30th Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr Lucock) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
The Acting Clerk- Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That the decision to withdraw the Australian Trader from the Tasmanian service:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled will move to restore the Australian Trader to the Tasmanian service.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon, Mr Martin, Mr Morris, Mr Stewart and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the House will urge the Government to retain at least the original Medibank scheme.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Mr Beazley. Petition received.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We the undersigned, citzens of the Commonwealth by this our humble petition respectfully showeth:
That Medibank has proved to be the cheapest and most efficient means of bringing health care to Australian citizens and that the citizens of Australia have received Medibank as a great and valued social reform.
That Medibank has proved itself to be a far superior system of health care than was offered by the private funds prior to July 1975.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will observe the promise made by the Prime Minister in his policy speech that ‘We will maintain Medibank and ensure the standard of health care does not decline ‘.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray, by Dr Jenkins and Mr Keith Johnson. Petitions received.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives, in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth do humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon, Mr Morris and Mr Antony Whitlam.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That the plan to obliterate the traditional weights and measures of this country is causing and will cause widespread inconvenience, confusion, expense and distress.
That there is no certainty that any significant benefits or indeed any benefits at all will follow the use of the new weights and measures.
That the traditional weights and measures are eminently satisfactory.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed, and that the Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional and familiar units to be restored to those areas where the greatest inconvenience and distress are occurring, that is to say, in meteorology, in road distances, in sport, in the building and allied trades, in the printing trade, and in retail trade.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Street and Mr Baillieu.
To the Honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that: The Budget will increase unemployment to unprecedented and crisis proportions at a time when hundreds of thousands of Australians, especially school-leavers, young workers and apprentices, are without work; the Budget completes the dismantling of Medibank as a simple, effective universal health insurance scheme, providing basic coverage for the total community; the Budget, by its heavy cuts in urban and transport programs, will worsen the quality of life available to many Australians; the Budget will compel State governments to reduce their services and increase charges; the Budget reduces spending on Aboriginal affairs by 30 per cent and returns expenditure on Aborigines to pre- 1972 days; the Budget seriously disadvantages migrant groups, most notably in employment and health, and leaves room for concern over the future of ethnic radio; the Budget, despite the Government’s earlier rhetoric about defence threats to Australia, continues to hold the size of the armed services at present levels; and the Budget, despite all the above, still cannot be expected to reduce Australia’s annual inflation rate below 12 per cent. Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the 1976 Budget be redrafted to provide for economic recovery within the guidelines laid down by the Australian Labor Government’s 1975 Budget.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les Johnson and Mr Morris.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth: The urgent need for a community owned and operated public access radio broadcasting station to service the mid-western suburbs of Sydney and in particular the municipalities of Ashfield, Burwood, Concord, Drummoyne and Strathfield.
Your petitioners most humbly pray that the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled should grant a licence for this purpose to 2RDJ FM Community Radio.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Abel.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That whereas uranium found in vast quantities in Australia is the raw material for the nuclear fission reaction.
And whereas presently assured reserves of uranium in Australia represent a potential production of over 540 000 kilograms of Plutonium 239 if utilized in light water reactors overseas.
And whereas the maximum permissible inhalation of Plutonium 239 is 0.00000025 gram.
And whereas Plutonium 239 is one of the most dangerous substances human society has ever created, causing mutations and cancers.
And whereas there are no methods of safely and absolutely confining Plutonium from the biosphere for the requisite quarter of a million years.
And whereas Plutonium coming in contact with the air forms an aerosol cloud of micron-sized particles, its most dangerous form.
And whereas the export of uranium may return to us an import of Plutonium particles dispersed in the global environment via the circulation of the atmosphere.
And whereas there are no sure safeguards against the military use of nuclear fission and the nuclear proliferation represents a prime environmental threat to all forms of life on the only earth available to us.
And that it is therefore an act of self-preservation to demand a halt to all exports of uranium except for bio-medical uses.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members, in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Baillieu.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That whereas the natural environment of Fraser Island is so outstanding that it should be identified as pan of the World Natural Heritage, and whereas the Island should be conserved for the enjoyment of this and future generations.
Your petitioners humbly pray that the members in the House assembled, will take the most urgent steps to ensure:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Cass.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth: That the undersigned persons believe that:
The $300 limit on income tax deductibility in respect of personal residential land and water rates is unrealistic and is a discriminatory income tax penalty.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will take steps to see that the aforesaid limitation is removed entirely or substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Connolly.
To the honourable Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned electors of the Commonwealth respectfully showeth:
Whereas your petitioners respectfully request consideration be given to:
Therefore your petitioners pray your honourable House to legislate accommodation of these matters under the provisions of Federal law.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Giles.
To the Speaker and the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that many Australians are concerned at the implications for the Australian Apple and Pear Industry of recommendations to the Commonwealth Government by the Industries Assistance Commission that the Apple and Pear Stablisation Scheme be phased out over a period of two years.
We your petitioners do therefore humbly pray that the Commonwealth Government:
Reject the IAC proposals which if implemented will cause destruction and not reconstruction of the apple and pear industry
Adopt the alternative proposals put forward by the industry to provide a means of restructuring the industry to meet the changes forced upon it by outside circumstances.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Groom.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled: The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully urge that:
There be continuing and expanding support for child care of all forms with particular emphasis on the needs of children whose parents either work or are furthering their education.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Haslem.
To the honourable the Speaker and members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectively showeth:
That the decision of the Government to introduce a 2.5 per cent Levy on incomes to finance Medibank and to offer private health insurance as an alternative to Medibank.
Your petitioners call upon the Australian Government
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Dr Jenkins.
Dockyards at Newcastle
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Newcastle respectfully showeth:
That shipbuilding and repairs play a vital role in the economic stability of the Newcastle region.
That a recent study by the Hunter Valley Research Foundation showed that 50 000 people were partially or wholly maintained by the State Dockyard.
That stability is at present in jeopardy, as a new ship order is required within the next few weeks if serious unemployment and hardship is to be avoided.
That the previous Government’s plan for the building of a graving dock in Newcastle should be continued as proper ship repair facilities are a vital factor in the maintenance of a viable shipbuilding industry.
That the Government’s election pledge to restore business and employment can be implemented in Newcastle if new orders and a graving dock are granted.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government place immediate orders with the Newcastle State Dockyard and implement the previous Government’s plan to build a graving dock in Newcastle.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Morris.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your Petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government take all necessary and urgent action to ensure the continuation of service from each of the Community Health Centres and make such finance available to allow the establishment of such Centres in permanent accommodation.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Simon.
To the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled. We, the undersigned citizens of the Commonwealth of Australia do humbly submit:
Full day care
Occasional day care
Family day care
Parent Education programs
Mobile pre-school units,
And any other areas concerned with the total development of the child.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. byMrWallis.
-Has the Prime Minister noticed the findings reported in the Australian Medical Association Journal that the death rate among newly born children on Cape York Peninsula is about twice as high as in the Brisbane area, that the death rate among the older infant group is almost 8 times as high on the Peninsula as it is in Brisbane, and that in one small area on the Peninsula with a high Aboriginal population there are 100 infant deaths for every thousand births? Since Queensland is the only State with which the Australian Government has been unable to negotiate a transfer of responsibility for Aboriginal affairs, will the Prime Minister now raise the issue with the Premier of Queensland in the light of these shameful findings and the disturbing inferences that can be drawn from them about the administration of Aboriginal affairs by the Queensland Government?
– I shall examine the particular matters to which the honourable gentleman has referred and provide him with a full answer.
-Has the Minister for Transport seen Press reports of statements attributed to State members of Parliament asserting that the additional $7. 5m in funds for roads in Victoria this year is a myth? Are these reports correct? If not, can the Minister indicate what additional moneys were made available to Victoria in this financial year?
– I have seen a report in which a State member of Parliament made the claim that the extra $7. 5m which is to be paid to Victoria for road funds this year is a myth. I am at a bit of a loss to understand how he came to that conclusion. When I approved the program for Victoria, I put out a Press statement pointing out that the $ 17.2m that was to be made available for rural local road programs in Victoria would be made up of $4.7m of Commonwealth money and the balance of $ 12.5m would be made up from State funds. I then pointed out that a further allocation of $7.5m would be made available to Victoria. I said at the time, and I have said it several times since, that the Federal Government, having looked at the figures and the allocations for the various road categories had concluded, and rightly so, that the level of funding to local government had been seriously depleted over previous years under the Act brought down by the Labor Government. I asked therefore that the $7.5m be allocated to rural local roads in the main and urban local roads if the State felt there was some justification for it.
The sum of $ 1 7.2m has been made available. The program has been approved. I have written to the State Transport Minister asking him for a program for the extra $7.5m. So in total, if all the money goes to local councils outside the metropolitan area they will receive $24. 7m. I do not know how on earth anybody can describe that sum of $7.5m as a myth. I think that State members of Parliament who make these sorts of statements need to go back to their Minister and get their facts straight. Since taking over the Transport portfolio I have deliberately tried to withdraw from intruding into the detailed administration of State programs. We have in fact tidied up the Act in this Parliament to stop unnecessary intrusion. It disturbs and dismays me to have these sorts of misleading statements made to local government councils. The fact will emerge that local government councils will end up with a substantially better deal than they could have dreamed possible under the Act as it presently stands.
– I ask the Minister for Aboriginal Affairs: Which persons, other than Mr David Hay, or which organisations, are undertaking the reviews and inquiries into the objectives, priorities, past administration and delivery of services of his Department? When does he expect the results of these reviews and inquiries to be available to the Government so that it can honour its undertaking to allocate further funds after consideration of these reports and that of Mr Hay?
– The inquiry which was conducted by Mr Hay was announced in February. He completed his inquiry in June and presented the report to me and to the Prime Minister. Since that time through interdepartmental committees we have been studying some of the recommendations contained in the report. I will be putting submissions to the Government very shortly for the provision of additional funds which the Treasurer in his Budget Speech, which I in this House and which the Prime Minister in this House and outside it, have said will be provided. The Government will be honouring that undertaking. Additional funds will be provided in due course when the Government makes decisions on the submissions that I put to it.
– Is the Treasurer aware of the claim made by the New South Wales Local Government Association and the Shires Association of New South Wales that the Commonwealth contribution to local government in that State has shown a massive net decrease totalling $60m from 1975-76 to 1976-77? Are these 2 local government bodies in New South Wales justified in making this claim?
– I have seen a copy of the news sheet published by the Local Government Association of New South Wales to which the honourable gentleman has referred. The claims made by the Association give an entirely misleading and completely inaccurate picture of the assistance that has been provided to local governments within New South Wales. When comparing funds available this year account must necessarily be taken of non-recurring payments that were made last year under the Regional Employment Development scheme and also under the unemployment relief programs. If adjustment is made in respect of the operation of these 2 schemes in the State of New South Wales last year, it can be said and sustained that total assistance to local government in that State has, in fact, increased by $5.4m or by more than 10 per cent. The same picture is true for Australia as a whole. After adjustment, total assistance provided to local government throughout Australia increased by $30m. Local government organisations throughout the country have welcomed the new tax sharing arrangements that have been introduced by the Commonwealth Government. I emphasise again that local government will have an entitlement to a share of personal income tax and, therefore, a greater degree of freedom in determining the manner in which these funds are to be spent. In untied grants the sum of $140m is being provided this year. This amount is 75 per cent higher than the amount of untied funds provided last year. All in all, I believe, the Government has given a much better and a much fairer deal to local government. The claims made by the associations concerned are distorted and without foundation.
-The Treasurer will be aware that in a speech made to the Retail Traders Association in Sydney this week the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Cotton, suggested that a major boost to the economy could be provided by the fashion industry. I ask the Treasurer: Does this suggest that the Government believes that planned obsolescence is really a dynamic factor in a capitalist economy such as ours?
-When I think of planned obsolescence I think, obviously, of the Australian Labor Party in this Parliament. There could be no better and fairer reflection of what happens to some parties in a democracy. If ever I have seen one, the Australian Labor Party is an example of planned obsolescence. We always work as a team in this place and one of my colleagues reminds me that there was a certain degree of ‘unplanning’, to use his own phrase. The honourable gentleman would know full well that the concept of obsolescence has its part to play in the market place. If the honourable gentleman thinks about what my colleague has been saying to the retail industry he will appreciate that my colleague has been indicating to that industry that it has a very important and significant part to play in the overall economic recovery. Its capacity in the marketing field is, of course, a capacity that we would look to see being used during the short period ahead.
As far as retail sales are concerned, if one looks at the situation on a seasonally adjusted basis one will see that in the 3 months ended July retail sales rose by 3.6 per cent. I should mention also that the national account statistics show an increase in private consumption expenditure of 2.7 per cent in the June quarter. I have mentioned to the House on many previous occasions, as has the Prime Minister, that the available evidence is not unmixed and the signs of recovery are not unequivocal at the present time. But, in short, the available evidence does show that consumption in real terms has been growing during 1976. 1 suggest to the honourable gentleman that he ought to pay more attention to what is happening in the general economy instead of looking at concepts of planned obsolescence which do not have a great part to play at the present time.
-Has the Minister for Defence seen reports that claim that the expenditure pattern of this Government on defence is the same as or similar in economic terms to that which was set by the previous Labor Government? Could the Minister, in a few words, indicate whether that is correct?
– I did see a statement attributed to the honourable member for Oxley along the lines suggested by the honourable member for Lilley. The statement contained so many inaccuracies and so many imbecilities that when I first read it I was deeply convinced that it was a forgery; but I made inquiries, as would seem proper, and I was forced to conclude that the statement was indeed original and that it had been prepared by the honourable member for Oxley. I was then further obliged to conclude that he must have been in a very wild, chimerical mood when he prepared the statement. But in my charity I brought to mind the facts that, as Treasurer, he said that we would have a Budget deficit of $2,798m and that if his Government had remained in office the Budget deficit would have been $5,000m. Whatever one may say about that achievement, it was a magnificent display of economic erraticism. The expenditure on defence by the previous Government was of the order of 2.7 per cent of gross domestic product. Under this Government it will be of the order of 2.9 per cent. The honourable member for Oxley plainly is determined to take his economic erraticism to a hitherto unexplored height.
-I ask the Minister for Transport: What progress has been made in the negotiations between the Australian Shipping Commission and Japanese steel firms for cargoes for the Australian bulk carriers that are about to enter service on the Japan-Australia run? Further, is it a fact that the Japanese have requested, as a condition of the talks, that the Australian Shipping Commission place orders for its 4 new vessels with Japanese shipbuilding firms?
-The suggestion in the last part of the question is incorrect. Insofar as the first part of the question is concerned, the Australian Pioneer is due off the Australian coast on about 2 1 or 22 September. I am quite sure that she will enter the trade in the normal way.
– Has the Prime Minister seen reports that the Government is not concerned for those who are unemployed? Is it a fact that the rate of unemployment showed its most rapid rise during the administration of the previous Labor Government? What measures does the Government propose to take to ease the problems of those concerned?
-One of the strange things about some political arguments oyer the last few weeks and months is that the Australian Labor Party and the President of the Australian Labor Party, which Party showed no concern whatsoever about unemployment when it was in government, suddenly find a conscience and suddenly say that something ought to be done about it. They suddenly show concern for young school leavers who cannot get jobs, directly as a result of Labor’s policies creating massive unemployment in Australia for the first time since the Great Depression. At the end of 1972 there were about 136 000 unemployed. The great achievement of the great Leader of the Opposition was to treble that to nearly 329 000 over 3 years. If he had wanted to prove his own incompetence in economic management he could not have done it better. At the same time, Aboriginal unemployment, for which special concern needs to be expressed, went from just over 4000 to a fraction under 10 000. The Labor Government was the great perpetrator of Aboriginal unemployment. Labor supporters now find a conscience in relation to unemployment and suggest that this Government is not concerned. The increase of 140 per cent in total unemployment or 138 per cent in Aboriginal unemployment certainly shows what they did in relation to these matters when Labor had an opportunity to do it.
Quite plainly, the policies that this Government is pursuing will overcome unemployment. We never said it would be easy. We always said our economic program would take a full 3 years to get Australia where we would want it to be in relation to unemployment. That was said before the election on every election platform. In these circumstances overcoming inflation will do more than anything else to overcome unemployment, and that is the course upon which we are embarked. So overcoming inflation is the best way to show concern for those who are in fact unemployed. In addition to that, we have announced a far-reaching inquiry into education and training which will have an implication for people in future years. A Commonwealth Employment Service inquiry also has been announced, and the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations has announced an imaginative plan of relocation assistance which never entered the minds of the Australian Labor Party.
The changes to the National Employment and Training scheme are designed to assist those who need assistance rather than providing assistance, as our predecessors did, to those who did not need it, to those who were not going to try to enter the work force. The Minister has further measures on which he has been working for several months which the Cabinet will be examining very shortly.
– I address my question to the Minister for Transport. On 25 August the Leader of the Opposition asked the Minister a question about his announcement of 20 May that an independent committee would inquire into the Adelaide-Crystal Brook rail link. The Minister will recall that he would not accept any report but the Maunsell report, as I remember. In reply he said that he would be in a position within a few days to announce the membership of the committee of inquiry. When will the announcement be made, when will the committee complete its work and when will its results be made known?
– If the honourable member can contain his impatience just a little longer, I will be in a position to announce the names of the members of the committee of inquiry.
– Why should he? You said you would do it within a few days.
-Yes, but unfortunately the fellow I approached fell ill and I had to find somebody else. It was not because the task was thought to be too big for him either. The committee is to report to me within 2 months. I propose to make an announcement as soon as I can after that.
– My question is addressed to the Prime Minister. Is it a fact that it has been proposed that the USS Enterprise should pay a visit to Tasmania for recreation leave after the completion of Operation Kangaroo II? Is it further a fact that he has on 2 occasions requested an expression of attitude from the Tasmanian Government to a visit by nuclear powered vessels, including the USS Enterprise, to Tasmania? Has any reply been received to date from the Tasmanian Government on this vital defence matter?
-Shortly there is to be a large scale exercise involving both Australian and United States forces. If my memory is correct, about 16 or 18 ships of the United States Navy, including 2 nuclear ships, will be involved. When the exercise is over, it is the intention and hope of the United States Navy to be able to take some liberty in Australian ports. Honourable members laugh, but there is a technical American meaning to that term which they seem to have misunderstood. I am quite certain that the great majority of Australian people hope to be given an opportunity to entertain and to make at home sailors of the American fleet who will be in many Australian ports after that exercise. I wrote to a number of Premiers- that was done in June and was not by any means just as a result of this exercise- seeking examination of the environmental issues involved in relation to this matter so that nuclear ships could go into as many Australian ports as possible with complete impunity and safety and with all the proper safeguards taken.
As honourable members know, the USS Truxtun has already visited Melbourne and Jervis Bay. It would also be known that the Premier of New South Wales took a decision in relation to this matter without having the facts available to him. But at least he took a decision, which I hope he will change when he does have the facts available to him. So far as the Premier of Tasmania is concerned, the honourable gentleman was wrong in suggesting that I had approached the Premier on 2 occasions. I have approached him on 3 occasions, and so far there has been no answer. I hope that there will be an answer because it is essential for Australia’s own purposes that nuclear ships be able to enter as many of Australia’s ports and harbours as possible, bearing in mind the necessity to take account of essential environmental safeguards. The Government would like to have the co-operation of the Premiers on this matter, and I look forward to hearing from the Premier of Tasmania because I believe that he will agree to the proposals made by the Commonwealth.
– I desire to ask the Treasurer a question. I refer him to his approval of the purchase by Nippon Steel of a 3 per cent interest in the Robe River project, giving Nippon Steel a place on the Robe River board. In view of the fact that Nippon Steel is the purchasing agent for all Japanese steel mills, can the Treasurer say what is the Government’s attitude to the principle of having our major customers involved in the management of our major productive enterprises? Does he believe that our customers’ access to such matters as cost of production and marketing policy is in the national interest?
– All matters which relate to foreign investment proposals necessarily are matters upon which I seek advice from the Foreign Investment Review Board. I will discuss with the Board the matters which the honourable gentleman has raised and provide him with an answer in writing, as appropriate.
– I direct a question to the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Overseas Trade. I ask: Did the Minister during his recent visit to Europe raise the question of the ban on imports of Australian beef by the European Economic Community? Is there any sign of the European Economic Community’s re-opening its doors to Australian beef? What other markets, if any, show promise for Australian producers?
– We are now running into the third year in which the European Economic Community has had a total ban on the importation of meat. This has had a very serious effect on Australia’s potential for export to that part of the world. When it is realised that in 1973 Australia exported about $90m worth of meat to that market the quite serious consequences will be understood. I lost no opportunity to discuss this matter with people in Britain and Germany as well as with the Director-General of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade. I told them of our concern and that Australia considered the ban to be a complete breach of international trading rules, when one country could completely close the door to a traditional supplier for a sustained period in order to look after its own ends, without considering the consequences to others. Certainly Australia has felt the severe consequences of that action, and at the same time, of course, Japan also banned imports of Australian meat. We have been able to get Japan to reopen the door, and we hope that the European Economic Community will consider reopening its door in the near future. However, I am not going to be over optimistic about the situation. I think it will take a lot of persuasion and sustained effort on the part of the Government to get those countries to reverse their ways but we will not cease in that endeavour. Every opportunity will be used by Australian Ministers to get through to the people of the EEC the message that we do not appreciate this sort of trading practice. I have told the Director-General of the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade that we expect GATT to protest more to the EEC. If that organisation does not become actively involved then countries around the world can regard the subsidisation of products, embargoes and dumping as accepted or condoned international trade practices, and that would only worsen the international situation.
I am very hesitant about talking optimistically about the future. This gruelling experience for the cattle industry has been going on for 3 years. One would have thought that the situation would have picked up by now. Our slaughter figures for the 12 months to 30 June have established records in regard to both cattle and calves. We have slaughtered this year 10.1 million head, compared with 8.3 million head the previous year. Our export figures are at an all time high of 549 000 tons, compared with 423 000 tons the previous year, representing an increase in exports of almost 33 per cent. Apart from getting into the Japanese market and securing an extension of our quotas to the United States, we have made a sale to the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. Also we are making very good penetration into a multitude of small markets around the world. While those markets may be small individually, collectively they add up to quite a considerable amount of trade and offer potential for a very big market in the future. For instance, within a week or two a Rumanian delegation will be coming here to look at the prospects of buying meat from Australia. Other east European countries are also showing real interest. We have sold 500 tons of meat to South Korea for the first time, and that market shows good prospects. We have sold 1 500 to 2000 tons of meat to Israel, with the prospect of selling between 10 000 and 15 000 tons a year. We have just made a sale of 1 100 tons to Nigeria, with the possibility of further sales. Ghana is also showing an interest in importing beef from Australia. Iran, which I visited recently, is becoming a very large buyer of sheep meats and is also becoming a potential market for beef. The Jordanian Army has recently bought 3500 tons of lamb. Egypt is now starting to buy beef, to the extent of 2000 tons this year. Libya is another country -
– I rise to a point of order. I appreciate the importance of the matter, which warrants a paper being brought down in the House, but I think the Deputy Prime Minister has been speaking now for 7 minutes in answer to a question. I think it should be a requirement that he should be made-
-Order! There is no point of order. It has been suggested on a number of occasions that Ministers should keep their answers to questions as short as possible. By raising a point of order on that matter the honourable member, who should know that there is nothing that the Chair can do, only takes away from honourable members more of the time allocated for questions.
-The point I was making is that very strenuous efforts are being made by the Australian Meat Board and the Australian Government to help an Australian industry which is in a more serious plight than probably any other industry in Australia. We will not let up in our efforts to help that industry in its dire circumstances.
– I ask the Minister for Overseas Trade a supplementary question. What progress has his Government made in concluding a framework agreement for commercial and economic co-operation between the European Economic Community and Australia, such as Canada was able to consummate on 6 July?
– No negotiations have commenced or proceeded in this area. We have strengthened our political relationships with the European Economic Community and if it seems appropriate to have a unilateral trading arrangement with the EEC we will proceed to have one; but at the moment we have not seen the advantage to Australia in such an arrangement.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Transport. Is the Minister aware of recent Press statements claiming that the Australian National Line has lost half a million dollars as a result of the foolish and futile strike by crew members of the Australian Trader which has tied that ship up at the wharf at Bell Bay since 29 July? Are these statements correct? If so, is it a fact that this money will be recouped by the Australian National Line increasing freight charges to Tasmania?
– I have to confirm that the loss to the Australian National Line because of the hold-up of the Australian Trader is running into about half a million dollars. I also must confirm that of course the Australian National Line will have to take this loss into account when it is setting its freight rates in the months ahead. The strike has been quite futile and pointless, as rightly pointed out by the honourable member for Wilmot. I do not want to be provocative about it. It is to be hoped that the negotiations that have been taking place in the last couple of days will bring this senseless, stupid and futile strike to a conclusion.
– My question is directed to the Treasurer. Has he seen the Round-up of Economic Statistics, No. 44, of September 1976, published by the Treasury? I ask him how he explains that at the bottom of page 1 1 there is an explanation of why seasonally adjusted figures for unemployment are inappropriate, yet at the top of the same page, under the heading ‘Civilian Employment’, it states:
Seasonally adjusted total civilian employment increased by 2200 in June … In actual terms civilian employment fell by 8700 in June.
Why is seasonal adjustment appropriate for employment but not for unemployment?
-The question of seasonal adjustment in the unemployment area has been the subject of detailed comment by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations which follows a series of comments that have been made by the Statistician. I invite the honourable gentlemen to read appendix 5, 1 think it was- I speak from memory- in one of the Statistician’s recent releases. It indicated the problem of the seasonal adjustment figure as applied to the question of school leavers. It is for these reasons that the Statistician, my colleague the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and other members of the Government have decided that that index is not appropriate. The matter is being examined in detail at the present time by Ministers and by the Statistician. I say to the honourable gentleman, who does not appear to have a great interest in the matter, that if ever there was a case for seasonal adjustment I am reminded of that case when I look at him.
-Does the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations recall my asking him earlier this session a question in relation to the rights of trade unionists who were fined by their unions for working during the Medibank strike? Does he also recall my recently informing the House about 11 Amalgamated Metal Workers Union members in Ballarat who had been so fined by their local branch and who had announced their intention to take action through the Industrial Court if their appeal to the State Council of the AMWU failed? Does the Minister have any later information on this matter?
– I recall the occasion to which the honourable member refers and I pay tribute to him for his vigilance and concern on behalf of those particular constituents of his. It is typical of his concern for his electorate as a whole. I am informed in relation to this issue that the State
Council of the Amalgamated Metal Workers Union met on 6 September and after hearing the case put by the 1 1 constituents of the honourable member voted to remove the financial penalties which had been imposed by the Ballarat branch committee. I might say that the successful resolution of this case within the confines of the union movement supports the advice that I have been giving to other union members in a similar situation to those involved in this case, that is, to exercise fully their right to natural justice within the rules of the organisation to which they belong without in any way inhibiting their ultimate right to seek remedy in the Industrial Court. I am hopeful that the successful resolution of this case will result in a similarly successful conclusion in similar cases which at present are under consideration in the union movement.
– I address my question to the Treasurer. Is it established policy on the Government’s part to reduce the level of real wages and so raise the proportion of the gross domestic product going to profits to what the Treasurer chooses to call the norm? Is it also established policy at the present time to appeal to retailers to sell more and to people to buy more? How can he equate his demands for the level of real wages to be reduced and people to spend more?
– The answer to the first question is yes. I would draw the attention of the honourable member to page 26 of Statement No. 2 attached to my Budget Speech. If he looks at that page he will find the words:
Real average earnings per employed person would remain approximately unchanged -
That is for this year, and of course that is a Treasury estimate- but, due to employment growth, aggregate real earnings would increase moderately.
For the information of the honourable member, the statement goes on to say:
Given projected changes in personal taxes, cash benefits, and other income components, both average and aggregate real disposable household income would increase at a faster rate than the real earnings component.
The proposition that we have been putting, particularly during recent months, is the need both for a reduction in the real wage in order to provide more job opportunities throughout this country and -
– But how can you equate those demands?
– If the honourable member is seeking to argue by -
– I raise a point of order. Mr Acting Speaker, can I put the question more simply for him?
-Order! The honourable member will resume his seat.
– If the honourable member is seeking to argue by inference a proposition that real earnings should be maintained and that full plateau indexation should be applied, then what the honourable member is saying of course is that during the period ahead more workers will find considerable difficulty in obtaining those job opportunities that they do not have at the present time. As far as profit ratio is concerned and also the question of the saving ratio, both those matters were answered in detail during question time yesterday. Both of them provide a further indication of confidence in the community because the saving ratio has declined recently.
-Is the Minister for Health aware of the significant delay in payment of benefits to contributors of some private health insurance funds? Can he take any action to expedite these payments? Finally, will he assure the House that Medibank Private will give prompt service to its contributors?
-I would like to remind the honourable member for Brisbane and the House- I would ask all honourable members to remind their constituents of this- that by 1 October, people must make up their minds regarding health insurance. Those people who wish to insure privately with the private health funds to which the honourable member referred will have to obtain levy exemption certificates in order to be exempt from payment of the 2Yi per cent taxation levy. Having said that, I should state that since becoming the Minister for Health I have heard reports that some funds have been slow in the payment of benefits from time to time. This is not to say that they have not been efficient. By and large, the record of the private health insurance funds has been very good. Where there has been slowness in payment, it has been due largely to the investigations that have been necessary because insufficient information was supplied with the refund application. However, I believe that the payment of benefits by private health insurance funds as from 1 October will be far more expeditious than has been the case in the past because of the renewed competition that will exist between Medibank Standard, Medibank Private and the funds themselves. I can assure the honourable member that Medibank Private will be attempting to expedite its payment of benefits to its members and to provide courtesy and efficiency in its service. I believe that the private funds generally will also be efficient and that we will see real efficiency in private health insurance in Australia.
– I direct a question to the Treasurer. Is it a fact that an extremely severe rundown in bank liquidity was avoided in the last months of last financial year by the unprecedented action of the Reserve Bank of Australia in buying commercial bills? Is it also a fact that interest rates are now being kept up unnecessarily high in a climate in which a fall was expected as a result of the Reserve Bank’s allowing these commercial bills to mature instead of being rolled over? Is this maintenance of higher interest rates an object of Government policy?
– The answer to the first question is yes. The honourable gentleman, of course, would have picked up this fact from the recently published annual report of the Reserve Bank of Australia which makes that perfectly clear. The action was taken, along with other action taken by the Reserve Bank, in consultation with the Government in order to make sure that the seasonal downswing of liquidity did not have an undue impact upon the need to provide funds for recovery in the private sector. I state in reply to the second question that, of course, the honourable gentleman would not expect any other action to be taken at the present time but that the Bank would allow those funds to be subject to maturity in the normal sense.
Turning to the question of interest rates, I would have thought that the honourable gentleman would know full well the nexus between inflation pressure and the question of interest rates. If there is one thing that the honourable gentlemen sitting across the chamber have never understood it is the the difficulty which faces any government in seeking to finance a deficit in a non-inflationary way, a deficit of the type which we inherited- not necessarily the one which is in prospect- and at the same time allowing interest rates to fall. The Government has budgeted for a deficit which will allow recovery in the private sector but which will not at the same time be accommodating to inflation and which will keep pressure off the private market place because of the need not to be vigorous in relation to the sale of Government paper. Finally, it is the Government’s intention that interest rates will fall during the period ahead. I do not put any time tag on that in this Parliament at this time. Interest rates will fall as inflationary pressures and the overall rate of inflation go down.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Primary Industry who no doubt is well aware of the very severe drought in certain parts of southern Australia. No doubt he is well aware also of the deteriorating condition of the regular type of stock food. I ask: Is the Minister conscious of the potential disaster facing many millions of head of livestock between now and autumn of next year? In view of the importance of retaining essential good breeding stock, has the Minister considered subsidising grain? If so, what terms and conditions would the Government lay down so that the proposal could be implemented?
– The circumstances of drought in Australia are recurrent. Yet each time a drought occurs the pronounced effect on persons affected is not lessened; in fact, it becomes aggravated. In the present circumstances in southern Australia, where tragically large areas are subject to probably the worst drought that people can remember in recent years, there has been quite a serious downturn in productivity. There has certainly been a marked deterioration in liquidity. As a result a large number of people are in a very serious financial predicament. The projection into the . spring when the weather warms and as a result residual feed dries off and water becomes even more scarce is of tremendous concern to this Government. Approaches have been made by a number of State governments, and of course primary producer organisations, and we have responded to them. In the case of Victoria, the honourable member’s own State, that State having said that it was concerned about its ability to finance drought aid from the beginning, we made an approach through the Prime Minister and said that if it found that the present base amount arrangements were unsatisfactory we would be quite prepared to enter into a system whereby the Commonwealth would contribute to approved drought aid on a dollar for dollar basis from the very commencement of the provision of assistance. In addition to those ranges of assistance that have been approved a number of others are under examination.
The honourable gentleman’s question referred to some type of supplementary feeding for livestock. The position in Western Australia and in a number of other areas is becoming quite serious. The cost of grain is high and many producers are finding their liquidity such that they are unable to finance grain purchases. To the best of my knowledge, at this stage no requests have been received from State governments for that type of aid. Nonetheless, if it is felt desirable that some type of feed subsidy be introduced, we shall look at ways in which this could be implemented. At the time when a decision is taken it will be announced to the Premiers. They will of course then consider it in relation to other types of aid they are providing. As the honourable gentleman would know, we have constituted an interdepartmental committee and any type of aid recommended by the States or producer organisations will be considered very sympathetically by the Federal Government. We are most concerned at the general predicament that faces producers, wherever they are in the drought affected areas.
-Mr Acting Speaker, I wish to make a personal explanation as I claim I have been misrepresented. I understand that under the Standing Orders I should take the first opportunity to rectify that misrepresentation by the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen). In the course of question time the Minister for Defence questioned a statement attributed to me, and which I did make over the weekend, that defence expenditure as a proportion of gross domestic product for this year is set at about the same level as actually occurred last year. I stand by that statement. Mr Acting Speaker, I draw your attention to Statement No. 1 of the Budget Papers wherein outlays last year and proposed outlays for this year are set down. Outlays as a proportion of GDP for last year and this year are also given. At page 3 defence expenditure is further dealt with. On the basis that defence expenditure in 1975-76 was $ 1,853m and that Gross Domestic Product, calculated from the figures I have cited, was $69,600m, expenditure was about 2.66 per cent of GDP. This year defence expenditure amounts to $2, 178m. Gross domestic product is calculated to be $8 1,000m. Defence expenditure represents 2.68 per cent of GDP. That is marginally different. If the Minister for Defence asserts firmly that defence expenditure this year amounts to 2.9 per cent of GDP, that means that there will have to be a recasting of the rate of growth in the economy to a figure somewhat below that which has been quoted by the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) as his anticipated figure for this year.
Further, the Budget papers make it quite clear that personnel strength in the armed Services has been virtually frozen -
– Order! The honourable member for Oxley claimed that he had been misrepresented by the Minister for Defence. In the circumstances elaboration of the financial factor which was referred to by the Minister for Defence is, I think, sufficient explanation. I suggest that if the honourable member continues along this line it will be more an argument of debate than a personal explanation about a comment that has been made.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I appreciate your understanding and restraint on this occasion, but the implications of the Minister’s statement explore the issue a little more broadly than you suggest. For instance, there is an implication in the Minister’s statement that in total effect and in specific detail more benefit would be gained in terms of added expenditure for the defence Services. Yet personnel strength has been frozen at last year’s level. The rate of increase in incomes for the members of the armed Services is between 5 per cent and 7 per cent, depending on the branch of the Services, as against a 12 per cent average increase for the rest of the community. Expenditure on rations and ammunition has in fact been reduced.
-Order! The honourable member for Oxley has explained the way in which he was misrepresented.
– I conclude by pointing out that the Minister for Defence has inflated his figures in the same way as he inflates his rhetoric.
– I present pursuant to statute the report of the Auditor-General, accompanied by the Treasurer’s statements of receipts and expenditure, for the year 1975-76.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I ask for leave of the House to move a motion to authorise the publication and printing of the report of the Auditor-General.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
– Pursuant to section 8 of the Poultry Industry Assistance Act 1965 I present the report on the operations of that Act for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– Pursuant to section 1 1 of the Commonwealth Police Act 1957, 1 present the annual report on the operations and activities of the Commonwealth Police Force during the year ended 30 June 1975.
– For the information of honourable members I present reports by the Industries Assistance Commission on telecommunications equipment and dairy marketing arrangements.
Due to the limited number available, reference copies of the latter report on dairy marketing arrangements have been placed in the Bills and Papers Office of the House of Representatives and the Parliament Library.
Pursuant to section 122 of the Repatriation Act 1920 I present the annual report of the Repatriation Commission for the year ended 30 June 1976.
– For the information of honourable members I present the following agreements: The International Cocoa Agreement 1975; the International Coffee Agreement 1976; the Fifth International Tin Agreement; and an agreement to establish the Intergovernmental Council of Copper Exporting Countries. I seek leave to make a statement relating to those agreements.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Honourable members are aware that international commodity trade issues- the problems faced by agricultural and mineral commodities in international trade and the possibilities of obtaining solutions to them by way of global co-operation- are currently the focus of a great deal of international attention. I would like to take the opportunity provided in tabling these agreements to outline to honourable members the Government’s policy with respect to international co-operation in the commodities area in the context of the international discussions which are going on at the present time.
The very real problems afflicting commodity trade- recurrent shortages and surpluses and the resultant chronic price instability- are, of course, not new to Australia; nor is the seeking of solutions to these problems by way of international co-operative arrangements. Australia has always been highly dependent upon commodity exports as a souce of foreign exchange earnings. Rural and mineral commodities still account for threequarters of our exports. Moreover, the agricultural and mining sectors are heavily dependent upon export markets for their continued viability and prosperity. Thus, over a very long period indeed, Australia has had to live with the problems of highly unstable commodity markets. Because of our dependence upon commodity exports, Australia has traditionally played an active role in intergovernmental negotiations and consultations on commodity trade matters in the search for global solutions to problems. We are continuing to play such a role in various forms- some general, like the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development and the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, and some relating to specific commodities, like the International Wheat Council, the International Sugar Council and the organisations covered by the agreements now before the House. Australia is a member of all the international commodity agreements currently in operation and participates in a wide range of intergovernmental consultative organisations.
While the problems of commodity trade and international efforts to solve them are far from new, what is new is the enormous increase in the attention which has been given to these matters by world governments in the last few years. The reasons for this spring from significant changes in the first half of this decade in the perception by governments of the effects of problems facing commodity trade. Many commodities have experienced boom and bust market conditions, in some cases aggravated by unilateral action by governments to restrict access to markets. The massive increase in oil prices by the members of the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries in 1973, the food crisis of 1973-74 and shortages of some basic raw materials created a feeling of insecurity on the part of many importing countries about the supply of essential primary products.
The decline in commodity prices associated with the economic slowdown in the industrialised countries since 1974, aggravated by high rates of inflation, led to concern on the part of commodity exporting countries to arrest the price decline. At the same time, many importing countries were worried about the effect of low prices on the future capacity of exporting countries to supply essential foodstuffs and raw materials. Finally, perhaps the major factor in the current world-wide attention being given to commodity problems springs from a massive and concerted increase in the pressure from developing countries to achieve an improvement in the resources available to them for development by way of, among other things, international measures to increase their returns from commodity exports.
Australia will continue to support international co-operation in the commodity trade area. In some cases such co-operation may lead to the negotiation of international commodity agreements. In others, simple consultative arrangements may be all that is required. The establishment of consultative bodies to provide forums for regular exchanges of information and views on commodity market trends and problems can in itself make an important contribution to market stability. Two commodities of particular interest to Australia which have been the subject of international commodity agreements in the past are wheat and sugar. We will work towards the negotiation of new agreements for these commodities which contain substantive economic clauses. We are participating actively in the ongoing work of the International Wheat Council on possible forms of a new wheat agreement and we welcomed the decision of the International Sugar Organisation to call for a negotiating conference for a new sugar agreement in May- June 1977.
We will work actively to ensure the effective operation of the tin, cocoa and coffee agreements which I am tabling today. We are prepared to examine with the utmost goodwill, on a case by case basis, agreements for other commodities where these are found to be feasible and practicable. In this regard, I do not exclude commodities in which Australia has an import interest only. Our membership of the cocoa and coffee agreements is an earnest of this. To be effective, commodity agreements must necessarily enjoy the support of all significant exporting and importing countries. Equally, they need to have regard to long term market trends.
Some countries, in their approach to commodity problems, place heavy reliance on the operations of the free market to achieve a satisfactory balance between supply and demand and reject any role for commodity agreements. While recognising the arguments in favour of this sort of approach, it has little relevance to the many commodity problems which are the result of intervention by governments themselves in domestic and international markets. These problems cannot be somehow wished away by invoking the effectiveness of the free market. For many commodities, especially farm products, free markets simply do not exist, even in those countries which strongly advocate their virtues. We are equally suspicious of approaches to commodity problems which, under the guise of market stabilisation arrangements, are in fact no more than an attempt to legitimise and prop up policies for protecting high-cost production. These approaches put the whole burden of adjustment on to world suppliers and call for no domestic adjustments. Proposals for price stabilisation agreements which are put forward as a substitute for greater and more predictable access to markets are of little value to Australia.
Australia will continue to support the idea of commodity agreements where such agreements can contribute to greater stability in international commodity trade and are practical in terms of both implementation and financing. Having said this, however, let me quickly add that Australia does not regard commodity agreements as a general panacea for the problems of international commodity trade. There are many commodities which do not lend themselves to regulation by such agreements; for some commodities, agreements would be quite inappropriate. While there are general approaches that can be considered, there is certainly no universal formula. No 2 commodities are alike. For every commodity for which there may be widespread agreement concerning the need for international action- we have learned from harsh experience that this in itself is extremely difficult to obtainthere will be a separate and distinct solution tailored to the particular circumstances of the commodity concerned.
It is against this background that Australia has participated in recent general discussions on commodity questions between developed and developing countries in various international forums, including GATT, UNCTAD and the Conference on International Economic Cooperation. These discussions have focused mainly on a range of proposals for a new international economic order, a cornerstone of which, in the eyes of Third World countries, is an overall integrated program for a range of commodities of export interest to developing countries. This program, which is an UNCTAD initiative, includes proposals for the establishment of international buffer stocks and a common fund to finance these. Australia has welcomed the UNCTAD initiative as a contribution towards a better understanding of commodity problems. It provides, for the first time, an opportunity to approach as a whole the inter-related problems of access, supply and price. We have, therefore, pledged ourselves to participate fully in the deliberations and negotiations envisaged under the integrated program. Naturally, it is not possible to say in advance of such deliberations and negotiations what may prove to be the most appropriate course to follow in relation to the particular issues involved.
A significant development in recent years has been the growth of commodity producer organisations. Australia has joined three producer associations (those for bauxite, copper and iron ore) but has made it clear that, while seeking to achieve fair and reasonable returns, it will not be a party to any form of international blackmail in resources trade. We will continue to insist that resource-deficient countries should have adequate supplies of the materials they need at fair prices. Australia became an associate member of the Intergovernmental Council of Copper Exporting Countries (CIPEC) late last year and today I am tabling the agreement establishing the organisation. On joining the organisation Australia made clear its view on the desirability of establishing an early dialogue between copper producing and consuming countries. We are pleased that, on the initiative of CIPEC, producer-consumer discussions commenced in March this year under the auspices of UNCTAD. In the initial discussions, participating governments agreed to work towards the establishment of a permanent intergovernmental consultative body for copper, the terms of reference of which will include the examination of possible price stabilisation measures.
Australia will continue its long established policy of support for international consultation and co-operation on commodity trade questions. We will continue to contribute fully to such discussions. We do not pretend that there are easy answers to the problems of commodity trade; nor do we believe that there are universal solutions to these problems. We do believe however that if viable and practical solutions are to be found these can only be achieved by the fullest co-operation between all interested countries whether they are producers or consumers, developed or developing.
– For the information of honourable members I present the seventh annual report of the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications. I seek leave to make a statement in connection with this report and in connection with inter-country adoptions.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– In tabling the seventh annual report of the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications (COPQ) I feel it is opportune to provide the House with a statement on progress made and future activities the Committee is being asked to undertake. More than one million settlers arrived in Australia during the large-scale immigration programs in the 1960s. Among them were people whose expectations were not fulfilled because qualifications obtained at universities and other tertiary institutions in their home countries were not recognised here. This situation caused not just disappointment but, in many cases, hardship and waste. It meant that these migrants were unable to make full use of their knowledge, experience and qualifications and that the Australian community suffered because it did not receive the benefit of their professional services. Some migrants were able to gain recognition in one State but not in others. Such barriers to mobility also caused hardship and created the impression that Australia was an ungenerous host.
This was clearly an unsatisfactory situation and the Minister for Immigration of the day, the Honourable B. M. Snedden, with the full approval of all State Ministers for Immigration, established in 1969 the Committee on Overseas Professional Qualifications under the chairmanship of Dr David Myers, Vice-Chancellor of La Trobe University. It was given the responsibility of investigating and advising on a complex and wide-ranging problem. At that time there was a notable lack of readily available public information on the qualifications which were in fact acceptable in the various jurisdictions in Australia. In many professions there were no clearly defined principles governing the acceptability or otherwise of qualifications obtained in other countries.
There was a dual task- to provide prospective migrants with information about the acceptability of their qualifications before leaving their home countries and to encourage professions to develop a fair and reliable system of assessment which could be applied Australiawide. This task calls for a large measure of cooperation and goodwill on the part of the professions and of the various responsible authorities in the States and Territories. The Committee has no executive authority and it must work towards its objectives without infringing the authority and autonomy of these bodies. The Committee has been able to achieve this cooperation by maintaining its independent and objective stance and by basing its activities on panels of experts who are distinguished members of their profession and who are aware of its particular needs. These panels are established in consultation with the State authorities and the professions and their main tasks are to collect information and to provide considered expert recommendations on the standing of particular overseas qualifications. The decisions on recognition remain the prerogative of the established authorities. The panels are thus independent vehicles through which changes can be made by the professions themselves, often on a national basis. COPQ has provided the catalyst for the professions who now firmly identify with its objectives. A pattern of Australia-wide acceptance of professional qualifications is now emerging.
The Committee’s report for 1975 documents the progress that has been made. In tabling the report I would like to draw members’ attention to some of the significant achievements of the Committee. As a result of its comprehensive collection of information, the Committee can assist a wide range of enquirers. The demand for its assessment and information service has grown rapidly. In 1975 alone over 1 100 formal assessments were provided to various bodies and to individuals. The Committee also provided advice and information in response to many more general inquiries. In the field of general tertiary qualifications the Committee has provided a source of assessment for migrants who have hitherto had no organisation to which they could turn. Detailed first-hand investigations of professional education and practice have been carried out by 85 consultants commissioned by the Committee covering 14 professions in 47 countries. Booklets setting out the requirements for recognition in 16 professions have been published for the information of potential migrants. A large number of information statements on professional education and practice in overseas countries has been published.
In 6 professions- dentistry, dietetics, nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy and veterinary science- screening examinations have been or are being developed. Since pharmacy and veterinary science are not currently on the approved occupations list, no action will be taken to give examinations in these professions overseas. In medicine an examination procedure is being developed. The screening examination technique is designed to enable an objective assessment of an individual’s competence to be made before he or she leaves the home country. It is based on the premise that it is more equitable to develop measures of individual professional competence rather than of institutional worth. The examinations will be taken overseas and people who pass them will have demonstrated a basic knowledge sufficient for them to undertake a period of practice under supervision in Australia and to move to full recognition after demonstrating their practical competence in clinical examinations. These examinations will also be available in Australia for those already resident here and seeking registration. The use of examinations allows assessment to be made on a competely non-discriminatory basis. Professionally qualified people from any country can be assessed individually on their merits.
In architecture, optometry, nursing, pharmacy, physiotherapy, teaching and veterinary science, Australia-wide agreement to recognise many qualifications has been reached. InterState mobility has thus been facilitated. Several COPQ expert panels have become clearinghouses for all inquiries about overseas qualifications in their professions. This eliminates duplication and speeds up the assessment process. The Committee has proposed principles which it believes, if embodied in State legislation concerned with registration, would achieve a major Committee objective. These have been widely endorsed. Necessary changes to State legislation are being considered by the professions concerned. The Committee’s work produces benefits for Australia and for migrants themselves. The professionally qualified people who migrate to Australia provide an important resource for Australia.
The State governments have been unanimous in their support for the Committee’s work and agree that it must continue. While very real progress has been made, much remains to be done. It is important that there be clearly articulated Australian standards against which overseas qualifications can be measured. Such standards require a deep understanding of the nature of professional competence and knowledge of the tasks professionally qualified persons are called on to perform, the relative importance of these tasks and the knowledge and skill necessary for their performance. Objective and reliable means to assess whether professionally qualified migrants possess these qualities have to be developed. More than just paper equivalence has to be established.
The approach to practice in Australia also needs to be understood and ways and means found of determining whether a person who may be accustomed to a somewhat different style of practice in another country could adjust to the situation in this country. In addition, the extent of any period of supplementary training required has to be determined. The collection of information and the development and refinement of assessment techniques will continue to occupy much of the Committee’s time, as will the accompanying development of an adequate system for the storage and retrieval of information and test material. In particular the Committee will be acquiring more precise information on educational structures, accreditation and regulatory mechanisms in the professions in other countries. The Committee will further develop its links with international information networks and continue to exchange information and expertise on the assessment of individual competence with appropriate authorities in Australia and overseas.
In addition to those who come to Australia as part of the normal migration program, there are significant numbers of refugees. Special attention has to be given to facilitating the integration into professions in Australia of those refugees with appropriate qualifications. This requires information and assessment of professional qualifications from countries other than those which are our traditional sources. The Committee will continue to encourage the professions to work towards nationally co-ordinated systems of assessments and to remove impediments to recognition which are not related to professional competence and which inhibit inter-State mobility. While substantial progress has been made in developing a just and reliable system of assessment for professionally qualified people, many migrants holding higher technical and subprofessional qualifications suffer the same hardships as their professional colleagues. The problems are basically the same as those already tackled so effectively by the COPQ in the professions. It is desirable, therefore, to capitalise on the considerable expertise and resources available in the Committee and its secretariat to seek ways to overcome problems of recognition of overseas sub-professional qualifications. To this end the Committee and my Department have been consulting with relevant bodies and departments.
In summary, COPQ serves the national interest, and will continue to serve it in the following ways:
By providing a single source of reliable information and assessments on overseas qualifications for over 50 State and Commonwealth statutory bodies and departments, professional bodies, and the general public. It thus removes duplication of activities and expenditure.
By providing reliable advice to prospective migrants on the prospects of entering their professions here. The Committee maximises the usefulness of professionally qualified migrants and minimises hardships to them in settling in Australia.
By opening the way for a fully effective program of recruitment of qualified people according to Australia’s needs. It thus complements the work of the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs.
I congratulate the members of COPQ on the progress achieved to date and commend the work of the Committee to the House. I present the following paper:
Committee on Overseas Professional QualificationsMinisterial Statement, IS September 1976.
Motion (by Mr Staley) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
-Mr Acting Speaker, this is an important question for a lot of people who have come to Australia for a variety of reasons, some of them because they had no choice and others because they chose to come. But in every case, once people have arrived here their capacities have been wasted. In a way their lives have been wasted because they have not been able to pursue their professions and, ironically, the Australian community has been robbed of their services. Obviously the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) is well aware of that. There is nothing we can do about it, but I should like to offer my support and encouragement, particularly in relation to this statement:
The Committee has proposed principles which it believes, if embodied in State legislation concerned with registration, would achieve a major Committee objective.
That is the point I wish to make. We cannot do anything about it in this place. It is really a matter for the States and, in my view, for too long the States have succumbed to the pressure of some professional organisations which have sought to limit the facility with which foreign graduates can be accepted. It is a protection of the closed shop situation, and I deplore it.
I recall that during my time of medical training I studied alongside people who were older than myself, graduates from overseas who were obviously highly qualified doctors. Some of them were better qualified than many of the teachers who were teaching them, yet they still had to go through the ritual of doing this training. I might point out that the sort of training we expected of them and the exams we expected them to pass were such that a significant proportion of qualified medical practitioners in this country would not have been able to pass them. I hazard the guess that if Australians went to another country and had those sorts of exams imposed on them, many of them would fail. I think that we have been terribly arrogant about this matter for a long time. I am concerned about the next comment which appears in the Minister’s statement. In relation to the proposals that the Committee has suggested should be embodied in State legislation, it is stated:
These have been widely endorsed. Necessary changes to State legislation are being considered by the professions concerned.
I am worried that once again there is going to be a means of delaying the introduction of thus sort of legislation. I am not seeking an enormous debate on this issue, and I can see that there is some agitation on the other side of the chamber. I simply wish to endorse the statement on behalf of honourable members on this side of the House and make the point that we feel fairly strongly that these Governments should act and not be too browbeaten by the professional organisations.
Debate (on motion by Mr Bourchier) adjourned.
– by leaveRecent publicity has been given to situations where residents of Australia have proceeded overseas to arrange adoptions of young persons without obtaining the necessary support of Australian child welfare authorities. I should like to inform the House of the Government’s attitude to the entry of children in such circumstances, thereby providing guidance on the Government’s policy to potential adoptive parents. This should help to avoid the disappointment that Australian residents seeking to adopt children overseas may experience if authority for entry of the children to Australia is withheld because of non-compliance with Australian requirements for adoptions.
An Australasian conference on adoption held in early 1975 considered that the particular objectives of inter-country adoptions should be:
Quite often an Australian resident has adopted a child in an overseas country and sought entry of the child to Australia. This sort of situation was considered in May 1976 by a conference of Australian State and Territory social welfare administrators which recommended that immigration policy should be reviewed for children subject to foreign adoption orders to allow entry only of those who have been subject to orders likely to be recognised by an Australian Court; who have been subject to orders considered unlikely to be recognised in Australia but where the adopting parents have been approved as suitable to adopt by the adoption authorities in their State or Territory of normal residence; or who have had a child-parent relationship of long standing and where refusal of entry of the child would not promote his or her welfare and best interests.
As Minister for Immigration and Ethic Affairs, my role is primarily to determine applications for entry to Australia of children for adoption on the basis of the principles and recommendations I have mentioned. In accordance with those principles and subject to sound health the entry to Australia of an overseas child is normally approved where the adoption proposal has the support of the child welfare authorities in the State or Territory of residence of the proposed adoptive parents, and the authorities in the overseas country in which the child is living are agreeable to the adoption being arranged. In all adoption procedures the welfare of the child is of paramount importance and so far as inter-country adoptions are concerned the Australian Government will be guided by the views of the State or Territory child welfare authorities. Observance of this arrangement will ensure that the best interests of children involved in “ inter-country adoption will be served and that their legal rights will be established.
-by leave- In the absence of the shadow Minister, I was wondering whether the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (Mr MacKellar) might at some appropriate time amplify the definition of ‘child’ within the meaning of what we are talking about here. Also under what circumstances would there be orders considered unlikely to be registered in Australia, as mentioned on page 2? I think it would help the Parliament if we had that sort of information. I do not wish to delay the House at this stage. I having made that comment, perhaps the Minister would take some note of it.
– I will take note of the comment and provide the House and the honourable member with a reply.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment:
Loan Bill (No. 3) 1976.
Administrative Changes (Consequential Provisions) Bill 1976.
Foreign Takeovers Amendment Bill 1976.
Motion (by Mr E. G. Whitlam) agreed to:
That leave of absence for 2 months be given to the honourable member for Bonython, Mr Nicholls, on the ground of ill health.
– I desire to inform the House that during the absence of the Opposition Whip, Mr M. H. Nicholls who has been given leave of absence on the ground of ill health, and the Deputy Opposition Whip, Mr James, who will today depart on parliamentary business overseas, Mr L. R. Johnson will act as Opposition Whip and Mr L. K. Johnson as Deputy Opposition Whip.
– I have received letters from both the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) and the honourable member for St George (Mr Neil) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by standing order 107, 1 have selected one matter, that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Gellibrand namely:
The Government’s perfunctory response to the unemployment crisis.
I therefore call upon those members who approve of the proposed discussion to rise in their places.
More than the number of members required by the Standing Orders having risen in their places-
-The Opposition brings this matter of public importance before the House today because it is gravely concerned at the current and growing unemployment crisis in this country. It is also concerned at the Government’s perfunctory response to that crisis. The extent of the problem is something which is fairly common knowledge to members of this Parliament, but may I just quickly reiterate the developing crisis which confronts us now. We have at present 267 000 registered unemployed. The trend has been upward for quite some months now and is continuing in that direction.
– Down from last month.
– Since the Government abolished the publication of the seasonally adjusted figures, yes, but if the Government bothered to publish those figures it would have seen that the number of registered unemployed had increased by 12 000. The Government still publishes seasonally adjusted figures in relation to employment; it is remarkable that it stopped publishing them in relation to unemployment. There are 100 000-plus teenagers unemployed. There are 200 000 school leavers and 50 000 graduates of tertiary institutions to hit the labour market at the end of this year. We have a Budget strategy which is based on the maintenance of unemployment. We are told that at the end of this year the level of unemployment will be much the same as that at the beginning of this financial year. That is the Government’s Budget strategy. It is clear and can be found in the Budget Papers. That Budget strategy depends on a recovery of consumer demand, of which there is no sign at present. We suggest there is not likely to be any sign of it either, unless the Government changes its Budget strategy. We also have very substantial cuts in the real level of government demand all going to create further unemployment.
All of that adds up to a crisis picture. The Government’s response to that crisis has been minimal, to say the least. In fact, it has been goaded into action either by a political worry or by the genuine concern of a number of back benchers on the Government side. In the last week we have heard announced a couple of initiatives. The first of those was the extremely hasty announcement last Thursday by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) of the establishment of a committee of inquiry into education and training. That was greeted by the Opposition as a worthwhile investigation, but it is a very long term one. It will not have the effect of doing anything about the present crisis. The second announcement was made at the weekend by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) and concerned the introduction of a relocation assistance scheme. That was announced by him to be a major new manpower measure. Tt is neither major nor new. Let me deal firstly with the statement that it is new. The Government says that this is a new scheme. Yet in December 1 974 the then Minister for Labor and Immigration, Mr Cameron, announced in a Press statement a program of relocation assistance. I quote briefly from his Press statement. He said:
The Australian Government will help workers and their families move to another district to secure suitable employment.
Assistance under this scheme will provide for payment of fares, removal expenses, a relocation allowance and assistance to meet legal and agent’s fees in selling a home and in purchasing or leasing a new one.
Pending the development of a general scheme, it will apply to those adversely affected by specific structural change resulting, for example, from the 25 per cent tariff cut, the changes in the level of protection on consumer electronic equipment and components, and the removal of quotas on textiles.
That scheme was brought into operation at the end of 1974, and it is that scheme which is being reintroduced, although on a wider basis, by this Government. The 2 schemes are almost identical. For instance, in relation to fares, the Labor scheme provided for up to 3 return fares for the applicant to attend interviews arranged by the Commonwealth Employment Service. The scheme announced by the Minister just refers to fares for that purpose. It is not clear how many fares will be provided. The Labor scheme provided for one return fare for the spouse to visit a new area; the same position applies in the scheme just announced. The Labor scheme provided for 2 return fares to enable the applicant to visit the spouse and children before they moved to the new area, that is, if he went ahead of them. The same provision applies under the so-called new scheme.
Under the Labor scheme fares were provided for the applicant and the spouse to move to the new area; the same applies in the recently announced scheme. Both schemes provide for removal expenses, the only difference being that the scheme just announced by the Minister has a limit of $500; there was no limit on the Labor scheme. The re-establishment allowance is exactly the same: $200 for the applicant; $100 for one adult dependant; $50 for each additional dependant. Those provisions are exactly the same in both schemes. Legal and agent’s fees are payable under both schemes. Under the Labor scheme such payments were limited to $300; under the new scheme they have been increased to $500. There is a provision for a rental allowance in cases where a person who is shifting was a tenant rather than a home owner.
So it is hardly a new scheme; it is very similar to the Labor scheme. Its only substantial difference is that it applies not just to cases of nominated structural adjustment, of which there were quite a few in fact while Labor was in office; some 10 government decisions were nominated as structural adjustment programs to which our relocation scheme applied. The new scheme applies to any person who wishes to shift from one area to another. That, I agree, is an expansion of the program. On the other hand, the scheme introduced by Labor also provided for income maintenance for 6 months for people who lost their jobs. There is no such provision for people who might lose their jobs under this Government’s program of wiping out subsidies or assistance to particular industries, such as the shipbuilding industry. That is a very substantial difference.
Apart from not being a new scheme, it is hardly a major manpower initiative, as the Minister described it. It does not create any jobs. The lack of jobs is the principal manpower problem at present, as is shown by the fact that if all the registered job vacancies that we now have on the books were taken up almost a quarter of a million unemployed people would still be left over.
In addition, the scheme could prove useless for many workers, simply as a program to deal with structural adjustment, because in areas where there is real depression caused by the collapse of an industry- such as at Whyalla, if the shipbuilding industry folds- this scheme may well be quite useless. In Whyalla there are more than 1800 workers in the shipyards. There are at least twice that many workers outside who are dependent on the shipyards. There are something like 6000 workers directly affected in a total population of 35 000; and with dependants we are looking at at least one-third of the population being affected in this way. Clearly, if the industry collapsed a relocation scheme would not be enough for people who owned their own homes, because there would be a collapse of the property market in a place such as that. People who owned their own homes would be faced either with unsalable homes or alternatively with very depressed prices. They would be locked into that situation. The only way they could get out would be to cut their losses, which could be quite enormous. It could mean leaving their life savings behind. A relocation scheme which simply pays fares to Adelaide or to some other place would not be anywhere near enough. I suggest that, as a program to deal with that kind of situation which looms in front of this Government right now if it does not expand assistance to the shipbuilding industry, this program is utterly insufficient and will not be of great assistance to many people who will be affected by the Government’s decision not to expand the assistance to enable that industry to survive.
All that the Government has done in response to the crisis can be described as perfunctory. That is all that we have- the relocation scheme and the announcement on the Committee of Inquiry into Education and Training. It is also far less than the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development says should be done. It is far less than most countries which are members of the OECD have done. In March this year the OECD held a meeting for the Ministers for Labour of its member countries. Unfortunately, the Australian Minister did not attend. Had he attended he might have learnt something. The communique which was published by the OECD in March 1 976 says, in part: … the reduction of unemployment may initially be delayed because in the early phase of the recovery enterprises will first tend to use existing manpower more fully and, in some countries, because of the impact of structural changes … in this situation, Ministers stressed that a substantial recovery of employment will depend not only on the expansion of demand, but also on related special actions by employment and manpower authorities, to stimulate the creation of jobs and to assist workers to acquire the skills and move into the jobs needed as part of the economic upswing.
There we have the statement that it is not enough just to rely on recovery of demand. That statement is made by the Ministers for Labour of all the comparable countries in the world, meeting earlier this year. Assuming that we had a recovery of demand, which we do not, the Ministers still say that it would not be enough to rely on that fact to restore full employment; a whole range of special programs would be needed. The Ministers outlined the kinds of programs they thought would be helpful. The communique stated:
They stressed in particular that manpower training could help the unemployed and new entrants to the labour market to acquire skills needed to enter expanding sectors of the economy. Temporary and selective subsidies to enterprises or reductions of charges on their payrolls should continue to be used or tested as a means to lower the costs to employers of expanding or maintaining employment during the economic upswing. Other possibilities include job-creation programs in the private and public sectors, community employment projects and increased expenditure on public works.
Those are the kinds of programs which the Ministers for Labour jointly said earlier this year should be introduced by governments around the world. This Government is not doing that. In fact, it is doing quite the reverse. It is relying on the recovery of demand, which is not there, and wiping out some of the special kinds of programs which the Ministers for Labour said should be introduced and expanded. For instance, employment grants to the States were $30m last year and nothing is allocated this year for such grants. The Regional Employment Development scheme was allocated $123m last year. At one stage it directly employed up to 30 000 workers. The scheme employed many more workers indirectly, because of the materials that were being used by those employees.
In recessions in the 1960s and earlier in the 1970s Liberal and Country Party governments were able to bring themselves to fund job creation programs, even though the level of unemployment was nowhere near as high then as it is now. In 1961-62 there was a program of special grants to the States for employment creating purposes in rural areas. In 1971-72 there was a rural unemployment scheme which provided grants to local and State governments for public works. Why do we not have such a scheme now? Unemployment is much higher right now than it was when previous Liberal and Country Party governments saw fit to have job creation programs. Now there is no job creation program and apparently there is no interest in creating jobs and in keeping people in jobs. The same can be said for retraining programs. The present Government has cut back on the National Employment and Training scheme funding. An amount of $52m was allocated last year and only $40m was allocated this year.
– Why was it not spent last year?
– Because the present Government cut back the allowances and that meant that many fewer people were trained. In fact, we now have 7500 people in training under the NEAT scheme, whereas this time last year, as I said in a debate last week, we had 14 000 people being trained. We have just over half that number being trained now. This Government is cutting back on retraining programs. That is a despicable action in the current circumstances, and it is extremely unwise in terms of labour market policy. The OECD says that a target for a developed country should be to have 1 per cent of the work force retraining at any one time. We have just over 0.1 per cent retraining. When the Labor Party went out of office we were just getting under way with the NEAT scheme, which we hoped would be expanded considerably in the future. This Government has cut it back. That is a quite contrary policy to what is needed at this time.
The same applies to apprenticeships. This Government has done nothing to expand subsidies for apprentices, despite the fact that the intake of apprentices is down enormously and there has been a dramatic drop in the number of apprentices who still have their jobs. There has been wholesale sacking of apprentices in depressed industries. This Government is doing nothing about it. Other countries are taking substantial action to overcome such situations. I have not the time to go through the various programs, but the OECD publications are full of the kinds of schemes which various countries, comparable to ours, have introduced in order to provide jobs, to keep in jobs and to train people for jobs. This Government is absolutely slack. It is not taking any interest in that kind of program. It is relying, instead, on the recovery of demand. There is no sign that demand will recover. The implications of all that are tremendously severe and important for this country. It means that we will have very much higher unemployment at the end of this year and continuing high unemployment -
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Before I call the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations, let me say that the matter of public importance is ‘the Government’s perfunctory response to the unemployment crisis’. It occurs to me that the honourable member for Gellibrand has considerably enlarged the area of debate. I thought I should just make that comment in passing.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I raise a point of order. It seems extraordinary for a person sitting in the chair to say that he is making a comment in passing about a debate that has been going on for 15 minutes. Mr Deputy Speaker, are you identifying yourself with the people sitting on the other side of the House, or are you trying to restrict the debate?
– I certainly am not. If the honourable member for Port Adelaide will resume his seat, I will comment on that remark. Once or twice I was tempted to point out that the honourable member for Gellibrand for quite long periods of his speech, in my opinion, was not dealing with his own matter of public importance. If other honourable members, including the honourable member for Port Adelaide, wish to take the same broad view, in my view the words of the matter of public importance are now broadened. I think it is a perfectly fair and reasonable statement.
– Of course, it is not unfamiliar to have members of the Australian Labor Party in this House making speeches which have nothing whatever to do with the subject they have raised. They have done it again on this occasion. Unlike the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis), I intend to speak on the matter that he has proposed to the House. The Opposition pretends that it is gravely concerned at the unemployment crisis in Australia. The first question we have to ask is: Who caused it? That is the first thing, and I will come back to it in a minute. The second thing is that I am fascinated by the use of the word ‘perfunctory’ in this matter for discussion. The Labor Party, of course, is very familiar with the word, so perhaps that is why it has used it. Certainly no other word could have expressed more accurately the attitude of the Labor Party as unemployment soared during its own term of mismanagement. This time last year unemployment was about 7000 higher than it is at present, once those in ad hoc temporary unemployment are excluded. At the end of May this year, compared with a year ago, there were 13 000 more people in the work force.
The basic cause of unemployment in Australia is the fact that excessive wage demands have generated intolerable levels of inflation. The present high levels of unemployment, it must be emphasised, were basically established under the previous Government. Between 1949 and 1972 the highest figure ever recorded for unemployment was 2.3 per cent in 1961. Only in one other year did the figure exceed 2 per cent. Thus, during the 23 years of Liberal Government, Australia experienced virtually continuous full employment at a level which was the envy of the rest of the world, particularly as it was associated with what, by present day standards, was an extremely low rate of inflation. In December 1972, when the former Liberal Government left office, unemployment was 136 000. Three years later in
December 1975 when the Labor Party went out of office unemployment had more than doubled to 328 000. Thus, by attacking the present level of unemployment the Opposition is in effect attacking the very problem which it created. In short, it is condemning its own maladministration.
Essentially, the present unemployment can be traced back to the wage explosion that was permitted, if not actively encouraged, during the period 1973 to 1975 and particularly in the year 1974. The following table showing the annual rate of increase in average weekly earnings between 1970 and 1975 speaks for itself. I seek leave to have the table incorporated in Hansard.
– Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The foregoing table, however, presents only part of the picture. In addition to direct wage costs, the period 1972 to 1975 saw a massive increase in indirect or overhead labour costs- particularly arising from the granting of extra holidays and holiday loadings and of increased workers’ compensation premiums. All these factors inevitably increase greatly the cost of employing additional units of labour.
In simplest terms, excessive wage increases plus extension of indirect labour costs have led to labour progressively pricing itself out of the market. Increasingly it has become a commodity which more and more employers are finding it too difficult to afford. This is illustrated in a variety of ways. An example is international trade. Here the illustration is perhaps most clear. Wage cost increases in Australia have been, and are still continuing to be, substantially in excess of those experienced by most of our international trading partners. The result is that Australian costs are becoming increasingly out of line. This leads in turn to two serious consequences both of which reduce job opportunities and exacerbate unemployment. To begin with, import competing enterprises within Australia find it increasingly difficult to sell at profitable prices and either cease to absorb labour or, in the more acutely affected enterprises, begin retrenchments. Less obviously, but still with a disturbing impact on employment, Australian manufacturers find it more and more difficult to compete on the overseas markets and many indeed are arranging to manufacture outside Australia.
– They have no choice.
– They have no choice, as the honourable member for Wakefield has said. Thus, as a result of excessive labour costs, Australian industry is forced into the position not of exporting goods but of actually exporting jobs.
Another illustration of the way in which labour is pricing itself out of the market is the preference for overtime rather than new recruitment of labour. Due to the combined effect of trade union pressures and the former Government’s policies, the previous post-war overtimenew labour recruitment relationship has been reversed. In the immediate post-war period overtime rates rapidly increased compared with pre- 1939 conditions. In making overtime expensive employers were encouraged to increase their work force rather than engage in overtime. During the 1972 to 1975 period the rapid increase in the cost of workers’ compensation premiums, payroll tax, holidays, holiday payments, etc., reversed that situation so that to a significant degree overtime is preferable to recruiting new labour. This trend is clearly evidenced by the fact that although unemployment has increased on a seasonally adjusted basis for most of 1976, overtime has also risen.
The combined effect of excessive labour costs and the disappearance of the post-war era of full employment brought about in the term of the Labor Government during the period 1972 to 1975 has entirely altered the relative balance of power within the labour market. In the present situation workers can be divided into 2 classesthe ‘safe’ and the ‘vulnerable’, that is, those who run no risk of becoming unemployed, such as public servants, academics and some skilled metal tradesmen, and those very vulnerable to unemployment, such as process workers in import competing manufacturing industries and those engaged in export industries. Every wage rise gained by ‘safe’ workers, by raising the cost of labour, encourages employers to economise and to retrench or to refrain from recruiting more workers. All wage increases in the current climate of unemployment can be seen as the haves getting more, largely at the expense of the have nots among the workers themselves.
It is in the context of ‘safe’ and ‘vulnerable’ workers that the connection between wages and unemployment becomes clearest. Unless wage costs are reduced it becomes difficult, if not impossible, for industry and Government to absorb additional workers. At the same time, however, every wage decision which increases labour costs reduces the ability of employers to absorb labour. Thus, wage increases, while benefiting ‘safe’ workers, increases the number of employees in the vulnerable category, that is, those whose jobs are at risk, or worse still, those who will be retrenched and those out of work who will have difficulty in finding new employment. Looked at in its right perspective, wage increases are becoming in the present environment more and more a device whereby the have groups among the wage and salary earners are protecting their positions at the expense of the have nots, not only among wage and salary earners but also among self-employed groups, particularly those in rural areas who are dependent solely on what the world is prepared to pay them for their products.
It is important to stress the basic economic truth that unemployment, inflation and wage restraint are totally interrelated. Where wage restraint is lacking, as was the case between 1973 and 1975, the increases in labour cost pressures inevitably lead to a rise in unemployment. In fact, they generate unemployment through 2 different mechanisms- one direct and the other indirect. The direct mechanism, which has already been elaborated on, is through labour pricing itself out of the market. I have talked at length about that. The indirect mechanism results from the generation socially and economically of unacceptable levels of inflation and an urgent pressure on governments of all political complexions to take counter measures. Counter measures against inflation, as the Labor Government found after mid- 1974- apparently to its surprise- inevitably involved restrictive financial policies. Inevitably then the wage explosion of 1974 generated the unemployment of 1975 and of 1976. I stress again that unless a government, of any political complexion, is prepared to tolerate South American-type inflation, policies of restraint become inevitable and necessary. If the previous Government is to be blamed, it is to be blamed not for taking these restrictive measures but for its financial policy which permitted and, indeed, encouraged the wage explosion of 1 974.
– It made it inevitable.
– It made it inevitable, as the honourable member for Wakefield points out. That has lessons for the future. It is important to sheet home the real blame for the past, present and the immediate future level of unemployment. It is due ultimately to excessive wage increases and these in turn arise from the selfish, if not anti-social, behaviour of militant trade unionists who are prepared to put the economic welfare and the job opportunities of their fellow workers at risk in a narrow minded attempt to increase their own real income.
– What did Paul Johnson have to say about this?
– Government policies of restraint, as the previous Government found out, are forced upon any responsible administration as a result of the inflationary impact of runaway wage costs. Thus, the real culprits for the present level of unemployment are all those people, both within and to some extent beyond the trade union movement, who insist on wage increases regardless of their adverse impact. I take up the interjection of the honourable member for Wakefield who referred to some articles written by a well known socialist, Mr Johnson, in some English newspapers about a year ago. He pointed out that the pursuit of socialist objectives by the means I have just described destroys any hope of attaining those objectives, whether or not honourable members agree with them.
In the present environment particularly, job opportunities are integrally related to wage costs. Excessive wage costs led to the present unemployment and only a reduction in such excessive wage costs will lead, even after some time lag, to a reduction in the present level of unemployment. Any suggestions of some easy way out, particularly by a massive injection of public funds, not only is economically unsound but also is doing a total disservice to the community. As we have said often in the past, the way to recovery is likely to be difficult, particularly in view of the financial laxity of the former regime. The first requirement is to obtain this reduction in inflation. Essentially, that means reducing the Budget deficit and pursuing appropriate wages policies. We have done these things. The Australian Labor Party refused to do them. We have given encouragement to business because three out of 4 jobs in Australia are in private enterprise. We have done so by means such as the 40 per cent investment allowance and a start on the introduction of cost value stock accounting. For obvious ideological reasons- ignoring economic realities- the Labor Party refused to institute either of these measures. We have introduced full indexation of personal income tax in one year and an entirely new and imaginative scheme greatly to increase family allowances, to put more money back into the pockets of the people who earn that money. The Labor Party was not prepared to do either of these things. We have just announced another new initiative, relocation assistance for those people who cannot find employment in their present locations.
The economic debris of the Labor years in government will take time to clean up. The Labor Party set Australia on the road to the world’s economic scrapheap. It may have claimed ignorance and inexperience then but it cannot do so now. Yet, it is quite clear from the speech of the honourable member for Gellibrand that it would be prepared to do it all again. The Australian people have shown in unmistakable terms that they do not want this to happen. We will not let it happen.
-We have just seen an incredible performance put on here in the House by the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street). I will just take 30 seconds of my speaking time to describe what must have happened in his office prior to his coming into the House. One of the public servants must have said: ‘Mr Minister, you are required in the House. There is a debate on the unemployed. You had better take this speech with you out of the second drawer of your desk. You were going to deliver it to the Corangamite Liberal bodies and probably they would have believed it. But now you have been called upon to speak in the House, you had better go in and try to convince people there that what you are saying is correct’. There was not one utterance in the Minister’s whole address, which lasted for 15 minutes, about what this Government is doing for the people who find themselves unemployed. Not only is it bad enough that Ministers continually enter the House to read out these dreary speeches written by the public servants, but worse, they are all starting to speak like the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). It is just one blurb. At least they should try to lift their diction a little so that we can try to understand what the hell they are talking about in the House. As I say, there was not one utterance about what the Government is doing for the unemployed.
Let me turn my attention to the relocation scheme announced by the Government last week. Just a little over a week ago I asked a question of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) in the House about his awareness of the need for a relocation scheme for unemployed people in this country so that they can be taken to places where work is available. He ignored the question completely and indicated that the Government was doing nothing about it. Of course, on Friday out came the announcement that this is what the Government is going to do. It was announced that the Government hoped in the next 12 months to spend $2m on relocating workers. I want to give some indication of the efficiency of the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations which was responsible for the announcement of this scheme. There is a total ignorance by this Government of the need for a complete labour market project. There is a complete ignorance about what is happening with the work force in Australia. Let me remind honourable members opposite, whose god is private enterprise, of what is occurring. I hope that the honourable member for Wakefield (Mr Kelly) remains in the House because he has espoused unemployment from time to time. Between 1947 and 1975 the number of people employed in rural industries, expressed in percentage terms, dropped from 17 per cent of the work force to 7 per cent of the work force. The position in the mining industry has remained stable. It employs 2 per cent of the work force, although the figure dropped early in 1961 and came back to 2 per cent in 1975. The percentage of the work force engaged in manufacturing industry dropped from 27 per cent to 22 per cent. The percentage of people in the work force engaged in the tertiary industries in Australia has risen from 54 per cent in 1947 to 69 per cent in 1975. So we have seen a total change in the makeup of the Australian work force and we are waiting for governments to recognise what should be done to assist people to get back to work.
We now have the introduction of this miserable relocation scheme. The Government says that it might be able to spend $2m in 12 months. The fact is- every member of Parliament ought to understand this- that the work force will not be the same again. We will not drift back to the good times that may have occurred in the 1950s, the 1960s or the 1970s. The fact is that many people who have been working in industry previously will have to find employment in vastly different industries and in vastly different areas of Australia. The Government talks proudly of this handout of $2m. The Press was quite right in its reaction to it. The Government should not be allowed to snow the Australian people into believing that this will overcome all the massive problems associated with the 400 000 unemployed in Australia today.
Let us look at the position: It is not as if one would not have respect for a government that had a well thought out program if it had some sort of constructive contribution to make towards getting people back to work. I want to draw the attention of honourable members to an article published recently in the Australian following the announcement of this relocation scheme. The article, which is written by Mr Charles Wright, is headed: ‘Unemployed need not apply’. I will read it and re-read it so that honourable members are aware of its contents and know that the department which was responsible for announcing the scheme has not got a clue what it is all about. It is another little bit of Liberal Party patchwork, another little bit of back bench sensitivity to the fact that twenty, thirty or forty of them might lose their seats in the election in 2 years’ time. Let us look at the experiences of Mr Charles Wright with the department. He says:
It seemed, on the face of it, a perfectly reasonable question. The Department of Employment and Industrial Relations is to make grants of as much as $ 1 900 for jobless families to move to where jobs are available. Ergo, one would think, the Department must know where jobs are available.
One takes this question along via telephone, to the private secretary of the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations. One receives a rather long silence. ‘Yeh, well,’ finally ventures the private secretary, ‘the plans are still being drawn up. They should be ready in a couple of days. The Department is working on them. ‘ ‘There is nothing I can help you with today. I just don’t think we are in a position to write about it in detail at the moment.’ ‘This reporter has been through the mill. He will not take the hint. He invites the private secretary to offer some sort of broad indication of where the jobs might be. ‘
I ask honourable members to listen to the next part. I quote the reply by the private secretary to the Minister: ‘Well, ‘says the private secretary, ‘you would be looking at places like Newcastle, or Whyalla. ‘
Newcastle and Whyalla! Spike Milligan must be working in the Department of Employment and Industrial Relations. The people responsible for drawing up the program are being asked questions validly and legitimately by the media as to what is occurring and they do not know. It would be a huge joke to tell any skilled, unskilled or semi-skilled person that he could probably venture into Newcastle or Whyalla to find employment. Both areas have the highest level of unemployed in their respective States. Eight per cent of the people of Newcastle are unemployed. The Department which announces this grand scheme says to the reporter that the unemployed should go to Newcastle or Whyalla.
What the Department knows about this scheme goes on right through the article. The fact is that after the reporter had been talking to six or seven people in the Department he concluded that nobody knew anything about the matter. Finally he was told to make inquiries perhaps in
Murwillumbah. A person in Murwillumbah said: ‘We might need panelbeaters’. Someone else said: ‘We could take building workers from New South Wales and place them in Western Australia’. The cost of shifting 1500 building workers’ families from Sydney and Gosford, areas with the largest number of unemployed building workers, to Perth would take up all the Government’s $2m. It is time this Government recognised that first and foremost it is in government. It is of no good continually haranguing us with the statement that we were in government and were to blame for everything that happened or, if it was not our fault, it was the fault of the trade unions. Honourable members opposite are in government; they are supposedly running the country. They are supposed to come up with the answers to meet these enormous problems. Until we have a total labour market project to reorientate the industries of this country, until we show some sophistication in our understanding of exactly what is happening, there will be no solution to Australia ‘s unemployment problem.
I wish to take up the point made so often by the honourable member for Wakefield who says that perhaps we have the wrong industries, the over-protected industries, and we are stopping the building up of new industries. Only governments can bring this situation about in the future; only governments can recognise the plight of the 400 000 people who are unemployed. It is going to take more than the Government’s miserable relocation scheme which has been announced to give back faith to the working people of Australia. The Government talks about shifting the unemployed and paying them $500 to shift their goods and $200 to pay the lawyer. In Sweden the Government moves in and buys the homes of the people who have to be shifted. Why cannot this Government do this? If people have to be shifted out of Newcastle and leave their homes, why cannot the Government move in and buy them new homes instead of allowing them, as the honourable member for Gellibrand (Mr Willis) said, to take the depressed price which may be available to people in an area where we have a high level of unemployment. This Government does not want to be serious about the unemployment in Australia. This Government is hoping that everything will return to the norm before November 1978. This Government totally ignores the plight of the people who are out of work. There are more people out of work today than there ever were when we were in government.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I have travelled around this country and have been in shearing sheds and country pubs all over the place and I thought I had become immune to excessive gall, but the temerity of members of the Australian Labor Party in proposing a matter of public importance in regard to unemployment leaves even me spellbound. I can well accept that they are experts on unemployment because, let us face it, when was unemployment in Australia created? It was not evident when the Labor Party took over government in 1972, as well the honourable member for Port Adelaide (Mr Young) knows.
– It was all their own work.
-That is right. As the honourable member for Wakefield says, unemployment was all the Labor Party’s own work. As the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations (Mr Street) said in his speech earlier, in 1 972 when the Liberal-Country Party Government was defeated at the general election 136 000 people were unemployed. The honourable member for Port Adelaide would know that when his Party left government in 1975, the level of unemployment had reached 328 000.
– They did not mean to do it, though.
– They did not. It was just sheer negligence that caused it to happen. Members of the Opposition know all about unemployment. I should like to take up just a couple of points that the honourable member for Port Adelaide raised in his speech. He seems to have a misunderstanding of the scheme introduced by the Minister for the relocation of workers. I hope that the honourable member does not leave the chamber, as he may be interested to know that there is no limit to the amount of money available for relocation for people to find other jobs. I again say to the honourable member ‘Do not leave us yet; you may be interested in some of these points’. There is no limit to the amount available for relocation. The Minister was using examples only. But in the Budget and in the amount allocated by the Treasury, there is an open-ended -
– He has gone.
– I am sorry about that. He may have learnt something had he stayed. There is no limit involved. At this stage the amount is an open cheque. Until we have more factual information it is impossible for the Government to put a firm figure on how much money will be allocated for this particular scheme. The honourable member for Port Adelaide also quoted from an article in the Australian newspaper which claimed that information about the scheme was not available through the Department. It is a strange thing to me that on the same day details showing a map of all the employment opportunities throughout Australia were published in the Melbourne Sun. If a reporter from the Melbourne Sun could find out those details from the Department, why could not a reporter from the Australian newspaper do so? Perhaps a little bit more initiative should have been shown by one particular reporter.
I should like to refer also to the policies pursued by the Australian Labor Party when it was in government. Honourable members should bear in mind that this is when our unemployment problem was created. In effect, what the Labor Party did was to create unemployment in Australia. Then, when it left government in December 1975, it said: ‘Now look, chaps, we are sorry we made such a mess. We are handing over to you and we hope you can wave a magic wand and fix it all*. Now honourable members opposite are criticising us because the magic wand is taking a little bit longer to wave than they expected. The people of Australia know darn well that the policies of this Government will fix the state of the economy in Australia and will reduce unemployment. That is more than the Labor Party was able to do in 3 years; rather, it was going in the opposite direction.
One of the things the Labor Party did while in government, quite callously and without regard to employment opportunities, was to reduce tariffs by 25 per cent across the board. What did this do? The people of Bass well remember what Labor did. Look at what happened in the textile industries and what happened during the following by-election when those policies of the Australian Labor Party and the unemployment that resulted became known to the people who relied on those industries. The Labor Party says it is concerned about unemployment and what happened as a result of its policies. Honourable members opposite might take back to the honourable member for Newcastle (Mr Charles Jones) his statement, well remembered in Tasmania, that there are more votes in Newcastle than there are in Tasmania. The honourable member for Newcastle might be trying to forget his statement but not one person in Tasmania has forgotten that statement.
– They get reminded every week.
– We intend to go on reminding them, too, believe you me. Quite apart from the Labor Party’s policies on tariffs, it is quite apparent to me from listening to the remarks of speakers on the opposite side of the chamber that they still have not recognised the fact that the state of the economy is related to unemployment. They seem to think that people in Australia have a God given right to a job, a God given right to a high wage, and a God given right to a high standard of living, and that it is the ultimate responsibility of industry and private employers throughout Australia to simply snap their fingers and create jobs. That is not possible. Jobs will be created only when we have a sound, stable economy. This Government recognises that and is working towards that end. It is not something that will happen overnight; it is not something we can create by snapping our fingers. It happens because people are prepared to work hard and to act upon a plan on a long-term basis. But the Labor Government obviously did not realise this fact.
What happened to the inflation rate during the Labor Government’s period of office? The rate of inflation, as expressed through the consumer price index, rose from 4.3 per cent in 1972 when the Labor Government assumed office to 14.9 per cent when it left office in December 1975. This Government recognises that there cannot be ‘ an economic recovery in Australia until that rate of inflation is reduced. Industry cannot create new jobs or employ new workers while its cost structures are so high. The Labor Party and some members of the trade union movement still do not understand this relationship between the state of the economy and the rate of unemployment.
As the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations said, the high rate of wages is another factor that is affecting the ability of employers to engage new labour. Let us look at some of the figures. In December 1972 when the former Liberal-National Country Party Government left office, average weekly earnings were $82.50. Under the policies of the honourable member for Hindmarsh (Mr Clyde Cameron) when he was Minister for Labour average weekly earnings increased to $166.70 in December 1975. Yet the Australian Labor Party in its term of office expected industry to be able to absorb those cost increases and maintain a high rate of employment. This was absolutely impossible. I am concerned at the structural unemployment in this country at the moment. Honourable members opposite probably do not know the unemployment rate in Tasmania at present. Perhaps they do not care about it. Look at what the Labor Government did to tariffs. It did not care if Tasmania’s textile industries or paper industries closed down. It would have liked to cut the rope and let Tasmania drift out into the Antarctic.
– Would you restore them?
– I inform the honourable member for Gellibrand that the rate of unemployment in Tasmania is 5.5 per cent, as opposed to the national average of 4.5 per cent. But what makes the position so terribly difficult and of great concern in Tasmania is the rate of unemployment among the younger age groups. These include the school leavers and the under-20-year-olds. The honourable member for Gellibrand might be interested to learn that the rate of unemployment for under-20-year-olds in Tasmania is 20 per cent, as against a national average of 13 per cent. When one considers the position of people in those younger age groups and of people in isolated areas the desperate situation in Tasmania becomes quite apparent. We find that 23 per cent of last year’s school leavers in Tasmania have been out of a job for 6 months, as against the national average of 14 per cent.
This Government is concerned about unemployment. It realises that reduction of the rate of unemployment in Australia must be related to the state of the economy. The Government is setting out purposefully, through the Budget and other policy actions, to correct the state of the economy. These actions will work.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The discussion is concluded.
– I move:
That, in accordance with the provisions of the Public Works Committee Act 1969 it is expedient to carry out the following proposed work which was referred to the Parliamentary Standing Committee on Public Works and on which the committee has duly reported to Parliament: Development of a navy supply centre and army workshop facility at defence establishment, Zetland, N.S. W.
The proposal is for the redevelopment of the exLeyland car manufacturing plant at Zetland for defence purposes as a Navy supply centre and an Army workshop and servicing facility. The proposed works comprise the modification of existing buildings for use as offices, warehouses, workshops and warehouse support facilities; the construction of a gas, acid and flammable liquid store; the rationalisation of existing services to meet planned requirements; and the installation of the necessary services and equipment. The estimated cost of the proposed work, when referred to the Committee, was $ 14.2m. The Committee, in recommending the work, has concluded firstly, that there is a need for more spacious and centralised storage facilities for the Navy and for the Army workshop and servicing facility, and, secondly, that the proposed redevelopment of the Zetland complex will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the Navy supply organisation and the Army workshop company. Upon the concurrence of the House in this resolution detailed planning can proceed in accordance with the recommendations of the Committee.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill returned from the Senate with amendments.
Motion ( by Mr Hunt) agreed to:
That the amendments be taken into consideration in Committee of the whole House forth with.
Consideration of Senate ‘s amendments.
Section 9 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section ( 1 ) the words ‘approval of the hostel under section5 of this Act’ and substituting the words ‘the making of the grant’.
Senate’s amendment No. 1-
Leave out the clause, insert the following clause:
Section 9 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section ( 1 ) the words ‘ approval of the hostel under section 5 of this Act’ and substituting the words ‘the making of the grant or within such further period as the DirectorGeneral fixes having regard to the circumstances of a particular case’.’.
Senate ‘s amendment No. 2-
After clause 4, insert the following new clause: 4a. Section 10 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section:
an approval under section5 was given, within the period referred to in sub-section (1 ), with respect to a building proposed to be erected on a particular site proposed to be acquired by the organisation concerned; and
the Director-General is satisfied that, by reason of exceptional circumstances beyond the control of the organisation, the organisation has been unable to acquire that site, the Director-General may, in his discretion, at the request of the organisation, vary the approval by substituting a reference to another site for the reference to the firstmentioned site and, thereupon, that approval has effect as so varied.’.’.
– I move:
I would like to restate the purposes of this Bill. It is to extend the effective operation of the Aged Persons Hostels Act 1972-74 to enable grants to be made to the aged persons hostel projects for which applications have been lodged but which, for one reason of another, could not be commenced within the time limits imposed by the Act. It provides for the time limit of 12 months to run from the date on which a grant is actually approved. I have been advised that the Government’s decision to reimburse organisations for expenditure incurred on the preliminary planning of deferred projects constitutes a grant within the meaning of the Act. As these reimbursements commenced approximately 12 months ago, organisations could lose their entitlements if work were not commenced shortly. This is not possible in the majority of cases. To overcome this problem, it is necessary, therefore, to amend clause 4 of the Bill.
Another difficulty that is being experienced is that approvals already given to preserve the eligibility of organisations for a grant are in respect of buildings to be constructed on a specific site. Because many grants have been deferred due to the unavailability of funds, some organisations have relinquished their options to purchase or otherwise acquire the sites selected for their hostels. Most of these organisations plan to construct hostels on alternative sites but the original approval cannot be varied to enable this to be done under the present legislation. The amendments are therefore designed to correct the situation.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Resolution reported; report adopted.
Debate resumed from 8 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, may I have the indulgence of the House to raise a point of procedure on this legislation? Before the debate is resumed on this Bill I would like to suggest that it may suit the convenience of the House to have a general debate covering this Bill, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) and the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2), as they are associated measures. Separate questions will, of course, be put on each of the Bills at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the 3 Bills to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering the 3 measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-These 3 Bills deal with a fair range of items; so I will deal with them seriatim. I refer, firstly, to the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2). I think that it is quite inappropriately named. It ought to be named the Private Benefit Funds Subsidy Bill. It is true that many of its clauses provide for corrections to be made to the drafting of previous legislation that was inadequate. We are not quibbling with that.
I would like to concentrate my remarks on 2 clauses which strike the Opposition as being the guts of this Bill and which, as I have indicated already, could be interpreted as being a technique whereby the private benefit funds will be subsidised. I refer, firstly, to clause 13, which deals with reinsurance accounts in relation to hospital benefits funds. The point of the exercise is to try to provide some cover for those people who are sick for a long period of time and who need hospitalisation for more than 35 days in a year. Of course, that would be a burden upon any fund. The way out that has been chosen by the Government is to have these people transferred to a reinsurance account. On the surface that sounds good. That special account would then cover them for their hospitalisation for however long they need to be receiving such care.
The Bill deletes the previous provision relating to the payment of medical fees for chronic illnesses, which is an advance. Before the introduction of Medibank- under the old scheme of the Liberal-Country Party Government- there were special accounts for people who were chronically ill, and anyone who became too much of a burden for the private funds was transferred to the special accounts. That meant that the patients continued to pay their contributions to their benefits funds, but the funds did not have to pay the doctor rebates and the hospital rebates after the appropriate time had elapsed or the appropriate conditions had been fulfilled. The Australian Government did that because the patient was transferred to a special account and the money came from the taxpayer. We recognised that. Under Medibank we sought to change that situation. We thought that people who took out private insurance should pay a contribution that was adequate to ensure that they were covered for all of their private health needs. If they did not want to do that and, as they had to pay their taxes like everybody else, they could get their care under Medibank. Under plain, ordinary Medibank their doctors’ fees would be rebated and they would have access to public wards in public hospitals- the best possible treatment available in the country.
That is not good enough for the benefits funds, of course, because part of their appeal is the offering of lush care in private hospitals. That usually means fancy hotel-type accommodation. Generally speaking it has nothing to do with the quality of the care that will be available to the patients. Of course, private hospitals are in business to make money for the entrepreneurs who set them up. So they charge fairly hefty fees. The fees charged by private hospitals would clearly have to be higher than any fees charged by public hospitals, but of course, now no fees have to be paid by public patients in public hospitals.
– Because of Medibank.
– Because of Medibank no fees are charged to public patients in public hospitals. I thank my colleague for his assistance. Because the fees charged by the private hospitals are high, the benefits fund contributions could well have to be rather higher than most people really would want to pay, particularly if a patient is chronically ill. As we get older we tend to come into the bracket in which we are likely to want many services and are likely to become chronically ill. The private funds could not or would not willingly forsake that group of patients. They want to hang on to them for as long as they can. So they have cried to the Government and the Government has made a generous offer to pay $50m into the reinsurance accounts.
I would not be terribly worried if there were some evidence that the benefits funds themselves were going to make some positive financial contribution to the reinsurance accounts. I understand that these sorts of arrangements apply to the ordinary insurance companies. What happens is that when a more than usual burden falls upon a particular insurance company it refers the matter to the reinsurance pool and, according to a previously agreed formula, all the insurance companies share the expense. I cannot find any evidence in this legislation to suggest that that is what the private funds will do. One of the sources of revenue that appear to be available to the funds is the contributions of those people transferred to the reinsurance accounts. Presumably, what is transferred is not the contribution that they make to the benefits funds for the period prior to the 35 days of hospitalisation but only that proportion that relates to the period after the 35 days of hospitalisation. So the first contribution to the funds of the reinsurance accounts is from the poor, chronically ill contributors themselves.
The second contribution, as far as one can detect from the legislation, is the generous donation of $50m by the Australian Government. To emphasise the point I am making, namely, that I consider it to be a generous donation, I point out that I think the Minister for Health ( Mr Hunt) himself agreed that it was a generous donation. At page 5 of the circulated copy of his second reading speech he said:
Basically, the reinsurance arrangements enable an organisation, after it has paid standard hospital benefits to a contributor for 35 days of hospitalisation in a year, to debit to its reinsurance account benefits payable to that contributor for the remainder of that year.
That is what I have said. There is no argument about that. The Minister went on to say:
The Bill provides for the reduction of the qualifying period from 60 days to 35 days.
That is a very considerate action on the part of the Government. It makes it easier for the private funds. If they had had to carry such contributions for 60 days, the burden would have been greater. The Minister’s second reading speech continues:
This does not, in any way, affect the benefits entitlement of any contributor.
The Minister is right again. Whatever happens, whoever pays their accounts, such contributors are still covered. The Minister went on to say:
It - these arrangements- will ensure that the $50m a year the Government has undertaken to pay towards the reinsurance arrangements will be utilised.
I emphasise the words ‘will be utilised ‘. In other words, the Government lowered the qualification period from 60 days to 35 days because it was afraid that the $50m would finish up with a surplus; that it would not be used. Incidentally, it is $50m a year- not a one-off payment. This means, in essence, that a person pays as a contributor to a private fund and thereby supports himself as far as hospital and medical insurance is concerned, but when he becomes chronically ill he is transferred to a reinsurance account and the burden of paying his expenses rests with the taxpayer because the Australian Government is contributing $50m to support that fund. I am not objecting to the taxpayer doing it. I think the taxpayer should do it for everybody. Why should the taxpayer have to subsidise those people who stay in shared ward accommodation in private hospitals- we are not allowed to call such wards intermediate wards any more; we have to talk about shared ward accommodation- and not those -
– What about Medibank Private?
– I am talking about intermediate patients in private hospitals and intermediate patients in public hospitals. The taxpayer subsidises their treatment because presumably, theoretically, it is supposed to be superior. Why should the person who cannot afford that treatment but who still pays his taxes, the poor mug who has to stay in Medibank, who is not able to get the additional benefit of private or intermediate ward care, be forced to contribute to the maintenance of someone who wants to stay in an intermediate ward and collect the frills? What is the moral obligation on the poor section of the community to grant that privilege to those who are richer? If they are chronically ill and need extra hospitalisation, why is it not at the same rate as that for every other taxpayer? Why not in a public ward hospital? Of course the irony of all this is that we fool ourselves and so we charge the community extra money to provide these people with private and intermediate hospital treatment on the assumption that it is superior to public hospital treatment.
I ask honourable members to consider one situation carefully. You are walking along the street on Friday evening. That is probably the best evening for this to happen. You get knocked over by a motor car, usually a drunk driver. The ambulance is called. The ambulance picks you up and the ambulance officers recognise that you are seriously ill, at death’s door. They rush you to a hospital- the nearest public hospital, not the nearest private hospital. Think of another situation. You suddenly fall ill at home. You ring the doctor. You might be lucky enough to find him at night. I am talking about the conscientious doctor. You find him. He realises it is an emergency.
– That is a private practice doctor.
– You find a general practice doctora good one. There are plenty of them around still. He says: ‘It is a waste of time my coming to the house. From what you have said I know the patient needs urgent treatment. I will arrange for an ambulance to go immediately to pick up the patient and take the patient to the nearest public hospital, because that is the only place where you will find the facilities, the resources, to treat such a patient properly’.
A person might go to a nice private hospital and have a lovely cholecystectomy done with the surgeon of his choice, and three or four days later suddenly something happens. A complication sets in and he needs an urgent transfusion perhaps or resuscitation. The facilities, the resources, are not available at most private hospitals to provide that sort of care. I have seen it as a resident and I saw it when I was in practice at the trade union clinic. I recognised what used to go on. The ambulance is called and the patient is transferred from the beautiful private hospital to that dilapidated, run-down, rotten public hospital- the only place where real facilities are available and where the best of care is available, so you can be sure that in fact you do not suffer the luxury of lying in seclusion in a private room in a private hospital and, on your own, privately expiring.
Of course the reality in a private hospital if something goes wrong is that there are no residents. The private doctors do not live at the private hospital. They conduct their practices elsewhere. If an emergency arises the nursing staff get on the telephone and they try to track down the doctor. He may be over the other side of town playing golf or quite legitimately, operating on another patient somewhere else. Who will look after the patient suffering an unexpected relapse in this lush private hospital? There are no residents available. The doctor may find a colleague handy who might be willing to drop in and do something about it. I suppose it depends on the sort of working relationship a specialist has with his colleagues, but it is highly unlikely that he will be able to get anyone else. It is a fairly competitive game, as it were, or business.
If an emergency arises in a public hospital, what happens there? In half a minute or less a resident medical officer can be at your bedside to start examining you to see what is wrong. Sure, they are only just out of medical school and still wet behind the ears, but they are still better than nobody. A resident medical officer can make some assessment of your position. If he feels there is something really the matter, or if the nursing staff badgers him into accepting that the patient really is in need of some urgent treatment and he does not know what to do, he can call upon the registrars, who are also in the hospital. If the worst happens, a specialist can be notified. The specialist, even if he is somewhere else, can at least say: ‘Get moving on something- this, that or the other. Institute resuscitation procedures’. Resident medical officers can at least do that. They can start that sort of procedure, which you cannot get done in a private hospital. I assure the House that to give up the privilege of dying in seclusion in the luxury of a private hospital, I will opt out of the private funds. I will stay in Medibank and I will have myself admitted to a public ward in a public hospital if I feel I need hospitalisation. So much for clause 13. It provides a subsidy for the treatment of private patients in private hospitals at the expense of the rest of the community. Why should those sorts of funds not be spent on everybody? What is special about people taking out private insurance? In the Committee stage we intend to move that clause 13 be deleted.
Clause 20 also provides a hidden subsidy for benefit funds. When the Government proposed its marvellous scheme the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) indicated that he thought that the costs for intermediate ward cover would be $ 135 a year. That was a rough guess, and I do not blame the departmental officers sitting behind the Minister for making the mistake, but when they came to do their sums in leisure a bit later they found that the real cost would be more. They found it would not be $135 but something like $185. The real figure is irrelevant. It was going to be more. So as not to lose with the community -
– To do the right thing.
– That is right. The Minister murmurs ‘To do the right thing’, whatever that may mean. To do the right thing the Minister has guaranteed that people will not have to pay more than $135 for standard hospital benefit, which means intermediate ward cover. Marvellous! Most of the funds, apparently, and Medibank, have found that they will have to charge more, so the gap will be paid by our benevolent Government.
– For hospital.
– For hospital only. I am talking about hospitals only. Again the point arises: It is the general taxpayer subsidising, admittedly only slightly, the better off section of the community which feels it can afford to insure itself for intermediate ward care. Taxation money comes from the whole damn lot, not just the rich. In fact, in proportion to the amount collected and the effect it has on individuals’ pockets it is the poor who suffer most by this sort of tax scale, but we all accept that. So it is the poor people who will subsidise the few who take out intermediate cover. We are going to subsidise the poor richer section of the community. Forgive the Irish phraseology, but that is what it means. The poor section of the community will subsidise the poor richer section of the community which desperately needs to have intermediate ward cover. Because these people cannot afford the true insurance rate of about $ 185- please do not sling that figure back at me; whatever the figure is it is well above the $135 which was initially estimatedthe general taxpayer is going to subsidise them. I just think that is crazy. I think that is wrong. If people want the luxury of private hospital care they should pay the real cost so that the community knows what the real cost is. We should bear in mind that in those countries- Australia is not one of them- where an attempt has been made to measure the quality of care available in private hospitals results suggest quite strongly that the quality of care is not as good as that available in public hospitals.
– This will apply to intermediate wards in public hospitals.
– I realise it will apply to intermediate wards in public hospitals. The irony is that if you take this extra money, if you take the donation from the general taxpayer, to pay extra, as likely as not in a public hospital you will finish up in the same ward as the public patient. Public hospitals do not have separate private or intermediate wards, they simply designate the beds. Intermediate patients are in 4-bed wards because intermediate patients are always in 4-bed wards, but particularly in the newer public hospitals such as Canberra they are surrounded by public patients in the same ward and in the same cubicle. The public patients get exactly the same treatment as the intermediate patients. They get the same food and the same hospital medical personnel looking after them. That is one of the bonuses in going to a public hospital.
The message of my speech is this: Whatever happens, even if a person is foolish enough to join a private fund, he should always get himself admitted to a public hospital. I think that situation is crazy; I think it is wrong. The facilities in public hospitals ought to be available free of charge to anyone on the basis of medical need. Of course, the facilities are not free. We pay for them with our taxation contributions, and that is the right and proper way to do it. On that basis one contributes in accordance with one’s capacity to pay and is treated in accordance with medical need. That is what the situation ought to be.
I pass now to the next Bill in the three we are discussing, the Health Insurance Amendment
Bill. Basically, the Bill deals with hospital financing arrangements and pathology services. The Opposition raises 3 rousing cheers for the pathology proposals, but I warn the Government now that there will be some cunning doctors who will still slip under its guard and cheat it. I will deal briefly with the pathology services. In essence, the proposal is to try to limit the number of pathology services performed on a patient in any one day. We know it is all free. We know that there is a lot of wasteful prescribing by doctors. I hope that people recognise that patients do not order pathology tests, it is the doctors who order them. I commend the Minister for this proposal; I am not attacking him. I commend him on his attempt to limit the excessive use of pathology services. He has been well advised by his department.
The legislation now states that a patient cannot get the full price for more than 3 services in one day. If a doctor is lazy, instead of talking to the patient for half an hour to try to work out what the problem is, he will talk to the patient for 5 minutes and order 6 tests. Hopefully, the tests supply the answer and they give the pathologist a good income and the GP a further consultation. This measure will inhibit that practice to a certain extent, but where is the trick? The doctor orders 3 tests and tells the patient to go and have them done. The pathologist tells the patient to go back and see the referring GP 2 days after the tests have been done. The patient goes back and the doctor, probably without even looking at the tests because he had intended having 6 tests done in the first place, tell the patient that he needs another 3 tests done. Off goes the patient for another 3 tests 3 days later. They are not done on the same day and it is not the same service. The patient has the additional 3 tests and the specialist gets the full fee, instead of only 20 per cent.
– It is a waste of both time and blood.
– Precisely. The patient may well finish up with 2 needles in his arm instead of one, and then has to go back a third time to the general practitioner. So the GP gets an additional consultation out of it and the pathologist gets a fee. That is just a trick. I am not suggesting that most doctors will do that because I like to think that most of them are not like that. Only the Minister can tell us whether that is so because Medibank was going to come up with figures to expose those practitioners, both specialists and general practitioners, who are abusing the system. I hope the Minister accepts the assurance from this side of the House that we will commend him if he exposes those rogues to the whole community, including the honest members of the medical profession who are being blackened by this sort of behaviour. I am now talking as a doctor and not as a member of Parliament. The Opposition agrees with the proposals relating to pathology services and trusts that if these do not work the Minister will go from strength to strength and bring in a few more.
I turn now to hospital financing. Aye, there’s the rub, and at the Committee stage the Opposition will be proposing an amendment. I understand that on 2 or 3 September a meeting was held between the health officials of the States and the Commonwealth Government and that they agreed to the new schedule listed in clause 10. It is Schedule 2 to the principal Act, the heads of agreement. Those officials agreed to all the heads of agreement. Personally, I do not agree. I disagree with clauses 7 to 11, but that is my personal idiosyncrasy. I accept that the States have accepted all the clauses. A few days later, on about 7 September, the States were notified that the Federal Government was going to add another clause to the schedule. The interpretation made by the States- and as I read it, I fear that I have to agree with that interpretation- is that, if interpreted maliciously, the clause is an escape clause for the Australian Government. I am sure that the present Minister would not want to interpret the clause maliciously, but he has to get his money from Treasury and I know how Treasury behaves, so I persist with my comment. If the clause were to be interpreted in the way the States suggest, the Australian Government could be absolved from any responsibility for some of the additional unforeseen costs imposed on the States.
As I have said, I object to some of the other clauses, but I will leave them to my colleagues to comment on because I want to discuss one more Bill. Again I emphasise the point that the initial heads of agreement, the proposals which were agreed to by the States, suggested that the Australian Government would pay the same amount of money as the State government for accepted costs for the hospitals in a particular State. Quite clearly, that was based on Budget estimates, and we all know that Budget estimates are notoriously inaccurate. That is not the fault of anyone. It happened with our Government, it happens with the present Government, it happens with anybody. There is a suggestion that a committee set up for the purpose will first of all review the initial budget and then will meet again later in the year to review any changes which may have occurred.
– Retrospective changes as well.
– Retrospective changes and changes for the future, but the meeting still will not take place until the end of the year. If the State and Commonwealth people agree and draw up a modified budget which takes into account the past changes and possible future changes, that is good. It is marvellous, bully. But what happens if the budget then proves to be wrong, if something happens in the remaining period? The Bill provides that it is possible for the Government to consider making additional payments. Clause 5(c) of Schedule 2 states: . . . is to submit budgets so formulated, and any such variations, for approval in accordance with the agreement . . .
If that provision were read generously, it would take into account changes that had not been foreseen in the Budget. But the next provision, the one to which the Opposition objects, in essence gives the Australian Government the prerogative to refuse to accept any increases not encompassed by the previous discussions. There is the difficulty. Under the agreement which the Labor Government had, the Commonwealth was to pay 50 per cent of whatever the States had to pay. It was said that the States would waste money, but the States are up for half the money anyway. If they waste money, they waste half of their own money. They are not likely to do that. As a measure of the bona fides of the States, the Labor Government took it that the States would be careful because if they were not careful and wasted $ 1 m they would have to find $500,000 of that $lm. That was a very severe restraint on their foolishness, and that was good enough for the Labor Government.
That provision still holds. The States still have that burden, but the Minister has now taken upon himself the possibility of saying that, despite the best of intentions and the best efforts of the committee assessing the budget, if something unforeseen happens after the last review and an additional cost is incurred which has not been taken into account, he may approve further payments, but he may not and that is the rub. It is the Minister’s sole prerogative. It will not be up to the committee again, it will not be negotiated. The Minister will be able to say: ‘Sorry, barley Charlie, it did not come up at that last meeting. Stiff cheese, you have to carry it yourself. The States could be left carrying more than their fair share of the burden, and the Opposition therefore intends to move for the elimination of that particular section from the heads of agreement.
The final Bill is the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill, which in essence sets up Medibank Private. Some members of the Opposition are worried about this Bill because we do not believe that it is right and proper. We do not think that private insurance is worth while, but we have to accept the fact that a significant proportion of the Australian community feels that it is essential. I have already pointed out that I think the only luxury one has is to expire in isolation in a private ward of a private hospital. That is the only benefit I can see in belonging to a private health fund and being admitted to a private hospital.
Let me refer to strong evidence about the standard of medical care in private hospitals. That evidence is based on statistics. I agree that they have not been obtained in Australia because we have not measured the quality of care anywhere, not even in our public hospitals. In order to forestall criticism from honourable members opposite I point out that I would not necessarily be happy with the quality of care available in the public hospitals either. I do not know. I am not saying it is bad; we just do not know. On measurements taken in other places, such as America, it seems as though, for example, in hospitals below a 100-bed capacity- they are all private hospitals at that level- the mortality rate for seemingly equivalent types of illness is about 40 per cent higher than when patients are treated in larger hospitals, some of which tend to be private and most of which tend to be public. As I say, I would be happy to have a study conducted in this country to prove that that is wrong. I insist that we ought to do such a study to find out. However, except for that reservation and the fact that people still want private and intermediate cover, we will accept that Bill which deals with Medibank, but we will propose some changes. We think it should not be called Medibank Private; we think it should be called Medibank Supplementary. I shall enlarge on that aspect during the Committee stage.
– I feel compelled in my initial remarks to take up a couple of the points that have been mentioned by the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass ). It always amazes me how the Labor Party -
– The only time the remarks will be relevant to the Bill, I should imagine.
– I hear an interjection from the honourable member for Oxley. He is the official Opposition spokesman on defence in this House. I suggest that we have heard little from him in that regard in recent times. One could perhaps call him the de facto shadow Treasurer, the de facto shadow Minister for Health and the de facto shadow Minister for Social Security, because they seem to be the areas in which he is most interested these days. But I return to the point made by the honourable member for Maribyrnong. He made the assertion that there was a generous donation of $50m towards the reinsurance fund. He keeps telling us that the little people- those little people, incidently that deserted the Australian Labor Party in droves at the December election- in actual fact are subsidising the person who pays for shared hospital accommodation. I remind the honourable member that the bulk of funds for hospital and medical expenditure for 1976-77 will not come from these little people. These are estimates. As the honourable member said in his speech, estimates are always subject to change. But it is interesting to note that the Commonwealth’s contribution will still amount to $1,1 20m of the $3,320m estimated expenditure in this area, but that State revenue will contribute something like $840m, that insurance premiums will contribute about $985m, and that the levy payers will contribute something like $375m. So we see that in actual fact the levy payers will contribute by far the least amount. If one cares to examine the Commonwealth revenue figure to ascertain who contributes proportionately the greater percentage, one finds, of course, that it is the person on the higher income who pays the higher taxes. If one looks at State government revenue, no doubt one will find that the higher taxpayer is the higher income earner. Of course, the insurance premiums for the private health fund contribution will also come from the higher income people.
The honourable member was also critical of the levy payers who took out extra hospital cover in public hospitals. Of course, we have heard the honourable member for Maribyrnong in the past in this House sing the praises of the public hospitals. One cannot deny that the equipment and the services provided in most public hospitals in this country are second to none. But the fact of the matter is that people do want independence. People in this nation are prepared to pay for private hospital cover. They have done so despite the fact that Medibank has been with us. It is a fact that some 70 per cent of Australians have kept going some form of private health insurance. Even if that irks the honourable member for Maribyrnong and the Opposition, it is factual. So once again the honourable member says that the little people will be subsidising. In actual fact the lower income earners will benefit from the subsidy that is provided to people taking out extra hospital cover.
In his second reading speeches the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) went into some detail to explain the amendments proposed. Insofar as the Bills are concerned, it is my intention to comment only on the major or significant aspects of the proposed changes. The principal thrust of my arguments will be directed to outlining the reasons for the changes, the philosophy that prompted the changes, and to emphasise the fairness of the scales of charges for the services received.
Probably the most striking features of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill are the provisions dealing with changes relating to payments for pathology services. No one with any knowledge of medicine denies that pathology tests are essential to determine an accurate diagnosis of many ailments. Medical practitioners would be failing their profession and the patient if they did not apply these tests in certain circumstances, and, indeed, the rechecking process to ascertain changing patterns and to update a patient’s history demands pathology tests at intervals. Fortunately, a majority of specialist pathologists are honourable in the pursuit of the profession and conduct their practices in a highly ethical fashion. But it is widely known in the medical profession that a number of ruthless operators, often in league with general practitioners or other specialists, are fleecing the Government and the public by conducting a wide range of unnecessary diagnostic tests, occasionally with the general practitioner receiving a kickback from the pathologist. Some of the tests performed are purely mechanical processes carried out by comparatively unskilled staff, yet at considerable expense to the patients, the Government and the health insurance funds.
It is because of abuses of the system that the limiting changes have been made. It is regrettable that it is necessary to effect changes to any system which results in those in command of the ordering of the services- in this instance the medical profession- being restricted should their better judgment demand otherwise. I am aware that the Minister may direct that the provisions not apply in certain cases but the point I am making is that the actions of those responsible for the changes, those who have abused the system, are deplorable. It is a profession in which one would have hoped that such unscrupulousness was unheard of. Unfortunately that is not the case.
I am pleased to say that these amendments, and others to be announced in the near future, have been recommended by a pathology services working party. The fact that the medical profession has played such an important role in effecting these changes is indicative of the genuine concern exhibited by the profession as a whole to uphold high ideals and ethical standards. The unethical ones have now partly killed the goose that laid such a golden egg for so many years. It is appalling that some professional people with incomes many times greater than the average would be engaged in dishonest practices.
The other major provision in the Health Insurance Amendment Bill is in relation to the Commonwealth entering into agreements with the States for hospital services. Commencing on 1 October this year, new agreements which have been determined after consultation with the State governments will put an end to the open ended arrangements entered into by the previous Government and will rightly allow the Commonwealth a say in how its money is being expended. The repeal of schedule 2, which is the Heads of Agreement, and the substitution thereof with a new Heads of Agreement schedule will enable the States to receive 50 per cent of the net operating costs of recognised hospitals, or the amount paid by a State from its own resources towards those costs, whichever amount is the lesser.
I now want to make a comment in relation to the Health Insurance Commission Bill. This amending legislation will allow the Commission to conduct medical and hospital benefits funds; that is, to establish Medibank Private. Medibank Private, of course, will be a registered organisation and subject to all of the regulations relating to the conduct of medical and hospital private funds as set out in the National Health Act. Existing staff and buildings will be used for the conduct of the operation. The cost of the operation will be carefully apportioned between Medibank and Medibank Private. Medibank Private will have no competitive advantage over other private health funds. Although a statutory body, and therefore normally exempt from taxation, it will be required to meet all costs that the private health funds pay, such as payroll tax, sales tax and stamp duty. The money from these costs will be paid into Consolidated Revenue. The apportionment of costs and the annual financial statements will be scrutinised closely by the Auditor-General. Medibank Private will, indeed must, operate on equal terms with other private health funds. Medibank Private financial statements and annual reports will be tabled in each House of Parliament and therefore will be subject to scrutiny by Parliament. The Health Insurance Commission will be required to operate separate bank accounts from 1 April 1977 in order to separate its Medibank Private operations from its existing operations. An amount of $10m has been provided in Appropriation Bill (No. 2) 1976-77 to enable Medibank Private to commence. It is interesting to note that, with the Treasurer’s approval, the Commission may borrow moneys for and invest moneys in the credit of its medical and hospital funds. In no sense of the operations of Medibank Private is it intended that the Commission will have an unfair advantage over other private health funds. I think that point should be stressed.
I turn now to the National Health Amendment Bill. One of the main purposes of this Bill is to provide a government subsidy to registered hospital funds in respect of persons who contribute for intermediate or shared hospital accommodation, in addition to paying the Medibank levy. This will benefit particularly the low to medium income earners- this is the point I made in relation to what the honourable member for Maribrynong (Dr Cass) said- and will allow them a choice of their own doctor while in hospital. I think it is important that we look at the reasons for the introduction of the levy. When we were in Opposition we opposed the levy as proposed by the Labor Government. I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the Labor Party when in Government proposed a flat levy of 1.35 per cent of salary. We rejected that because we rejected the total concept of Medibank. We understood and knew at the time that it was costly; that it was a monster that would get out of control. Therefore, we rejected the levy because we rejected the total concept of Medibank. One has only to look at the massive payouts that occur in the United Kingdom and Canada under their schemes, which are similar to Medibank Mark I.
I think it was quite conservative to suggest that about 92 per cent of people had cover with private health funds. This meant 8 per cent of people were not covered. They included wealthy people, doctors, and other people who for various reasons decided that they did not want to take out health insurance. It also was estimated that 4 per cent of low income earning Australians were not providing themselves with health insurance. If we were to have the scheme over again, my wish certainly would be to have a scheme to cover the 4 per cent of people or the percentage of people who were not able to take out their own private health insurance. The remainder would continue with a private health fund in the way that operated before Medibank Mark I. It is interesting to note that Medibank cost this nation $ 1,400m in 1975-76. It was estimated to cost $2,000m this year. There is no doubt that taxes would have had to be increased or that spending in other areas would have suffered. One could do as the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) did when he was Treasurer of this nation, and let the finances of this country get completely out of hand and have massive deficits. We started out looking at much lower deficits than occurred.
It should be remembered that nothing is free. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt), who is at the table, has stated in this House on more than one occasion that there is no such thing as a free lunch and that everything has to be paid for. In Queensland we have a so-called free system of hospitals. This has meant that Queensland has suffered in many other areas. That system has operated for more than 2 decades. One also has to look at the philosophy behind the decision to introduce direct contribution from the people. With this so-called free scheme, there is a tendency for people to say: ‘What does it matter? The Government pays’. This means that there is no restraint on the part of the provider of the service and no restraint on the part of the user of the service. Surely people must not be mollycoddled from the cradle to the grave. They have to learn to stand on their own feet and to pay their way. If the cost to the individual is little or nothing, he will seek the service without much concern for the cost to the Government and, of course, the quantity of care increases out of all proportion. People must be made to appreciate the service and to use it only when necessary. Expenditure can be curbed only if people realise what the real costs are. Under this scheme there is an identifiable cost. The members of the public now know that the scheme is costly and that they must share directly in that cost.
I believe that there is some confusion in the community at the moment, but it is not confusion as to whether people have to pay; it is only confusion concerning the details of the scheme. The Labor Party, in Opposition in this Parliament, has done its utmost to promote confusion in the minds of the people. Confusion existed when Medibank Mark I was being introduced. I venture to say that it will be only a matter of two or three months before there is no confusion. It is interesting to note that certain classes of people are exempt from the Medibank levy or exempt from paying any contribution for health insurance. They are age and invalid pensioners, repatriation beneficiaries, defence personnel, families earning less than $4,300 yearly and single people earning less than $2,605 yearly. All others must pay. It ought to be stressed- I hope that honourable members in their electorates will promulgate this fact- that people who pay the levy do not have to take out private health insurance and that the reverse also applies. There are people in our community who believe that they have to pay for private health insurance and pay the Medibank levy.
– They are being misled by the socialists.
-They are being misled by the socialists, as my colleague the honourable member for Bendigo says. People can elect, if they wish, to pay the levy or to join a private health fund. . Mr Hunt- They have to make up their minds before 1 October.
-They have to make up their minds before 1 October, as the Minister for Health has just stated. I submit that Medibank Mark I is one of the worst socialist schemes that we have ever had introduced in this country. It promotes the attitude: ‘Big Brother Government will look after me and, what is more, I do not have to pay’.
– Where is Richardson?
-The honourable member for Prospect keeps interjecting. The fact is that people now know that they have to pay for their health insurance; they now know exactly where the costs are. The costs are being identified for them.
In the couple of minutes that remain to me, I would like to take up a point that the master architect of Medibank Mark I, the honourable member for Oxley, who is to speak in this debate, had to say about reserves. For some time he and the Labor Party, in Government and in Opposition, have been critical of the reserves that have been built up. I quote the following from a booklet entitled, Towards a New Australia, containing an article attributed to the honourable member for Oxley and entitled New Horizons in Health and Welfare Services:
These figures show an enormous increase in reserves, in each case at a faster rate than the provision of benefit payments. That is, dead money. I am sure you will be interested to know that the funds’ reserves stand at an all-time record for hospital and medical insurance of $ 1 17m.
It is staggering to note in the medical side of the scheme that reserves increased at almost twice the rate of benefits to contributors.
The point I make is that the honourable member for Oxley and other members of his Party have been critical of the reserves that have been built up. We note now that almost daily there are articles in our newspapers in which they are being critical of the reserves being used. They say that the private health funds are undercutting Medibank in order to destroy it. Yet the reason, I gather, that the rates of some of the funds will be lower than Medibank is that they will be using up some of their reserves.
-That is good, as the Minister has said. I would hope that the honourable member for Oxley would withdraw those types of remarks because in actual fact the funds are now doing what he has been advocating for some time. The same sort of remarks have been attributed to the de facto parliamentary leader of the Labor Party, Mr R. J. Hawke, and they also have been widely reported in the Press. I just want to quote this:
The Funds would ‘kick the guts out of Medibank’ by undercutting, Mr Hawke said.
Medibank was made to issue its rates before the private funds so they could have the opportunity to undercut.
What utter nonsense we have from Mr Hawke on this issue.
-As I listened to the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) I suddenly realised the reason so many of his colleagues in Government refer to him as a loyal and misunderstanding member of the Party. As he rose to speak I grasped my pen and a blank sheet of paper so that I could capture the pearls of wisdom he would cast forth as the product of his deepest, most reflective thought on the Bills before the House. When he had finished I still had a blank sheet of paper.
– That is because you cannot write.
– I would fail to get into the Country Party or, even worse, be a Whip of the Liberal Party because that is a necessary qualification. We have noted that neither literacy nor comprehension is a necessary requisite to be a successful Whip in the Liberal Party. Medibank Mark II, as the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) likes to call it, or, as more informed people refer to it, Muddlebunk Mark I, manages to continue limping along from month to month, week to week, and as October comes closer, I guess from day to day. The Minister really does experience a charmed existence as Minister for Health. The succession of Bills which are brought into the House in a rather desperate effort to patch up failures in earlier Bills seems to go relatively unnoticed on the part of the media.
– Earlier Acts, not Bills.
-The honourable member for La Trobe, the remittance man from Toorak, is out of his place. As I was saying, the succession of Bills to patch up Bills as they are when they come into the House, or Acts, if you like, at a subsequent stage, appears to go unnoticed. As I was pointing out, no one has had a more charmed existence as a Minister in an especially controversial role than the present Minister for Health. Not only does he proceed with this limping progress to patch up the Bills but also he produced evidence beyond any doubt from time to time in the Committee stage of the Bills that he did not know anything about the Bills being debated. He has had the immunity of not being scathingly criticised by the media for being unable to answer simple propositions which have been put to him arising from provisions which have been in Bills before the House. So it is truly Muddlebunk Mark I and it staggers along. It may make it to 1 October, but if it does it will be propped up by more than one crutch.
– He is better than Lynch.
– I guess he is better than Lynch in that he has enough sense to keep quiet when he does not understand most of what he has to talk about.
-Order! I draw the attention of the House to the fact that the use of surnames to identify honourable members is not permitted.
-What is happening in these Bills before the House is that the old system of private health insurance is being brought in the back door- the old private health insurance system with a stolen name, and that is all that can be identified with the previous system of Medibank which ceases on 1 October. The Government has used the force and authority of public office to steal the name of Medibank but it certainly is not introducing a system with even faint relationship with that earlier scheme which will operate until 1 October.
The National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) of 1976 is a $50m handout to private health insurance funds. It is very interesting to note that in fact eligibility for what is called reinsurance under this scheme has been reduced from 60 days to 35 days. It would be interesting to discover what the additional cost is as a result of this arrangement. By that I mean, although the reduction in days from 60 to 35 is a 42 per cent reduction, the increase in cost because of that adjustment would be much more because many more people would be brought into the provisions of the reinsurance arrangements than would have been able to draw on them if 60 days had been retained as the elibility period. The benefits of that are largely to private health insurance funds and it is a completely misleading proposition to suggest that we really do have any system of private health insurance when in fact the more expensive risks in the health field have to be supported by the Australian Government. It is nonsense to talk about this system as a reinsurance pool.
– You maintained the special account.
– We maintained the special account but I do not think that displays a brilliant perception. We could not knock it out of the legislation because of the dogmatic opposition of the then Opposition to any proposals we brought in to change the law. We acknowledged without bringing in an amendment that there was no hope of getting that change in. For instance, I remind the Minister that we brought in legislation which broadly was designed to regulate the activities of private health insurance and the Minister was among those people who led the assault against it and by abusing their majority in the Senate were responsible for having that legislation thrown out. Yet in April or May this year the Minister, who is sitting at the table, introduced exactly the same legislation. They were the sorts of problems we were confronted with when we were in office. Our proposal was not carefully considered. It did not receive constructive opposition. It was dogmatic destructive opposition from people prepared to abuse their position in a House of Parliament.
There is a $50m subsidy to private health insurance funds to keep them tottering along. In clause 20 of the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) we discover, as the Minister announced somewhat earlier, that there is to be a $12m subsidy for certain aspects of private health and hospital insurance cover and intermediate hospital insurance. I understand from the figures the Minister cited earlier that the figure in a full year would be of the order of $ 15m. That is a $ 12m outlay to paper over a mistake of the Government. The Government set a figure of $ 1 35 a year as the amount which people would have to contribute to a private health insurance fund, including Medibank- and Medibank private health insurance fund is nothing more than another private health insurance fund- and accordingly added to the proliferation of those funds in the community without in any way improving the system of health insurance overall or the quality of health care. In any case the figure was plucked out of the air on some, I suspect, very rough calculation. Then the Government discovered after more careful consideration that it was wrong- wrong by the order of about $12m, or in a full year, I understand, some $ 15m. So this is further evidence of what I was suggesting to the House before- that from month to month, week to week and, as 1 October gets closer, from day to day the system will be staggering along with the Minister rushing in with band aid assistance to try to keep the Bills together.
I would like to ask the Minister a question here. It is a question he was not able to answer in a debate in the Committee stage in the earlier session of Parliament. How does he justify the sort of discrimination that arises for a very large number of people in the community who, if they wish to stay within the basic Medibank cover for public ward and medical insurance and take out optionally hospital insurance for intermediate ward cover, have to pay a lot more in total than if they were to go directly to a private fund, including Medibank Private if it is the person ‘s whim to take out that sort of cover? Let me illustrate that question. A person on $12,000 taxable income a year would pay at about the ceiling levy rate- the Medibank tax, a special tax for Medibank- of $300. To take out intermediate ward hospital cover privately as an optional extra it would cost that person $135. So the total cost for that person would be $435 for the year. In Queensland private insurance covering medical services and intermediate ward cover is near enough to $380. So to stay in the basic Medibank cover for public ward treatment and for medical care and to take out intermediate ward cover as an optional extra, a person with a taxable income of $ 12,000 a year has to bear the penalty of $55 a year. This is evidence of the clear discrimination which is directed against the original concept of Medibank and further evidence of the determination of the Government generally to undermine the viability of the original concept and its attractiveness to the community.
One point I wish to bring out here before I move on to the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 is that the Government’s proposals generally will not be less expensive. They will be more expensive. In a full year, the Government will be more than $800m better off as a result of these arrangements. If it is more than $800m a year better off, someone will be worse off. Of course, it is the members of the public who will be worse off by that amount. The Australian public this year will pay 25 per cent more tax. Tax collections will increase by 25 per cent this year to a record amount. In fact, the record increase will be $ 1,800m. So the members of the public are not receiving release through taxation. It is nonsense to suggest that tax indexation represents a release or a contribution to people’s pockets. All that tax indexation does is to save people incurring additional tax outlays above those which they incurred this year. But because of earmarked taxes like the Medibank tax, in fact the Government has sidestepped any benefits that might have come from tax indexation to save pushing people through a fiscal drag into higher tax brackets. In fact, it has pushed them into a situation in which they pay out more total tax. The members of the public will pay more. They will pay more through special tax levies and they will pay more through contributions to private health insurance funds. They will not receive any offsetting tax concessions.
The system will be more expensive because by its concept, which I will come to in a few minutes, it is aimed at driving more people into private forms of hospital treatment- intermediate, private ward in public hospitals and private hospital treatment. They are being driven into areas in which services are provided on a fee for service basis. The evidence in this country and in comparable overseas countries where that system is used, as against alternative systems like the prepaid health system for hospital services, is that there is a higher utilisation rate for elective procedures. Australia has one of the highest rates of tonsillectomies, appendectomies and hysterectomiesthese sorts of elective procedures. This arises very largely because they are carried out on a piece work basis and it is remunerative for medical practitioners to carry out these sorts of services.
I well remember speaking with a gynaecologist from the city in which I live some time ago. I say ‘some time ago’ because neither of the gynaecologists in my city speaks to me nowadays. But when I spoke to one of them some time ago I was pointing out this fact. He said that if he were performing a hysterectomy on a woman and discovered that she had a clean appendix, he would whip out the appendix anyway because she might run into trouble later on in life. He made the point to me, ‘after all, it is only $30 or $40 more’. I expect that the cost has increased since then. This attitude involves higher costs for the community.
I move on to deal with the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2). The Opposition commends the proposals to control over-utilisation in the field of” pathology. We recognised this was happening when we became the Government. It was happening under the old system of private health insurance. It will happen under any system of health insurance unless adequate controls are introduced. I ask the question: Why should not radiology and surgery be placed under similar controls? I have just cited an instance of surgical over-utilisation. I was assured by senior officials of the Department of Social Security who worked with me when I was the Minister for Social Security- these are people with a very long term experience of administering health insurance- that many of the small private hospitals were nothing more than surgical mills pushing people through on the quick turnover basis for these quick elective procedural services like tonsillectomy, hysterectomy and so on.
The Government should think seriously about introducing measures to control utilisation in these fields. It ought to think seriously about developing some system with the States to ensure adequate accreditation of hospitals. I refer not only to the public hospitals, which by and large I think do reach high standards, but also to the private hospitals. There should be systems of tissue audits in private hospitals also as a mandatory requirement before health insurance benefits are provided. This is an area in which a bi-partisan approach could be developed. There is plenty of goodwill towards that sort of approach from honourable members on this side of the Parliament and it is in the common public interest that these sorts of things ought to be developed.
What concerns me in this Bill is that it refers to hospital agreements. Clause 10 of the Bill deals with Schedule 2. There are various heads in the schedule- heads 5, 7, 8, 9, 10, 1 1 and so on. It seems to me that the door is being opened or that the opportunity is being created for those States which wish to do so to introduce charges for public ward treatment and for out-patient treatment for people who have private insurance. That is quite contrary to the basic philosophy of this party in Opposition. In government we would take steps, I assure this House and the community, to guarantee that the principles that we wrote into the earlier schedules would be reenshrined in any arrangements with the States. Head 7 under the earlier schedule stated:
An eligible person is to be entitled to receive care and treatment as a hospital patient in a recognised hospital free of charge.
That ought to be the principle today. In fact, the simplest way in which this scheme could operate or in which any scheme of health insurance could operate would be to maintain the universal cover of basic Medibank as we introduced it and as it operates today, to allow people to take out as an optional extra any private insurance they wished to take out and not to penalise them in the way which is being done with the introduction of this legislation. The fact is that the Government has sought consciously to bring about a system under which at least 50 per cent of the people will go out into private health insurance for health cover. If they go out into private health insurance, it means that they will go into private hospital insurance also. If they go into private hospital insurance, it means that they will be serviced under fee for service systems in intermediate or private wards or in private hospitals, the areas in which over-utilisation occurs, the areas where the highest cost pattern occurs.
It is very interesting to note what is stated in an article contained in one of the journals available in the Parliamentary Library. The article evidences the fact that in the United States of America, under the system of health maintenance organisations or pre-paid medicine, costs are kept down. The real cost savings occur in hospitals. They do not occur so much out in the medical practice. The Government has been enormously short-sighted in this area because the community will have to bear the additional costs- the rapidly escalating rate of costs- which will arise as a result of the scheme it has introduced. In turn, it will be subjected to enormous pressure from within the community, and particularly from the sorts of persons who tend to support the Government parties. The Government will find it very difficult to resist this pressure. To the extent that it fails to resist, there will be a greater burden on revenue. The greater the burden on revenue, the more expenditure will be diverted from other areas which would be of higher priority. For example, it would be a higher priority to spend money on school dental health services and on the development of community health services- a whole range of community health and welfare services and other areas of responsibility of public office- rather than plugging benefits into a system which will just incite more utilisation because of the nature of the fee for service system and the sort of benefits that can be derived from that system because of the absence of adequate restraint on it. I go further than that and state that because of the absence of adequate constraint, I am firmly of the opinion it is not possible to apply sufficient regulatory measures to control over-utilisation under a system of fee for service.
There is one aspect of these changes which I sorely regret. I refer to the fragmentation of health insurance cover that will occur in the community. One of the great benefits that we were to receive from Medibank was a comprehensive utilisation profile of medical practitioners in Australia. It would have been possible to identify specialties and general practice in States, even by areas and specifically if needed, and to discover the sort of over-utilisation which may have been occurring, and the levels of income going to the people concerned. Accordingly, we could have taken appropriate steps to discourage the abuse of health insurance which, in turn, is a grievous abuse of the general public as taxpayers, as users of health services and as payers for health services.
I repeat what I said earlier: It is a matter of great regret that this change is occurring. More especially is it a matter of great regret that it is proceeding in such a haphazard, clumsy way. It is clear that the Government has not thought the concept through. It is clear that even at this late stage it is trying to patch the scheme together. It is equally clear that on 1 October many problems will arise because of these changes. I fear that administratively it will be such an impossible nightmare that it will bog down in many important areas and will create the gravest dissatisfaction and antagonism in the community.
Sitting suspended from 5.56 to 8 p.m.
-The honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) spoke in this debate prior to the suspension of the sitting. He condemned one or two of the speakers on the Government side. He said that while they were speaking he had picked up a sheet of paper and a pencil, but found that he could not jot down anything they said to use against them. The honourable member for Oxley indicated that people earning in excess of $ 1 8,000 a year ought to be 3 times sicker than people who earn approximately $8,000 a year. He also made the point that he no longer has any friends in the medical world. The third point which he raised appears to indicate that he has a chip on his shoulder in regard to anybody mentioning free enterprise or private enterprise. I admired the honourable member because he placed the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in the same very astute company as the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). He likened them- and quite rightly, too.
However, the honourable member for Oxley missed one point. There is no such thing as a free health scheme for everybody. Somewhere, sometime, somebody must pay for the scheme. The only fair and equitable method is to provide that the user pays in accordance with his or her capacity to pay. The right of choice in personal health has been restored to the Australian people. The other point which the honourable member appeared to miss is that Medibank has been retained. No one will be forced out of Medibank. Real freedom of choice of doctor and hospital has been restored. A considerable percentage of the high cost of Medibank to Consolidated Revenue and to the taxpayer has been removed. This makes it possible to reduce Australia’s massive financial deficit and thereby introduce other social and tax reforms. Medibank will continue to be available to each and every Australian.
New Medibank, or Medibank 2, or Medibank B, or whatever honourable members opposite tend to call it at times, will begin on 1 October 1976. After that date there will be a 2 months period in which late decisions regarding medical and hospital decisions can be made. In the meantime everyone in Australia will be automatically covered by existing Medibank. Medibank had to be reformed because of the huge cost to Consolidated Revenue and, therefore, to the taxpayers generally. The Australian Labor Party, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Government agreed that Medibank had to be partly funded by means other than income tax. Medibank this year will cost close to $2,000m. It will contribute to that extent to the national deficit.
Honourable members opposite and many other people have made allegations about rip-offs, abuse by doctors and over-use of the scheme by some patients. Health costs in Australia, both government and private, will amount to $5,400m this year. This is $700m more than the cost last financial year. The rising costs and demands of Medibank are consuming the available social dollar. Against this background on 13 January this year the Government announced the formation of an independent Medibank review committee. The committee took evidence from a wide section of the community, including the ACTU. It recommended to the Government that Medibank should be partly funded by an optional levy system. The ACTU and the ALP both support a straight levy without any ceiling on income. This would be grossly unfair to the 2-income families and to the low income families as well. A straight levy on all incomes would have no alternative but to rise each and every year. Costs would continue to explode under such a levy system. Both the ALP and the ACTU proposal ignore the fact that 70 per cent of Australian people are now covered for hospital benefits and choice of doctor. Nobody could claim that it would be just or fair for this 70 per cent of Australian people- as envisaged under the ACTU proposal- to have to pay a higher rate of income tax to help meet health costs. The ACTU ceiling would have been 1.6 per cent this year. Undoubtedly next year it would have been a great deal higher.
Under the Government’s proposal pensioners with pensioner medical cards, low income earners and married couples with one dependant receiving up to $4,300 per annum, will pay no levy on their incomes but will continue to receive full medical and public ward hospital benefits. People higher on the income tax scale will pay according to their taxable incomes, that is, according to their means, unless they choose to pay the Medibank ceiling premium of a maximum of $300 per annum to cover their families for full Medibank medical and public ward hospital benefits. This ceiling premium acts as a ceiling on family income to prevent the 2-family income from being penalised. The Government had also taken another step forward and introduced a shading-in arrangement to soften the impact of the Medibank levy on the lower income earners. The shading-in arrangement has been introduced to avoid the high marginal rate of tax and levies on persons on low incomes. It applies to married persons, sole parents and persons without dependants. A married person with a fully dependent spouse, for whom the tax rebate of $500 is allowed, earning $4,300 per annum commences to pay the 2.5 per cent levy on a shaded-in basis.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I raise a point of order. I realise that you are probably not as familiar with this legislation as are some other honourable members here. The honourable member for Capricornia is addressing himself to orders of the day Nos. 4 and 5. 1 do not mind if he does so but, as I understand the situation, the question of levies is not part of this cognate debate. Whilst it might speed up the debate on the next legislation to be considered it may be worth pointing out to the honourable member for Capricornia that the shading-in arrangement and matters such as that have nothing to do with the 3 pieces of legislation which are before the House at the present time.
– That is a frivolous point of order.
– It is true.
-Order! The point of order which the honourable member for Prospect has taken is valid in relation to the subject matter of the Bills. In the normal course of events when 5 Bills such as those listed on the notice paper are dealt with in 2 cognate debatesone debate covering 3 Bills and one debate covering 2 Bills- members taking part in the debate are given a degree of freedom to deal with certain matters in all the legislation so that they need to speak in only one of the cognate debates. While the point of order taken by the honourable member for Prospect has a degree of validity, that is the reason why the honourable member for Capricornia and others will be given a degree of freedom to cover matters in all the legislation.
– To continue, such a person would have to pay the full 2!6 per cent levy on a taxable income of $4,698 per annum. Thus the 2Vi per cent Medibank levy will not become fully effective on his taxable income until he reaches the point of earning $4,698 per annum. On the other hand, a sole parent commences to pay the 2V4 per cent levy on a shaded-in basis on a taxable income of $3,791 per annum. The full 2Vi per cent levy will not become fully effective on his taxable income until he earns $4,142 per annum. Therefore the married person and the sole parent will be paying either the full or the partial Medibank levy at $4,300 per annum. On the other hand, a person who does not have any dependants commences to pay the levy at a taxable income of $2,605 per annum phasing into the levy at the full rate of 2Vi per cent on a taxable income of $2,846 per annum. Those people who choose to insure themselves either with Medibank Private or with a fund of their own choice will have to pay the premium for medical and shared hospital accommodation with a doctor of their own choice, but will not have to pay the 2 1/2 per cent levy on income.
The trade union movement submitted a proposal that can only be described as savagely unjust. Under the proposal of the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the Australian Labor Party, 85 per cent of the families which now are insured for hospital-only cover would be worse off and 90 per cent of the single individuals would be worse off. The ACTU-ALP proposal was for the abolition of the special subsidy of $50m a year for the chronically ill. An honourable member opposite made some mention of this matter this afternoon. This $50m was designed to help the chronically ill and to reduce the insurance premium accordingly. The abolition of this $50m subsidy would have had the effect of increasing the family rate for hospital cover from our proposal of $135 a year to $200 a year. Only those families which have an income ranging between $8,400 and $9,400 would have been better- and then only marginally better off-by paying the ACTU-ALP levy of 1.6 per cent of their incomes. On top of that there would have been the $200 a year they would have had to pay for their hospital-only cover. Honourable members opposite would do well to remember that 70 per cent of the people of Australia currently are covered by hospital-only insurance to enable them to choose their own doctors in their own hospitals.
Talking about choosing, one would tend to wonder why the ACTU, with the full support of the ALP, chose to pull on the first political strike in Australia’s history- the big national strike. It must have been the first time in history that the trade union movement has gone on strike for less disposable income. Why did the ACTU and the ALP do it? Are they concerned about the welfare of the workers or are they engaged in a political confrontation with the Federal Government? I think that they chose a very crazy issue indeed on which to go on strike at this point in time. The trade union leaders who were guilty of this irresponsible act have a lot to account for. The trade union movement conveniently ignored the fact that on 20 May the Government extended full income tax indexation to every taxpayer in Australia, which benefits the average weekly wage earner to the extent of approximately $4.70 a week as from 1 July. The Government has extended to the mothers of Australia the most generous family allowances in history, namely, $3.50 for the first child, $5 for the second child, $6 for the third and fourth children and $7 for the fifth and subsequent children. The trade union leaders and the ALP chose to ignore those benefits. The trade union movement wanted full indexation from the Labor Government, but did not get it. The Labor Government would not give it to the trade union movement. The then Treasurer said that the Government could not afford to grant it. How will Medibank be financed?
– No one knows.
– Over $ 1,120m of the finance for the Government’s new Medibank proposals will come from general taxes. The honourable member for Oxley made a point about’ this aspect this afternoon. The sum of $375m will be raised by the 2lA per cent levy imposed on those who wish to receive the standard Medibank benefits. The sum of $985m will be contributed by those who insure privately. They are the people whom the Opposition does not like. The sum of $840m will be provided by the States. We will make big savings by stopping rip-offs by insurance companies in relation to workers compensation and third party benefits. To the best of my information, they amounted to approximately $30m last financial year. The ACTU-ALP proposal provided for the raising of over $800m from the levy. In other words, the ACTU and the ALP suggested that there should be a taxation increase of approximately $800m. The options are quite clear. The people of Australia can decide either to stay in Medibank as public patients or to insure privately with Medibank. Those who pay the 2 Vi per cent levy -
– We are not talking about that.
– I know that the honourable member for Hughes is not talking about it, but I am. Those who pay the 2Vi per cent levy may take out additional insurance with Medibank or the private funds for hospital-only cover, which would allow them to choose their own doctor while in hospital.
– I raise a point of order, Mr Acting Speaker. The honourable member for Prospect already has drawn attention to the nature of the legislation with which we are dealing. It is as plain as a pikestaff to anyone that the second bracket of Bills on the notice paper deals with levies. One does not mind comment being made in passing about such things; but, when an honourable gentleman is talking about the wrong set of Bills and becomes aggressive in doing so, I think that it is time to try to rationalise the situation.
– I did say, in relation to the point of order raised by the honourable member for Prospect, that in view of the circumstancesthere being 5 Bills before the House to be put through in 2 cognate debates- an honourable member normally is able to make a passing reference to the legislation that is yet to come under discussion because a certain amount of tolerance is usually excercised by the Chair. I should think that it would help the Chair, in exercising that tolerance, if the honourable member for Capricornia were actually to mention occasionally the 3 Bills that are really before us in this cognate debate at this moment.
– I was making such a passing reference only for the benefit of the honourable member for Hughes.
– It has taken you 18 or 20 minutes to do so.
-That is not too-bad. I had to sit through a 20-minute speech by a colleague of the honourable member for Prospect this afternoon. I repeat that those who pay the 2te per cent levy may take out additional insurance through Medibank or the private funds for hospital only cover, thereby allowing them to choose their own doctor while in hospital. Being a doctor, the honourable member for Prospect undoubtedly would appreciate that. Those people on higher incomes who want standard Medibank benefits will be able to purchase a ceiling Medibank premium and not be penalised. I suppose honourable members opposite will object to that. The matter to which I am about to refer also relates to a levy. Those who insure privately for medical and hospital cover will not have to pay the 2V4 per cent Medibank levy. One can in turn insure oneself with Medibank Private. I heard an honourable member opposite talk about this matter this afternoon. So that apparently fits into the 3 Bills to which honourable members opposite are objecting.
Mr Hawke claims that the Government has sold out to the medical profession. He was ably supported in that submission by honourable members opposite. This is a diversionary tactic and is nothing less than utter rubbish. I am quite sure honourable members opposite well realise that. Under Medibank doctors’ incomes have been substantially increased. That is another point honourable members opposite raised this afternoon. Some claim they have even doubled and that paying a straight levy to fund Medibank will allow this outrageous practice to continue. Under our scheme, if the doctors want to continue private practice they will have to accept a large measure of responsibility. They will have to display the fees they charge and the services they provide. The latest claims made by the doctors show that what the Minister said is correct.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. The honourable member in making his passing reference was in danger of getting a parking ticket.
-The honourable member for Capricornia (Mr Carige) surprised me not so much by making a confused speech in which he confused not only the Bills but also the relative positions of the Australian Councils of Trade Unions and the Australian Labor Party but by making the speech he did when he is a Queenslander. Queenslanders have been receiving standard ward care for nothing for 30-odd years. He now supports the proposition that Queenslanders going into standard wards in public hospitals will have to pay a significant amount of money. I am surprised that an honourable member with a majority of less than 200 is prepared to say to the people who go into the public hospitals in his area that he strongly supports the proposition that they should pay a large amount of money for their hospitalisation. Nonetheless, he knows what he is doing.
– He is an honest man.
– As the honourable member points out, it may be because he is honest. It may be because he does not know what he is talking about. Let us be quite clear on the first point. The ALP does not support a levy. The ALP supports the present position. It believes that the whole cost of Medibank should be funded from tax revenue. One of the interesting points about this debate on finance is that the honourable member for Capricornia asked how Medibank would be financed. The honourable member for Riverina (Mr Sullivan) interjected: ‘Nobody knows’.
– It was not the honourable member for Riverina who interjected; it was the honourable member for Lang.
– No, it was the honourable member for Riverina. In any case, the impressive thing is that I completely agree with the honourable member for Riverina when he says that he does not understand it. I congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) not for bringing this legislation into the House but for being able to get it through the Cabinet and the Government’s Party meetings. I do not know whether he had to take it to the Country Party meeting first and then to the Liberal party meeting or whether there was a joint meeting. I do not know what the procedure is. If the honourable members opposite realised and understood exactly how the Government scheme is to be financed, I would think that with their ideological background they would have some reservations about the method of finance. Let us be quite clear. Let us assume that the Minister is correct in his prediction that some 50 per cent of people will contract out of Medibank and go into private funds. That 50 per cent of the population will receive almost no benefit from Medibank. Almost the only benefit they will receive is the $16 a day subsidy when they go into public hospitals.
– Is this relevant?
– It is relevant. The relevant point is that I am replying to the question asked by the honourable member for Capricornia about how this will be financed. That 50 per cent of the population who may be expected to be the higher income earners of the population will pay, one assumes, 65 or 70 per cent of the total net revenue cost of Medibank. The net revenue cost of the new Medibank in a full year will be of the order of $ 1 ,000m. The 50 per cent will be paying between $650m and $700m in taxation for almost nothing. That is why I have some reservation about strongly opposing the propositions which were suggested by the Committee comprising Dr Sax, Mr Holmes and Mr Hyden which suggested this legislation to the Government and which the Government accepted.
Let me now look at the specific points that appear in the 3 pieces of legislation before the House. The health insurance levy is not all that is relevant to these Bills because, as I pointed out in my original point of order, it is dealt with in orders of the day Nos 4 and 5. The Bill is concerned more with the question of Medibank Private and private health funds. One of the myths- there are many- that is generally accepted amongst many people in Australia is that a person gets better doctors if he goes into a hospital as an intermediate or private patient. That should not be true at any time. The opposite can be true. Let me explain the position. I realise there are some differences in different States. I have to concentrate on New South Wales because it is the only State on which I feel really competent to speak. If a person is admitted to a district hospital in New South Wales, for example to the Fairfield Hospital or Parramatta Hospital in my general area, as a public patient he would have to be admitted under the care of a specialist. If it is a surgical case, he is admitted under a specialist surgeon. If it is a medical case, he is admitted under a specialist physician. If it is more highly specialised than that, he is admitted under one of the even more specialised people such as specialist neurosurgeons, specialist neurologists or specialist ear, nose and throat men. The only person who can be in charge of treatment of him is a qualified specialist medical person who has been accepted and appointed by the hospital to the position of honorary medical officer. A person admitted as an intermediate or private patient to the same hospital may be admitted under his general practitioner. I used to be in that area and I could have admitted- I did not- persons for almost anything under my care as private or intermediate patients.
– You were a crook doctor.
-I do not think I was a crook doctor because I did not admit people under my care unless I was competent. Surely it is important that when the honourable members are advising people in their own electorates, where people may take some notice of them, what they should do is to tell them that if they are admitted to private hospitals by their general practitioner he can deal with them. I do not know the hospitals in the honourable member’s electorate. Perhaps there are hospitals at Leeton or Griffith.
– If people are admitted as private patients to the Narrandera Hospital by their general practitioner they can be treated by him though he may have no special qualifications to treat them.
– The general practitioners are good.
-But they may have no specialist qualifications to treat intermediate or private patients for some involved condition. People admitted to public wards have to be treated by a person who has been appointed, who is vetted and who hopefully has the appropriate qualifications to deal with them. My advice to people who have to enter hospitals for reasonably serious conditions is that they have nothing to lose by going in as standard ward patients or public patients. The honourable member for Riverina, who is prepared to support almost anything coming from the Government, was himself for quite some years, as I understand it, in the Army. He was treated by Army doctors. He is possibly eligible now for treatment by Repatriation doctors. I am sure he would get more specialised treatment if he was admitted into a repatriation hospital under the appropriate specialist than if he went into Narrandera hospital and was treated by his general practitioner.
– Ask him to comment on that.
– I am not really terribly interested in his comments. Could I suggest to people here who are worried about being admitted to hospital and not having a choice of doctor that the sort of condition they would probably be worried about is a coronary occlusion, a cerebrovascular catastrophe, a stroke.
– In your case, gout. But if we are talking about the more serious conditions for which a patient could be admitted to hospital, he would probably want to be admitted to the intensive care ward of the hospital. He would be admitted as a public patient. He would want to be treated by the people who are in charge of that intensive care ward all the time. He would not particularly want to be admitted by his pleasant general practitioner, who comes around and pats the kiddies and does all the right things for minor conditions.
– The doctors in intensive care wards are all salaried, are they not?
-That is the point. The people who look after patients in the intensive care wards are salaried doctors. They are full time people because they have got to be highly specialised. I think that anybody would be silly to be admitted as a private patient into a private hospital if he had a really serious condition. I will deal now with some of the smaller items. The honourable member for Tangney (Dr Richardson), who is prominent in this debate by being absent -
– He is treating a patient somewhere.
– I think he is the only medical practitioner on the Government side of the House in this chamber. Last week, in prominently featured articles in the Australian, he criticised the Government’s changes to Medibank, but he has not turned up for this debate.
– He will be here later.
-Good. The honourable member made the important point in his articles that there should not be any complete recovery of medical fees under any kind of health insurance because then there would be over usage. I do not completely accept that as being a major point, but I can see some point to it. If people have to pay nothing and no patient moiety is involved, it may well be argued that they will go unnecessarily to the doctor. Where one draws the line is debatable, but the point which the honourable member made is worth while. The hypocrisy of the argument advanced by the Australian Medical Association is that it distributed posters which it urged doctors to put up in their surgeries asking people to take out multicover or a similar sort of insurance cover from the health funds.
The medical cover provided by those funds is what is called gap insurance, which covers the payment gap which the honourable member for Tangney thought was important in any kind of health insurance so that people would feel they still had to contribute something and therefore would not go to the doctor unnecessarily. It is a complete contradiction to say that the gap is important and then to urge people to cover themselves for that gap. In fact people are encouraged to go to the doctor because that is the only way they are going to recover their insurance payments.
The funds in New South Wales charge $1.86 for multicover, and I am sorry to say that under the new scheme they will continue to do so. The only medical benefit that is available to contributors is a maximum gap payment of $5 for an operation. For an ordinary consultation the benefit is $1.10. A member of the family has to have an operation once every three weeks for the contributor to pass out square. How many people in Australia would insure themselves if the maximum refund were $5. But that is all a contributor is covered for, and for that he pays $1.86 a week, which is supposed to be very impressive. When the Minister first mentioned the changes to Medibank I think he said something about gap insurance being abolished. I am sorry he has changed his mind about that because gap insurance is a big rip-off by the health funds. The reason why people continue to subscribe to it is inertia. The amount of $1.86 was chosen carefully by the funds because that used to be the amount of the old medical insurance.
– But that is their business if they want to pay it.
– But people paid $1.86 for medical cover before 1 July 1975 when Medibank was introduced because that was the only way they could get the original 85 per cent refund. What the funds then did was still to charge $1.86 but refund only 15 per cent, or a maximum of $5. People continue to subscribe through inertia, and also because commissions are paid to paymasters, chemists- for the benefit of the honourable member who has been interjectingand employers, encouraging them to keep on collecting the $1.86 and discouraging them from pointing out to contributors that it is a pointless kind of contribution. In passing, I make 2 final points. Even though I oppose the basic proposition that there ought to be a levy -
– You oppose the payment of a levy?
-I oppose the imposition of a levy, but I do not think it is correct to say that it is being done in the interests of the AMA. I do not think it is being done in the interests of the funds. At the present time some 70 per cent of the population is covered, for the wrong reasons, for intermediate treatment. I think that figure has been bandied about and has been generally accepted. I do not know whether it is correct, but I will assume that to be so. After all these changes are introduced, and I think we all agree that it is in the interests of the medical profession for people to be covered for intermediate ward care, the Minister expects that some 50 per cent of people will be covered for intermediate ward care compared with the original 70 per cent. There will be a significant drop in the number of people covered for intermediate ward treatment. That is not surprising when one considers that at the present time the cost of intermediate cover is less than $2 a week. From now on the cost will be the basic 2.5 per cent, or up to $5.60 a week, and on top of that an amount of $2.60 a week, or $135 a year, must be paid for intermediate cover. People will therefore think more carefully before taking out intermediate cover. I support that particular aspect of the Bill because I think it will discourage people from taking intermediate cover and will force politicians to improve public wards even more than they have done in the past. For that reason it is a step in the right direction.
– But the first part of it is to pay for the people who do not have to put their hands in their pockets so that you can say there is free medicine.
-No, I do not think the honourable member quite follows my point.
-Order! There have been irrelevant comments in many instances, but I think that some of the interjections directed at the honourable member for Prospect are even more irrelevant than before.
-I think it is important that people who opt for private or intermediate hospitalisation should pay the full cost of that hospitalisation. That is an important point, and therefore the provision now being introduced is a step in the right direction. They will still not pay the full cost of the bed day, but they will pay something approaching it. There is still a $16 a day subsidy for the beds, but at least it is not a $30 or $40 subsidy, as was the case in the past. I think that people will find that the cost of private and intermediate insurance will increase very rapidly and that the charges presently proposed by the funds- and by Medibank Private for that matter -may not in fact be sufficient to cover the actual costs. If that turns out to be the case, I hope that the funds will continue to use their reserves and not increase their charges. But no doubt they will do that once they have got people in and hope they have them again ensnared in that moment of inertia.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-Again we have before the Parliament legislation dealing with a national health system.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker- Mr P. E. Lucock)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-The Opposition has an amendment to clause 13. The reason for agreeing to consider the Bill as a whole is that there is only one amendment. To facilitate the business, I feel that this is the appropriate way to deal with the Bill. I move:
Omit clause 13.
This is the clause dealing with the reinsurance accounts hospital benefits funds. I discussed this in my speech earlier today. I will reiterate our argument. In essence, this proposal restores the special account which existed before the introduction of Medibank. The special account was a very clever device whereby chronically ill patients, after a certain time, were transferred from being the financial responsibility of the private funds to the special account where their medical and hospital bills were paid by the Government. When the Labor Party took office we found that the cost to the general taxpayer was soaring well above $50m. I think it reached a figure of about $70m a year. It could well have finished up at around $ 100m.
– But you were providing $100m.
– We were not providing anything. The Liberal-Country Party Government was providing money. That Government was responsible at that time, and when we came into office it looked as though the cost of the special account would go above $70m and could reach the $100m mark.
When we introduced Medibank, we changed that. That all fell by the wayside, because Medibank has covered and will cover medical bills until 1 October and for hospital cover we invited people to take out extra insurance cover with private funds. The benefits funds did not like that. This was one of the very profitable areas for them, because it allowed them to increase their reserves. The funds ceased to be financially responsible for the chronically ill patients although they still collected their contributions, of course, and the general taxpayer carried the financial burden in the special account. Typical of the values of the LiberalCountry Party Government, seeking to bolster private enterprise at the expense of the rest of the community and with no relationship to the basic quality of the service provided, this Government has offered a bonanza in the form of $50m. Ironically, it was such a generous handshake that the
Government had to find ways of making sure that the money would be spent. The reason for this is that in the original special account those funds had to cover both medical an hospital expenses.
The Government has not reverted to medical expenses being covered by the same sort of device. Before it worked that out, it offered the $50m. When the medical expenses are cut out, $50m will cover the hospital expenses very easily. There would have been quite a credit at the end of the year, I would guess. So to facilitate the spending of the community’s money, the Government lowered the qualifying period from 60 days to 35 days. The hospital treatment needs to be for only 35 days for the patient to qualify for payment of benefits through the reinsurance account. In our view, this is wrong. In our view people opting for private or intermediate cover should pay the full price for that medical treatment. In our view, it is wrong to expect the general community to pay for that out of taxation revenue. Someone mentioned that Medibank contributors will contribute only $300m or $400m. I was not saying that Medibank contributors will pay that. I was saying that the whole community, contributing via general taxation revenue, will provide this subsidy. That includes Medibank contributors and everybody else.
I am arguing against the principle that the whole community, through taxation, should subsidise a small privileged section of people who seek to have additional facilities provided for them. Why should they? I do not understand it. If that is fair and reasonable, why should not the same sort of standards in the Government’s terms- I happen to disagree with the standards anyway- mean that everybody is subsidised to the same extent? What is wrong with an ordinary individual who belongs to ordinary Medibank being entitled to the same sort of subsidy?
– If they pay extra money into a private fund; but I do not see why that burden should be placed upon them. Honourable members opposite cannot establish to my satisfaction the reason why, if some people choose to go into private insurance, the rest of the community should subsidise them.
For those reasons we are moving that this whole clause be removed from the Bill. I agree that it will mean that the cost of treatment for the chronically ill who want private or intermediate care will go up. I suggest that, if those people are chronically ill, the right and proper place for them to be treated is the same as for most other members of the community, namely, the public hospital system. People have false ideas about the virtues of private treatment. This subsidy relates only to hospital treatment. It does not relate to medical treatment. When a person is admitted to hospital is the only time when this function comes into operation. Everywhere in the world chronic illness is a drain on the whole community. There is no sensible reason why the community should subsidise treatment for such patients in intermediate ward accommodation.
– Why do you want to victimise them?
– It is not a question of victimising patients. If the Government want to spend that money, it should spend it on the public hospital system to increase the standards for everyone who needs chronic medical care.
It would be much better for the whole community if there were no subsidy which allowed some patients to go into private hospitals which do not give anything for this extra money because it simply goes into increased profits for the private hospitals. It does not go to the quality of care provided in these hospitals. Honourable members opposite know very well that if public hospitals had more money it would go by and large towards improving the standards in those hospitals.
Despite the fact that in my view public hospital standards are much better than standards in private hospitals, I am not saying that in this country public hospital standards are optimal- we do not know. If the Government wants a hint on how to spend the money which would be saved by not subsidising unnecessary intermediate ward care, I suggest it could be used to finance a study of the standards in public hospitals and work towards the establishment of an accreditation system, of medical and surgical audit. Then the Government might find out what value it is getting for its money in both public and private hospitals. I would hazard a guess that honourable members opposite would be shocked to learn of the poor levels of medical care available to far too many patients in private hospitals. I was in this field for a while.
– It would depend on who made the survey.
– The survey would need to be done by the Australian Government in co-operation with the various colleges of medical practitioners. I am not seeking to do it myself. I am not suggesting that the Labor Party should do it. I am suggesting that the Government should get the medical profession itself to do it. I do not think that even the bureaucrats in Canberra, as well intentioned as they may be, should do it. It is something that doctors should do themselves. It is something that is being done all over the world. Let me give some figures since the honourable member seems to be interested. I refer to what Dr Eugene McCarthy said and what was reported in the New York Times. The honourable member should look this up. The report was made in January this year. The views of a lot of other people also are quoted in this article. He said in his original article:
To quantitate the proportion of unwarranted operations, several investigators have compared the surgical utilisation rates -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Giles)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-I must address a few remarks in response to the shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), because I am at a loss to understand why he is carrying on so much about the $50m. He talked about the special account. He went to great pains to say that was cut out when Labor came into office, which is not true. To the best of my belief the special account was carried on and in fact it was costing the previous Government about $ 100m per annum. We have cut that in half to $50m.
– Do not be so dishonest.
-I am not. I am relying on information supplied by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). The shadow Minister asks why these people who decide to insure themselves for intermediate or private hospital care with the private funds should have the privilege of being looked after free of charge, the cost being paid by the taxpayers, if they are chronically ill and their stay in hospital is longer than 35 days. I point out to the honourable member that most of these people -
– You would be painfully ill for a period less than 35 days.
-I am not talking about the way you are going to lose money over your pathology services. I am sorry about that, but we brought in legislation to stop people like you making a bundle.
– I raise a point of order. I do not mind silly replies but I think, because it is likely to appear in Hansard, I should ask for a withdrawal of that remark. I have never been a pathologist, obviously. I think it is a silly remark.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -The Chair does not know this. Perhaps the honourable member for Bendigo would see his way clear to withdraw the statement as the honourable member for Prospect is not a pathologist.
-I am prepared to withdraw. The honourable member said he was not a pathologist. I never said he was. I said people like him. The shadow Minister for Health made the point that some members of the medical profession were making a fortune out of organising visits. As the shadow Minister, I think it was, said earlier, under the current regulations 3 visits a day are allowed, but people in the medical profession can order three more visits a day.
– I raise a point of order. The honourable member for Prospect indicated that he wanted a withdrawal. Obviously he regarded the remark as offensive and so far you, Sir, have not required the honourable member for Bendigo to withdraw it.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- I thank the honourable member for his point of order. I am trying to decide whether the honourable member meant it personally or whether he was generalising. I am not quite certain about it. If the honourable member for Prospect takes offence I think it might facilitate the discussion if the honourable member for Bendigo were to make an unqualified withdrawal.
-Certainly I withdraw the remark if it offends the honourable member for Prospect. I was saying that members of the public who elect to take other than ordinary public ward insurance are people who because of their income obviously can afford to pay, but I point out to the shadow Minister who said that he could not understand the Government’s reasoning that these people pay large amounts in taxation, per head, not across the board as a gross number of collective people as against a gross number who cannot afford to pay. Each one individually pay more in taxation. To me that is common sense. I think even the shadow Minister would accept that a person on $12,000 a year or $20,000 a year is paying a greater percentage in taxation than persons on lesser incomes. We know- and again I say that even the shadow Minister would agree- that the Medibank levy which will be paid by those who choose not to take out other insurance will raise only a percentage of the total cost of running Medibank. People like the shadow Minister and others who are on a salary of more than $12,000 and who pay large amounts in tax will be subsidisinggladly I hope, because I am quite happy about it- those who are getting treatment free and, those who pay only the Medibank levy. We are not arguing about it. We are happy about it. I cannot understand why Opposition supporters cry out about those who can afford to pay more, such as the shadow Minister and others, and who might elect to pay a higher rate in private insurance, just because they happen to be in hospital for more than 35 days- not very many will do that- and will get free treatment.
– What is wrong with going into public hospitals like everybody else?
– The taxation they pay more than adequately covers them. You should sit down and think this out. If you do I think you will find it is a reasonable argument to put forward.
Another matter raised by the shadow Minister was the special fund. I reiterate that the honourable member is totally wrong in saying that we are making a gift of $50m to the private health funds. I think he should check the facts.
– I should like to make 2 points. As I understand it, we are discussing the whole of the Bill rather than just one clause. Is that so, Mr Deputy Chairman?
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- The Committee is taking the Bill as a whole.
– I will address myself to the Bill and just in passing I would like to mention some clauses. In relation to clause 13, the only significant point I would like to make is that we do not object to the contributor who has a chronic illness being subsidised, obviously.
– The shadow Minister is.
-No, I think the honourable member misunderstood what he was saying. What we object to is that when the funds strike a mean, when they work out what premium to charge, they ought to take into consideration that a certain proportion of the population are likely to be chronically ill. That is one of the points to be taken into consideration, just as it is necessary to take into consideration how many hospital days there will be on average per 10 000 people or whatever it may be at different age groups. What I object to is that the funds collect the premiums from these people while they are well, but once they are admitted to hospital and they have been in hospital for 35 days the funds wipe their hands of them and the Government has to take over. It seems to me that, like any other son of insurance arrangement, when something really significant happens the insurance company having collected its premium does not pay up forwhat do you call it?
– It is commonly called underwriting.
– They pay only a temporary benefit. Honourable members opposite say that it is underwriting. Underwriting would be all right. I would accept that. Underwriting would imply that the funds would pay a certain amount for somebody else to take the risk. If one were to insure the Sydney Opera House, one would not carry the whole of that insurance oneself.
– You spread it.
-That is exactly what would be done. But spreading the risk implies that the premium would be spread also. The funds are not spreading that premium. That is what I am talking about.
– The taxpayer is, though.
-The taxpayer is not. The premiums stay with the funds and the Government takes the risk. That is the point to which I am objecting. The taxpayer is taking the risk. The taxpayer is paying for those people. I do not object to that but what I am objecting to is that the private health funds are collecting the premium and are not contributing towards the risk in that particular case. If the honourable member for Bendigo cannot follow that, I hope that he will come over here later and I will try to explain it for him on a piece of paper.
I wish to address myself to clause 20 of the same Bill for a couple of minutes. Clause 20 deals with the Commonwealth subsidy for those people who will continue to pay the Medibank levy and who will want to take out intermediate hospital cover. When the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) announced the change- I think it was on 20 May-I think he said that it would be $ 1 35. I cannot let the opportunity pass without saying, ‘I told you so’. I suggested then that it would not be possible to do that for $135. 1 worked that out without any great calculations. I did not even use a calculator. I did it in my head. It seemed an inadequate amount of money to pay for insurance, even working on the basis of what intermediate insurance cover cost prior to Medibank being introduced. Surely it was possible to work out this fact. That is why I say, ‘I told you so’. I am not sure of the position in some of the States. But the position in New South Wales and at least some of the other States is that the actuarial cost will be $174 and the Australian Government will subsidise each one of those patients up to the amount of $39. So the actual cost to the family will be $ 1 35 as originally promised by the Minister. I think that arguments can be advanced in favour of and against that. But what I deplore is the fact that this decision was not made on the conscious basis of arguing that certain people ought to be subsidised if they are able to afford intermediate insurance cover. It was done because of a mistake on the part of the Minister’s advisers. He announced the figure of $135 and then had to stick to it. If he had not done so, he would have had to change so many other things in that legislation. He was not prepared to make those changes. Therefore, he decided, rather than announce another embarrassing change, that the Government could pay the amount involved. I think that the estimated cost is of the order of $12m a year subsidy. Is that fairly accurate?
– It is an expensive mistake on the part of the Minister. I wish that other people were prepared to pay $12m for my mistakes. It would be very pleasant if that happened. But I suppose that Ministers are in a privileged position in this regard.
– It is an expensive face to save.
– There is a television program about a $6m man and a $6m woman. Now we have a $12m face sitting there as the Minister for Health. I do not want to push the matter too far. As I said originally, I rose really to say that I told you so. I wish to make some further forecasts on the I told you so level which may become reality next year. I believe that some of the estimates of costs for health insurance cover are also significantly under-estimated. In fact, we will find that some of the premiums which both Medibank Private and the health insurance funds will have to charge for some of their private and intermediate packages will increase very substantially and very quickly. Before people decide to take out those packages, they ought to think very carefully about how much pressure they can exert on the funds when the funds try to increase the premiums. They should think about what they can do concerning that increase and how much pressure they can exert on governments faced in one year with an election. I would suggest to such people that they can exert much more pressure on governments one year before an election than they will be able to exert on health funds which are going broke. Therefore, I suggest that people ought to stay with the government organisation.
– I want to answer a couple of the points that have been made tonight in respect to the reinsurance pool. Quite clearly there is a misunderstanding of what the re-insurance pool is all about. It is an entirely different concept from the special account system which was an open-ended arrangement, one that the former Government lived with and one that is in operation at the present time. Our estimates were that in this financial year the special account would have cost Commonwealth revenue something of the order of $ 100m. It was decided to develop an entirely different concept in respect to trying to assist subscribers. It is not just the health insurance funds; it is also the subscribers to those funds who choose to insure privately for hospital cover and for the right of choice. They represent 70 per cent of the Australian people. What we have tried to do is to minimise the impact of chronic illness on the level of premiums that 70 per cent; of the Australian people will have to pay. After 35 days of illness, those privately insured patients in hospitals will have their benefits liability transferred from the funds to the re-insurance pool.
-To try to ease the impact of chronic illness and the cost of chronic illness upon 70 per cent of the Australian contributors. It is all very well for honourable members opposite to say that this will be in favour of the health insurance funds. It is in favour of the contributors to those funds. What honourable members opposite do not seem to understand is that the reinsurance pool concept is there to equalise within registered organisations the experience they have in regard to long term or heavier uses of hospital services. I believe this to be a real social step forward from the special account arrangement because we will no longer deny benefits to people due to pre-existing illness or chronic, illness. So it is an entirely different concept from the special account arrangement. I think that that needs to be understood.
– I am sorry. You have not made your point clear.
-I have made my point. The other arrangement- the special account arrangementwas an open-ended one. We never knew from one year to the next what it would cost the Australian taxpayers. Under this arrangement, we have made a fixed subsidy of $50m for this financial year, That amount will be put into the reinsurance pool to be spread amongst the health insurance funds. Thus, any fund which has a higher percentage of chronically ill contributors will not suffer as a consequence. The impact of the cost of chronically ill people who are insured privately will be spread right across the funds generally through the reinsurance pool system.
– How much higher would the premiums be without the funds?
– The premiums could be considerably higher. Does the honourable member want 70 per cent of the Australian people to be paying more premiums? Is that his intention? Does he want to see people paying more for health insurance? Opposition members do not believe in choice. They do not want people to have a right to insure privately. Let us be frank about that. Quite clearly, what they tried to introduce into Australia was a universal insurance system under which nobody had any ruddy choice at all. That was quite clearly what the former Labor Government was up to. It is not the style and philosophy of this Government. Let that be clearly understood, too.
We have extended the subsidy to the lowest income people and to those people who have privately insured, particularly the chronically ill. That is where our subsidy has gone. Let nobody deny that fact. It applies just as simply to the hospital-only insurance. There has been a lot of belly-aching about the $ 15m or the $12m that we are making available to those people in New South Wales who earn less than $10,500 a year. Let it be understood, too, that 30 per cent of the pensioners in this country are privately insured. What we have done has been to structure a hospital-only premium rate which is within the reach of those people to maintain their choice of doctor if they so wish. We make no apology for that. The actuaries went to work and found that the cost of that sort of insurance would be greater than we at first thought. We said it would cost a person $135 a year. Honourable members opposite say it was an expensive mistake. We have tried to keep premiums within the reach of the pensioners and the low income people of this country, many of whom have private health insurance.
I think honourable members opposite have indulged themselves in quite an exposition of what they are all about. I thought it was just by accident that Australia plunged itself into the worst possible unemployment situation during the 3 years of Labor Government. I thought it was just an accident that the under-privileged and the disadvantaged people suffered under a Labor Government. But listening to the talk from honourable members opposite tonight, I am starting to believe that there is something sinister in their general approach to humanity. One does wonder.
The Government rejects out of hand this amendment to take us back to what would be a worse situation. After total examination of the situation with the private health insurance funds, we realised that if we had left the qualifying period at 60 days it was likely that the full value of that subsidy to those people who are privately insured would not be used in a full year. There is no way in the world in which the Government would be prepared to accept this amendment. I hope the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) has understood what the reinsurance pool is all about. I hope he understands that the concept involves justice for 70 per cent of the Australian people who seek private insurance.
-The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) is rapidly losing his composure. There is a direct relationship between the rate at which he loses it, the intensity of his passion and his lack of understanding and certainty in presenting these Bills to the House. No one on this side of the chamber misunderstands the socalled reinsurance pool. It is a completely deceptive misnomer to refer to it as a reinsurance pool. The arrangements have not been put together on any insurance basis whatsoever. This is a very slight variation of the old special accounts system.
Motion (by Mr Bourchier) put:
That the question be now put.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
That the clause proposed to be omitted (Dr Cass’s amendment) stand part of the Bill.
The Committee divided. (The Deputy Chairman-Mr G. O’H. Giles)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Motion (by Mr Hunt)- by leave- proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
-A little earlier tonight the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) introduced what he proposed was a new point in relation to the reinsurance pool. He suggested that it is a considerably different concept from the former special account system. We do not accept that. We argue strongly that it is only a minor variation of the former special account system. In view of the provocative way in which the Minister deported himself, he may care to indicate to the House how much will be supplied by the private health insurance funds or from what sources money will be supplied, and of what order, to that reinsurance pool, apart from the income that will Come from the Government. We are concerned about what will happen when the allocation of $50m is exhausted -
Motion ( by Mr Bourchier ) proposed:
That the question be now put.
– I move: ‘That the honourable member for Oxley be heard ‘.
-Order! There is only one question before the Chair, and that is That the question be now put’.
Question put. The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr P. H. Drummond)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 8 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-The Opposition wishes to move an amendment to clause 10. Clause 10, in part, states:
Schedule 2 to the Principal Act is repealed and the following Schedule substituted:
SCHEDULE 2 Section 30
A committee, to be provided for by the agreement-
I pointed out in my speech at the second reading stage that I had objection to a number of points in Schedule 2. 1 understand that in a conference between State and Federal Health Ministers or their departmental advisers the Heads of Agreement were agreed to, except for the one we are moving to have omitted. We have been informed that the agreement was reached on 3 September between the Commonwealth and State legal officers on acceptable formats for the Heads of Agreement. On 7 September a telex was received advising the State authority that this addition, the very Head we are moving to remove, had been made by the Australian Government.
A couple of points are important. First of all, there had been a firm undertaking that all proposals would be discussed and the States would be consulted. The States consider that the addition of Head 5 represents the breaking of a promise and a failure to adhere to an understanding. If the Australian Government felt this was necessary, it should have had a further meeting with the State officials and let them all discuss it. Their interpretation of this Head is that the additional words effectively empower the Commonwealth to limit its 50 per cent share of the net operating costs of recognised hospitals and central services to 50 per cent of such net operating costs as are authorised by budgets or adjusted budgets rather than the actual amount. As I pointed out in my earlier comments, despite the best will in the world budgets are likely to be wrong. The interpretation of this addition by the States is that it will give the Minister for Health the right, if as a result of unforeseen circumstances the total cost of the hospitals is beyond the Budget Estimates, to say: ‘Sorry. Bad luck. It was not considered in our original Budget discussions. It was not considered at our review. No further financial commitments were agreed to by us. Our commitment is limited to 50 per cent of whatever was agreed at the 2 conferences we had. The additional expense will have to be carried entirely by the States’. That is the States’ interpretation.
For these reasons we are opposed to Head 5. For these reasons we urge that, in view of its commitment to full consultation with the States, to its new federalism, the Government should reconsider the matter and withdraw it. If it feels this provision is necessary then the Government should withdraw it at this stage, bring it up with the States for discussion and, if it can persuade the States to agree, as it did with the rest of the new agreement, bring the matter forward again in this House, despite my objections.
-I want to make a firm protest about the way in which these very important Bills have been dealt with in this House. In the first place, the debate is being held on a Wednesday, when there is no broadcasting from this chamber. There has been more contention about the new Medibank than about any other item of legislation introduced by this Government. The Opposition has been allowed 3 speakers on 3 Bills, and I think that the way this Government is handling the affairs of the Parliament is a disgrace, particularly in relation to this issue, which is of such vital interest to the community. It is badly understood not only by the public but also by the members of this House. It is badly understood not only by the public but also by the State Premiers and State Ministers for Health, and that is the reason for the amendment now before the House. During the course of the discussions between the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the State governments in relation to the hospital agreements, this Government has made known to the States that it has no intention of altering the 50-50 cost sharing structure introduced by the Labor Party.
At the Premiers Conference in June this year the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) went to no end of trouble to assure the Premiers that no veto would be imposed on the expenditure put up to the Commonwealth Government by the States. It was not until after the legislation had been introduced into this Parliament the other day that the State governments understood that the new Head 5 in Schedule 2 was to be included in the Bill. The States found this out by way of a telex message, and telegrams were sent by two or three States governments to the Prime Minister complaining that they had been double crossed. There were conversations with the Minister, and I understand that he has given an assurance that the 50-50 cost sharing hospital agreement will still apply. If one looks at the wording of Head 5 in Schedule 2, 1 doubt whether Head 5 could be interpreted other than in a way which gives the Minister the right to veto proposed budgets.
I am not suggesting that the Minister himself will veto the budgets. He has given private assurances to certain State Ministers that that will not be done. But in view of the way in which this legislation has been handled in this Parliament, and within the Ministry and Cabinet, I am afraid that the Minister at the table is not strong enough to stand up to the one leader existing at the moment in this Parliament. The Liberal-Country Party Government has become a one-man band, and I feel a great deal of sympathy for the Minister at the table because he has been trodden on, he has been instructed, he has been abused. A lot of the legislation now before the Committee is not what the Minister or his Department would like to have seen. Because I understand that the Minister has given these private assurances, I ask that the veto contained in Head 5 of schedule 2 not be used by him now or in the future. It is impossible for the States to make any plans for the costing of their hospital administration unless they know that the Commonwealth Government is going to share those expenses on a 50-50 basis. At the moment the States are in a position where they do not know whether the whole of the budgeting costs they will put to the committee referred to in Head 4 and again in Head 5 will be agreed to by that committee or not. Even if those costs are agreed to by the committee, I should point out that the last few words in Head 5 states: … it may authorise the Minister to approve further payments under the provision made in accordance with paragraph 4 where he is satisfied that circumstances justify those payments.
On page 5 of his second reading speech the Minister stated:
It is envisaged that the committees established to give effect to that head will comprise Commonwealth and State officials and that the budgets and variations to the budgets formulated by the committees will be subject to approval by the Commonwealth Minister for Health and the relevant State Minister.
Under Head 5, 1 think the Minister is taking too much authority. Under Head 5, I think he has gone back on the word he gave to the State representatives. I am certain that under Head 5 the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has gone back on the assurance he gave to the Premiers at the June Premiers Conference.
– Don’t you trust him?
– I would be more likely to trust the Minister at the table than I would the Prime Minister. If I could resort to the vernacular, I would not trust our present Prime Minister out of sight on a dark night. The States are in the position where they do not know what interpretation will be placed on Head 5 of Schedule 2. Will 50 per cent of the budgeted costs be met by the Commonwealth or will the percentage be reduced? What will happen if during the period of the budget hospital operating costs rise excessively? At the moment inflation is running at something like 15 per cent. If that sort of rise occurs during the period of a proposed budget, will the States have to meet all the costs? Let me give just one example of the dilemma facing the States. In New South Wales the total expenditure on hospitals in 1964-65 was $100m, or $24 per capita. In 1974-75 the total expenditure on hospitals was $533.2m, or $1 1 1 per capita. The estimated expenditure for 1976-77 is over $800m. Can the State of New South Wales make arrangements to expend that $800m and be guaranteed that half the expenditure will be met by the Commonwealth on a direct 50-50 sharing basis? I ask the Minister to give a public assurance in this House, not only for the benefit of members of this Parliament but for the benefit of all State Premiers and State Ministers for Health, that the 50-50 cost sharing proposition under the hospitals agreement, which was introduced by the Labor Party when the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden) was Minister, will be maintained under this present Medibank scheme, which in the future might become known as Hunt’s Horror or Fraser ‘s Folly.
– I too want to speak about clause 10 of the Bill. I share some of the concern in relation to head 5 expressed by my colleagues on this side of the chamber who have already spoken. There is no doubt that the Australian Government finds itself in a powerful position in any relations it has with the States in developing what might be called an acceptable Budget. The fact is that the States have rearranged their budgets as a result of the Medibank hospital cost sharing agreement, and the spread has resulted in a situation where the States will be heavily dependent upon the income from the Australian Government for their hospital services. That would be particularly true in the case of Queensland, which in fact received a massive infusion of additional money- some $60m additional a year- towards its free public hospitals. This gives the Australian Government enormous clout in its dealings with the State governments, and I rather hope that the Minister would not impose on the States unfair conditions.
Having said that I am not without sympathy for the point of view that there is need for some constraints on the way in which the mutual commitments are entered into in relation to the financing of hospital budgets. Again I remind honourable members of the extreme difficulties under which we laboured in trying to draw up hospital agreements. We knew, first of all, that we had a hostile situation in this Parliament. Just about anything we sought to do was highly likely to be thrown out- and certain to be thrown out in relation to Medibank- by a hostile Senate. The State governments, well aware of our precarious political position, never ceased to exploit our vulnerability. I well remember how all of those who had been playing politics, rough and fast and unremittingly, sought to thunder in the front door of Medibank when there was a change of leadership in the then Opposition in 1975. More pertinently, as July approached and it was clear that there was no room left for crude political manoeuvring on the part of the States there was competition, for instance, between the States of Victoria and Western Australia to get into Medibank first. They had been 2 States which had been holding out, more particularly the State of Victoria. In fact, if it had not been for such a rather dull Health Minister in that State, Victoria probably would have been in Medibank earlier. The only reason it was taken in when it was was that the Premier of that State who proved beyond doubt in my limited experience with him that he was a man of considerable intelligence and understanding and was to a large degree above the petty political manoeuvring being engaged in by his then State Health Minister, cut the Gordian knot, and that is why Victoria was in Medibank as early as it was.
We had to accept agreements which I would have liked to see in an even tighter form, because the situation was created by the obstructionism and the blind opposition of the Liberal-Country Parties to most things we wanted to do, whereby we had to cut our cloth as best we could. It is a shame that this sort of tidying up occurs at this late stage. With a more responsible, intelligent approach from the then Opposition, many of the things which did occur in the Medibank negotiation area could have been avoided to the benefit of the national interest.
I want to move on to subsequent clauses, however, because there are 2 key points which come from those and which give me considerable concern. First of all, there is the tendency for the Government to provoke ways in which means tests and fees can be introduced for public ward treatment or outpatient treatment in public hospitals. It is a basic philosophical position of the Labor Party that there should be available for all those who want to use it in Australia a high standard of public ward treatment in public hospitals free of charge and free of means test. That system has operated for a very long time in the State of Queensland. In fact, it operated in all States of Australia, as a result of initiatives taken by the Chifley Labor Government in the late 1940s. That system was destroyed in all States except Queensland by the early 1950s as a result of the action of a conservative government. It is clear that this Government is seeking ways to destroy free public ward treatment, free of means test, which we instituted with Medibank.
We expanded the range of choice available to people by bringing in that principle. Too many people in States other than Queensland and Tasmania were excluded from obtaining public ward treatment, no matter how desperately as a matter of choice they may have wanted to exercise that right. They were excluded by means tests- tough means tests set at particularly low levels. It was bad for medical training, incidentally. Medical educationists constantly complained about the skewing in the type of hospital population in public wards because of the means test. They asserted firmly and with a great deal of concern that under-graduates were not being adequately trained; graduates had insufficient training in the broad spectrum of medical experience when they graduated from medical schools because of that. We believe that this ought to be a basic right, that people ought to have this choice.
I remind honourable members of what I said earlier: People who use public ward treatment go into a system of health care which is of a high standard, adequately serviced with resources, where the medical profession is paid either on the basis of sessional payments or a salaried system or some modification of those 2 sorts of principles. In turn that means that there is not the same incentive for the medical practitioners to overutilise as there is in a system of feeforservice in intermediate or private ward treatment or in private hospitals. We are talking about public hospitals. To the extent that people are pushed into non-public ward treatment in public hospitals, there will be a greater tendency to overutilise The more people pushed into that situation, the more significant that overutilisation tendency will be. Therefore, the greater will be the cost that the community bears.
In total economic impact it matters not whether it is the Government meeting that cost or whether it is the public meeting the cost directly as patients, because in the final result the community bears these costs and it has the same sort of effect on the economy. If the cost is greater than it would have been with some other system of financing health services, then it is not in the interests of the community for an alternative, more costly system to be brought in. From the Government point of view there are also advantages which have not been touched on, as far as I am aware, by the Minister, nor indeed by anyone else in the debate so far, namely, there is a clear financial gain for the Government in a situation where more fee income is collected, because the fee income in fact goes as a credit towards the Government’s share of 50 per cent in the cost sharing. So the more fees that can be raised, the less the Government in fact has itself to raise from resources available to it. So I suspect that there is a conspiratorial element in this as much as there is any other sort of element with which I have dealt.
Finally, head 12 is the one which probably disturbs me most of all, because if I am interpreting it correctly- and I seek guidance from the Ministerit indicates that even in the case of public ward treatment it is acceptable for an agreement to provide for charges. I sincerely hope that I have misunderstood that section. However, if that is so I could well anticipate a situation in which the State of Victoria, for instance, would rush to take up that opportunity. Let us hear none of this nonsense that in the State of Victoria there are inadequate public ward beds. There is a total number of ward beds of various types in the public hospitals. If you increase utilisation of intermediate ward beds you reduce the availability of beds for public purposes, and vice versa. If it is the purpose, as is indicated in the earlier heads, to force people in the general concept of this scheme into intermediate ward beds, then there is more fee income for the Government and greater savings for it. If in fact the Government is going to force people to pay for public ward beds, then the whole concept behind Medibank as we developed it- I believe it is a very acceptable concept as far as the Australian community is concerned: free public ward treatment, free of means test- has been destroyed. I ask the Minister to address himself particularly to head 12.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– First of all, I want to give a complete undertaking. I want to make it perfectly clear that the Government intends to honour its undertaking to the States in that it will meet 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs of the hospitals. But we are not prepared- nor should we be; and I do not think the States generally want us to be-to be involved in an openended arrangement whereby we simply meet carte blanche 50 per cent of the operating costs of the hospitals. It has been against that background that we have been negotiating with the States to set up machinery that would enable us to reach a situation in which the net operating costs of hospitals are approved. So the States have agreed to the establishment of joint Commonwealth-State officials committees which will meet within each State each March to formulate and draw up budgets for approval by that committee and for recommendation to the respective Commonwealth and State Ministers. The Committee will meet again in November to have a look at the progress of those budgets and to take into account retrospective increases which could have occurred in salaries, or increases in household items or medical supplies. Honourable members will note that this head, which will not be as important as the agreements themselves, is flexibly worded. The wording needs to be flexible when one is drawing up agreements with separate States. It states:
It goes on to say: it may authorise the Minister to approve further payments under the provision made in accordance with paragraph 4 where he is satisfied that circumstances justify those payments.
The establishment of a State standing committee in respect of each State is an innovation designed to enable the Commonwealth to have an adequate knowledge of, and opportunity to give expression to its views on, the ways in which the costs it is to share are incurred and the need for them to be incurred. The Government was concerned, as I said earlier, about the open-ended nature of the previous agreements. In discussions with the States leading to the proposed new agreements, the Government sought a method by which the Commonwealth and each State could reach agreement on the costs of operating recognised hospitals as such. To have worded the head in any other way would have made a complete charade of the intention. The States know now, I am sure, that it is the agreements to which they must turn their attention to ensure that we will meet 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs and the approved variations therefrom. I have been in touch with a number of the State Ministers concerned and discussions are going on at the present time. I have reason to believe that they will accept this position. The other point that was raised by the honourable member for Oxley was in respect of head 8.
– Did you not refer to head 8 in a general sense?
– Only generally; head 12 is the one in which I am interested because it is the end of free hospitalisation if you go ahead with that.
– Head 12 is subject to the other heads. Fees cannot be raised in situations inconsistent with the other heads. That is a machinery clause which has relevance to head 8, under which a State may if it so desires, impose a charge for the use of inpatient or outpatient services by privately insured people. I think that only one or two States are contemplating imposing a charge on privately insured people who use outpatient services. I want to make it perfectly clear that the Commonwealth is adopting a flexible attitude with the States in regard to this matter. Quite clearly, the Queensland Government will not charge for any services rendered to outpatients; nor will it charge any patients, whether they be insured or not insured, for public ward accommodation.
– Could we be clear about it? Head 12, you are guaranteeing us, does not mean that the States can introduce charges for public ward treatment for patients who are not privately insured. Is that what you are guaranteeing?
– That is what I am guaranteeing. It is a machinery head in relation to head 8 which really only takes into account the right of a State to impose a charge for the use of a hospital service on a person who is privately insured.
– No public ward patient not privately insured will be charged?
– No patient in that category will be charged for the use of that hospital, unless it is a compensation case or something like that. I give that undertaking. I know that the honourable member for Lang (Mr Stewart) would have a keen interest in this matter. I have already spoken to his brother, the Minister for Health in New South Wales, about the matter -
– That is why Ilet you down so easily.
– Yes. I want to make it perfectly clear to honourable members opposite and to honourable members on this side of the chamber that the Government is bound to its undertaking that it will meet 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs of the hospitals in the States.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)-by leave-read a third time.
Debate resumed from 8 September, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -The honourable member for Maribyfnong has circulated 7 amendments to the Bill. Would he consider moving the amendments together?
Dr Cass- Yes.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Then, is it the wish of the Committee to consider all the amendments together? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
Section 3 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section: (2)InthisAct-
On the Commission by PartIIA;
Part IIa of the Principal Act is repealed and the following Part substituted:
PART IIa- MEDIBANK PRIVATE 8a. ( 1 ) The functions of the Commission include the functions of conducting a medical benefits fund or a hospital benefits fund, or both, in respect of a State or of the Northern Territory, in accordance with rules determined by the Commission.
*8D. ( 1 ) The Commission shall determine, and, whenever appropriate, re-determine, with the approval of the Minister, principles in accordance with which there may be ascertained, in respect of expenditure of the Commission related to the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions, the amount of that expenditure that is to be treated, for the purposes of this Act, as expenditure wholly and exclusively related to the performance of its general functions and the amount of that expenditure that is to be treated, for the purposes of this Act, as expenditure wholly and exclusively related to the performance of its medibank private functions ‘(3) The Commission shall, in respect of expenditure of the Commission related to the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions:
Section 34 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are substituted: ‘34a. ( 1 ) In the performance of its medibank private functions, the Commission shall pursue, so far as practicable, a policy directed towards securing revenue sufficient to meet all the expenditure of the Commission related to those functions that is properly chargeable to revenue.
Section 35 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section substituted: ‘(2) The Commission shall open and maintain with a bank or banks approved by the Treasurer for the purposes of this sub-section an account or accounts for the purposes of the performance of its medibank private functions. ‘(4) The Commission shall pay into an account or accounts maintained by it under sub-section (2) all moneys paid to the Commission in connexion with the performance of its medibank private functions and, subject to sub-section (5), shall not withdraw from such an account any moneys other than amounts required to be expended in connexion with those functions. . ‘(5) Where moneys are required for expenditure by the . Commission in connexion with the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions-
Section 36 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are substituted: ‘(2) The Commission may, with the approval of the Treasurer, borrow moneys that are from time to time necessary for the performance of the medibank private functions of the Commission. ‘(5) Moneys borrowed by the Commission shall be applied only in connexion with the performance of the medibank private functions of the Commission. ‘(6) Where moneys of the Commission standing to the credit of a medical benefits fund or a hospital benefits fund conducted by the Commission in the performance of its medibank private functions are not immediately required for the performance of those functions, the moneys may, subject to sub-section (7), be invested by the Commission in such manner as the Commission deems fit.
Section 40 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section substituted: ‘40. (1) The Commission shall cause to be kept proper accounts and records of the transactions and affairs of the
Commission related to the general functions of the Commission and shall do all things necessary to ensure that all payments out of its moneys by way of general expenditure of the Commission are correctly made and properly authorized. ‘(2) The Commission shall cause to be kept proper accounts and records of the transactions and affairs of the Commission related to the medibank private functions of the Commission in accordance with the accounting principles generally applied in commercial practice and shall do all things necessary to ensure that all payments out of its moneys by way of medibank private expenditure of the Commission are correctly made and properly authorized. ‘(3) The Commission shall do all things necessary to ensure that adequate control is maintained over the assets of, or in the custody of, the Commission and over the incurring of liabilities by the Commission.’.
– I move:
In clause 3, omit the words ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), substitute ‘supplementary’.
In clause 7, omit the heading ‘PART IIa- MEDIBANK PRIVATE’, substitute ‘PART II a- MEDIBANK BENEFITS FUND AND HOSPITAL BENEFITS FUND’.
In clause 7, omit the words ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), substitute ‘supplementary’.
In clause 8, omit ‘medibank private’, substitute ‘supplementary’.
In clause 9, omit the words ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), substitute ‘supplementary’.
In clause 10, omit the words ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), substitute ‘supplementary’.
In clause 12, omit the words ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), substitute ‘supplementary’.
Consistent with our view about Medibank and Medibank Private and the fact that we do not wish to encourage people to indulge in unnecessary insurance by arranging for what in our view is inadequate and unnecessary cover from private funds, we suggest that if people want to take out some form of extra cover, as far as Medibank is concerned, it is a supplementary cover to the basic cover provided by Medibank. For this reason, all these amendments refer to the changing of the words ‘Medibank Private’ to read simply ‘supplementary’. So, we have the general functions of Medibank which hopefully will cover most people in the community eventually, and for those in the persistent minority who, it seems, will insist on insuring themselves for inadequate medical services of a private nature, it will be a supplementary function of Medibank. That is the reason for our amendments.
– I suppose we could indulge in a name guessing game. I suppose it could be regarded as a matter of pure semantics to engage in a debate on what we call Medibank, whether it be called ‘Medibank Private’ or ‘Medibank benefits fund and hospital benefits fund’. I do not see any value in extending the name -
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! It being 10.30 p.m., in accordance with the order of the House of 18 February 1976 I shall report progress.
-Order! In accordance with the order of the House of 1 8 February 1 976 1 propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
– I require that the question be put forthwith.
Question resolved in the negative.
– To restate what I have just said, the Government cannot see any value in extending the name into a 7-word mouthful- ‘Medibank benefits fund and hospital benefits fund’. We feel that ‘Medibank Private’ expresses simply the meaning of what is the private part of Medibank. So we see no great value in the amendments. I would just like to say that we see tremendous value in the decision we have taken to allow Medibank to offer private insurance. We believe it has extended the scope of its operations. It will ensure that everybody in Australia who wishes to remain identified with Medibank or remain in Medibank can do so, whether they are satisfied to receive standard benefits or whether they wish to insure themselves privately with Medibank. The decision was taken basically because of a wish expressed by a considerable percentage of the Australian community. It was certainly expressed to us by the trade union movement which felt that the Australian people, or a percentage of them, who wished to stay with Medibank should have that right to do so. I believe that we have satisfied the wish of a section of the Australian population.
I believe also that Medibank Private will provide a bench-mark for premiums for private insurance. I believe that it will introduce a new element of competition into private health insurance in Australia. I have no doubt that it will capture a reasonable percentage of the market in the first year of its operation. I have no doubt about the enthusiasm and the efficiency of the staff of Medibank itself. I wish it every success and I hope it does play an important and competitive part in private health insurance in
Australia. I do not say this to detract in any way from the many successful private organisations that have been in operation in Australia for many years, and there are a great number of them including the friendly societies and Blue Cross organisations. I think it will in the longer term be to the total advantage of people in Australia who wish to insure themselves against some of the health costs which may confront them. The Government does not accept the amendments moved by the Opposition.
– I would like to take up for a moment the opposition that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has to this matter.
– It is the march of socialism.
– I am not sure about that. If it is marching, it has a stringhalt Under this Government. The use of1 the word ‘private ‘seems- rather odd in this situation. There might be better words. Thinking about what the Minister had to say, we are now using a public enterprise to establish effective competition with all those private enterprise and free enterprise people to whom the Minister has given his greatest dedication in all the years he has been a member of this place. I congratulate him in recognising that if you want real competition you have to go about it in a way that is answerable to the public and not some private organisation. I am just simply pointing out for the benefit of the honourable member that there is a certain contradiction in his philosophy, in his terminology and in his philology. Perhaps he will apply himself to what we might call the muddling system that he has managed to produce and try to straighten it out. I have great respect for the Minister, but I must admit that in this matter he is in grievous error. The continuous contradictions between the Government’s stated objectives and the steps it has had to take to try to reach them would seem to me to be certainly intriguing although there is a certain irony about it, if it Were not costing the country so much and if it were not making a mess of the system that is running so Well.
Mr HODGES (Petrie) (I0.36M am rather dismayed at the attitude of the Opposition to the use of the Word ‘Medibank’. I Would have thought the Opposition would be proud to see the word ‘Medibank’ in the Bills and Used as frequently as possible. It is to my utter disgust and dismay that the Opposition wants to see the word dropped and the Word ‘supplementary’ inserted in its stead. I cannot understand the Opposition’s attitude. The word ‘Medibank’ is now widely used. The phrase ‘Medibank Private’ is well accepted in the community. I do not find any confusion from the point of view of the general public. The public knows that Medibank relates to the Medibank Mark II in relation to the levy and that Medibank Private is the Health Insurance Commission’s private health fund. I just think it is so frivolous on the part of the Opposition to move amendments of this kind.
-There is no more Medibank. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has never grasped that. He continues to mislead the public and this chamber, the use of the expression ‘Medibank private functions’ would be as logical as the use of the expression ‘Medibank standard functions’ instead of ‘general’ functions. The Government has perverted the scheme of health insurance in this country and no one on this side of the chamber would be happy to see the word ‘Medibank’, which We associate with a noble scheme well accepted in Australia, go into a description of funds that are registered under the National Health Act. It will be seen from the legislation which was so hastily introduced last June that it was not until then that this Government had even introduced a definition of a ‘privately insured person’. The Minister says that the heading ‘Part IiA-Medibank Private’ is more appropriate than the amendment which proposes ‘Part IIA- Medical Benefits Fund and Hospital Benefits Fund’. If he looks at proposed new section 8a he will see that it talks about nothing but the right to conduct a medical benefits fund and a hospital benefits fund. The National Health Act was never posited on the existence of any private organisations whatsoever. Medibank private is a solecism. Medibank no longer exists. The amendments deserve the support of this chamber.
– Very briefly, we notice following the announcement tonight by Mr Hawke that he is not intending to tun for Parliament that the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) seems to be looking for a reviver and seeking relief. and my friend the honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Crean) seems to have been sitting in this place all night, offering thanksgiving as if some great relief has come upon him. Regrettably I would say that I am against the Opposition’s amendments.
– I raise a point of order. The honourable member for Griffith has not realised that this is not the adjournment debate. He is reading the wrong speech.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Drummond) -There is no substance to the point of order.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I rise to a point of order. There is a relationship between what the honourable member for Griffith is saying and the present debate. The Opposition has aborted just about everything associated with Medibank and everything else. That includes the Australian Medical Association.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN- Order! No point of order arises. I call the honourable member for Griffith.
-Mr Deputy Chairman, I am almost loath to continue my contribution, but I know that the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who is sitting at the table particularly wants to hear what I have to say very briefly in opposing these amendments. I regret very much that we even have a thing called Medibank in this country. It was thrust upon us by the previous Minister for Social Security, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). I recall what happened very clearly. It does not matter what you call it, Medibank is a curse. I say this after great thought. I reflect upon what we all had to pay for our health care up to 30 months ago. Because of the imposition of Mr Hayden ‘s health plan, every Australian has been forced to pay far more than he has ever had to pay before for health care.
- Mr Deputy Chairman, I rise to order. I think it is customary under the Standing Orders of the chamber that an honourable member refers to another honourable member by the name of his electorate and not by his surname. I ask you to order the honourable member for Griffith to refer to any other honourable member in this place by the name of his electorate.
The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN -Order! The point of order is upheld. It is the usual custom. I call the honourable member for Griffith.
-Mr Temporary Chairman, I did contravene the Standing Orders and I apologise for doing so. I return to this business of a name. Regrettably, we have Medibank, or whatever we want to call it- be it hospital, supplementary or anything else- with us. The whole point is that it will cost this nation far more than it ever used to cost in the old days for health care services. It will cost far more to service the needs of about another 5 per cent or 6 per cent of the people who did not join the health care schemes which were available in previous years. The honourable member for Oxley has saddled this nation with an albatross which will drag us down in the years ahead. It is regrettable that we are in a situation in which we had to promise to keep the scheme going. The Liberal Party is a party of honour. We will keep the scheme going. But so far as I am concerned, I do not care what name is applied to Medibank; anything proposed in relation to medical care by the ALP must be bad.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
Death of Mr E. J. Harrison- Pirate Cassette Recordings- Compensation for Servicemen- Subsidies for Pre-school Teachers
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House do now adjourn.
-Yesterday this House paid its respects to the passing of the Chairman of the Central Committee of the Communist Party of the People’s Republic of China. It did that properly and in accordance with the established customs of the House. At the same time, it took the briefest possible notice of the death of a man who served in this Parliament for 20 years, a step against the general principles upon which we have operated. So I stand tonight in the House to place on the record something in memory of Eli James Harrison who was a member of this Parliament from 1 949 to 1 969.
– For what seat?
– Jim Harrison was the member for Blaxland in New South Wales. Before that he had been a member of the Legislative Council in New South Wales from 1942 to 1949. During the period of his working life he was an active and dedicated trade unionist, President of the Australian Federated Union of Locomotive Enginemen and its State Secretary. During his time here he was a member of the front bench. There were probably few more assiduous workers in the whole system than Jim Harrison. I put this on the record tonight: I hope that in the future we will not do this again. On the day the House resumed for the Budget session, we took note of the passing of three or four of our former colleagues, a number of them senators.
Yesterday I regret that the Acting Speaker did not give those of us who wished to place on the record our regret at the passing of Jim Harrison and to pay respect for the work he did an opportunity to stand up and do so. The point was made to me by some of my colleagues afterwards when I mentioned it to them that they thought it was not a proper courtesy but that perhaps we had adopted a policy that only members of Parliament who had been Ministers formerly should be noted in this way. I hope that the House will not reach the stage where it accepts in the passing of members from this life, or from this House either, that the rank the person held here had something to do with the courtesy and respect paid to that person. So I hope that we will from now on pay proper respect to people, no matter how brief their period here was or how long ago they served in this House.
– I draw the attention of the House to the present illicit traffic in pirate cassettes. The Federal Government should ban the importation of pirate cassettes and records and the New South Wales Government should crack down more heavily on the retail outlets all over Australia which are openly displaying them. This gigantic rip-off from our local recording industry is reaping these contrabandits an enormous $ 100m a year.
-It is $ 103m.
-Thank you very kindly. It could easily be $103m a year. Indeed, the figure that I mentioned could easily be a most conservative estimate. About 20 per cent of records and cassettes currently in circulation in this country are pirated fakes. They are imported from Singapore and Hong Kong while others are made locally. It costs only about 25 cents to make one of these cassettes in Singapore or in Hong Kong. The cost of setting up a pirate duplicator can be recouped fully in one month of operation. That represents a 1200 per cent return on the capital invested. The pirating of cassettes and records is cruelly calculated cultural rape. Youngsters who buy these tapes and records do not even realise that they are pirated versions of the real thing. When they play them and hear the poor quality of the duplicated recordings, they immediately blame it on the artists or group responsible for the performance. After that, they do not buy any more recordings by that particular artist. As a consequence the artist’s living is affected drastically and certainly by no fault of his or her own.
Indeed, the public is quickly attracted by pirated cassettes and records because they normally sell for at least 50 per cent of the price of the legal ones. Who will pay $6 or $7 for the real thing when you can get what you think is just as good for a cost in the order of $3. This sort of lucrative rip-off is a flagrant contravention of the copyright laws. It is time that the Government took more positive steps in an endeavour to stamp out this illegal operation. In this regard I will shortly be making a submission to the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott).
– Tonight I wish to raise a matter which I believe is of great significance to all serving servicemen in Australia. I have spoken with the Minister for Defence (Mr Killen) on the matter. He has before him details of a particular instance which involved Terrence Albert Collins, an Army employee, who injured himself in the course of his employment in 1972.
– The Minister is not in the House.
-I have an arrangement with the Minister. I have raised the matter with him. I am not referring to the particular case before the Minister but I wish to refer in general to the difficulties that are facing Terrence Albeit Collins because he is a serving serviceman. He injured himself in the course of his employment in 1972 whan a name thrower blew up. Believing that everything necessary was being done, he sought compensation under the compensation laws. As in all these things, he was never advised that other avenues were available to him, for example, common law action. Generally, compensation under common law action is greater than under the compensation laws. However, because the man was not aware of this he laboured too long with his problem. He was then debarred by the Victorian Limit of Actions Act 1958. The accident occurred in Victoria. The solicitor acting for the man now seeks to have the Australian Government not use as a defence certain clauses that are available to it.
Having said all that, I should like to say to the House- I think it ought to be said on behalf of all serving personnel in the armed Services- that these people very often find themselves in a somewhat different position from other persons in the community.
– They are better looked after.
-Will the boy scout please keep quiet.
– I said that they are generally better looked after.
-Well, that is the honourable member’s opinion.
– I know.
-The honourable member is an ex-lieutenant-colonel and ought to know better than to just let his lower jaw flap around without actually saying anything. What really happens is that someone engaged in industry has somewhere to go to get advice, for example, his trade union. People in the community generally who are injured know that there is nobody to look after them, so they automatically go to a lawyer.
– In the Services they are looked after.
-When we have a person like the honourable member for Riverina acting as a lieutenant-colonel, it is no wonder that people like this serviceman find themselves in this sort of position. Terrence Collins joined the armed Services believing that people like the ex-member- he is almost the ex-member for Riverina- or rather the ex-lieutenant-colonel would do everything in their power to make sure that he was made well aware of his rights. To the best of my knowledge, this serviceman at least and other servicemen whom I have questioned have never been informed of their rights. In all their pristine ignorance they have fondly believed that lieutenant-colonels would look after their rights, but lieutenant-colonels generally have not looked after their rights. I have suggested to the Minister for Defence already that he should take some cognisance of the wisdom I have tried to propound and in the future ensure that every serviceman is fully advised that he had better not just rely on the Army, the Navy or the Air Force to look after his interests if he is injured. He does not have a trade union to look after him, and unless he goes out and engages the services of a solicitor or talks to somebody who has as much wisdom as I have, he will find himself in a very bad position.
I believe that it is not difficult for the Minister to advise each member of the armed Services that there are remedies available to him apart from the statutory ones. These men should not be left in the position where they believe they are being well looked after by lieutenant-colonels. I believe the worst of the lieutenant-colonels has already left the Army. I believe those who are left are well worth looking after. The one who was never much good in the armed Services has been inflicted upon us by the voters of Riverina. By the grace of God and by the grace of the voters in Riverina he will not be here after the next general election. I trust that the Government takes some notice of the wisdom I have tried to propound tonight.
-A set of fantasies have been spread around about what this Government plans to do to pre-school teachers and their subsidies. A particular fantasy relates- and it should be seen in this context- to the fact that the Government is endeavouring to divert welfare to the needy. That is a curious concept to the honourable gentlemen opposite who felt that welfare was something you bought votes with rather than looked after people with. As a result, I wish to put to the House a little bit of interesting information about a meeting held by the Children’s Services Resources Group held at 9.30 a.m. in Pitt Street, Sydney, on 17 August. Some of those present- people who are concerned about the expense of pre-school and day care centres, particularly for working mothersfelt that the licensing requirements relating to the number of trained professionals necessary for the centres at all times were unreasonable and made long day care very expensive. They felt it was necessary to have a teacher at the centre for the bulk of the day but could not accept the necessity for a teacher for early and late periods.
My next point is one I wish to draw to the attention of the House with great vigour. Those pre-school teachers and child care educators present at the meeting objected strongly to this point of view and argued that only a trained professional has the capacity to enrich the experiences of young children. I ask the House to note that they used as an example the need for the teacher to be present early in the morning to enrich the breakfasting experience. When my children have that problem I usually give them All Bran. But this kind of attempt to run a closed shop, which is what it is all about, is an effort to jack the cost up and it does not matter because the Government will pay. Curiously enough, this kind of effort was followed by a set of claims being formulated by this group which involved a massive increase in their salaries and a massive increase in their holidays to make them equivalent to primary school teachers who of course have to do other things like preparing lessons and actually marking the lessons.
This attitude that it does no matter as long as the Government pays is interesting. This is the sort of attitude that the policies carried out by the previous Government have brought upon the country. The attitude that it does not matter because the Government will pay means that it does not matter because the workers will pay, for the workers’ tax was the fastest rising element of tax collection under the Labor Government. The workers were going to have to pay for this kind of rip-off. What interested me was a copy of a letter I received from the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales telling me that 30 per cent of the children attending kindergartens and preschools in my electorate were in need. The Union asked what I was going to do about this dreadful Government. I wrote back to the Union thanking it for its statistics which, I said, demonstrated quite clearly that 70 per cent of the children attending pre-schools in my electorate were not in need but nonetheless were in receipt of a 75 per cent subsidy.
– That should help you.
– With the assistance of a pocket calculator, the honourable member for Prospect may well be able to work out that the reciprocal of thirty is seventy. We do not have as our basic god, as our basic gaol, the purchasing of votes through the welfare system which was the sole motivation in assisting the middle class twoincome family at the expense of the worker in this kind of situation.
I asked the Kindergarten Union of New South Wales whether it thought it was reasonable that the subsidy should remain as it was- in other words, with 70 per cent of the subsidy going to people who were evidently not in need. I also asked the Union whether it would favour a situation in which the needy benefited from welfare payments and whether welfare should be redirected to the needy. I asked the Kindergarten Union those questions on 16 August 1976. Unless the Post Office is again on strike, I have not been favoured with a reply. I simply suggest to the House that the attitude held by this group of people, many of whom may well be very dedicated and may well be very good pre-school and day care teachers, that welfare is a bottomless pit to be sucked dry is one which cannot be allowed to persist. Taxes pay for welfare. Is it not about time that members opposite who have been interjecting throughout this short dissertation tonight recognise that fact?
-Order! It being 1 1 p.m. the debate is interrupted. The House stands adjourned until 10.30 a.m. tomorrow.
House adjourned at 11 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Treasurer, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Education, upon notice:
– The Minister for Education has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
As indicated by the Treasurer in his Budget speech the question of the re-introduction of tertiary education fees for some categories of students is part of an urgent investigation now going on. The Government’s decisions on this and other matters relating to student benefits will be announced in October. Until decisions are announced, it would be idle to speculate on how students might be affected.
am asked the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security, upon notice:
– The Minister for Social Security has provided the following answer to the honourable member’s question:
July to December 1975.
(a) 31 December, 1975- 573 projects valued at approximately $207m, based on estimates of cost at that time.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 15 September 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1976/19760915_reps_30_hor100/>.