wrongly indicate our approach to that question. We are not going tosit in this Parliament and unprotestingly hear honorable membersoppositeboast about their so-called “ voluntary “ scheme, when the fact is that the words used by the honorable member for Fawkner himself show that 40 per cent. of the people who should be receiving medical benefits as an entitlement are denied the Commonwealth benefit becausethey will not voluntarily join some fund orother.
On what grounds can honorable members opposite justify the forcing of people to join funds in order to be entitled to receive benefitsfor which they are already paying intaxes raised to finance the provision of social services and health benefits? Let the right honorable member who is to have the floor after me, who had something to do with theinitiation of theGovernment’s merit’s present scheme - the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) - explain away and justify the denial of Commonwealth benefit to 40 per cent. of the electors. I say that itcannot be justified, because it is unjust. There can never be any justification for a policy under which taxes are taken from the people in order to finance social service and medical benefits, but under which some of these taxpayers are refused Commonwealth benefits for which they have paid, simply because they will notvoluntarily join some organization. I repeat that a peculiar kind of”volunteering” is involved in this. It is a real shot-gun wedding in every sense of theterm.You either”volunteer” to joina fund or you do not get the Commonwealth benefit. I should say that half of the 60 per cent. of electors who have joined funds, as mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner, have been forced to join them because of the sheer desperation of their need for medical benefits, and the Government alone is responsible for so forcing them.
Now I refer to a statement made by the honorable member for Fawkner with which I shall deal later at greater length. He said that the interests of the people in the greatest need were the interests that this Government cared about. My heavens! It is a wonder that any honorable member on the Government side in this Parliament would even think of making such a statement seriously. Honorable members on the Liberal party benches in this Parliament are put there by the private banking monopoly in order to represent capital here. They are not put there in” order to improve the general economy. They are put there to represent wealth and power and the influence, exclusively, of people with untold wealth who cafe little for the poor, the aged, the sick and the infirm. The honorable member is pulling his own leg if he believes what was written for him by some unknown author for Use in this debate.
The pensioner medical service; as I shall show later, has been- sabotaged by the Government. Honorable members opposite have thrown the pensioners away. The Government has forced the pensioners to accept a means test in regard to the service, in spite of promises made by it as late as 1954. Its action is one of the most vicious and unjust actions ever instituted in this Parliament. It was instigated by the right honorable member for Cowper, and I shall be very pleased later to hear again his apology for that monstrous piece of legislation which forced a means test on the sick, needy, the aged and the infirm - an action of which any government ought to be ashamed.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said that Labour does not oppose, broadly,some of the improvements made in this bill. We believe, of course, that we should support any legislation which provides even a little relief for those in need although I, personally, find it difficult to see much good in any form of Liberal-Australian Country party legislation, particularly relating to social services, because I know that any benefits given in such legislation are given grudgingly and without any real intention of meeting the purpose that should be met by legislation of that kind. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said, for eight or nine years we on this side have been pressing for certain reforms in the social services scheme. Now, in the twilight of its term of office, the Government has seen fit to throw a sop to the electors by making reforms which it earlier refused to make, the only ground for its former refusal being that the reforms had the endorsement, support and sponsorship of the Labour party. The honorable member for Fawkner is now interjecting. He had a pretty good go earlier, and my reply to his speech should not stir him into interjecting. I have mentioned these things to show how wide the honorable member for Fawkner was df the mark.
There is one aspect of this bill that I wish to deal with. That is the question of hospital contributions and of contributions towards the patient’s upkeep in the hospitals, which are covered in the measure. I do not think that we should ever let this Government forget that when the Labour party was in office it provided free hospitalization in public wards to every citizen of this Commonwealth, irrespective of means or income. That provision followed a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Social Security. The membership of this committee included Senator Walter Jackson Cooper- by no’ means can he be termed a socialist-Senator Dorothy Tangney, Mr. Leslie Haylen, M.P., myself, the late Rupert Ryan, M.P., and the honorable Sir Frederick Stewart, who was then the honorable” member’ for Parramatta - a well-known socialist! That committee investigated every hospital scheme in Australia and made a recommendation that free hospital treatment should be available in public wards to every person in the Commonwealth. Labour gave effect to that recommendation. But the Labour government’s policy in that respect was destroyed by this Government which, immediately after it was elected, imposed on the community a policy under which free hospitalization in public wards ended. The recommendation of the joint committee was unanimous, and it is to the eternal discredit of this Government that it destroyed the scheme that provided free hospitalization for the people on a scale which was unequalled anywhere else in the world at that time.
There are those who say that the Labour government’s free hospitalization scheme did not do all that was necessary. We worked out the scheme on what the average person was paying, and the States were satisfied with it. It operated very successfully. But this Government decided to make people pay for hospitalization in addition to the taxes that they had already paid to cover such services, and abandoned the scheme, which had the endorsement of all sides of the Parliament.
Now, I want to deal with a matter concerning something for which this Government must also take full responsibility and for which, I repeat, it ought to be ashamed. I refer to the Government’s decision, announced on 7th October, 1955, to impose a means test on the pensioner medical service. As late as April, 1954, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated in his policy speech -
Whatever rate of pension is drawn, they are also entitled to the benefit of the free medical and medicine service.
That was a solemn pledge and undertaking given to the Australian people in 1954 following a pledge that was given in similar strain in 1949. What happened? In October, 1955, when supporters of the Government were speaking during the Budget debate and saying that pensioners all over Australia received free medical benefits and that all were entitled to them, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was Minister for Health, announced the application of the most monstrous means test to the pensioners that any Australian government has introduced. Supporters of the Government, silent as the grave, did not know what was happening because they had been praising the Government for introducing those benefits, but the wily old fox who controlled the Department of Health at that time decided to change his policy in mid-stream, as it were, because the British Medical Association stood over him. He surrendered to the B.M.A.
– I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an honorable member to refer to another honorable member as a wily old fox?
– I do not uphold the point of order, because I see no objection to the expression used by the honorable member. I believe the honorable member is in order and he may continue.
– I was paying the right honorable member a compliment. I did not intend any discourtesy to him.
I was making the point that, twelve months prior to October, 1955, this Government had announced that 90,000 additional pensioners would come within the free medical service for pensioners. It made great play on that announcement. Then, in October, 1955, the B.M.A. announced that it would refuse to continue that scheme because there had been an increase in the rate of pension. The right honorable member for Cowper capitulated. He surrendered in the face of the association’s demands that the aged, sick and infirm should have a means test imposed upon them, despite the promise that was given by this Government that that would never occur. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) initiated a debate in the House on this subject as a matter of urgent public importance, to express the opposition by the Australian Labour party to the alteration to this scheme. We believed that the Government’s action amounted to unjust interference with the free medical service. In his announcement concerning the imposition of a means test in connexion with the pensioner medical service, the Minister for Health of that day said -
Consequently, the British Medical Association informed the Government-
I ask honorable members to note that the right honorable gentleman said “ informed the Government” - that it would continue the pensioner medical service after 31st October, 1955, only if the service was restricted to pensioners able to satisfy the means test in force on 31st December, 1953.
In other words, the association issued an ultimatum to the Government; and the Government, to its eternal discredit, abjectly surrendered to the pressure and threw to the winds the aged, sick and infirm with little or no income. A means test was imposed on them which has caused great hardship ever since. What was the result of the means test? A pensioner who was in receipt of free medical services on 31st October, 1955, did not have that service taken away from him. As the Minister said at the time, no pensioner lost anything. But a person who had applied for and obtained a pension on 1st November, 1955, and who had the same income as another person entitled to the pensioner medical service, was denied the right to the service! Two persons could be living side by side, and receiving the same income, and one who obtained a pension a day or a week later than the other would be excluded from the benefits under this scheme.
That is the situation throughout the electorates, and particularly the metropolitan electorates, where there are many pensioners. Citizens living side by side, of the same age, with the same income and suffering from the same ailments receive different treatment. One is denied medical benefits and the other receives them simply because he was fortunate enough to get the pension before 31st October, 1955. Since that date, much hardship has been imposed on those pensioners who missed out, all for the sake of a few miserable pounds that the Government is saving. This Government had £23,000,000 to spend on the St. Mary’s filling factory. A fraction of that amount would have catered for the needs of all the pensioners who required medical benefits. I can see no justification for the Government’s decision, and no good reason has been given by supporters of the Government why such an imposition should be made on a deserving section of the community.
As I have said, some pensioners are receiving the benefits and others in a similar situation, financially and otherwise, are denied them. This causes great hardship. Many pensioners are confused. Those who do not receive the benefit wonder why others are entitled to it. If it is a question of cost, I should like to know exactly what is the estimate of the cost. I do not think it would amount to much. The Government should have found some way of providing the money required to meet the pledge given in the Prime Minister’s policy speech that free medicine would be available to the citizens irrespective of the rate of pension that they were being paid.
No reasonable excuse has been given in debates in this House over the years to explain why the change was made. Complaints have been lodged personally and by letter by honorable members, and the matter has been raised in this House, but we have not been given any justifiable reason why 90,000 pensioners were deprived almost overnight of free medical benefits. The fact is that the announcement was made, as it were, in the dead of night. The Government knocked 32 items out of the free medical list. That was done by regulation, and the regulations were not gazetted until after the general election because the Government feared that it would lose some votes.
The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson), with tears in his eyes, in effect, said, “ We have looked after the most deserving section of the community - the aged and the needy.” What has the Government done? It has placed on the pensioners a means test in connexion with the free medical service. It has imposed on them a test which is unfair, unjust and monstrous. It has removed 32 items from the pensioner medical scheme by regulation and denied to these people what it pledged itself to give them - free medicine without any means test whatever. I know that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) might be somewhat softer, more resilient or more tolerant than the Minister who preceded him in that portfolio, but the fact remains that he has done nothing to alleviate the distress that has been caused bv these provisions, and the Government has given no indication that any relief will be granted to the pensioners.
I shall not deal with this matter further, but I should like to say that while the bill might meet, in some respects, various needs related to health services, the pensioner medical scheme is something which should be reviewed. Any government which believes in social justice must give effect immediately to a policy which will restore to pensioners those benefits which were taken from them by the legislation that was introduced overnight by the right honorable member for Cowper. It is useless for the Government to say that it is doing good for the aged, the sick and others who are in need. That is beside the point. The purchasing power of pensions has been reduced. Only a section of the pensioners are receiving free medical benefits. They have never been worse off than they are under this tory administration. I direct attention also to the statements that were made by the Minister for Health in introducing the bill, to this effect -
The new benefits provided for by this bill will not be payable for accommodation provided at a benevolent home, convalescent home, home for aged persons, rest home or similar institution. The benefits provided under existing legislation are in most cases adequate to meet the cost of treatment provided at these homes. Existing benefits will, of course, be continued.
I disagree with that statement, because many people cannot get admittance to public hospitals and other places that are certified for the payment of benefits. In my own electorate great hardship is being caused to people who are unable to obtain hospital accommodation, although they need it, and are denied medical benefits from various funds. This is a matter at which the Government might well look. A number of rest homes should be looked at carefully, because they are exploiting very ill people and not giving them the attention they need.
– Do they not come under State jurisdiction?
– I do not confine myself to any particular State. I am a bit more broadminded than the honorable member who interjects. I see some faults in the Liberal party. The point I make is that the Minister might well give attention to this matter, because with hospital accommodation so short there is a need to widen the scope of payment of these benefits to people in rest homes which are of such a standard as to justify payments being made. When all is said and done, the only places available to many old people are rest homes, convalescent homes, and other institutions of that nature. If those places are expected to take the vast majority of the people who come within the scope of this legislation, undoubtedly some contribution should be made from funds such as this, otherwise injustice is being caused.
I make those few constructive suggestions on a measure which is dear to the hearts of all Australians. I hope that in this Parliament ultimately we will see that action is taken to co-ordinate all Federal and State schemes affecting health, including dental treatment, preventive medicine, and those other things which go to make society worth while and to provide good health for the people. Quite frankly, I believe that this matter is far above politics, and that is why I always leave politics out of it. The fact remains that the Federal Government of the day has the responsibility of co-ordinating these schemes. Whilst I can understand honorable members opposite wishing to support their Government, they should bear in mind that there are many anomalies and injustices, and they cannot close their eyes to them when considering the legislation we are discussing to-day. 1 sincerely trust that the Government will reconsider the question of pensioner medical services, also the aspect of benevolent homes, and other matters affecting the co-ordination of all those schemes which are so necessary for national health. I hope, too, that this Government, or any other government for that matter, will not be guided by the narrow-minded approach of the honorable member for Fawkner, and will not restrict the benefits to what it thinks reasonable for a balanced budget. If we can spend a lot of money on war and preparing for war, we can spend a lot more in order to prevent the old people in our community from becoming sick and infirm, and to ensure that our children and the people generally enjoy health services which are commensurate with a young country such as Australia. We lead the world in many things. There is a great opportunity to do it in health. I am not at all optimistic that it will be done under this Government, but I look optimistically to the day, after the general election, when we shall again have a government formed by a party that looks at things in the Australian way, understands the problems of this country, and has always placed health services in the forefront of its policy. Then we shall have a national health scheme which will give to this country something which is worthwhile and of benefit to the people, particularly those who are most in need of it.
.- It is very difficult to have much respect for the crocodile tears of the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who spoke about the co-ordination of State and Federal health activities. When the Australian Labour party was in power, it rejected my suggestion that a referendum be held on the question of health, with the object of its being made a matter for the Commonwealth and States concurrently, so enabling cooperation to take place in the widest possible field. That suggestion was rejected in this Parliament by the leader of the government at that time, and the proposition was not submitted to the people. I consider that had it been submitted it would have been approved, and we would not now have any of these difficulties that have arisen since, with all sorts of propositions being dragged up before the High Court.
The second matter to which I wish to refer is the question of age pensioners and their medical treatment. The Labour party held office, off and on, during a period of 40 or 45 years. It is true that sometimes the periods of Labour government were short, but at one time Labour was in office for eight years. But during any of those periods did Labour members ever mention publicly the question of free medical treatment for pensioners? No. The matter was not raised in this Parliament, and it was not raised elsewhere in Australia, until the provision for it was brought down by this Government when I was Minister for Health. What has happened since? The figures show that age pensioners have had over 20,000,000 medical visits, either in the surgery or at home, which have been paid for by the Commonwealth Government to the tune of some £17,000,000. In addition, an amount of £9,000,000 has been provided for their medicines, which are of a much wider range than is the ordinary list of drugs provided for the general public. Therefore an amount of £26,000,000 has been found for a purpose that was never mentioned by the Labour party when it was in office or when it was seeking election.
My mind goes back to this time three years ago. Parliament was coming to an end, and I brought down a National Health bill, which was finally passed through this House unanimously, without a division. The main speakers on behalf of the Labour party, the main speakers on behalf of the AntiCommunist Labour party, then sitting in this corner, and the main speakers on behalf of the Government all praised the generosity and value of this scheme and said that they did not think its fundamental principles would be altered, although amendments to improve it might be made now and again. That was Labour’s attitude three years ago. What has happened since?
I congratulate the Minister for bringing down an amendment which will make a very generous contribution in cases of chronic sickness and pre-existing sickness, and to people who are getting old and have the ordinary ills of age. What has made this possible? It has been made possible by the experience gained through the operation of voluntary health insurance over the last eight years. The insurance schemes have grown to a degree with which there is no comparison anywhere else in the world. We started, I suppose, with 10 per cent, of the population insured. To-day, in New South Wales, over 70 per cent, are insured. Who are the other 30 per cent.? About 10 per cent, are age pensioners, bringing the total to 80 per cent. Another 5 per cent, come under repatriation services, making 85 per cent. Some of the remainder are handled by the State, and a number of others are in mental institutions. As regards the latter, the Labour government decided that they should not be allowed to receive the age pension. That provision is still in existence; it has never been changed. I do not know whether it is right or not, but Labour put it into the legislation. Labour therefore should not cry very much about the fact that everybody in the country is not able to benefit directly from the proposed provision.
What is now being done by the Minister for Health is possible only because we have gained wide experience over the last few years. I think that is a very wonderful thing. Let us consider the case, not of poor pensioners, but of the better-off pensioners to whom the honorable member for Grayndler referred. Those are married couples who, jointly, may have incomes of up to £7 a week in addition to their pensions. That is an additional income of £350 a year. An investment of £7,000 at 5 per cent, would1 be necessary to return that income. If they pay ls. a week into an insurance fund, they will get all these benefits, as well as the benefits they get from other insurances. Therefore, I think that the honorable member for Grayndler shed crocodile tears in relation to this matter. Over 700,000 pensioners and their wives are being provided with free medical treatment. They are not being dealt with similarly in any other part of the world on a fee-for-service basis. The pensioner knows that the Government is paying for the service and that he can, as he does, demand from doctors full treatment. It is not such treatment as pensioners got in the old days, when it was largely a matter of charity, and they used to go furtively into the surgery. Now they take their places in the same way as does anybody else. The doctor knows that he will be paid because of the agreement between the Government and the doctors. A similar arrangement is made with regard to medicine. The pensioner does not have to stand in a queue now. Thousands of pensioners have told me that for the first time they have not felt bemeaned when they have sought medical advice or treatment. That is because of the way they are being treated now.
This legislation had to come. Some of the medical and hospital benefits funds were approached and they agreed to take a risk in relation to members with preexisting ailments, and they have been doing so, as the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) knows. The honorable member applauded this proposal. The friendly societies agreed to insure those with pre-existing ailments. Other organizations said they were willing to insure a person even though he had a pre-existing or chronic ailment, but they would not pay benefits for the treatment of those ailments for two years. They would, however, pay benefits in respect of other ailments. Under this legislation people who insure will receive benefits for any ailment after a period of two months has elapsed. The Government has set up a system of special accounts, and if the contributions of a member are paid to the special account, the Government will guarantee payment for his treatment.
This service will be cheaply administered because it will be handled by experts. Nobody is more capable of dealing with this scheme than are the friendly societies and approved organizations. They have had experience of managing huge undertakings which run into millions of pounds. Every year more than £20,000,000 is paid out in hospital and medical benefits, and overhead expenses amount to no more than 15 per cent. They have built up reserves against the time when bad epidemics may sweep through the country. If that happens, there will be no danger of these funds not being able to meet their commitments.
The bill will still further strengthen these bodies. The Government says that it will take the risk for them in the future. All that the Government asks in return is that the scheme should be administered by some body that knows something about the problem. Why should we need a department to handle this scheme?
One reason why my 1928 proposal failed was that I was trying to get the States and other organizations to join forces with me in order to reduce administration costs so that they could better be borne by the people. “The Economist”, of 5th July, 1958, points out that because the national health scheme in England was administered in an extravagant way, certain shortages appeared. Where did those shortages appear? “ The Economist “ states -
The first place where shortages were seen was in general practice, in the excessively large numbers of patients on some doctors’ lists. But the shortages were felt more severely still by two sections of the population that, before 1948-
That is, when the Labour government brought in the national insurance scheme in Britain - had received priority treatment.
Before the advent of the national insurance scheme in Britain, the two classes of persons that received priority treatment were the aged and chronically sick, and school children in need of dental care.
On 29th June the London “ Sunday Observer “ contained an article from its medical correspondent, stating that the national health scheme had improved hospital treatment, but that general practitioners were being forced out of business, and within ten years the general practitioner would cease to exist. It does not matter how good our specialists may be, if they do not get their patients early from the general practitioners it may mean that the patients suffer months of sickness instead of weeks, or less. In some cases by the time the patient reaches the specialist his condition may be inoperable. I have had brought under my notice dreadful cases in families which pay their doctors only lis. or 12s. a year for looking after the whole family. In such circumstances it is almost impossible for the doctor to give that personal service to his patients that is necessary to make a health scheme work properly.
I am ‘glad that the Minister has adopted the course that he has chosen with regard to the administration of this scheme, and particularly for his decision to maintain the fee-for-service system, which can be handled only by organizations such as have been developed in Australia. Our health organization challenges comparison with any voluntary health insurance organization in the world, and I have seen most of them. It compares more than favorably with other government insurance organizations. Under this scheme, the Government is saving a substantial amount in administration expenses, which can be devoted towards helping other very necessary projects. The number of people insured will increase. Elderly people will be able to insure for less than it would otherwise cost. Aged, infirm and chronically sick people will receive greater benefits from the scheme because of the removal of the means test. The real basis for benefit is sickness and need. The opposition should realize that this national health scheme is a huge voluntary insurance scheme that has no means test except in connexion with special services rendered by members of the British Medical Association. The association says that it is not justified in rendering special service to persons in receipt of more than the basic wage. It wants to know where the line will be drawn. The association fears that ultimately the family doctor will go out of existence, as has happened in other countries. The family doctor, as the Minister will agree - he has been one, as I have - is the foundation of all good medical treatment.
I praise the funds for having a flat rate of contribution, a practice adopted by the friendly societies. One of the great advantages of getting the friendly societies into this undertaking in the beginning was that they brought with them more than 100 years of experience in this field. The friendly societies said that they believed they could handle this scheme for everybody. They fixed a certain rate for a single man, and a certain rate for a married man irrespective of the size of his family. Now these voluntary organizations, with the experience brought to them by the friendly societies, are able to keep the scheme going. Unfortunately, an effort has been made by the Victorian Government to alter the set-up. I implore honorable members, whatever their political faith, to stick to the flat-rate principle. The older a man gets the more likely is he to succumb to illness. This bill makes the personal family medical care, by the fee-for-service-system, the essential part of the scheme from birth to death. We have applied it to the pensioner medical service, and that is one of the reasons why there had to be the discrimination that has been talked about, the bulk of the fees are paid by the combined contributions of the voluntary organizations, and they maintain a very close watch.
The other matters raised have been answered by actual facts of history and do not have to be dealt with in words any more. Because of the basis of personal service by the medical profession a close partnership has been established between the insurance organizations, the medical and pharmaceutical professions, the hospital systems and the people themselves. It is worth while remembering that when we came into existence as a government, the hospital system throughout Australia was practically bankrupt. The whole yearly expenditure of the previous government was between £6,000,000 and £7,000,000. But last year, close on £50,000,000 was found by the Federal Government. In fact, during the eight years this Government has been in office, something of the order of £270,000,000 or £280,000,000 has been injected into the national health system in Australia. Any one who visits almost any large centre of population anywhere in Australia will see new hospitals going up.
The methods by which tuberculosis cases have been handled in hospitals equipped especially for their treatment have been so successful that many of these hospitals are able to take patients for general treatment. This is an indication of the extraordinary way in which the tuberculosis plague has been cleared up. Whereas in 1949 the death rate from tuberculosis was something like 26 per 100,000, to-day it is only six per 100,000. The number of patients entering hospital for treatment for tuberculosis to-day is very much lower than it was in 1949 as a result of the expert methods of diagnosis now used.
But as well as that, the Commonwealth Government has made available to the people of Australia £66,000,000 for free pharmaceutical benefits, including expensive antibiotic drugs. There is no question of the existence of this gift to the people. Actually, it is more a restoration to the taxpayers of their money than a gift. By this expenditure it has become possible to shorten from fourteen days to ten days the length of time people stay in hospital. This reduction of four days makes possible a saving of millions of pounds. If 1,200,000 people enter hospital each year and their hospital costs are £4 a day, the shortening of the stay in hospital means a saving of between £16,000,000 and £20,000,000 a year.
In addition to that, because many people can go to see a doctor without cost and no longer have to worry, as they used to do, about what the doctor’s fees will be, they now receive an early diagnosis and treatment and return to work earlier than formerly was the case. This means that the whole work force of the community is in better health. This sum of between £250,000,000 and £270,000,000, which has been spent in the last eight years on health, has been repaid several times because of the reduction in lost time through sickness by workers. The reduction in the time patients stay in hospital makes beds available more quickly and is equivalent to increasing the size of the hospitals. This has enabled more patients to be treated and is almost the same as building new hospitals to accommodate them.
The Commonwealth Government has contributed, in all, £11,000,000 for the provision of free milk each school day to 1,200,000 school children over the last seven years. During that time the Government has paid out more than £45,000,000 for attacks on tuberculosis. Another £10,000,000 has been handed to the States for the purpose of trying to increase accommodation which the State health authorities believe is a basic requirement to improve treatment for the mentally sick. We regard these patients as being sick.
But that is only a part of what the Government has been doing. Six or seven years ago, the Government sent Dr. Bazeley to the United States of America to study poliomyelitis. He returned to Australia and put his knowledge into practice, with the result that Australia was the second country able to embark on a nation-wide campaign to immunize children and adults against poliomyelitis. Honorable members are well aware how successfully this has worked out in Australia. The incidence of poliomyelitis attacks has been considerably reduced.
Furthermore, the Government has spent a great deal on medical research. The government of which I was a member established the National Health and Medical Research Council in 1935, which has been responsible for a great deal of research. The Government has assisted individual research men also to go all over the world, to gather knowledge and to bring it back to Australia. Honorable members are aware of the work of men like Sir Macfarlane Burnet and the contribution he has made to medical science and treatment in this country. These are some of the things which the Government set out to achieve and for which it deserves the highest commendation.
The Minister should be complimented very highly for the skill and wisdom which he has displayed in his administration of the national health scheme. Great credit is due also to voluntary organizations for the extraordinary work they have done during the eight years in assisting the Government to minister in many directions to the health needs of the people.
.- -The House is now dealing with the National Health Bill 1958, and honorable members have just had the advantage of hearing the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who is certainly entitled to be heard with attention on this subject. . He has expressed himself upon this health scheme, of which he has been the principal architect. We can understand the right honorable member offering a very stout defence of the provisions of this measure which governs the medical services to the Australian community.
I feel that we do not always approach this subject with a proper appreciation of our obligations. Our understanding should not be governed only by broad humanitarian principles; we should have regard also to the methods by which we can distribute to the community the benefits of prosperity which its members are entitled to share. Whatever may be the provisions in social legislation of this kind, Parliament should seek to ensure that every member of the Australian community receives benefits on the basis of equity and fair dealing according to the ability of the Government to provide them. I feel that this bill, unfortunately, fails to give expression to that ideal.
I wish to correct an erroneous idea which has been held concerning the British national health scheme. A statement was made here this afternoon that a person must accept the medical practitioner who is allotted to the area in which he lives, whether that practitioner is acceptable to him or not. That is not correct. Any person can make his own choice of medical practitioner, and if at any stage he wishes to change to another practitioner, he is at liberty to do so. I hope that those who may seek to discourage the idea of a national health scheme will keep a little nearer to the truth when they attempt to justify their hostility to it in principle.
This legislation moves a little nearer to the ideas that the Labour Opposition has been putting forward from the very beginning of the consideration of these subjects. We feel that, inevitably, the Government will find itself compelled to accept instalments of that policy which we have expressed from time to time. The right honorable member for Cowper sought to chide members of the Labour Opposition for, as he said, not introducing legislation such as this while Labour was in office. But he failed to mention the fact that the scheme of medical aid that was given to the Australian community by a Labour government provided for everybody. As it covered every man, woman and child in the community, there was no need to specify people in certain classes.
Therefore, I say that the right honorable gentleman possibly desires to place certain people in an invidious position by drawing attention to special circumstances of need or age. There was no need to certify as to need or age under the scheme that the Labour government sought to establish, because every man, woman and child was covered. That being so, I say that the right honorable gentleman did less than justice to the principles that were laid down by the Labour government in those earlier years.
This Government, in the light of the ever-increasing claims for medical care and treatment that age brings, has found that on the basis upon which the medical fund was originally established, the benefit asso ciations cannot afford to provide persons of 65 years and over with an adequate cover. Therefore, the Government itself has had to accept the responsibility for these people. Now, the bill before the House provides for the establishment of a special account into which contributions will be paid in respect of people of 65 years of age and over and people with preexisting or chronic illnesses, and this account will be guaranteed by the Government. In other words, there is an acceptance, in principle, of the idea that the Government should effect, in part, a form of nationalized effort in that direction. The Government has at last been compelled to meet the position of people in these special circumstances. Members of the Labour party feel satisfaction that, inevitably and progressively, Government policy has had to veer towards the policy that we have advocated. We make no apologies for having stated that it is the obligation of the nation to provide proper services for thehealth and well-being of all.
Therefore, I feel that this legislation, while certainly belated, at least does provide for a very essential service to chronic sufferers and to the aged who, generally speaking, require greater consideration and care than those of lesser years. Many people are not in a financial position to meet the charges involved in treating the infirmities and chronic illnesses of the aged, and have been denied, in many instances, the facilities that are essential to their care.
With other honorable members, I offer a very strong objection to the lack of consideration for people who are not members of a voluntary medical scheme. Surely there should be no differentiation merely because of this circumstance. It may be that conditions will prevent some people from making a contribution to a medical scheme. That fact should not deny to them the full advantage of whatever can be made possible by the Government. I feel that we should consider this matter on the broadest basis possible and afford the greatest help that we can.
I was interested to note that the right honorable member for Cowper was impressed by the economies that had been effected in the general administration of insurance funds. The honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam) was good enough to place in my hand a copy of a statement by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) who, in answer to questions on notice, indicated that in 1957 an amount of £8,919,018 was paid in contributions to such funds. The benefits that were paid amounted to £7,012,055; the amount spent in management expenses and other administrative costs was £1,011,045, leaving a balance of £895,918. Those are most interesting figures, and I feel that we should analyse them.
There is, however, one other feature of the Minister’s reply to which I should direct attention. It appears that patients still have to pay 37.5 per cent, of the cost of treatment for which claims are accepted by the medical benefits societies. It is obvious that the Australian people have nothing approaching a free medical service. The present scheme still requires members of the public to make heavy payments for medical treatment, in some instances far greater than their circumstances reasonably allow them to make. One honorable member said during this debate that many persons are enabled to make the necessary payments for medical treatment because of the social service benefits that they enjoy. The value of social service payments to-day does not compare with their value in the days of the Chifley Labour Government. It is of no use for honorable members opposite to suggest that because the rate of payment for a particular social service is greater than it was at an earlier time, the recipient gets an added benefit from it. This is not so. In fact, the amounts received by recipients of social service benefits are by no means adequate. In regard to the social service legislation that they have implemented, Government supporters will have to answer for neglects that could have very serious and far-reaching consequences in the future.
Let me say a word to those who are concerned with the administration of our medical services. Never forget that the nation is extremely generous towards those engaged in the medical profession. It grants subsidies to universities, and it provides substantial amounts of money for medical research of all kinds. The community is constantly making contributions towards the advancement of the science of medicine, and it rightly requires that the members of the medical profession should give in return the widest and best possible service. I hope that at some time in the near future, this
Parliament will provide a free and comprehensive medical service for the people of Australia. I believe that we have a responsibility to do so.
Let me say in conclusion that the division of control over health matters between the States and the Commonwealth does not help to promote the degree of efficiency that we have a right to expect. We need a greater degree of co-ordination between State and Commonwealth authorities. The provision of hospitals and medical services generally is becoming such a heavy financial responsibility that the Commonwealth will be compelled to accept an obligation to provide increasingly greater funds to the States for these purposes.
.- I do not think it is necessary for me to occupy very much of the time of the House in replying to the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin). I say that not in an unkindly fashion, but because I realize that he and those who have preceded him on the other side of the House must feel a good deal of chagrin when they look upon the accomplished fact that this Government has been able to devise a viable scheme of health insurance after they themselves failed signally to put into effect a halfbaked nationalized health service. One can understand their discomposure. They are in two minds, as far as I can follow them. They do not know whether to claim the credit for fathering this scheme, or whether to have no part of it, but merely to state that they framed and will again frame a far better scheme.
– Is the honorable member making our election policy speech?
– I may be outlining the Opposition’s election policy, but I very much doubt whether it will have the opportunity to put it into effect. The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) well and truly laid the foundations of the present scheme, and the present Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has built a very useful piece of superstructure on it by means of this bill. I believe he is to be congratulated on it. There certainly was a gap in the scheme as it existed previously. Under any insurance scheme it was difficult to provide for those persons who would prove exceedingly costly and who could make no very serious contribution towards the funds of the insurance organization. I refer to those who are covered by the present measure, those over 65 years of age and persons with pre-existing or chronic illnesses. The scheme devised by the Minister fills that gap. One has only to look at the detailed provisions of the bill to understand the work that the Minister has put into it. He has used a fairly simple principle in setting up special accounts in respect of these classes of persons. He has carried that principle into effect in detail and with great care. He has shown great industry in the preparation of the measure.
Now, Sir, I wish to refer to what I believe is another gap in the scheme, and one that affects the constituents whom I have the honour to represent in this Parliament. I refer to middle-class people in the middle income brackets. I do not want the Minister to think that what I am about to propose will involve the expenditure of additional large sums of money. This is always possible with certain proposals that are made, and our friends opposite show great facility in devising ways of spending more public money. However, I do not want to suggest the filling of this and other gaps in legislation by means that will involve the expenditure of vast sums of money.
Let me give my own experience, Sir, simply because I think it is typical of. the experience of my constituents. A few years ago, having insured under the medical benefits scheme at its outset, I went to the pains of working out what proportion of my medical bills was reimbursed by way of benefits. I found that I had received back from the fund with which I was insured about 35 per cent, of the total amount of the medical accounts that I had paid - in respect of my family, principally. I have come to the conclusion that the workers, on the other hand - I use the word “ workers “ in its technical sense, because I do not know of any leisured class in this community - receive back from the insurance organizations probably about 90 per cent, of what they pay in medical fees. I think my own situation is fairly typical, and I think the matter could be remedied.
I have before me a pamphlet distributed by the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia Limited. I see that, under table C, which is the most beneficial for the insurer, the highest benefit paid in respect of operations appears to be a total of £30 for both Commonwealth and fund benefits. It is true that the list of operations set out in this pamphlet is not exhaustive. Examples are given and, without going into detail, I simply point out that the highest benefit paid totals £30. The real problem of middle-class people is not the payment of a fee of, say, £30, and certainly not lesser fees or the odd guineas that they may have to pay for the services of general practitioners. The thing that they really want to insure against is a sudden slug of 100, 150 or 200 guineas. It is not very helpful to a person who has to have, say, a difficult cancer operation, for which the fee may be 100 guineas, to receive a benefit of £30. For this reason I have not for some years been insured with this fund, because I do not think it is worth while.
Another difficulty concerns the making of claims. A general practitioner may send in his bill for the odd guineas for the treatment of some member of one’s family who had influenza or a sore toe, for example, perhaps two or three months after the event. At that stage, one cannot recall what it was all about, and one’s wife also has forgotten. In these circumstances, the filling in of forms in order to obtain a benefit in respect of the general practitioner’s fee presents problems. All this, Sir, is a great nuisance, and it makes the whole thing seem not worth while, because that is not what one really wants to insure against. What one wants to insure against, let me repeat, is a sudden slug of, say, 100 guineas. After all, when one insures one’s house, one’s concern is to insure not so much against the burning down of the laundry as against the burning down of the entire house.
I know that the Minister for Health gives great attention to the affairs of the Department of Health and is open to reasonable suggestions, and I put it to him that he might well take up with the medical benefit organizations the question of introducing another table of benefits making use of a device used in other forms of insurance - provision for a franchise. For example, an insurance company may say to the insurer of a motor cycle, if he wishes to pay a lower premium, “ As to the first £10 worth of damage, you must bear that on your own shoulders. We shall not be responsible for it “. If the owner of the motor cycle is in a really big accident, and the machine is smashed up properly, he gets the insurance for the full amount of the damage, with the exception of the first £10. The same thing can be done in respect of the insurance of a motor car. An insurer may choose to pay a lesser premium and allow the insurance company to hold itself free of responsibility for the first £20 worth, or whatever it may be, of damage. I put it to the Minister, as a constructive suggestion, Sir, that he should take up with the medical insurance organizations this problem of insurance against the bigger fees for operations under an arrangement whereby the insurer would pay a premium - which is all his contribution is - similar to the premium now required under table C, and absolve the insurance organization of responsibility for the payment of a benefit in respect of small fees up to whatever limit may be considered necessary.
I know that this proposal would involve some alteration also of the Commonwealth benefit. The pamphlet that I have mentioned indicates that, for a thyroidectomy for example, the Commonwealth benefit is £11 5s. and the fund benefit £18 15s., making a total of £30. If, for that operation, or another, for which the medical practitioner’s fee is, say 60 guineas, the fund paid a combined benefit of 50 guineas, clearly, the Commonwealth benefit would have to be somewhat greater than the present Commonwealth benefit. But that would not cost the Treasury any more, because, the Commonwealth would not be responsible for benefit in respect of all the little bills for general practitioner service under a table of the type that I have suggested to the Minister as being desirable. 1 have nothing more to add to that, Sir. I believe that such a table would cover the needs of a large number of middle-class people who are not catered for under the existing arrangements. I have not made enough inquiries among a large number of people - I have not had time to do so - to know whether the experience that I have had is common. That experience indicates that it is of no advantage to me to insure under the present scheme, and I assume that that is the case with many other people.
– Mr. Speaker, I am pleased to have an opportunity to discuss this measure. I for one have heard the opinions of many people about the advantages of a medical benefits scheme. First of all, I should like to say that I entirely disagree with the suggestion made by the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), who preceded me, that benefits should not be payable in respect of the first £10, or some other amount, of the fee for a service. The real value of this scheme, Mr. Speaker, is not to the person who can afford to pay 100 guineas for an operation. Its real value is to the person who cannot pay one or two guineas without great hardship, and the easing of the burden for those people has been one of the greatest benefits derived from the medical benefits scheme.
The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was formerly Minister for Health, spoke this afternoon about what the friendly societies have done. He mentioned the flat rate of payment for each society member. I happen to have been closely associated with friendly society work all my life, and I know that, before the upward trend in costs and wages that we have experienced over the last twenty years or so, we in South Australia had an agreement with the British Medical Association on this matter. On a number of occasions, I discussed it with representatives of that body when an alteration of the arrangement was desired. Under that agreement, for half a crown a quarter for a single man, and 6s. 3d. a quarter for a married man, full services were provided by the medical profession. This did not include the cost of medicines. Later, the British Medical Association decided that it was not prepared to continue under the flat-rate arrangement, and the friendly societies battled with the association for a long time in an effort to retain the flat rate.
Ultimately, it was decided to terminate the agreement, and an arrangement for a fee for each visit, similar to that in respect of pensioners under the Pensioner Medical Service, was entered into. The various friendly societies then introduced a fund comparable with the insurance fund that we have at present. A member of a friendly society had to pay into the medical fund a given sum each week or each quarter, and he received from the fund a refund on much the same scale as provided in this scheme. So, although the former Minister for Health introduced the scheme, its foundations were really laid by the friendly society movement. Of course, membership of the friendly societies’ fund was restricted. A person could not join such a fund if he was more than 40 or 45 years of age; the age varied a little with the different societies. A person also had to be a member of a friendly society before he could join the fund. Very strict tests were applied to people who wished to obtain the benefits of these funds.
When this national health scheme was introduced, I saw that a difficulty would arise in approved societies in being able to fix contributions at a sum that would meet commitments. I must say that the Minister has dealt fully with those phases of the scheme. The payments to any insurance scheme, whether life insurance or other insurance, are worked out by the Public Actuary on the basis that a given sum must be contributed before benefits can be paid. Friendly societies have not been able to increase the sick or funeral benefits until the actuary was satisfied that the contributions would be sufficient to meet the commitments. In my own State, in one instance when we tried to increase the benefits, we found that we had to increase the contributions slightly. The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) has given us the overall figure of the amount that may be in hand. I am not speaking now of mutual societies formed to provide medical benefits only, but of friendly societies that operate not to make profits but merely to obtain sufficient to meet expenses. Even in those cases, contributions had to be increased to meet the cost of increased benefits. The friendly societies were able to help some chronically ill people to a certain extent, but one thing was left, and I am very pleased to see that this bill attempts to meet this point. I refer to the limit on the number of visits to a doctor for which a chronically ill person could receive payment from a fund. The special fund which will be established under this bill and which will be guaranteed by the Government will help those cases, as well as elderly persons.
Members of friendly societies who are over 65 years of age have asked me what they should do. If they depend solely on the pension, I have advised them to cease paying into insurance funds and to rely on the Pensioner Medical Service. I have told them that under the Pensioner Medical Service they receive free medical attention and free medicine, but if they were to pay into an insurance fund they would receive only the contribution of the society and the Government towards the cost of the medical practitioner’s visit, but would not get any payment for medicine. This Government has not provided for free medicine; therefore, aged persons will not join an insurance fund. I say to the Minister that not many persons over 65 years of age will join the special fund provided by this bill, because those who are entitled to do so would prefer to receive benefits from the Pensioner Medical Service. However, the special fund will be of benefit to those who are not entitled to the Pensioner Medical Service. 1 wish to join issue for the moment with the right honorable member for Cowper. When speaking to-day he said that, from the British Medical Association’s point of view, a married couple receiving £15 15s. a week should have no need of the Pensioner Medical Service. He has taken the greatest amount that a pensioner couple could receive, but I shall take the lowest amount. A single person receiving a pension of £4 7s. 6d. and other income of £2 2s. a week, making a total of £6 9s. 6d., out of which he pays rent, would not be entitled to the Pensioner Medical Service. I am sorry that this means test has not been eased. I feel that the number of people with income of more than £2 a week who are receiving a pension would not be so great that it would adversely affect the Pensioner Medical Service. When this service was first introduced, any person receiving a pension, even if it was only 5s. a week, was entitled to the benefits of the scheme.
I admit that the Pensioner Medical Service has filled a need for many pensioners. However, there seems to be a conflict of opinion in relation to pensioners receiving the benefits of this service. A pensioner suffering from, say, a heart condition or some other serious condition, is told by a doctor that a drug is available which would relieve his condition. When he goes to the chemist to have the prescription filled, he finds that the doctor has prescribed a proprietary line which is not on the list of free drugs and which would cost, say, 25s. or 30s. The pensioner may not be able to afford it, and he does not know what to do.
I have often had people in this position come to me. All I can do is to give them the answer that has been given to me by the department. If I ask the Minister about the drug that the doctor has said a person must have - I give all credit to the Minister; I do not blame him - he will say that the expert committee which considers whether a drug should be included in the free list has determined that something else will fill the bill and this drug is not necessary. People are forced to buy drugs that they cannot afford simply because their doctors say that they must have these drugs and not other drugs which are on the free list. Such a person may say to his doctor - a member of the British Medical Association - that he has approached his member of Parliament on the matter, that the member has taken up the matter and has been told that the authorities say that there is a drug on the free list that can be used in the place of the drug advised by the doctor. The doctor may then say to the patient, “ That drug will not do. You must keep on with the other”. The patient is then forced to pay for the drug that is not on the list.
Recently, there was brought before me the case of a person who, on medical advice, was using a drug not on the list, for which he had to pay. Finding himself unable to continue paying for the supply of the drug, he discontinued its use and began to use the drug on the free list which was said to be its equivalent. His health immediately deteriorated. That was his contention to me.
– But the equivalent drug must be adequate to meet the purpose.
– There will always be a difference of opinion. That is one of the difficulties in relation to the pensioner medical service. The real bone of contention with pensioners is not that they are unable to get free of charge the drugs that they themselves think they should have, but that they are unable to get free the drugs that their doctors say they must have. I do not know whether the problem can be surmounted. I, for one, do not think that we should give doctors complete freedom to prescribe any drug that they like on the understanding that the Commonwealth will pay for it, when the use of that drug may not really be necessary. I admit that difficulty. As the Minister has told honorable members in answer to questions, it is not for him to decide whether or not a drug should be placed on the free list. The responsibility for that decision resides in an expert committee. That, however, does not alter the fact that on the one hand we have doctors telling pensioners that they must have certain drugs, and on the other hand we have the department telling pensioners that they may not have these drugs unless they pay for them. The committee is responsible for such decisions, and I do not blame the Minister for them. But I say that this is a difficulty that must be overcome. I do not know how it can be overcome, but until it is overcome we will have the problem with us. I would say to the British Medical Association-
– It has nothing to do with the British Medical Association.
– Nothing to do with it! Well, if it has nothing to do with the British Medical Association I cannot understand it, because it is a case of doctors prescribing for pensioners drugs which are not on the free list. If they do so while there are drugs on the list which would do as well, and for which the pensioner would not have to pay, there is something wrong there. As it is, the pensioner is between the devil and the deep blue sea. His doctor says he must have a certain drug which is not on the free list, and the department says that if he has that drug he must pay for it himself. In many instances pensioners are paying for drugs that they cannot afford. As I said before, there should be some help for people who are unable to afford to help themselves. We are putting on them a burden which they are not able to bear.
I do not want to say to the Government, to members of the public or to anybody that I think that the pensioner medical scheme meets all requirements. The Labour party has its policy in regard to a pensioner medical service. We have put it in the past, and we will put it again when the time comes to do so. But at the moment I am not dealing with what the Labour party intends to submit as its policy in this respect. I am dealing with the way in which the present scheme fails to meet the position.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I wish to direct my attention now to the hospital fund benefit that is provided in the bill. I remind honorable members that the provisions for medical fund and hospital fund benefits are kept separate in the bill. The Minister for Health referred to two special funds for those over 65 years and for chronic cases and I presume that when he spoke of a special fund, he actually referred to two funds.
– No, to one fund.
– Well, I do not know how that arrangement will work out because there are two separate funds and members of the societies can pay either to a hospital fund or a medical fund.
– I am sorry. I misunderstood the honorable member. The societies can work out their arrangements as they wish.
– There will be two funds, then. In connexion with the hospital fund, one of the fundamental differences of opinion between the Australian Labour party and the Government relates to the differentiation in the provisions approved by the Government. Under the original hospital legislation which was introduced by the Chifley Labour Government, the government paid 6s. a day towards everybody’s hospital bill so long as the patient was in an approved hospital. The people did not have to contribute to a hospital fund. That daily allowance was later raised to 8s. a day. Then this Government introduced a scheme under which a person who insured himself for hospital treatment up to £2 2s. a week would get an extra 4s. a day. That meant that two sections of the people obtained hospital benefits. There were those who could afford or were prepared to pay into a hospital fund to get 12s. a day and those who did not contribute to a hospital fund and who received 8s. a day. Several years ago, the Government altered the scheme again and provided that if a person was contributing for £6 6s. a week he would get an extra amount.
The Opposition believes that everybody should be treated alike. There should not be any differentiation between one section of the community and another. I have here the scale of charges and benefits formulated by the National Health Services Association of South Australia which includes most of the big friendly societies. This scale shows the old rates and the present rates of contributions and benefits. They refer to a family member. If a contributor paid 6s. 6d. a quarter, the fund benefit was £2 2s. a week and the contributor received an extra 4s. a day from the government. A contributor who paid 13s. a quarter or ls. a week under the old rate received £4 4s. from the fund and £4 4s. Commonwealth benefit, a total of £8 8s. Those contributors get nothing additional now but if they pay, instead of 13s. a quarter or ls. a week, an amount of ls. 6d. a week, the fund benefit is £6 6s. and the government benefit jumps from £4 4s. to £7 a week. Therefore, a family man who is able to pay the higher amount by way of insurance gets the greater benefit from the Government by way of subsidy.
I should like to say here, in reply to the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner), that if a family member, instead of paying 13s. a quarter for a benefit of £4 4s., pays £2 12s. a quarter, he gets £16 16s.. from the fund and £7 from the Commonwealth, or a total of £23 16s. a week. On this side of the House, we disagree entirely with that great differentiation. If the Government is going to help anybody with hospital payments, everybody should have equal treatment. There should not be what is, in effect, a means test so that the higher benefit goes to the person who contributes the most.
– I was talking about medical benefits and not hospital benefits.
– The honorable member said he represented the middle class. Personally, I represent all classes but I am interested mostly in those in the lower income groups who need most assistance. I say to the honorable member that the people he says he represents would not have much difficulty in arranging to insure themselves against sickness to get the greater benefit. I know that they would not get the subsidy that the honorable member mentioned but, again, that is where the Opposition differs from those on the Go.vernment side.
The honorable member for Bradfield said that the Labour government did not attempt to do anything. When Senator McKenna was Minister for Health, the Labour government introduced a proposal for the government to pay half the medical fees. That was comparable with this arrangement because a contributor pays into a fund to get more than half from the fund, so he receives less than half from the Government. The difficulty the Labour government met was this: We believed that when an arrangement was made for the Government to pay half the fees, there would have to be a scale of charges. Honorable members opposite were opposed to that scale of charges, but the Health Act provides all sorts of rates of payment for operations up to £11 5s. by the Government and £11 5s. by the fund. The honorable member for Bradfield quoted a payment of £30 for an operation. It means that the Government would pay £11 5s. and the other £18 15s. would be paid by the approved society.
– The honorable member completely misunderstood me.
– Well, the honorable member said that £30 was the maximum, and the most you can get from the Government is £11 5s., so the remaining £18 15s. must come from the fund. I assume that the approved societies can increase the amount of contribution to provide for higher benefits. There is nothing to stop them from doing so and raising the present scale, but I do not want to labour that point. I feel most strongly that all persons are not being treated alike. Supporters of the Government might claim that they will be treated alike if they join a fund. But some people are not able to become contributors to funds.
I do appreciate very much the introduction of a guarantee to those people with chronic complaints. A great benefit will result, not so much to the person who is over 65 years of age as to the younger person, who is now limited as regards the number of visits in respect of which he may recover from the society. That number will be unlimited. That alteration will be a great help to the man who suffers continually and is involved in constant ex penditure. I do not know whether the societies or the Government have worked out the costs necessary to give effect to these proposals, but it is a step in the right direction to be able to say to the people, “ No matter what your health may be, whether you are chronically ill, or whether you are suffering from a complaint you had before you were insured, there is to be no limit. You are to get those refunds so long as you are involved in that expenditure.” This bill goes a certain part of the distance towards achieving what we on this side of the House have advocated - the inclusion of everybody in the scheme, whether they be sick or healthy, young or old. The young and the healthy will not be penalized, because the increased cost, if any, is to be met by the Government.
The Government is doing something which we have long advocated and which should be done. I am not sure of the extent of the guarantee for hospital treatment after the society’s contribution is exhausted. It seems to me that the Government will guarantee the standard payment of 36s. a day. If a person is entitled, in the terms of his insurance, to receive from a society £16 16s. a week, and his illness continues beyond the maximum time prescribed for payments, I take it that the Government will guarantee only the standard rate of 36s. a day, and not payment at the higher rate.
I do not desire to keep the House any longer. I ask the Minister to consider the matters that I put forward on behalf of pensioners before the suspension for dinner, and to examine whether it is not possible, perhaps working in conjunction with the British Medical Association, to get doctors to prescribe, where possible, drugs that are available to pensioners without charge. I explained earlier that if drugs prescribed are not on the relevant list, the pensioner cannot get them free.
Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- This is a bill to amend the National Health Act. It is not being opposed by the Opposition, but it was clear during the debate this afternoon that, while the Opposition could find no fault with the bill, it still did not like the policy of the Government with regard to national health, and that Opposition members still believe in their policy that national health services should be entirely socialized. The concluding remarks of the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) showed that he considers that the bill is a sound bill. In that respect he did not differ from the views expressed this afternoon by his colleagues.
As I have said, the Opposition clearly believes in socialized health and socialized medicine, whereas the Government believes that the spirit of free enterprise should exist in the sphere of health and medicine, as in every other sphere. The Opposition has always taken the view that socialism must come before everything else. The main objection by the Opposition to the Government’s national health plan - apart from their theoretical ideas based upon socialist doctrines - is that the Government’s health scheme has worked, whereas the Opposition’s health proposals were gross failures and it was never possible to carry them out.
– Because the British Medical Association sabotaged them.
– The proposals were so outrageous that the Labour party, when in government, was unable to carry them out. They were of such a nature as to be amongst the main causes of the defeat of the Labour Government in 1949. I suppose there is no one who remembers that more bitterly than does the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie), who, in his inveterate style, interjects, and interjects, and interjects, and adds to the empty air. The Government has succeeded in what it has done, as can be seen when one looks at its policy with regard to immunization, tuberculosis allowances, treatment of tuberculosis sufferers, free medical service for pensioners, free life-saving drugs, free milk for children, or anything else.
A great tribute should be paid to the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who introduced the current national health legislation. At the time that that act was, as a bill, before the House, I had the privilege of being able to praise the work that had been done by the right honorable member for Cowper. I regret to say that the gentleman from the Opposition who followed me was inclined to doubt that the praise was due, but he has met with his deserts. He is no longer a member of this House, and I warn such people as the honorable member for Wilmot, and the honorable member for Yarra (Mr Cairns), who is also constantly interjecting, that they too may meet with their deserts before very long.
Our hospital and medical benefits scheme, which is operated through the nonprofit health insurance organizations in this country, has been extremely successful. It is approved, not only by the organizations concerned and by the medical profession, but also by the public at large. It has greatly reduced the cost to the individual citizen of medical and hospital services, and it has ensured that the best hospital and medical services are easily obtained. It has not meant a great increase in taxation, as would have been the result if we had had the socialized medical and hospital services which the Opposition wished to bring into existence. It has not meant tremendous additions to the Public Service, which would have resulted if we had had nationalized medicine.
We have had the experience of organizations working with the Government for the benefit of the people as a whole. This has been one of the most successful instances in which, in line with modern theory, private enterprise has been able to carry on with the assistance of governments. Governmental action has been taken to the extent that private enterprise needs to be supported by that action. This bill is another instance in which the Government has come into the field which private enterprise is not able wholly to fill, but in which private enterprise is playing a very great part indeed. If we contrast the Government’s policy with Labour’s policy of socialization, with all the waste and inefficiency that goes with socialization, what do we see? Labour was unable to put its policy into effect because it could not get the medical profession to co-operate. Why was that so? According to statements made in this debate, the medical profession went on strike and, according to members of the Opposition who used that phrase, that was an appalling thing to do. But I have heard the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) and many of his colleagues uphold the right to strike. They claim that a person is entitled to strike in a just cause. I should have thought that the term “ strike “ was wrongly applied to members of the medical profession, that they were not striking but evercising the fundamental right to carry on their occupation freely as they thought fit, believing that they should not be bullied or pushed about by any government or any set of individuals.
I fail to understand how the Opposition can by referring to the action of the doctors as a strike, command any support in its favour. Honorable members opposite say that they believe in the right to strike, but when people exercise what they are pleased to describe as the right to strike, they object Their reasoning does not make sense. It shows how thoroughly biased and one-eyed members of the Opposition are. It indicates clearly that the Labour party is a class party.
Mr. Speaker, it is important to stress that the Labour legislation was of such a character that it was declared illegal by the High Court on the basis that it involved a form of civil conscription. Honorable members opposite claim to belong to a party that is a lover of freedom. Their Leader, the right honorable member for Barton (Dr. Evatt) would have us regard him as the apostle of freedom. I have repeatedly said in this House that far from being the apostle of freedom, he has shown himself in fact to be a person who would grind with his heel anybody who was a freedom lover. The legislation that Labour forced through this House, and through another place, involved nothing less than civil conscription. That is the type of health legislation which the Labour party would bring into being. Labour would like to see on the statute-book legislation under which doctors had to do as they were told, and not act according to the dictates of their knowledge and skill gained after long years of study and much experience. If Labour had its way the doctors would be told by the bureaucrats that they had to prescribe a particular type of medicine, and that they had to do certain things. They would be told which patients they had to attend to, and they would not be allowed to take patients just because the patients chose them. The important relationship between doctor and patient would be gone for ever. Honorable members opposite have indicated in this debate, by implication only, how they would like to have in force in the community a socialized system of medicine and hospitalization whereby one did as one was told, swallowed what one was told to swallow, and submitted to surgical operations according to the wishes of the authorities. That is what would happen under a system of civil health conscription. What would be our condition in those circumstances? Let me refer to what some honorable members opposite have said in this debate.
The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) made a speech this afternoon wherein he showed himself to be living in a realm of fantasy. I assume that he believed what he said, and his remarks can be justified only on the basis that he is lost in his own imaginings, because what he said was far from concrete fact. He objected to the bill because a person goes to his insurance company or his benefit society and makes his own private arrangement. He described making private arrangements as immoral, and he was aided and abetted in his description by the honorable member for Wilmot, who said that making private arrangements was scandalous. So private arrangements, which people may wish to enter into, are described by members of the Labour party as immoral and scandalous. Such a view can be sustained only on the basis that they believe that all medicine and all hospitalization should be socialized. While the honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) was making an excellent speech this afternoon the honorable member for Eden-Monaro interjected, “ We are not socialists. Wait until you see our policy for the next election and hear what we say on this point “. Apparently the electors are to get a sugarcoated pill.
The honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin) is interjecting. I do not know what he is saying, but I am not worried because I know there is nothing in his remarks. When the honorable member was objecting this afternoon to our disparaging of a nationalized health scheme, one could sense his nostalgia for that kind of scheme. Of course, honorable members opposite want nationalization of health. Are they not socialists at heart? Just take the two honorable members sitting on the Opposition side of the table - the honorable member for East Sydney and the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron). What greater socialists are there in Australia than those two honorable members? The honorable member for East Sydney, as the House will remember, declared himself recently on that subject in a television interview in Sydney. We all heard the honorable member for Hindmarsh “ come clean “, if I may use that expression, with regard to his views on socialization. Of course they are socialists, and they want to socialize medicine and hospitalization if they can do so. The honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly) - again a socialist - spoke this afternoon. What did he say? He made a piteous cry about the way the pensioners are being treated under the national health scheme. One does not forget that the honorable member for Grayndler and the honorable member for Bonython were in this House in 1949 when the pensioners were crying aloud to be given extra benefits.
– I was not here.
– I will leave out the honorable member for Bonython; I understand that he was not here. But the honorable member for Grayndler was here and he was crying out about how the pensioners were so badly treated. In 1949, when the pensioners were crying to the Labour government of the day for better treatment, the honorable member for Grayndler sat tight and never said a word to help them. That has been the form of the honorable member for Grayndler and his colleagues. When their government was in office in 1949, many of them who could have helped the pensioner did not do so.
This afternoon the honorable member for Bonython said that the position of the pensioner was worse under this Government than it was in 1949. That, of course, is quite contrary to the fact. The way in which the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) tries to get over that position, as he has done more than once, is to ring the changes and say, “ I will forget about 1949 and go back to 1948”, and produces 1948 figures.
Now I turn to the provisions of this bill with regard to the aged, and pre-existing illness group and the chronic illness group.
All these people have been knocking at the door for some years, trying to get medical and hospital benefits under the national health scheme. The problem of providing for them has not been an easy one to solve. When the right honorable member for Cowper first introduced this legislation he drew attention to their position and said that he was working hard with a view to bringing them within the scheme. Now, the present Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) has been able to devise a plan by which they may be brought within the national health plan.
They are being brought within that plan without any extra cost to themselves other than is paid by a contributor to the plan. They get exactly the same benefits as any other contributor to the plan and they are not paying any more for it than is any other contributor to the plan. They do not have to do anything to obtain these extra benefits. The machinery is worked out between the associations, the organizations and the Government. If it turns out that the organizations have not sufficient in the new special funds which are being created to pay them, the Government comes to the aid of the organizations and provides the money.
There is no question, under those circumstances, of the Government seeking repayment from the organizations. The money is paid over to them and goes to them once and for all. This is a very excellent step forward. It is a feather in the cap of the present Minister and he is to be greatly congratulated for a very wise plan indeed. It has taken a lot of thought to evolve but it is generally accepted and approved.
My attention has been drawn to certain provisions in the bill on which the Minister might care to give some information either in his reply or at the ‘ committee stage. Clause 6 amends section 39 of the principal act and deals with cases where -
The Government of a State or an institution conducted by a State commences to pay contributions to the hospital benefits fund.
The question of the meaning of the word “ commences “ has been raised with me. Does it mean that existing inmates of benevolent homes will continue to receive special fund benefits or will they, from now onwards, receive special fund benefits in addition to the ordinary Commonwealth benefits that they would receive under the act?
Another point relates to clause 15 which adds a new division entitled “ Special Accounts “ to the principal act. In proposed new section 82e (i), as set forth in that clause, mention is made of persons who are in a benevolent institution - other than a benevolent home, convalescent home, home for aged persons, rest home and so on. lt has been suggested that there is some difficulty in Victoria owing to the fact that under Victorian law many of these institutions are treated as hospitals. Personally, I should have thought that that difficulty is overcome by sub-paragraph (ii) of proposed new section 82e, which provides that the institution .must be recognized by the Director-General as a hospital for the purpose of this paragraph.
Those who have commented on this matter to me have suggested that the emphasis should be placed not so much on the hospitals or homes as on the type of treatment given. Perhaps the Minister could deal with that matter.
Proposed new section 82j deals with records relating to special account contributors and sets out that organizations must maintain records which show the name and date of birth of each person covered by the contributions.
It has been suggested that this will place an undue burden on them for although they can give the name and date of birth of their contributors, in the case of large families and growing families they seldom get the name and date of birth of new-born children until a claim is made. An amendment might be framed to cover that particular position.
The only other matter I wish to mention, in the brief time left to me, is with regard to an Australian social welfare conference. Health can be regarded only as a branch of social welfare. In the United States of America national social welfare conferences have been held during the past 80 years, in Canada for 30 years and in other countries for quite a period. Australia has an annual immigration convention but that covers only one portion of social welfare. The question of national social welfare is a wide one and it might be a very good thing if the Government considered the holding of a national social welfare conference at which matters of health, amongst others, could be dealt with. Such a conference might be an annual or a biennial affair.
.- Before I proceed to make my general remarks in repect of this legislation, I desire to deal with the extraordinary situation that exists concerning the presentation of it to this Parliament. Over the years I have often heard it said that bureaucrats were running the country. If ever we wanted a demonstration of that suggestion we have only to take what has happened in respect of this piece of legislation.
I have here a copy of one of the circulars which was sent out by the Department of Health on 7th August to the various funds in existence in Australia, advising them what they were required to do under the amended scheme. Evidently the department was working on the assumption that this Parliament must adopt that scheme. It amazes me to think that only now have we the opportunity of discussing it, although about six weeks ago the department was so certain that this new scheme would be adopted without amendment that it sent circulars to the various associations and actually conducted negotiations with them in regard to the changes which they would be asked to effect. I think that is an extraordinary situation. In my opinion, no public servant has the right to anticipate a decision of this Parliament. He ought to wait until the Parliament has had an opportunity to discuss and pass judgment on the legislation.
Before I proceed to the bill itself, let me deal with some of the comments made by the honorable member’ for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). He seems to feel that what he terms “ free enterprise “ “ in health services will be in some way endangered if Labour is returned to office. It depends on what he means by “ free enterprise “. If he means that there is to be no regulation of medical fees and charges, including hospital charges, that everybody in the medical profession and associated professions is to be free to exploit the community at will, I would say definitely that that freedom would be seriously endangered if a Labour Government were returned to office.
This is not an ideal health scheme. It does not compare, by any means, favorably with that which was proposed by the Labour Government. I believe it will be some time before we can develop in this country an ideal health system. In my opinion, under an ideal scheme, whatever term might be appplied to it, every citizen, regardless of his status or income group, who fell ill would be able to secure the best medical service available. There ought not to be any gradations of service according to income group. But this Liberal partyCountry party Government is still away back in the old days of the English poor laws. Not only does it want to treat a section of the community as paupers but it wants to make them feel their situation.
Let us look at this scheme. Why is there all the ballyhoo about this amendment? Any or.e would imagine that it will bestow great benefits on large sections of the commuinty. In the first place the Government says to one group in the community - they are the taxpayers just as the members of approved societies are taxpayers - “ You cannot have the benefit of this legislation which is provided out of Commonwealth taxation unless you enrol in an approved society - not a government society, but a private organization “. The Government is using its power to force these people into these societies.
I believe that the charges of many of these societies may be regarded as moderate, but many people are not able to afford them and1 cannot join the societies. What soft of a government is it that discriminates between various sections of the community on the basis of those who can afford to join approved societies and those who cannot join them? That is the situation at the moment. The honorable member for Balaclava said that the Government scheme, at least, works, and that the Labour party’s scheme did not work. It did not work simply because saboteurs in this country were determined that it would not work.
I know many members of the medical profession personally. I shall not refer to their names in this debate because, if I did, they would be victimized by their own organization. But I know that many medicil men regarded the Labour scheme as an excellent scheme. They were prepared to co-operate in it but were prevented from doing so because they would have been blackballed or expelled by their organization.
The statements made by the honorable member for Balaclava concerning the
Labour party’s health scheme were, of course, sheer exaggeration, similar to the continued distortion of Labour men’s statements on all subjects by the anti-Labour sections of the press. He made some extraordinary statements. He said that, under the Labour scheme, people were to be told what medicine could be prescribed for them, and what type of operation should be performed on them. Did honorable members ever hear such rubbish, in all their lives? The only people in this country who are told the type of medicine that they can get are the unfortunate pensioners under their medical scheme. A medico may wish to prescribe a certain medicine for an ailment suffered by a pensioner, but if that medicine is not on the free list, and the pensioner cannot afford it, the medico has to prescribe some alternative. So, it is under this Government’s scheme that people are told what medicine can be prescribed for them, not under a Labour scheme.
Let us see who will benefit under this bill. We are told that people over 65 years of age, and those who become subject to chronic illnesses at a lower age are to be provided for. But of what great benefit will the scheme be to the person who has reached 65 years of age? At that age he is entitled to receive the age pension if he can qualify in other respects; and then he is covered by the free medical scheme. He can also get Free hospitalization - if he can secure admission to a hospital. The mere fact that some act of Parliament says that he is entitled to free hospitalization does not give it to him because hospital accommodation is inadequate and he can only get it if a bed is available, and if it is the policy of those who control the hospital to make that bed available to him. Everybody knows that if a person who has fallen ill applies to a hospital for a bed the hospital will not take him if he is’ of an advanced age or if he is suffering from a chronic ailment. I do not blame the hospital authorities for that because they have inadequate accommodation for the people who are ill. They have to consider whether it is better to take a person for whom a cure is available or an elderly person or a chronic sufferer for whom very little can be done. So the hospitals are compelled to apply this discrimination.
In most cases, an old man has to go into an institution if he falls ill. I am referring to people who are dependent on pensions or some other such payment. They will not have an opportunity to obtain anything out of this measure. If they happen to belong to an approved society, what will they get? If they go into a public ward in a’ hospital they will get no benefit at all because the Government does not propose to allow them, as the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) said, to profit under this scheme. They will be covered only for the actual expense incurred, and if they are admitted to a public ward they will get no benefit under this scheme. Therefore, it is a lot of bally-hoo to talk about the great benefit that it will be to a great number of people.
Let me turn to another aspect of this legislation. Many hospital fund organizations in this country were in existence long before this Government scheme was ever thought of. Some of these organizations, in my opinion, have every reason to complain about their treatment, particularly one organization to which I will refer. They are not objecting to the present slight extension of the scheme. But they are objecting to some of the activities of the bureaucrats who are running the Commonwealth Department of Health. These activities apparently are permitted by the present Minister.
There is an organization known as the New South Wales Railway, Tramway, Motor Omnibus, and Road Transport Employees Hospital Fund. That is its long title. It is usually referred to as the Railway and Tramway Employees Hospital Fund. That fund has been in existence for approximately 70 years. This organization is continually being harassed by the officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health. Those officers are endeavouring to impose their will on this organization in such a way that its administration costs will be tremendously increased.
Let me tell the House a little about the organization. The Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund has no paid officials. Tt is run on a co-operative basis, and. as a result, its costs of administration are very low. being about, on the average, 10 per cent, less than the costs of administration of any other existing fund. As I have said, it is run, in a sense, on a co-operative basis. For some time past the officers of the Commonwealth Department of Health have been insisting that this fund, which has been in existence for just on 70 years, should alter its system of keeping books and records. It is to be obliged to supply certain statistical information to the department, such as lists of members. The organization says that these changes will mean additional expenditure of just on £10,000.
Why should the Government interfere with this organization? If it was an unsuccessful fund, or if it had not been functioning efficiently, there might be some reason for what the department is attempting to do. But this is a successful organization. It has been conferring great benefits on its members. One of the criticisms offered by the Department of Health is that the fund has been too generous in its treatment of its members. It certainly has been very generous, and the Government does not want this generosity to continue. The department is insisting that the organization build up its reserves. It has to build up its reserves by cutting down on the benefits made available to its members. Because the organization has been reluctant to do this, the department - and honorable members should bear in mind that this is the Government that insists there shall be no civil conscription - threatens to withdraw the registration of the organization unless it adheres to the policy of the Government.
The Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund has given generous benefits to its members, and one of the contentions of fund members is that under their scheme they derive more generous benefits than they would obtain under the Government’s proposal. The fund contends that its members - and this is again worthy of note in connexion with the Government’s concentration on the theme of civil conscription - should have the option of declaring whether they want to come under the Government’s scheme or to remain in the existing fund.
The Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund does not cover only present employees in the railway and tramway services. It caters as well for retired members who, after reaching the age of 65 years and retiring, still retain membership in the fund if they desire to do so. If they remain in the fund they pay a reduced subscription. Under the Government scheme - and I ask the Minister whether this is not correct - a person coming under the new special fund - and I understand that it is compulsory for those in the prescribed categories, that there are to be no exceptions and that a person has no choice - has to pay, according to the legislation, the ordinary fees. Although these persons were paying reduced fees under their own organization, they must pay full fees under the Government’s scheme. This means that these retired employees, reciving small weekly superannuation payments, must pay increased contributions.
How will these people benefit by transferring to the Government scheme? To show that the benefits given by the Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund are more generous than those granted under the Government scheme, let me say that the fund has, by decision of its committee, been granting benefits in particular cases in which it was not legally obliged to do so. This is because it is run on a co-operative basis. Those in control of the fund believe that they should be allowed to continue to do this. After all, if this legislation is supposed to benefit members of the community, surely nobody could justify the taking away of benefits from certain members of the community.
Let me tell honorable members some of the things that the fund does. If one of its ex-servicemen members is obliged to go into a repatriation hospital to be treated for a war disability, no charge being made by the hospital for this treatment, the committee of the fund has regard to the man’s family responsibilities, and if it thinks that the man needs assistance because he has a young family, or because he has a number of dependants; it pays the benefits although he is being charged nothing at all for treatment in the hospital. Under the Government scheme this cannot be done, because the Government insists that a member must not get from the fund, benefits in excess of the actual cost of treatment.
Similar conditions apply with regard to some of the older members of the Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund who are obliged to go into convalescent homes and hospitals. Everybody knows that those are the places in which one finds most of the elderly people. They are not found in the public hospitals but in the various institu tions, homes and convalescent hospitals. I suggest that honorable members look at the Minister’s speech and see the persons who are excluded from benefits, and then ask themselves how many elderly people will benefit from this scheme. The Minister said -
The new benefits provided for by this bill will not be payable for accommodation provided at a benevolent home, convalescent home, home for aged persons, rest home or similar institution.
That excludes all of the old members of the community who are obliged to seek treatment in this kind of institution. I say that to exclude them and then to talk about the great benefits of the scheme is just so much hypocrisy - but honorable members will find that this Government has a reputation for it. When it introduces legislation in the field of social services it talks about the great benefits to be conferred, but when persons who are obliged to seek the benefits of the legislation apply for them, they find that they are not so readily available. That has been the general experience. If the Government is genuinely eager to help old people to met the costs that they incur for treatment in hospitals and for medical services, why does it not remove the restriction to which the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) and other honorable members referred, and which has now been in operation for a number of years? I refer to the provision that a person receiving a pension, and who also receives an income of more than £2 a week, is denied the free medical services. In many cases, where an old person is in failing health, the medical services are more valuable to him than the income which precludes him from receiving them. The Government does nothing about that matter.
We have heard a lot from Government supporters about civil conscription. Did the honorable member for Balaclava tell us what the medical profession and the members of this Government meant when they used the term “ civil conscription “? It is as well to remind the Australian people what happened in this regard. All that the Labour scheme required the medical profession to do was to make out prescriptions in triplicate, so that a copy could be made available to the department in order to keep an adequate check and prevent any abuse of the scheme by the medical profession. That is all the members of the profession had to do. They did not have to write out any additional prescriptions. They merely had to put in a piece of carbon and have the prescription made out in triplicate. Therefore I believe that few members of the Australian public will accept the view that the medical profession was justified in claiming that it was being subjected to civil conscription.
What member of this Parliament does not know of cases in which families have had their life savings taken away because a member of the family happened to fall ill? Why should such a family be penalized if one of its members falls ill? Why should it suffer the additional penalty of becoming impoverished because of having to seek treatment? That is the attitude of the Labour party to this question. Innumerable cases have occurred in which people have had their life savings wiped out because of the necessity to meet medical and hospital expenses.
I would like the Minister to tell me why the Railway and Tramway Hospital Fund has been selected for special treatment. The other privately controlled funds have not bestowed on their members all the benefits that we have been told about. I have before me a copy of a reply to a question asked by the honorable member for Werriwa (Mr. Whitlam), which shows that some of the private funds are operating very profitably. Their administrative costs are very high, and, last year, they disallowed two days out of every five in all the claims made upon them by the participating members - the contributors. So that, in any event, they paid only three-fifths of the claims that were made upon them. Why should they be allowed to build up these enormous reserves?
The co-operative fund to which I have referred, which has no paid officials - the officials regard their work as a service to their fellow-men - is being harassed. According to what the officials have told me, they have been told by the Department of Health that that fund should not be so generous with its benefits, that it ought to pay only what it is legally obliged to pay, and that it ought to build up its reserves because the department thinks that they are not sufficiently high to provide a desirable measure of security. But this fund has been operating for 70 years and has never failed to meet its payments. Its reserves now approximate £180,000, and it takes the view that it does not function to build up enormous reserves. It wants adequate reserves, but it wants also to extend the benefits paid to its members. This Government says it is not to do that, and that it must curtail the benefits that it bestows upon its members.
I think that this ought to be a free health scheme. I do not think these organizations ought to be coerced into joining it, or that members of these organizations who are satisfied that the benefits they are getting from their own fund are better than those paid under the government scheme should be compelled to change over. They ought to be given a free choice. Government supporters, who talk about freedom, should do more than just talk about it. They should give some freedom to the unfortunate members of these funds.
Some Government supporters have tried to make capital out of the fact that the Australian Labour party was not now announcing its policy for the election in regard to a health scheme. I will expand a little, and go a bit further than other speakers have done. Government supporters may talk as much as they like, in this Parliament or elsewhere, but when Labour does present its scheme to the Australian people, that scheme will be immeasurably better than anything that this Government has proposed at any time in its history. This Government has been forced into a position in which it has to do something about these social service payments. It is Labour that has always made the pace in social legislation, and it is Labour that will continue to make the pace. Anybody who impartially examines the history of this country will acknowledge that there is not in existence a social service that was not provided by the Australian Labour party, either directly as a government, or by the use of its numbers, in the Parliament and elsewhere, to force the hand of anti-Labour governments.
We have heard Government supporters boast here about the tuberculosis eradication scheme that was introduced. They know full well that that was introduced by a Labour government and that it was in existence when the present Government took office. But what did this Government do? When it was forced to accept such a scheme, it kept expenditure down by unsympathetic administration, and by all sorts of harsh administrative decisions prevented people who normally would have benefited under the scheme from getting the benefits to which they were entitled.
That has been the history of the administration of anti-Labour governments. Every time it is suggested that something should be done for the pensioners or for some other deserving section of the community, what is the cry raised by anti-Labour governments? They say that they are concerned about increases in taxation, and that it may be necessary to increase taxes in order to provide the benefits proposed. The Government and its supporters are now searching for markets for their surplus primary production. Why, there are in this country many people who would be very happy to help them solve their problem of surplus production if the means to buy the surplus products were available! The way to provide the means is to give the people some measure of justice.
The Australian Labour party has announced that it does not oppose this measure, because it provides for a slight extension of the existing scheme. But it is nothing to occasion any great elation on the part of the Government in its claim that it has bestowed on the people great benefits under its health scheme! Nothing could be further from the truth. Let us not forget that this country is approaching a perilous financial situation. Do honorable members opposite deny that? Here we have a community that has already contributed to a National Wefare Fund which has been plundered by the thieving of this Government and is not giving any relief to the community. Even the small addition to the expenditure on social services is being provided by the people themselves. When Labour was in office, it provided for contributions to the National Welfare Fund from a special tax, and provided that fund for a special purpose. That fund has now been dissipated, and the hundreds of millions of pounds in which it was in credit have been absorbed into Commonwealth revenues. But the tax was never removed. Certainly, income tax assessments no longer show a division of tax into two parts. The taxpayer is not now told how much he is paying for social services and how much he is paying into general revenue, but he has received no relief from taxation. In the opinion of myself and my colleagues, the Australian community is paying for benefits that it is not getting. The only way in which it can get those benefits and a decent social services programme is to return a Labour government on 22nd November next.
.- Mr. Speaker, the policy speech just delivered by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) was a rather indifferent policy speech from a number of viewpoints, but it did have some noteworthy features. The first notable feature to which I should like to refer briefly was its opening. The honorable member deplored the fact that the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) had discussed the details of this measure with representatives of medical benefits funds. He deplored the fact, Sir, that this bill was not introduced into this Parliament without the medical benefit funds having been given an opportunity to learn in particular detail what were its provisions.
– He did not say that. What is the honorable member talking about?
– If the honorable member for Lalor would keep quiet for a few minutes, this Parliament would be better off.
– The honorable member foi East Sydney did not say what the honorable member has attributed to him.
– That is precisely what the honorable member for East Sydney did say. This is a rather novel change - the honorable member for East Sydney defending the institution of Parliament and playing the role of the jealous protector of parliamentary rights. It is a rather odd role for him to play, but no doubt he is trying to build up a reputation for versatility. A few days ago, we had the honorable member playing the role of the agrarian reformer. This evening, we have seen him playing the role of the political pharmacist. As he was addressing the House, Mr. Speaker, I wondered whether the sentiments that he was expressing were his own, oi whether, as a current pop song goes, he was putting himself in a position in which he was saying what the witch doctor told him to say. As I have said, this is a strange novelty - the honorable member for East Sydney playing the role of the defender of parliamentary rights.
The honorable member then said, with characteristic modesty, that Labour was the only innovator of sound and respectable social legislation. I will deal with that in some detail later, and I hope that the honorable member will see a little light in this world before he passes to the next. Sir, he asked whether this was an ideal health scheme, and he said that of course it was not. I should hope that the Parliament and the Australian people will very carefully analyse what the honorable member was hinting at when he said that this was not an ideal health scheme. I believe that it is, and I believe that the great majority of the Australian people who have been associated with this scheme in the role of patients, doctors or legislators, regard this scheme as being one of the finest of its kind in the world. But the honorable member for East Sydney said this evening, “ This is not the ideal health scheme “. I think that there is one very clear implication in the honorable gentleman’s observation this evening, Mr. Speaker. It is this: The Australian Labour party, if, by some mischievous mischance, it were to be elected to office at the next federal election, would smash the present national health scheme.
Then the honorable member put a rhetorical question and there followed the finger-waving that all honorable members who have watched the honorable gentleman over the years know, with his finger dancing backwards and forwards. If I may digress for a moment, I should like to say that I felt this evening that I had found the likely origin of the finger that appeared in a Royal Australian Air Force magazine during the war known as “ Tee Em “. The finger represented a most highly derogatory order, and other ex-members of the Air Force will understand what I mean. I am quite sure that the artist must have seen the honorable member for East Sydney in action on one occasion, pointing his finger at some one. Of course, he invariably points it at me, and he turns on that charm and persuasiveness that have endeared him to me on so many occasions. The honorable member for East Sydney said that Labour did not get a fair go when it tried to introduce a national health scheme. He said that the British Medical Association sabotaged the scheme.
– Hear, hear!
– The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith indicates by his interjection that he agrees with the proposition. The import of his interjection is that the British Medical Association sabotaged Labour’s attempt to introduce a national health scheme. I hope that every elector in the Kingsford-Smith electorate takes heed of the fact that its member regards members of the medical profession as saboteurs because they will not agree to civil conscription. That is the simple truth of the matter, because whichever way one looks at Labour’s impossible health scheme, which was happily cut short, one must conclude that it was a scheme to establish in Australia a form of civil conscription. It is no use the honorable member for East Sydney or the honorable member for KingsfordSmith saying otherwise.
The honorable member for East Sydney concluded his speech on a characteristic note by thumping the table. I thought by the colour of his face that he was about to have a stroke, but I would hate him to leave this place before the appropriate time. He said that when the people of Australia heard Labour’s health policy they would immediately regard it as being immeasurably better than the present health scheme. Then, with simulated vehemence, he declared to the Parliament, “ Take the case of tuberculosis. What has this Government ever done for tuberculosis? “ The truth of the matter is that under a Labour government no special allowance, no special hospitals and very few beds were available to tuberculosis sufferers. The figures regarding the assistance given to tuberculosis patients show that in its last year of office Labour spent £151,000 on tuberculosis. In the year just finished, this Government spent more than £8,000,000. That is the contrast. I would hope that reasonably minded people looking at these figures would concede at least that this Government’s record in the field of tuberculosis is infinitely superior to that of the Australian Labour party.
– How do you feel?
– I feel very well, and no doubt that upsets you.
– You do not look very well!
– If I do not look very well, let me say that my looks belie my feelings; and how true that is when I look at you!
Labour’s health scheme was a dismal failure. The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) in a very fine analytical speech this afternoon also identified Labour’s health scheme as a dismal failure. The honorable and learned member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) this evening pointed out quite clearly that Labour’s attempt to introduce a sensible and rational health scheme was nothing but a failure.
– There, once again coming from the Opposition benches, is the cry, “ Sabotage “. I think this is of fundamental importance, because, if honorable members opposite believe that others are saboteurs because they will not submit to a form of civilian conscription, their thinking has reached a pretty wretched level.
In introducing their health scheme, members of the Labour party went out of their way to insult the British Medical Association and to threaten the doctors. Only on Sunday night, having nothing better to do, I read through a speech made by the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith on the national health scheme of 1954.
– What did it say?
– Let me tell you that it was a cherished example of plain humbug. I was most surprised that any living person could have recited in a national parliament the sort of nonsense that you did.
Throughout the honorable member’s speech was a threat to doctors, if they did not submit. Even during the 1949 election campaign, the then Labour Minister for Health declared that if Labour was returned to office, only the Almighty would be able to help the doctors. There is the case. Under Labour, the formulary was limited. Under Labour, the doctors were obliged, not only, as the honorable member for East Sydney said, to write out prescriptions in triplicate, but also to make available to government officials records dealing with their patients. That was the fundamental reason why members of the British Medical Association rejected Labour’s national health scheme. That was one of the fundamental reasons why the Australian people threw Labour out of office and, if my judgment is any good, will keep Labour out of office. The truth is that Labour set out to destroy the doctor-patient relationship, and that is the very crux of the matter. 1 ask the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), who is sitting at the table on the Opposition side, to state in plain terms, if he gets an opportunity, what Labour’s policy is regarding health. Is it, as the honorable member for Balaclava declared this evening, that Labour’s policy is to nationalize all health services? That is still part of Labour’s platform, but I know that honorable gentlemen opposite will say that they have not the constitutional power to nationalize health services. That may well be, but let us assume that circumstances over the next ten or fifteen or twenty years - or indeed over the next five years - present to this Parliament a situation in which it has full command of all legislative power throughout Australia. Would the Labour party nationalize health services in that given situation? There is a responsibility on the Labour party to say where it stands, because many millions of people believe that Labour’s policy of nationalization of health services would be a dreadful blow against the good sense and the good management of affairs in Australia.
– Finish on that note!
– It would be a far better note to finish on, than the one on which you finished.
I want to deal in some detail with this Government’s record in the field of national health and, by way of contrast, to show up the very poor record of the Labour party. May I first take hospital benefits to pensioners, about which the honorable member for East Sydney declaimed this evening? The truth of the matter is that since June. 1953, this Government has spent more than £7,462,000 in that field. How much did Labour spend? Not one penny! I turn to the Pensioner Medical Service. Since June, 1951, this Government has spent more than £16,555,000 in that field. How much did Labour spend? Not one penny! Then, on hospital benefits other than to pensioners, from June, 1946, to June, 1950 - I go to June, 1950, because no doubt the budgetary proposals of the Labour party would have continued until about that time - the Labour party spent £22,145,000. This will provide the House with an opportunity to examine the record of the Labour party. From June, 1950, to June, 1958, during the life of this Government, more than £60,000,000 has been spent in this field. From June, 1954, this Government has spent £24,288,534 on this aspect of its health scheme. Let us look at the position in relation to the tuberculosis allowance, in relation to which the honorable member for East Sydney claims the Labour party has such a fine record. From June, 1947, to June, 1950, the Labour government spent a miserable £468,930 on tuberculosis allowance. From June, 1950, to June, 1958, this Government has spent £13,216,622 for tuberculosis sufferers.
Now I turn to the position in regard to pharmaceutical benefits. From June, 1948. to June, 1950 - a period of two years - the Labour Government spent £453,726 on pharmaceutical benefits. From June, 1950, to June, 1958, this side of politics, this character of government, spent more than £76,000,000 on pharmaceutical benefits. Then we turn to the assistance given to mental institutions. Honorable members opposite see occasion now to laugh and snigger. I should hope that all sensible and serious-minded people in this Parliament and outside would heed the fact that when I mention mental institutions honorable members opposite laugh as much as to say that it is a laughing matter. I would hope that the electors of the Australian Capital Territory in particular will notice that the member for their electorate sniggered when I referred to mental institutions. The fact of the matter is that from June, 1949, to June, 1950, the Labour Government’s contributions in regard to mental institutions amounted to £255,586. From June, 1950, to June, 1958, this Government has made available nearly £5,500,000 in the same field.
I come to the field of capital expenditure and maintenance payments in respect of tuberculosis. From June, 1949, to June, 1 950 - which gives the Labour Government the benefit of the doubt, since it was out of office before June, 1950 - a little over £500,000 was spent in this, direction, in the last eight years under this Government more than £38,000,000 has been spent on capital works and maintenance in respect of tuberculosis. Then there is the free milk scheme, introduced by this Government. From June, 1950, to June, 1958, this Government has spent more than £14,000,000 on free milk for school children.
The Labour Government’s expenditure on the flying doctor service - a service in which my honorable and gallant friend from Bowman (Mr. McColm) has shown a great interest - in the last year of its term of office, amounted to £12,500. Under this Government the expenditure on the service since June, 1950, has been almost £300,000. Under Labour, not one penny was made available to the Red Cross blood transfusion service, but this Government has devoted £397,134 to that purpose.
There, in brief, very compacted form, is the social services record of this Government compared with that of the Labour government. Yet the honorable member for East Sydney has the hide to stand in this House and say that all social service legislation is either initiated by Labour or pushed along or prompted by Labour. Sir, how silly can people get when they cannot even read the record straight? This Government has a magnificent record in the field of social services, and it is not going to be washed away by the half-hearted attempt at whimsical nonsense of the honorable member for East Sydney. The record of this Government in the field of social services will stand long after the honorable member for East Sydney has pushed on his well-defined way.
Now I turn to the legislation before us. The honorable member for East Sydney despises the Government’s social services scheme. He asks, “What is all this ballyhoo about? “ The truth of the matter is that this legislation is a notable step forward which makes medical and hospital benefits available to people who hitherto, because of age, the chronic nature of their illnesses or the fact that their illnesses were pre-existent to their joining a fund, have been denied the opportunity of receiving medical and hospital benefits. Yet the honorable member for East Sydney, one of the chief trumpeters of the Labour party, “tq rhetorically, “What is all this ballyhoo about? “ This legislation is being anxiously awaited by many thousands of decent Australians, and I should hope that every one of them who lives in the electorate of East Sydney will recognize that the honorable member for East Sydney has this evening contemptuously referred to this legislation.
I want to conclude on this note: This legislation enshrines the doctor-patient relationship. The legislation introduced by the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) made sure that the doctorpatient relationship was kept intact. The legislation since introduced by the honorable and gallant Minister for Health also ensures that the doctor-patient relationship is kept intact. Labour’s ambition, and one of its declared aims, is to destroy the doctor-patient relationship. Let me say to honorable gentlemen opposite that there are many millions of people in Australia who believe that the doctor-patient relationship is one of the most valuable relationships in existence. There are many millions of people who regard their local general practitioner not solely as a doctor but as the doctor, and as an advisor, counsellor and friend. Under Labour that would be destroyed.
The great virtue of this legislation is that the doctor-patient relationship is kept intact. Medicine must always remain a profession. Under Labour it would be reduced to some trivial trade. It would be regarded as an industry. If medicine is ever reduced to the stage where it has become a tool of the government of the day it will no longer be medicine at all, and one of the really finer aspects of the medical profession will have evaporated.
I deplore the tendency towards the group handling of patients. Any person who has any doubt about the great danger and the tragic consequences of the group handling of patients need only read the report of the Birmingham meeting of the British Medical Association. In Great Britain, under the nationalized health scheme, people are not treated as individuals or patients, but merely as figures. It may well be that, in the cynical words of the poet Lowell, with which, no doubt, the Minister for Health is acquainted -
A single doctor, like a sculler plies, The patient lingers, then slowly dies, But two physicians, like a pair of oars, Shall waft him swiftly to the Stygian shores.
The general practitioner is a very important person in the Australian community. I have referred to the importance of his relationship with his patient. I believe that it would be a very sorry day for the Australian people if a magnificent health scheme that has been created by men dedicated to their task, trained in their task, and convinced in their own minds that they were working to build a magnificent social service edifice, were ever to be exposed to danger, to threat or to attack by the election of a party which, in all conscience, cannot even govern its own affairs.
– I rise to make a personal explanation, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske). The honorable member declared that I had said that it was wrong in principle, and immoral, that there should be private arrangements with insurance societies for medical benefits and to cover hospital treatment. That statement is absolutely incorrect. The honorable member for Balaclava was present while I spoke. He heard what I said, and he is trained in the meaning of words and in the grasping of meanings. This, Mr. Deputy Speaker, is what I said -
The Opposition, of course, has no objection whatever to the existence of private medical and hospital funds. Indeed, it thinks that they are, very valuable institutions and it would encourage, so far as may be possible, every one in the community to belong to such funds. But the Opposition is strongly of the opinion that it is immoral and utterly wrong in principle to require a person to belong to a private society or a private association as a condition of obtaining a Commonwealth governmental benefit.
At this stage, the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) interjected that it was scandalous. I agreed and then I added -
But we regard it as a bad departure from principle to require a person to belong to a private association as a condition of. acquiring a public benefit. Governmental pressure should never be placed upon a citizen to belong to a private association. The whole principle of freedom of association is involved.
I do not know how the honorable member could have made the mistake and come to the conclusion that I had-
– Order! The honorable member is not permitted to comment. He must confine himself to stating how he has been misrepresented.
– I am simply saying that the honorable member was completely misrepresenting me - for whatever motive - when he declared that I had said it was immoral and wrong in principle and scandalous to have private arrangements for insurance for medical and hospital treatment.
– I rise to give a personal explanation. I, in turn, have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. He described private arrangements as immoral. His own statement, which he has just read from’ th2 “ Hansard “ report, shows that he did so do.
– I wish to make a further personal explanation. I have been misrepresented by the honorable member for Balaclava. He has repeated that I stated that private arrangements for treatment were immoral.
– I did not say that at any stage. I said “ private arrangements “, which is what you said. You have just quoted it to us.
– Order! The House must come to order. Honorable members have stated their positions.
– I have stated, Mr. Deputy Speaker, that the statement of the honorable member for Balaclava is absolutely incorrect, as I have shown from the “ Hansard “ report.
– There is absolutely no doubt whatever that the honorable member for Balaclava (Mr. Joske) did misrepresent the honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser).
– Mr. Deputy Speaker, I ask for an apology.
– No, I do not think an apology is required. The honorable member for Hindmarsh may proceed.
– There is absolutely no doubt that throughout his speech, the honorable member for Balaclava misrepresented not only the honorable member for Eden-Monaro but also other honorable members.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I must insist that the language of the honorable member for
Hindmarsh is not parliamentary. He is insisting that there was deliberate misrepresentation on my part and he has referred to a statement that was made by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro quoted a passage from the “ Hansard “ report of his speech which showed that my statement was quite correct. I submit that it is entirely wrong to allow the honorable member for Hindmarsh to make that sort of statement.
– Order! The honorable member for Hindmarsh is out of order in that he has imputed improper motives to the honorable member for Balaclava.
– I do not want to make your difficult task more difficult, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– Then the honorable member should resume his speech. He may not impute improper motives to any honorable member.
– Am I not allowed to say that the honorable member misrepresented anybody?
– To say that an honorable member is deliberately misrepresenting another honorable member imputes improper motives to him, and that is not permitted.
– Shall I be in order, then, if I leave out the word, “ deliberately “?
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that the honorable member for Hindmarsh is deliberately canvassing your ruling, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
– The point of order is not upheld. I will listen to what the honorable member for Hindmarsh has to say.
– As I was trying to point out, members of the Liberal party in this Parliament have often found it absolutely impossible to answer the Australian Labour party’s case unless they misrepresent the position of the Labour party. Repeatedly in this Parliament, honorable members on the Government side rise and misrepresent the statements of members of the Labour party and rely entirely upon the misrepresentation of what has been said to bolster up their own crooked case. 1 want to give a classic example of this. This afternoon, we heard a speech by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in which he had something to say about the question of forcing people to join private medical funds. He pointed out, of course, that the Opposition was in favour of, and could see great advantages in, private medical funds, and he then went on to say this -
But the Opposition is strongly of the opinion-
– I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member in order in quoting from an uncorrected report of “ Hansard “? I know that honorable members may quote from “ Hansard “, but can they quote from the copy of a speech which comes to them for correction, as the honorable member has done?
– Order ! I do not know what the honorable member is quoting from. Is it the unedited copy of somebody else’s speech?
– This is really amusing, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I should have thought that the supporters of the Government would be very happy to hear me repeat from the “ Hansard “ report what the honorable member for EdenMonaro said, so that they then would have known precisely what the honorable member did say. We would then have known whether or not the honorable member for Balaclava did, as I am alleging, misrepresent
– I rise to a point of order. I submit that we are not discussing any question of personal explanations or misrepresentations. We are considering the National Health Bill, and I submit that the honorable member should return to that subject.
– The point of order is upheld. The honorable member for Hindmarsh should continue with his speech on the bill.
– If I am not allowed to deal with that matter, I shall deal with another aspect of the speech of the honorable member for Balaclava. I hope that he will not object to me referring to this example of misrepresentation. During the course of his remarks, he said that the Labour party believed in civil conscription of the medical profession; that the Labour party believed in directing the doc tors as to what kind of medicine they were to prescribe and the kind of operation they were to perform. I believe I heard an honorable member on the Government side interjecting, and one of my colleagues has suggested that we might perform a certain operation on that gentleman, but that is beside the point. The point is that these were further examples of misrepresentation by the honorable member for Balaclava. The fact is that the Labour party never has and never will tell the medical profession what kind of operations its members have to perform; nor will we attempt to tell the medical profession what form of medicine its members should prescribe. Nobody knew better than the honorable member for Balaclava that what he was saying about the Australian Labour party was not true.
– I rise to a point of order. 1 object to the statement that I have deliberately lied. The honorable member said that I made a statement which I knew was untrue. That is an allegation of a lie.
– It is not for the Chair to judge the correctness of statements, but the words “ not true “ have never been ruled unparliamentary.
– I rise to a point of order. It is not a question of whether my words were untrue but whether I knew they were untrue. That is the whole point. If I knew that they were untrue, I was deliberately telling a lie. That is my objection. The words, “ a definite lie “ are unparliamentary.
– Order! The honorable member for Hindmarsh may continue, but it would be better if he kept off personalities. I ask the House to come to order. When it does, I might be able to hear what is being said. There is too much noise altogether on the Opposition front bench, close to the Chair.
– What the Labour government sought to do when it was in office was to give to every person in the community the right to free medical attention and free medicine. That was a laudable objective, which has been implemented in Great Britain and is working admirably there, as any person who has been there knows. There is a cackle coming from the honorable member for Macarthur (Mr. Jeff Bate), who is interjecting from his wrong seat.
– Order! The honorable member for Macarthur may not interject from a place other than his own.
– The position is that the Chifley Labour Government believed that the people of Australia were just as much entitled to free medical attention and free medicine as were the people of the other, more enlightened countries of the world, and it set out to achieve that end. But what happened? The medical profession took a case to the High Court and claimed that, because the clause in the Constitution giving the Commonwealth Government power over social services was followed, in parenthesis, by the words “ but not so as to authorize any form of civil conscription “, the profession should succeed in its opposition to the legislation, as the requirement that doctors should fill in a prescription in triplicate was a form of conscription and therefore the whole bill was unconstitutional. The doctors said to the judges of the High Court, “ Look here. The Labour government is conscripting us into filling in a form in triplicate. To that extent it breaks the Constitution, and we ask you to declare Labour’s free medicine and free medical treatment legislation to be invalid.” The High Court judges, in their wisdom, decided to uphold the submission that it was conscription. They said that it was conscription to force a doctor to sign in triplicate a form showing what was contained in the medicine that was prescribed. By that decision, the legislation of the Labour government was destroyed, and so we are in the position in which we find ourselves now.
– A good system came out of it.
– No, I do not agree that we have a good system, for reasons which I shall explain in a minute. I am not saying, as some people do say, that doctors are a bunch of crooks. Of course they are not. The great majority of doctors are good, honest, hard-working men, who have devoted their lives to their profession. Every one who has anything to do with doctors has to admire most of them for that. The great majority of doctors do more work without charge than does the member of any other profession that I know of. Thousands of doctors wait upon poor people who cannot afford to pay for their services. They do it freely and willingly, and as skilfully for the poor who cannot pay as for the rich who can pay handsomely. But there are black sheep in all families, whether they be families of doctors, dentists, or even lawyers. I notice that lawyers on both sides of the House, and our distinguished Parliamentary Draftsman, who, of course, is also a lawyer, laugh at that remark, but it is not unheard of for lawyers to be crooked.
We must take action in order to safeguard the public, not against the majority but in the isolated case, against the odd man, the exception to the rule. The Government will not say that there is no exception to the rule of honesty in the medical profession, because only in the last two or three years the Government has been forced to take very strong action against certain members of the medical profession because of their action in defrauding the public purse by rendering accounts for visits that were never made and services that were never given. The Chifley Government, appreciating this danger, said, “ In order to protect the public against the unscrupulous minority - on whose behalf no one should shed any tears - it is necessary, we believe, for some check to be made of the accounts rendered from time to time to the Government for the free medical services which we are prepared to provide. As a check against fraudulent practices by the medical profession, we proposed that a doctor shall write out each prescription in triplicate, so that a copy may be sent to the Department of Health in order to guard against forgeries and claims for payment for services which are not rendered.” Because the Labour government took this step to protect itself against these fraudulent practices, which have in fact occurred during the last two or three years, doctors regarded as a form of conscription, and therefore as unconstitutional, the proposal that they should have to fill in these forms. The judges upheld them, and the law giving the people of Australia free medicine was thus destroyed.
I want to refer now to the honorable member for Moreton (Mr. Killen). Unfortunately, he is not now in the chamber. He made an amazing speech just a little while ago, in which he made wild and reckless statements against my colleague, the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward). The honorable member for Moreton, no doubt, has missed his calling. He ought to be a vaudeville artist on the Tivoli theatre circuit, because he made his impassioned speech with a smirk on his face which indicated quite clearly that he was carrying on in a professional capacity as a ham actor, not meaning a word of what he said, but simply opening and shutting his mouth, uttering words of some sort, vilifying my esteemed friend, the honorable member for East Sydney. He made all kinds of wild and reckless charges, none of which was true. As an example, he started off by saying that he thought the honorable member for East Sydney was quite wrong in deploring the action of the Government in discussing with medical benefit organizations the proposed legislation before the Parliament had actually enacted the law. There was nothing wrong in the honorable member for East Sydney deploring that action.
– It was not even what I said. I said it was wrong to give instructions to the organizations before the legislation was passed.
– The honorable member for East Sydney reminds me that he did not say exactly what the honorable member for Moreton attributed to him; that what he did was to object to the Government’s officers in the Department of Health giving instructions to the medical benefit organizations before those instructions were actually authorized by the Parliament of the Commonwealth. As a point of interest, these instructions were sent out by officers of the Department of Health on 20th August of this year.
– On 7th August.
– My honorable friend corrects me; they were sent out on 7th August. In any event, whether they were sent on the 7th or the 20th, the fact is that the principals of the benefit funds knew before the Parliament knew what the Government proposed in the legislation that is now before the House. It is quite improper for the Government to have its officers instructing medical benefit fund officials on what they have to do in respect of legislation not yet before the Parliament, lt is most irregular. Now the honorable member for Moreton is back again in the chamber.
– Cheer up about it!
– He is muttering something which I cannot catch. For the benefit of those who are perhaps interested in this strange character, I would like to give a word picture of the man. He is a little character with black hair and a gingery moustache, and he can usually be relied upon to do as he did to-night, that is, to misrepresent the facts completely. I do not condemn the honorable member for East Sydney for deploring the action of the officers of the Department of Health in giving instructions to the various medical benefit organizations before the Parliament had even discussed the legislation, but I am very surprised that the honorable member for East Sydney, with his experience and knowledge of the Government, should bother to deplore anything that the Government does in this regard. No one knows better than the honorable member for East Sydney that it has been the practice of this Government, ever since it came to office, always to take into its confidence the wealthy concerns that are interested in its legislation. Those wealthy concerns know about legislation affecting them long before the Parliament ever sees it. Is it not a fact that, long before the Parliament ever saw the banking legislation, this Government took the private banking institutions into its confidence, consulted with them, and told them in advance what the Parliament was going to be asked to do? There is nothing unusual about this Government going to vested interests and telling them what is going to happen, before it tells the Parliament. That is characteristic of this Government. It is simply following its usual tradition and such things should not cause honorable members, such as the honorable member for East Sydney, any surprise at all.
The honorable member for Moreton said that the Labour party was out to smash the health scheme. On the contrary, far from wanting to smash the health scheme, the Labour party will make the health scheme work as it was intended to work by the Labour Government. Although our constitutional powers prevent us from ever implementing schemes for free medicine and free medical attention, as we had originally intended-
– Would Labour nationalize the health service?
– Labour could not, and would not unless the people were so fed up with the health service that they gave us the power to do so at a referendum. I would never agree to nationalize the health service of the people of this country unless they indicated by referendum that that is what they wished to have done. That is an answer to some of the propaganda and misrepresentations that are repeatedly indulged in by honorable members opposite.
– Why does Labour retain nationalization in its platform?
– If the honorable member will have a look at Labour’s platform he will see that it clearly indicates that the Labour party will not nationalize anything unless it is first of all approved by the people at a referendum. That is what we call democratic socialism.
– There is not a word about that in your platform.
– I am very glad of the interjections. The Minister and I talk about platforms. I challenge him to read our platform. The Labour party makes it clear that it will not nationalize anything until the people of Australia give their approval at a referendum taken over the six States of the Commonwealth. What could be more democratic than that proposal to give the people of Australia the right to decide what shall be nationalized and what shall not be nationalized?
– That is not in your platform. You are lying and you know it.
– The right honorable gentleman says that I am lying. I am not lying.
– Order! The Minister will withdraw his accusation.
– I withdraw the word “ lying “ if it is objected to. and I invite the honorable member to say when this provision was inserted in the platform of the Labour party.
– The Minister has retracted the statement that I was lying and he now asks-
– It is not in the platform.
– The honorable member for Lilley is holding up a ragged thing that is neither the platform of the Labour party nor anything like it. He has something in his hand that he pretends is the platform of the Labour party. The Labour party’s platform is contained in a blue-covered book about twice the size of the thing in the honorable member’s hand. Obviously the honorable member is not holding up the platform of the Labour party, but a forgery that has probably been printed by the Liberal party. 1 have a copy of the platform of the Labour party in my office. When I finish speaking 1 shall go to my office and I shall obtain the platform of the Labour party. Our platform indicates clearly that we do not believe in the socialization or nationalization of anything at all, unless the people agree to alter the Constitution at a referendum. That is the pledge that every Labour man has taken. Every Labour man, upon entering this Parliament, pledges himself to the platform, which is not to nationalize or socialize anything, unless it is first of all approved by the people of Australia. 1 invite everybody listening to this debate tonight to go to any A.L.P. office in Australia and ask for a copy of the A.L.P. platform and pledge. They will then see that what I have said is correct.
This is something that supporters of the Government did not expect. That is why I have answered their interjections. They did not expect that they would be exposed here to-night in the way that I am now exposing them. They have attempted to show that the Labour party intends to socialize everything without a referendum of the people, but they did not think that that myth would be exposed here to-night and that they would be denied the opportunity of frightening the people before the forthcoming elections into believing that Labour intended to socialize their farms and shops.
A very handsome gent - the Prime Minister of Australia - is standing in the corner smiling, but it is not the smile of complete satisfaction. It is the smile of an actor who smiles when he really feels like crying. Now the right honorable gentleman bows and smiles again, but he is not really smiling. Now he pretends to look glum, but he is really natural. He knows that I have exploded to-night the myth that the Labour party is a socialist tiger that will nationalize everything. The Minister for Labour and National Service (Mr. Harold Holt) has re-entered the chamber with a book measuring about 6 inches by 4 inches. He is smiling, and in a moment no doubt he will tell us that I have quoted Labour’s platform wrongly. But the Minister still has not got the latest platform of the Labour party. As soon as I have sat down I will obtain a copy of our platform. I will give it to the next Labour speaker who takes the floor. Let those people who are listening to this debate tonight keep their ears glued to the radio, because after the honorable member for Moore (Mr. Leslie) has sat down, a Labour member will speak. He will read from the platform of the Australian Labour party the things that I have said exist there.
The honorable member for Moreton condemned the Labour government because, he said, it only spent £151,000 in its last year of office in trying to cure tuberculosis. But what he did not say was that the Labour government1 introduced the scheme to wipe out the scourge of tuberculosis and that the £151,000, that he referred to as being spent by the Labour government, represented only what the Labour government spent in the first year in which the scheme operated. So successful was the scheme initiated by the Labour government that Australia can now boast that no country in the world has been more successful in wiping out tuberculosis.
Something was said during the debate about the Labour party’s terrible proposal to interfere with the doctor-patient relationship.
– That is true.
– It is true, says our inane friend from Moreton. It is not true, because all that was required was that a doctor had to fill in a form indicating the nature of the medicine to be prescribed. I am a member of a medical benefits fund, and under the scheme introduced by this Government, every time I claim a refund for my hospital or medical treatment, I must indicate on the claim the nature of my complaint or those of my wife or children. Under the scheme introduced by this Government I must tell the medical benefit association the precise nature of the complaint from which I am suffering. If that is not an intrusion into the relationship between patient and doctor, then I do not know what is. Nothing that was proposed by the Chifley Government anywhere approaches the intrusion into the privacy of doctor-patient relationship that is now permitted under the present scheme when an application is made for a refund from a private medical benefit fund.
The great difference is that instead of trusted members of the Public Service, having a look at the files - men who are sworn and bound to secrecy by the Crimes Act of Australia, as was proposed by the Chifley scheme - applications will be looked at by every little Tom, Dick and Harry employed by the private medical benefit funds. These people are not sworn to secrecy as are members of the Public Service. They are not people who are known to keep their secrets as members of the Public Service are. No matter what is said about the Public Service, one thing that stands out is that every member of it is noted for the fact that he never breaks confidence with his Minister or with anybody who has any dealings with the Service. That is a great tribute which I can pay to the Public Service but a similar tribute cannot truthfully be paid to the people now administerng private medical benefit funds who have access to private information in relation to doctor-patient relations.
I said before that no government has the power to nationalize medicine without a referendum of the people to approve of it. But the day could very well come, if the people continue to be exploited to the extent that they are now in obtaining medical benefits, when they will approve of such a proposal by referendum.
– Order! The honorable member’s time has expired.
.- I am rather sorry to introduce a different note into the debate which, at times, has developed into a free-for-all. No doubt after I have sat down, as the honorable, member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron) promised, the next Labour speaker will produce the latest platform of the Australian Labour party. But I have a cause to espouse and I do not propose to make it a party political affair. There is too much at issue. I could talk about the type of discussions we have had in connexion with the subject-matter of this bill and how it relates to human lives and all that is at stake, but I will leave that alone because I do not propose to make this national health plan a political football.
I begin by referring to clause 9, the purpose of which is to repeal secton 66 of the principal act and insert in its stead a new interpretation section. Section 66 of the principal act dealt with pre-existing ailments of contributors to the health scheme who were under the age of 65. I do not propose to deal with those persons over the age of 65 because it has been conceded on all sides that this legislation extends the benefit of the health scheme to them. This bill will be welcomed throughout the country on that account. It will confer great benefits on people over 65 years of age, of whom there are a large number. . But there are some in this group who will not receive this benefit and I wish that they could. This bill will bestow many benefits on a great number of people under 65 years of age who have pre-existing ailments. It will also benefit a large section of the people in whom, for the purpose of this debate, I am particularly interested.
However a feature which I regret and to which I draw the attention of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) is that it will not confer benefits on one group of people that we had hoped it would. At the latter end of August, it was my privilege to attend, as a delegate, a conference of the Australian Cerebral Palsy Association held in Adelaide. This is an entirely voluntary organization which operates to help those afflicted with cerebral palsy, who are commonly known as spastics. It has centres in all the States. Each year the organization holds a conference to which delegates from all parts of the Commonwealth come to discuss its problems and also exchange information on research in the various medical and educational fields into cerebral palsy. In addition business matters are considered.
The announcement at the last conference that this bill was coming forward was received with very great pleasure. This news was to the delegates some small salve to the disappointment they felt because a request to the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) for some help to the various contres had not met with success. It gave us new hope that this bill would achieve something for these people.
– That is a shocking indictment.
– I know that the Minister is sympathetic to my case because I had the privilege of attending with him, as a guest speaker, the annual conference of the association in Sydney. The Minister also attended a conference held in Queensland two years ago and he is aware of some of the discussions which took place on the association’s problems. Honorable members can understand, therefore that when a brief announcement was made that this measure would be brought down, hopes were high that the association would benefit.
It provides a measure of relief to quite a number of people but unfortunately there is nothing for the spastic people, the sufferers from cerebral palsy. I might point out that I am not speaking on behalf of a small group. The only work which is being done for them is carried out by voluntary organizations throughout Australia. This is a comparatively new work carried on by a young organization but it is seeking to care for an estimated minimum number of 15,000 and possibly 20,000 of all ages. The responsibility for their treatment and care has been accepted by voluntary welfare organizations only and it is a fact that their financial and physical resources are entirely inadequate for the task.
Within the number I have mentioned it is estimated that about 8,000 are under sixteen years of age and it is this group of children on whose behalf I am speaking. The number who have received treatment in Australia in all spastic centres since they were established in the post-war period is 3,904. Last year the actual number treated was 1,368. The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith keeps interjecting. I wish he would remain silent. The actual operational expenditure, not including capital expenditure, incurred at all these centres in Australia last year was £391,082. With the exception of Queensland, where the Government does provide assistance on a £1 for £1 basis for spastic centres, this money came entirely from voluntary subscriptions, with no government help of any kind.
The honorable member for KingsfordSmith has constantly repeated that this is a shocking indictment. I am not sure on whom he places the indictment. I would say that it is a shocking indictment of the people of this country that this section of the community has been ignored for so long. The honorable member for KingsfordSmith perhaps, is entirely unaware and unconcerned that it is only within the last five years that anything on a Commonwealthwide scale has been done to espouse this cause and provide treatment and facilities for these unfortunate people. Certainly it was some years before that that the first spastic centres, as such, were provided, but it is only in recent times that Commonwealthwide aid has been provided. This was not due to any particular government having been in office. It was due to the fact that there were people who, unlike the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, had a spark of human sympathy and fellow feeling in their souls. These people undertook the job which they felt they owed to their fellow men, instead of appealing to a government or to somebody else to carry the burden of responsibility.
– I rise to order. I would like that statement by the honorable member for Moore to be withdrawn.
– Was it a direct reference to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith?
– Yes. It was a direct reference to me. He said that the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith had intimated that he knew nothing about the matter.
– That is no point of order. If the honorable member feels aggrieved he should make a personal explanation.
– That is what I wanted to do.
– If I have upset the susceptibilities of the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith, I humbly apologize. In connexion with this cause, I am prepared to accept any abuse, injury, or even personal violence. I think that the cause is worth it. So, to the honorable member for Kingsford-Smith I make the humblest and most abject apology it is possible for a human being to make, in the hope that I will have at least one supporter.
– I rise to order.
– Order! The honorable member for Kingsford-Smith will sit down.
– I rise to order.
– Sit down. There is no point of order.
– How do you know until he puts it?
– The honorable member for Moore simply apologized for what he said before.
– My point of order is that I said that it was a shocking indictment of this Government that provision was not made-
– Order! The honorable member will sit down or I will name him. [Quorum formed.]
– I thank the honorable member for Hughes (Mr. L. R. Johnson) for calling a quorum. I should like to think that he acted with sincerity in order to assist the cause that I am supporting. However, I leave that to his conscience. The bill provides that benefits which have not been available to these children previously will now be available to them. It has been possible for these cerebral palsied children to be insured in a medical benefit scheme and to obtain medical and hospital benefits as contributors for all illnesses which had no connexion with their disability. As I understand the bill, it will enable them now to obtain surgical and, perhaps, ancilliary treatment under this special account scheme in an approved hospital for all the disabilities from which they suffer. Under the system which now operates the treatment which is available to these children, normally, is given to them voluntarily, and at no charge. However, the parents are expected to contribute, according to their means, to the various associations which provide treatment. All those organizations employ doctors and other doctors give voluntary service to them. They also have various other professional people such as physiotherapists, occupational therapists, speech therapists and dentists. This service is made available to these spastic children, as I have said, entirely free of charge because one cannot expect the parents to bear the costs.
The present bill is somewhat disappointing to those who are associated with these organizations in that, it will not, in any way, relieve the burden on the parents or the voluntary organizations in the provision of treatment which is absolutely necessary for these children. The Minister might correct me if I am wrong, but the position as I see it is that if all our voluntary organizations closed down and if the afflicted children were to go to private consultants and pay for the service which they got from them, it would cost each parent a tremendous sum of money; it would also cost the Government a lot of money because, under this bill, the parents would be entitled to participate as contributors to an insurance scheme.
If the Government looks at it from the that angle it will see that if that were to happen the facilities available for these children would be totally inadequate. Possibly, many of them would not receive the necessary treatment. Consequently, the Government could well say, “ We are prepared to provide in this legislation that treatment afforded to these children will be paid for by per capita contributions to the various associations which are providing these facilities “.
I say right now, and I do not say it to this Government but to the people of Australia, and I say it so that I may alarm them, that we are faced with the possibility that some of these centres will close down because of the inadequacy of the facilities available to them. I mention the fact that the total cost of providing treatment last year, throughout Australia, was £391,000, which was raised by voluntary contribution. I pay a very great tribute, as does every one associated with these centres, and as does every parent and every child, to those who have assisted in this very great work. But voluntary contributions have proved insufficient. Whether we can wring more money from the people by appeals I do not know. We feel that we have just about reached the limit of voluntary contributions and that we must find some other means of obtaining financial assistance. Let me suggest that the means is to be found in this medical benefits scheme.
The parents of afflicted children are prepared to carry a reasonable proportion of the financial burden. Let me suggest that provision should be made for a pre-existing disability to be treated at an authorized establishment, such as a spastic centre, if that establishment is conducted under medical supervision and the treatment is given under medical supervision, just as in a hospital. Let me point out that a spastic child or a child suffering from cerebral palsy is not a sick child and does not require hospitalization unless surgical treatment is necessary. Nor are these children mentally retarded children who can be placed in a mental institution. They are normal children, suffering only from some affection of the motor part of the brain which limits their control over their movements. We have spastics who would appear to be incapable of doing almost anything and who have taken Bachelor of Arts degree. There are others who are attending the Conservatorium of Music. Others are doing good jobs in civil life.
If I cannot do anything on purely humanitarian grounds, then let me advance an argument on purely economic grounds - although I hate to put forward this kind of argument. If these spastic centres were obliged to close down, the extra cost to the Government resulting from the extension of benefits under this act would be very great. There would be a great added cost to the parents as well. But the great tragedy, of course, would lie in the fact that hundreds and thousands of children would be denied the opportunity of receiving the specialized treatment available to them in the centres. If they sought private treatment, part of the cost of that treatment would have to be borne by the Government. Let members of the Government consider that aspect of the matter and reflect that a portion at least of the money that the Government would have to spend in that direction might be spent in the direction that I previously suggested. It could be made available to these various organizations to enable them to continue their operations.
Let me remind the Government, too, that unless they receive this specialized treatment every one of these children will become a charge, after reaching the age of sixteen years on the financial resources of the country. They will become invalid pensioners and eligible to receive the appropriate social service benefits. I suggest, therefore, that on purely economic grounds the Government would find it worthwhile to assist these organizations.
Let me say, though, that our centres do not exist for purely economic purposes. Behind the movement is only one intention, to assist these children and give them the opportunities to which they are entitled. They must be treated at an early age. The earlier they are treated, the more chance there is of achieving successful results. Once a child gets to the age of thirteen or fourteen it is almost impossible to achieve success. I say, therefore, that we want to give them every possible opportunity. We can do them no greater injury than to deny them these opportunities. We want to give them a sense of their own dignity, to let them feel that they are, to a large extent, independent, and do not have to rely on charity and government assistance all their lives. They will then become independent and productive members of the community, and, most important of all, they will be selfrespecting.
I hope, therefore, that the Minister and the Government will have another look at this legislation. I believe that assistance can be given, by means of regulations under the act, to these children, their parents and the spastic centres. I am appealing to the Government to do something along these lines. I do not suggest that the Government should remedy an injustice that exists, because this method of assisting spastics is comparatively new, not only in Australia but also in other countries. The spastic movement throughout the world is in its infancy. We believe that the work carried out in our institutions, and the exchange of knowledge between the various countries, will help to remove what could well be a great scourge, which could be as disastrous as tuberculosis and poliomyelitis unless it is tackled in the way in which we urge it should be tackled. Unfortunately, it is the most serious affliction from which our children are suffering to-day, but because the spastic movement is on a purely voluntary basis we are unable to obtain the statistics that are so necessary to enable us to see just what is happening with regard to this terrible affliction. The evidence before us, however, indicates that the number of afflicted persons is increasing.
This is a problem which must be tackled, and tackled early. It is being tackled in other countries on a more satisfactory basis than in Australia. I do not condemn any government in connexion wim mis matter, because it is a new problem. 1 do, though, deplore the fact that the people of the world, and not only of this country, have allowed these unfortunately afflicted persons to be shut up in rooms, hidden away in their houses or in backyards and never brought to public attention, simply because the people have not understood the problems of these children, who have minds, who can see and act and understand in the same way as normal persons, and who have an extra sensitiveness arising from the fact that they suffer from this physical disability. The way in which some of these people have been held hack in years past has been tragic. Our centres provide them with, if nothing else, at least social centres where they can mix with their own kind, and can feel that they are not very much different from those who are completely fit.
I do not regret having intruded this serious note into the debate which was proceeding, and which honorable members may continue after I conclude. I have introduced this serious note because the problem is terrifically important. We cannot afford to ignore it. The work cannot be left to those very few people who have undertaken the tremendous task of raising the money necessary for the centres. To give some idea of the amounts of money required, let me inform honorable members that the centre in Western Australia costs nearly £2,000 a week to run. We get no money from any government, nor have we ever got any money from any government. In very few countries has the spastic movement got any money from governments. I am trying to arouse the sympathy of every honorable member in this House. I do not suggest that an honorable member should ask himself what a certain government has done about the matter. I suggest that he himself has a personal responsibility to help solve this problem, and that he should use his best endeavours to see that the plight of these unfortunately handicapped people is alleviated, and that they are afforded the opportunities that we suggest should be made available to them. That effort can best be made, Sir, not by howling about what the other fellow has not done, but by searching our consciences and asking in our own hearts, “What have I done about this problem as a responsible individual in this community? I owe a rent for the space that I occupy in this world, and how do I pay that rent to my fellow men? Do I howl for the other fellow to do something, or do I do something myself? “ These are things that we should ask ourselves. I am satisfied that if we do this, Sir, and everybody accepts his responsibility, we shall find that there is no better country than Australia to live in. We must not continually try to pass our responsibility on to the other fellow, because the other fellow does not exist, in this sense, and each of us is the other fellow to every one else.
My plea goes even beyond a request to the Government to amend this bill. I urge the people to ask the Government, not just to amend this measure, but to provide in it something that will meet the needs of the case that I have submitted. I suggest that the people, if they like, write to their local members, whoever they may be, and ask them to support their local spastic centres. I suggest to the people that they should put their requests to the local authorities, to the Federal and State governments, and even to the World Health Organization, which is dealing with this problem. We all should get behind a world movement to tackle something which, I warn this House, may well be one of the most serious problems that our children will have to face in the future.
.- I wish to support briefly, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the case that has been made this afternoon and this evening by my colleagues on this side of the chamber. The only reason why we on this side do not oppose this bill straightout is that we agree with certain parts of it in which certain benefits are provided. Despite that, we are utterly opposed to this bill in principle. The whole principle of the contributory health scheme introduced in 1950 was opposed by us at the time, and we are still opposed to it. When Labour forms a government again, this scheme will be abolished in its present form, to the everlasting benefit of the ordinary people of Australia. This Government’s health scheme has benefited the doctors and the 80 or 90 approved benefit societies far more than it has benefited the great majority of the Australian people.
As the chairman of a hospital board in Tasmania, Mr. Deputy Speaker, I should like to say that, in the last six years, I have seen this Government’s health scheme working in all its ruthlessness to the disadvantage of the people who cannot afford to pay for hospital treatment, and whose costs are not met by hospital benefits. At our board meetings, we have dealt with many cases of people who could not afford to pay for their hospital treatment. The whole principle of this Government’s health scheme is bad. It is wrong and unjust to demand that the ordinary people of Australia must join a medical benefits society in order to obtain the Commonwealth benefit of 12s. a day. We have the fantastic situation, Sir, in which two people, whom I shall call A and B, from the same wage group in the community, side by side in the public ward of a hospital receiving treatment for the same complaint, get different benefits! Because A is a member of a medical benefits society, he receives the Commonwealth benefit of 12s. a day, and B receives only 8s. a day, because he is not a member of such a society.
– When Labour was in office, those people got nothing.
– Do Government supporters call this sort of thing justice?
– When Labour was in office, those people got nothing.
– All right, loud mouth!
– I can outdo loud mouth any time, Mr. Deputy Speaker.
-The honorable member should address the Chair.
– From 1941 to 1949, when Labour was in office, everybody received hospital treatment for nothing. That was fair and just, but fairness and justice do not exist under the scheme that this Government introduced in 1950. Right up to the present time, it has denied chronically ill people the justice to which they are entitled. For eight solid years, this Government has been denying chronically ill people Commonwealth assistance to enable them to receive proper hospital treatment, and many have died in that time. Only now, on the eve of an election, has this Government suddenly thought of the neglected people who languish in the no-man’s land where health benefits are concerned. Only now has the Government thought of bringing them into the health scheme. Previously, it gave them no thought, while it made many private individuals rich by its medical benefits scheme, under which it has provided health services for a whole group of people who have no interest in health services except for what they can get out of them to profit themselves. This Government’s scheme has brought into being a whole new group of scroungers and bludgers who bludge on the people of Australia.
– Order! I ask the honorable member to withdraw the term that he has just used. It is not parliamentary, and the Chair cannot tolerate it.
– Very well, I withdraw it, but you know what I mean, Mr. Deputy Speaker. I shall say, if I am allowed to do so, that it is blackmail to expect or demand that an individual shall join one of these approved benefit societies in order to receive 12s. a day benefit from the Commonwealth Government. Only about 80 per cent, of the people of Australia have joined such organizations. This is evidence that the Australian people either do not approve of the Government’s scheme or cannot afford to join approved societies in order to bring themselves under it. If the scheme were as good as Government supporters who have spoken this evening have told us it is, why are not all the people in it? It is obvious that they cannot afford to go into this scheme and pay for hospital treatment at the same time.
In conclusion, I wish to state my support of the remarks made by the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), who, earlier this evening, said that Labour cannot move towards any form or stage of nationalization without a referendum of the people.
– Is that in Labour’s platform?
– That is in our platform.
– I should like to hear the honorable member read to the House the part of the platform in which it is stated.
– I propose to read it briefly in order to clear up the point.
– Where is it printed?
– In the official report of the proceedings of the 22nd Commonwealth conference of the Australian Labour party, which I attended as a representative of the Tasmanian branch of the party, and which was held at Brisbane on 11th March and following days last year.
– That is not your platform.
– Order! I ask the honorable member for Wilmot how he relates this matter to the bill before the House.
– It is related to the bill, because it concerns Labour’s policy towards a federal health scheme. At page 83 of the report of the proceedings of the conference, we read, in the statement of the preamble to the federal platform of the party -
The Labor Party is constitutional in that it believes that its objectives must be attained by the constitutional utilisation of Federal, State and Local Governments; and that the Constitution should be altered by decisions of the Australian electorate.
Before any health nationalization scheme can be brought in, it must have the approval of the Australian people at a referendum.
The strange thing about Government supporters is that, when they do not want to believe a thing, they will not believe it, whether or not it is 100 per cent, fact or truth. And the time when they especially do not want to believe these things is on the eve of a federal election, when they want to bandy about the country their cry about the fear of communism - their old catch cry. Our platform stands for the democratic socialization of health, industry, production, distribution and exchange “to the extent necessary to eliminate exploitation and other anti-social features in those fields - in accordance with the Principles of Action, Methods and Progressive Reforms set out in this Platform “. That is the way we declare it. No Labour government could overnight or ruthlessly, without reference to the Australian people, nationalize any field of Australian industry, production or exchange. The High Court has ruled that way and we must obey the High Court’s ruling. In addition, our own platform contains that direction. It is quite useless for honorable members opposite to try to cry down the honorable member for Hindmarsh for his capable and fighting speech to-night.
I hope that after 22nd November we will have a government that will provide free hospitalization and free medicines throughout the whole of Australia.
– I do not want to detain the House for very long. However, there has been a statement of the official Labour attitude by a senior member of the Australian Labour party, in the person of the honorable member for Hindmarsh (Mr. Clyde Cameron), which should be either confirmed or disowned. If it is confirmed, it would make clear the current expression of the official policy of the Australian Labour party, and that related directly to the subject before the Chair. It would also give assurances to many members of the public, which they would wish to have, as to the methods that a Labour government, if it came to office in future years, would adopt in relation to matters set out in the federal platform of the Labour party. This is entirely linked with the subject before the Chair, because it is quite clear from the speeches of the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) and others who preceded him on the Opposition side that they do not approve of the health scheme propounded by this Government. To the extent that we can discover what is the official Labour policy on matters of health, it is to be found in the federal platform and objective of the Australian Labour party. Under the methods which are to be used to give effect to the objectives of the Labour party, we find the nationalization of public health.
– What about the principles of action?
– If time permitted, I would be prepared to read a good deal of this. I can assure honorable gentlemen opposite that I am not endeavouring to misrepresent the position. I have in my hand the statement of the federal platform and objective. It is not the latest statement; unfortunately, I have not been able to get that from the library because it is in the possession of the honorable member for Wilmot. However, this statement is as recent as the report of the proceedings held at Hobart on 15th March, 1955.
– Like you, it is out of date.
– Order! The honorable member will be out somewhere else in a minute.
– If the honorable member for Wilmot would enlighten me on the latest manifestations of the platform, it would be helpful, but, as far as I can ascertain, this is only out of date because a certain sugar coating has been given to the objective by bringing in the expression “ democratic “ before the word /’socialization”. The federal platform and objective stated as recently as the Hobart conference of March, 1955, substantially represents what after all has been the continuing objective of the Labour party since it adopted socialization in 1921. It is -
The Socialization of Industry, Production, Distribution and Exchange. . . .
There have been a number of interpretations of the objective in order to give some gloss to it and to soften its severity, and in recent years these words have been added -
Under the heading “ Principles of Action “ occurs one of the passages to which the honorable member for Hindmarsh turns to justify his claim that the Labour party would not and, indeed, could not nationalize any industry without first having obtained the approval of the people by referendum. Under “ Principles of Action “ appears the following passage: -
I hope that I have not misquoted the honorable gentleman. I do not think that there is any occasion to read out the remaining principles of action. They do not bear directly on this argument. I come then to the methods by which this objective, followed by the principle of action that I have read out, is to be applied. The relevant item under “ Methods “ is -
Nationalization of -
Presumably radio services include television services. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition (Mr. Calwell) has made it clear that the nationalization of television is amongst the methods by which the objective is to be attained.
– How can you do that without a referendum?
– This brings me directly to the point, and this is the only point with which I want to deal to-night. The honorable member for Hindmarsh has confirmed his statement by his interjection. He asks, “ How can you deal with that except by way of referendum? “ I suggest to him that there are various ways, as I am sure my colleague from Parramatta (Sir Garfield Barwick) would confirm, by which a socialist-minded government, determined to carry out a socialist policy, could achieve socialist objectives without recourse to referendum at all - that is, by direct executive act. Indeed, the Deputy Leader of the Opposition has gone on record as saying, “ If we can get nine years of Labour government in the Federal Parliament, we can change the whole face of Australia “. He did not qualify that by saying Labour would do it by way of referendum. If he is now agreeing with the honorable member for Hindmarsh that no industry would be nationalized without a referendum first indicating the approval of the people, I regard that as a major declaration of method by the Australian Labour party.
– The High Court made that clear.
– No, the High Court has not made that clear, with great respect. The High Court has not said that these things cannot be accomplished by executive act. For example, in order to nationalize the steel industry, Labour could adopt taxation and prices policies which would put the steel industry out of business. It could force the banks out of business by so using the Commonwealth Bank and its interest rates and so forth as to make it quite impossible for any private bank to carry on. We on this side of the House know something about this matter because I re-stated quite frankly for the benefit of honorable gentlemen opposite that we included in our policy statement in 1949 a declaration that we would endeavour to put through a constitutional reform which would make it necessary for a referendum of the people first to approve the nationalization of any industry.
– What has this to do with the National Health Bill?
– It has got this to do with the National Health Bill: Your party has declared its opposition to the health scheme. Your party’s policy on health is declared in its federal platform, which declares for the nationalization of public health services.
– How can you do that by executive act?
– The honorable member for Hindmarsh keeps returning to his refrain; but I have not heard much concurrence in it from honorable gentlemen opposite. That is what I am trying to get at because, I repeat, this is a major statement of Australian Labour party method. Will the Labour party now go on public record with an assurance that no industry in this country will be nationalized either by executive act or in any other manner unless there has first been a. referendum of the people in which they give their approval to that process of nationalization? That is what I invite honorable gentlemen opposite to tell us. If the honorable member for Hindmarsh is accurately stating the attitude of the Australian Labour party, I invite the federal leader and the federal deputy leader of the Australian Labour party to say that that is a correct interpretation of the methods which the Australian Labour party would apply to carry out itsfederal platform and objective.
I just add this: Each honorable member opposite has given his sworn pledge to the Australian Labour party. The pledgetakes a slightly different form, I understand, in different States. As I have only the Victorian form of the pledge in front of me, I shall quote that. According to this, “ The Official Constitution and Platform of the Australian Labour Party, State of Victoria “, the federal candidate’s pledge is as follows: -
I hereby pledge myself not to oppose the candidate selected by the recognized political labour organization, and if elected -
This is the pregnant passage - to do my utmost to carry out the principles embodied in the Australian Labour Party’s platform, and on .all questions affecting the platform- to vote as a majority of the Parliamentary Party may decide at a duly constituted Caucus meeting.
That, 1 understand, is an accurate statement of the substance, anyhow, of the pledge adopted by all honorable gentlemen opposite. If we turn from that pledge to the platform, we find in the platform a statement about the nationalization of public health services, putting aside for a moment the other fields in which there is to be nationalization under Labour. Therefore, it becomes a matter of first-rate importance to the Australian people to know whether nationalization by Labour will be preceded always by a referendum in which honorable gentlemen opposite receive a clear mandate on a specific issue - that is, a referendum in which the proposal to nationalize a particular industry or activity has been submitted to the people. I would welcome a clear declaration on this matter from the honorable gentlemen opposite, as would many hundreds of thousands of people throughout Australia who are prepared to look fairly at all the possibilities that the alternative government can offer, but who are certainly not going to entrust the destinies of this country to a party pledged to socialize vital industries and services without its first being authorized to do so as a result of gaining the specific approval of the people.
.- I feel that the speech delivered by the Deputy Leader of the Parliamentary Liberal party and the Leader of the House (Mr. Harold Holt) deserves some comment - not because- it was a worth-while contribution to the debate on the National Health Bill, but because it was a shrewd attempt by him to inject into this debate the sort of matters that are usually raised on the motion for the adjournment of the House, when the proceedings are not on the air. I refer to his references to nationalization, unity tickets and everything else. He seized this opportunity to put all that matter over the air, but if anybody else had attempted to do what he did, he would have very smartly moved a motion that the question be now put.
The right honorable gentleman really has not said anything that deserves comment, but what does warrant comment is the fact that he has misused the standing orders of the House in order to inject election propaganda into the debate. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) said very definitely that the Labour party does not oppose the passage of this bill.
– But other honorable members opposite did not say that. The honorable member for Wilmot did not say it.
– On this side we have some discipline. We have not got the sort of arrangement that exists in the Liberal party and the Australian Country party, whereby every member says his own piece and has his own point of view. We have decided a policy in regard to this bill, and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro expressed that policy on behalf of the Opposition. No honorable member on this side who followed him was under any obligation to repeat what was said at the outset.
– But do you subscribe to the undertaking given by the honorable member for Hindmarsh?
– I am not being crossexamined either by you or the honorable member for Parramatta. I have risen to state, in refutation of the Minister’s remarks, that the Labour party’s attitude to health and other questions will be stated, in respect of the next Parliament, by the Leader of the Opposition in his policy speech on 15th October. The Leader of the Opposition, when he states our policy in respect of health and every other matter, states a case to the people which, in effect, is an election contract. We undertake to do certain things within the lifetime of the Parliament, and nothing beyond those things. That has been our attitude at all times. We would never have been involved in the question of the nationalization of the banks in 1947 had not the private banking institutions seized upon a case, stated to the High Court by the Melbourne City Council, as an opportunity to challenge every section of the 1945 legislation. When the High Court had made its decision in respect of one matter, the Chifley Government believed that an attempt was being made to destroy the whole of the 1945 act, and action had to be taken to protect that particular piece of worthwhile legislation - so worth while that this Government has not attempted to alter it in its essentials. We will state our case in respect of health in due course. Our position in respect of this bill is that we support it for what good there is in it. But it is not good enough, and we will bring in a better bill when we get the opportunity to do so - and it will not be a bill that will nationalize public health or nationalize anything else.
– You are deserting your platform, surely?
– Well, I know that you are concerned with our platform. I am concerned with your sanity.
Mr. SPEAKER (Hon. John McLeay).Order!
– The Labour party has its policy, and we are not answering any hypothetical questions to-night. In the words of Newman’s famous hymn, “ Lead, kindly light”, which honorable members no doubt know -
I do not ask to see the distant scene One step enough for me.
We are dealing with the National Health Bill to-night, and the National Health Bill alone. Policy matters in respect of future years, questions of nationalization and all that sort of thing, have very little to do with the legislation now before us. But if it is true’ that in 1949 this Government did propose to bring forward a constitutional amendment to prevent socialization- and I believe it did- may I ask why it has never brought the- legislation down? What is wrong with it? The Government parties made’ that promise in 1949, and also a promise to put value: back into the £1, but they have forgotten those promises.
– We discovered that you could defeat the will of the people in these indirect ways that I mentioned.
– You will discover a few more things in the next few weeks. One of the things you will discover is that you people on that side of the House are not as popular as you think you are. Another thing you will discover is that you cannot exploit communism and nationalization for ever. You have done it successfully for nine years, but the people are beginning to realize that they have been fooled- for a long time, and they will not be fooled any longer. There is a virtue in nationalization.
Government Supporters. - Ah!
– There is, and the British conservative government has discovered it. That government went into office to denationalize and desocialize a lot of things, but it has denationalized only the steel industry and one or two other big profit-making- industries. It has supported and maintained the nationalization of the coal mines of Great Britain, and of quite a number of other things as well. The Premier of South Australia, on one famous occasion a few years ago, nationalized the tramways system of South Australia, and he was completely right in what he did.
We of the Labour party say that in the economy, there is a sector for public enterprise and a sector for private enterprise. We would enlarge the public sector more than our opponents would do. They would enlarge the private sector more than we would. We say that those things ought to be nationalized that the public interest demands should be nationalized. Those things should be nationalized that private enterprise cannot run profitably or has run badly. We do not want to nationalize the lolly shop or every small industry in the country. If honorable members on the Government side have nothing better to put before the people than the nonsense and rubbish’ they talk in this Parliament, the sooner most of them pass into political’ oblivion the better.
– The honorable member for East Sydney - not “Ed.” Ward but “ Eventually “ Ward - does want to nationalize small farms.
– I rise- to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. Did you hear the remark that was made by the honorable member for East Sydney?
Mr. Peters. - I rise to a point of order. Is the honorable member for Mackellar (Mr. Wentworth) in order in interjecting from a place other than his own? And are you in order in taking any notice of any reply made to an interjection?
-Order! The honorable member for Scullin will resume his seat until the Chair deals with the first point of order. Did the honorable member for East Sydney make the reference to an honorable member’ as stated by the honorable member for Moreton.
– I did.
– Then the honorable member for East Sydney will apologize.
– I do, and I ask that the honorable member for Wentworth be corrected by you, Mr. Speaker, for repeating a lie which was answered in a personal explanation in this House recently.
– I rise to a point of order, Mr. Speaker. The honorable member for Wentworth did not open his mouth.
– Order! I call the Minister for Health.
– in reply - When the honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) was speaking this afternoon, I said that I would refer to one point that he made. That was the question of the payment of hospital benefits for the inmates of benevolent institutions. As I pointed out in my second-reading speech, the bill provides for hospital benefits and is not intended to apply to institutions which are not regarded as hospitals. There are a great many pensioners who live in convalescent homes and receive their pension of £4 7s. 6d. a week. A great many of those convalescent homes are approved by the Commonwealth Department of Health as private hospitals and where the patients are enrolled as members of a hospital insurance organization, they receive hospital benefits as well. It is not proposed to interfere with those institutions or the inmates of them, but it is not proposed to go further and extend hospital benefits to homes which are not hospitals. I am sure that the House agrees that that is a reasonable provision.
The amendments which are being moved under this bill are to provide hospital and medical benefits and, as the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has remarked, there are, in addition to the type of institutions I have cited, other institutions part of which are approved as hospitals. Now, where part of the institution is approved as a hospital, hospital benefits are payable; but this is a bill for the provision of hospital benefits and it is not intended to provide hospital benefits in respect of homes for aged people which, in fact, are liberally assisted by this Government under another act.
I want to deal with another matter which was referred to by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro in opening the debate for the Opposition this afternoon. Although these are not the actual words he used, I think I can claim that they convey fairly the sense of what he said and if they do not, he can correct me. He said the Australian Labour party believes in voluntary insurance organizations and in the encouragement of private societies, but objects to the necessity for individuals to have to join them to obtain the payment of Commonwealth benefits. I think that is a fair summary of his statements.
– It is not exactly what I said, but it is a fair summary.
– The honorable member for Eden-Monaro went on to say that if the Labour party came to power, is would put an end to this system. If those are not his exact words, I think that my statement is a fair representation of what he said was the attitude of the Labour party towards this system, of obtaining public benefits through societies in this way.
– Making it necessary to belong to a private society to extract the Commonwealth benefit.
– I must say that, personally, I cannot see why there is something wrong with the assistance of a type of social service which is, in effect, a self-help social service with public funds. That is, of course, the whole basis on which funds are supplied to the national health scheme. If honorable gentlemen opposite object to this use of public funds, they have every right to object to the Aged Persons Homes Act, although I have never heard them do so because, in fact, until somebody raises some money and spends it, no public funds are available to them under that act. When they do raise money and spend it, those institutions can receive assistance from public funds. The cases are strictly analogous.
The second thing I want to say about the statement which the honorable gentleman from Eden-Monaro agrees I have correctly presented is that I hope that every one realizes what he has actually said and what is the implication of it because he has, in fact, foreshadowed the end of the voluntary organizations so far as national health insurance is concerned.
– Not at all.
– The friendly societies can end what they are doing because some other method of providing funds is to be introduced by the Labour party in government. The Blue Cross organization can shut up shop and go out of existence. I hope that the hundreds of thousands of contributors to that organization can appreciate that fact. The great voluntary societies which come under this national health scheme can wind up because the Australian Labour party will no longer continue a health scheme through which those societies handle public funds. There are hundreds of thousands of people in the community who are insured in those organizations. Friendly societies have operated them for years, but the Australian Labour party is now serving notice on them that those activities can come to an end under whatever health scheme the Australian Labour party produces.
I hope that is appreciated by the friendly societies and other organizations and the enormous numbers of persons who are insured with them, because what other interpretation can be put on the honorable member’s statement? Either the Labour government - if we are unfortunate enough to have one - will set up some other method of making these payments or it will introduce some compulsory system under which people will join the organizations the Labour party thinks they should join. What has happened - and I repeat it - is that the Australian Labour party has served notice on the friendly societies and benefit organizations that, if the Labour party is elected to power, their day is ended.
I want to say one or two things about the Pensioner Medical Service because honorable gentlemen have spoken about it to-day and have been rather critical about it. I want to remind the House that those who enjoy the full benefits of the Pensioner Medical Service under the present National Health Act number in this community almost 700,000 people. I would think that that means that there are 700,000 people upon whom this Government has conferred great benefits and who previously received no benefits of this sort at all.
During the debate this afternoon, honorable gentlemen opposite said that a means test was imposed on pensioners before they could get pensioner medical service benefits. That is true, but it is nothing to the means test that was imposed by a Labour government before pensioners could get a pension at all. In fact, although there is a means test, it applies only to those people over and above this number of approximately 700,000, who have means which are estimated to enable them to pay contributions to benefit societies.
What are the rates that it is necessary for people to pay in order to belong to a benefit society? A single person can insure himself for hospital benefits for 3d. a week. To-day we have heard from the other side of the House a great story about how people are too poor to afford the rates of contribution. I put it as a matter of common sense to the House that if a person is so poor that he cannot afford 3d. a week, surely he will be in the pensioner medical scheme anyway, or be provided for by the repatriation scheme, or some other scheme of that sort. The lowest rate for which a single person can insure himself for medical benefits is 9d. a week. So, this story about deprivation of benefits because they are so expensive really falls a little flat.
Having said this about the pensioner medical scheme, I should like to point out that although there are some exclusions, they apply only to those who have income in excess of their pension out of which some small contribution might reasonably be expected to be made. There are, in fact, only about 50,000 persons who are pensioners and who are unable to participate in the scheme, and about 700,000 who are pensioners and who are able to participate in the scheme. Fourteen out of every fifteen are able to participate, and for those remaining the rates of contribution to a benefit organization are extremely low.
I say finally two things about the pensioner medical scheme. The first is that in spite of the criticism that honorable gentlemen opposite have offered about it, they, when in government, never thought of any pensioner medical scheme at all. They never thought of providing medical services for pensioners. So, for whatever criticisms they have to offer now, it is a little late in the day. The second and final thing I want to say about the pensioner medical scheme is this: Through your indulgence, Mr. Speaker, which we have all appreciated, we have been able to debate the scheme during this afternoon and to-night, but the plain fact, if I may take the liberty of saying so, is that this bill has nothing at all to do with the pensioner medical scheme; it is about an entirely different matter.
So I pass from the pensioner medical scheme and say a few words about what my friend the honorable member for Port Adelaide (Mr. Thompson) said this afternoon. If I may say so, he made the only constructive speech that came from the opposite side of the House during the whole course of the debate.
– Are you trying to destroy him?
– It is apparently easy for people in the party opposite to be destroyed, without anybody outside the party trying to do it. They are continually destroying each other. One instance of that occurred this afternoon. If I may refer to it again. The honorable member for Eden-Monaro approved of the principle of people not being able to make a profit, as we call it, out of hospital insurance, but the honorable member for East Sydney condemned any action which would prevent it. I leave it to honorable members opposite to fight it out amongst themselves.
I want to refer to some- things that the honorable member for Port Adelaide said. The first relates to the provision of proprietary medicines for pensioners. It is a fact that there are some proprietary medicines which are not available as pharmaceutical benefits to pensioners, but pensioners have available to them the entire range of general pharmaceutical benefits which are available to the whole population, a special formulary which comprises a very extensive list of special pharmaceutical benefits for pensioners, and any drug which is the subject of a monograph in the British pharmacopoeia, and which a doctor may prescribe without reference to the special formulary, if he wishes to do so. This covers almost the entire range of medicine. The only drugs not included are certain proprietary preparations, and the practice is that these should not be made pharmaceutical benefits without the advice of the specially appointed committee.
It is true to say that some doctors may not agree with the committee, but surely the Government, if it is to use public funds to pay for pharmaceutical benefits, must be guided by the advice of the specially skilled people appointed to guide it. This committee consists of most expert people, actively engaged in practice, and I may tell the honorable gentleman that they do not rely only on their own judgment. They frequently take the advice of such eminent bodies as the Royal College of Physicians and the Royal College of Surgeons. So nobody can say that adequate .provision is not made. As I said by interjection to the honorable gentleman this afternoon, I believe it is true to say that where a drug is not included on the list, there is almost invariably on the list and available as a pharmaceutical benefit a completely adequate alternative.
I want to refer briefly to what the honorable member for Bradfield (Mr. Turner) said about the institution of a higher table. This matter has received some thought by my department and by the Government, but it is outside the scope of these amendments. I believe that in insurance it is a good maxim to proceed step by step. The present amendment will provide a great deal more benefit to a great many more people. It is not correct to say, as the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) said to-night, that a great many people were excluded from the operation of the scheme and were unable to benefit by it at all. Commonwealth benefit has always been available to persons suffering chronic and pre-existing ailments. The Government has never excluded them. What the Government is doing now is to make them eligible not only for Commonwealth benefit but also for fund benefit.
– The funds rejected them before.
– That is so. The funds rejected them, because the funds had to act on insurance and actuarial principles. Nobody condemns them for doing that. The Government is now making it possible for the funds to extend their benefits.
I do not think that on this second reading it is necessary for me to say very much more, but I want to make one reference to the National Welfare Fund. It has been said in the course of this debate that although the National Welfare Fund pays out now far greater sums than it did under the previous administration, it is no more effective. I thought that that was a most extraordinary statement. Not only is the fund a much larger fund, but also it provides for a much larger range of social services. It provides, in fact, for the entire national health scheme. It provides, for instance, for all the Salk vaccine used throughout Australia. It did not provide for any of these things under a Labour administration. I really cannot understand why any one should now say it is less effective. The plain fact is that the Labour party, which is now grudgingly accepting these amendments to the national health scheme was, during its own term of office, completely unable to produce a national health scheme which was acceptable to the people of Australia. In fact, one of the greatest reasons for its dismissal from office in 1949 was the fact that it attempted to introduce a health scheme which was quite unacceptable not only to the professional classes, not only to the doctors, but also to the great majority of the electors. Any criticism that honorable members opposite have to offer of this scheme falls rather flat. Those people who have not been able to introduce a health scheme of their own have little right to criticize any alleged deficiencies in a health scheme introduced by others.
– I wish to make a personal explanation.
– Does the honorable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes, I have been misrepresented by the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) in relation to two matters. In the first place the Minister stated that I had foreshadowed the end of voluntary benefit organizations and had stated a policy for the destruction of friendly societies and Blue Cross organizations. That statement is entirely untrue and is in direct contradiction with the statement that I made in the House earlier to-day. In the second place, the Minister declared that I had agreed that a contributor should not be allowed to make a profit out of his membership of a benefit society. That statement is also entirely incorrect and completely misrepresents what I said. On the first point, I told the House this afternoon that the Labour party, while believing in voluntary insurance and encouraging citizens to belong-
– I rise to order. Is this a personal explanation?
-The honorable member is making a personal explanation. I ask him not to enter into debate. He should confine himself to the matters in respect of which he claims to have been misrepresented.
– The Minister misrepresented me when he stated that I had foreshadowed the end of voluntary benefit organizations and had stated a policy for their destruction. What I said was that the Labour party, whilst believing in voluntary insurance and encouraging citizens to belong to private societies, was utterly opposed to the indirect compulsion in the present scheme which withholds the Commonwealth benefit, which the citizen has paid for by his taxes, unless he first joins a private organization. I added that the Labour party had maintained its objection to that system ever since the legislation was introduced eight years ago, and would eliminate that obnoxious provision. In other words, the Labour party will maintain the voluntary societies which the Minister says it will destroy, and in the second place-
– I rise to order. The honorable member is complaining about misrepresentation and he is quoting what he said, which shows that the Minister was correct.
– I ask the honorable member for Eden-Monaro not to enter into a debate.
– The second point made by the Minister was that I had agreed that a contributor should not be allowed to make a profit out of his membership of a benefit society. I never said anything of the kind. I fully believe that a man who pays his fees to a benefit organization should be allowed to receive the full benefit from that organization. What I did say was that in the special cases now to be provided for by this legislation, where a man has exhaused all his benefit rights from a society and where the Commonwealth now comes in to make up his requirements in that respect, the benefit payable to him should be limited to the actual additional cost of his treatment.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
– There are a number of points of great importance in this legislation which have not been clarified during the secondreading debate. In the first place, I directed attention this afternoon to the Minister’s statement that the new benefits to be provided by this bill will not be payable for accommodation provided at a benevolent home, a convalescent home, a home for aged persons, a rest home, or a similar institution. The Minister interjected and informed me that he would, at a later stage, give the completely convincing reason why this should be so. Instead, the Minister has contradicted the statement that he made in his own second-reading speech.
Order! The honorable member must not make a second-reading speech.
– The Minister explained that the benefits provided under existing legislation are in most cases adequate to meet the cost of treatment provided at those homes. Thus it was clearly shown by the Minister that those homes to which he referred are covered by the existing hospital benefit legislation. The Minister said also that existing benefits will be continued. It is therefore perfectly clear, if we accept that statement, that people who are able to receive hospital benefits in certain institutions are to be deprived of the additional benefits provided by this legislation in exactly the same institutions. The Minister has not given any clarification of that point, and I hope that before the committee stage is completed he will do so.
Earlier in the debate, the Minister referred to the provision of assistance under the scheme for homes for aged people. I wish to point out that the provision of assistance for homes for aged people has nothing to do with compulsory membership of a private society. There is no analogy between the scheme for aid to societies providing homes for aged people and the present legislation, which contains the provision that a person is not entitled to receive Commonwealth benefit unless he belongs to a private society. That is a clear difference between the Opposition and the Government and the point made by the Opposition on that aspect will be maintained.
The Minister referred to the means test applying to the pensioner medical benefits scheme. He stated that that means test is in no way as severe as the means test imposed on age pensioners by the preceding Labour government. The fact is that ever since October or November, 1955, this Government has shut out from the pensioner medical scheme every pensioner with an income of £2 a week. That is a far more stringent means test than was ever applied by the preceding Labour government. When the Labour government established the means test the £1 was worth more than twice its value to-day. This Government has imposed a very serious hardship and injustice on many pensioners by this very stringent means test. The means test was imposed, as the Government admitted at the time, at the direct command of the British Medical Association, which declared that unless this means test was imposed it would no longer co-operate in the national medical scheme of this Government.
.- The Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron), in his reply to the criticism offered during the second-reading debate - to which I will not make other than passing reference - deliberately declined to answer certain criticism that has been levelled against the Government by an important organization in this country over the general handling of its health scheme. I am referring to the Railway and Tramway Employees Hospital Fund. That organization makes some very serious charges against the Minister and his department regarding the administration of the scheme generally. The organization favours this legislation. It was quite happy to come into the original scheme provided by the Government. But the organization complains that it has been harassed in carrying on its ordinary work. One of the things it is now complaining about is that it is to be denied the opportunity of continuing to give to its members benefits that are much more generous than the benefits now proposed by the Government. The organization has been told that if it does not fall in with the Government’s plan it will lose its registration. The organization claims that if it carries out the wishes of the Department of Health its administration costs will be increased by £10,000 a year. This is the most successful organization of its kind in the country. It has been running for more than 70 years. None of its officers is paid. Its administration costs are approximately 10 per cent, less than those of any other existing fund. Yet the department continues to harass it. The department wants the organization to supply certain statistics. If the fund was not operating efficiently and successfully there might be some reason for the Government’s interference, but surely the fund can be left alone in regard to its internal administration. That is all it is asking. In addition, they claim that they have made more provision for their members than is available under the Government scheme. One of the things the Government has been insisting upon is that this organization should have larger reserves than it at present possesses. But it has been operating for 70 years and has never failed to meet its obligations to make payments to its members. In fact, it has gone beyond what it is legally obliged to pay. Its claim is that its reserves are adequate, and if it is to have any additional income this should be used to expand benefits to its members.
Let me mention some of the things which this organization does which will be lost under this scheme unless the individual member is given the choice of deciding whether he wants to be covered by the Government scheme or remain as a beneficiary under the fund.
– I rise to order. I cannot find anything in the bill to which the remarks of the honorable member for East Sydney are relevant. The bill has nothing to do with the Railways and Tramways Employees Hospital Benefits Fund; it deals with special accounts. Consequently, I submit that the honorable member for East Sydney is not dealing with the clauses of the bill.
– I point out that the bill deals with benefits. When we are considering the bill as a whole, surely an honorable member is entitled to say that the benefits do not go far enough. His remarks are not to be limited necessarily to what is specified in the legislation. The honorable member may proceed.
– I am asking the Government to give the individual member the option of deciding whether he wants to be covered by this scheme. Under the Government’s scheme, as soon as a man turns 65 he must transfer his membership from one of these registered organizations to the government scheme. The Government lays down that a member should not make profit out of this government organization and consequently, should not receive a benefit in excess of that stipulated or prescribed in the legislation or in the regulations made under the legislation.
On numerous occasions, over the years, the organization “to which I refer has provided benefits for its members who go into repatriation hospitals and get their treatment for their disabilities. The committee which controls this fund has paid the benefit because it has taken into account the particular circumstances of the member concerned. When a man at the age of 65 retires from the service, he goes on to a reduced rate. If he is not obliged to pay it, I take it that the organization has to make up the difference. He could be immeasurably worse off under the government scheme than he is at the moment. Surely if the Government argues that its scheme is bestowing benefits on members of the community, the best people to judge that are those who will be affected by it. They are the members of these organizations who, when they reach 65 years of age, ought to be able, themselves, to decide whether they want to remain members of those funds or be transferred to the Government’s scheme. That is all they are asking. The Railways and Tramways Employees Hospital Benefits Fund is prepared to accept this arrangement. It does not want to force its old1 members into the government scheme. It is prepared to retain them as members and it has the means to provide additional benefits for them.
I ask the Minister whether the Government is prepared to agree to these men making their own decision or whether it wants to impose upon them a civil conscription and force them to come under the operations of the Government’s scheme.
Motion (by Dr. Donald Cameron) proposed -
That the House do now adjourn.
.-I desire to take this opportunity to return to a discussion of a repatriation case–
Motion (by Mr. Harold Holt) put -
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr. Speaker - Hon. John McLeay.)
Majority . . 27
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
House adjourned at 11.41 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated: -
Snowy Mountains Scheme.
k asked the Minister representing the Minister for National Development, upon notice -
– The Minister for National Development has replied . as follows: -
m asked the Minister for Labour and National Service, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Seafarers’ Identity Documents Convention 1958 (No. 108), and
Wages, Hours of Work and Manning (Sea) Convention (Revised), 1958 (No. 109).
The Australian Government delegates supported the adoption of Convention No. 109 and abstained upon the vote for the adoption of No. 108.
m asked the Minister for Social Services, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
a asked the acting Treasurer, upon notice -
– The answers to the honorable member’s questions are as follows: -
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 23 September 1958, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1958/19580923_reps_22_hor21/>.