31st Parliament · 1st Session
Mr ACTING SPEAKER (Mr P. C Millar) took the chair at 2. 1 5 p.m., and read prayers.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows and copies will be referred to the appropriate Ministers:
To the Honourable Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled the petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That restoration of provisions of the Social Security Act that applied prior to the 1978-79 Budget is of vital concern to offset the rising cost of goods and services.
The reason advanced by the Government for yearly payments ‘that the lower level of inflation made twice-yearly payments inappropriate’ is not valid.
Great injury will be caused to 920,000 aged, invalid, widows and supporting parents, who rely solely on the pension or whose income, other than the pension, is $6 or less per week. Once-a-year payments strike a cruel blow to their expectation and make a mockery of a solemn election pledge.
Accordingly, your petitioners call upon their legislators to:
And your petitioners in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Burns, Mr Carlton, Mr Dobie, Mr Ellicott, Mr Fife, Mr Martin, Mr West and Mr Willis.
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 subsidies to pre-schools be raised to 80 per cent of approved staff salaries at the current year award level, and indexed accordingly.
We are also desirous of advanced notification of the subsidy level.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the current rate of subsidisation be increased.
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 Federal Government increase its allocation for Pre-School education immediately to enable the provision of adequate pre-school services in South Australia.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Porter.
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 there are Australian Aboriginal children living under conditions of inadequate nutrition in a background of poor housing, hygiene, and overcrowding that amounts to a Third World enclave in the midst of affluence; that such a state of affairs is intolerable in our country; that only an effort on an unprecedented scale could create conditions that would give these children the rights set out in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child. .
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will make generous funding available for the specific purposes of: making a real improvement in the health, housing, education, employment and welfare of our Aboriginal people, doing so with due regard for the needs, hopes and aspirations of the Aboriginal people themselves. providing increased help, encouragement and opportunity for Aboriginal people to train as nursing aides and in other para-medical roles, and as fully qualified nurses, doctors and social workers; providing increased health education for Aboriginal people in ways that are acceptable to them. by Mr Porter.
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 there are Australian Aboriginal children living under conditions of inadequate nutrition in a background of poor housing, hygiene, and overcrowding that amounts to ‘a Third World enclave in the midst of affluence’ (see also the Report from the House of Representatives Standing Committee on Aboriginal Affairs ‘Aboriginal Health ‘ 1 979 ); that such a state of affairs is intolerable in our country; that only an effort on an unprecedented scale could create conditions that would give these children the rights set out in the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of the Child.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that the Government will make generous funding available for the specific purposes of: making a real improvement in the health, housing, education, employment and welfare of the Aboriginal people, doing so with due regard for the needs, hopes and aspirations of the Aboriginal people themselves; providing increased help, encouragement and opportunity for Aboriginal people to train as nursing aides and in other paramedical roles, and as fully qualified nurses, doctors and social workers; providing increased health education for Aboriginal people in ways that are acceptable to them. by Mr Ruddock.
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 say:
We are concerned about the deteriorating standards of ABC radio and Television programs.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that Parliament take immediate steps to appoint an independent inquiry into the ABC which:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr John Brown.
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 does not have the support of the people;
That the change is causing and will continue to cause, widespread, serious and costly problems;
That the compulsory tactics being used to force the change are a violation of all democratic principles.
Your petitioners therefore pray:
That the Metric Conversion Act be repealed to ensure that the people are free to utilise whichever system they prefer and so enable the return to imperial weights and measures wherever the people so desire;
That weather reporting be as it was prior to the passing of the Metric Conversion Act;
That the Australian Government take urgent steps to cause the traditional mile units to be restored to our highways;
That the Australian Government request the State Governments to procure that the imperial and metric systems be taught together in schools.
And your petitioners, as in duty bound, will ever pray. by Mr Jarman.
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 there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
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 there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Honourable, the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled.
The humble petitions of the undersigned Citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that there be no extension of Kingsford-Smith Airport, Sydney.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Les McMahon.
To the Right 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 as ‘The family is the natural and fundamental group unit of society and is entitled to protection by society and the state ‘your petitioners therefore humbly pray that: - the government initiate a national family policy and use the concept of family impact statements as a means of highlighting family needs. - there is a need for tax relief for families with young children where there is only one family income either by such income being split or for the spouses rebate to be substantially increased.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Martin.
Royal Commission on Human Relationships
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 because the Report of the Royal Commission on Human Relationships and especially its Recommendations-
Therefore the Parliament has a responsibility to the families of Australia not to adopt this controversial Report and its Recommendations.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
That the Australian Parliament will:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will take no measures concerning the Royal Commission on Human Relationships Report that will further undermine and weaken marriage, child-care or the family which is the basic unit of our society.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Martin.
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 we the undersigned, having great concern at the way in which children are now being used in the production of pornography call upon the government to introduce immediate legislation:
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray that your honourable House will protect all children and immediately prohibit pornographic child-abuse materials, publications or films.
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Mr Martyr.
– I inform the House that the Minister for Foreign Affairs (Mr Peacock) left Australia on Sunday for a visit to China, Europe and the United States. Mr Peacock will attend the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development Ministerial Meeting in Paris and will meet with the Secretary-General of the United Nations in New York. The Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) is acting as Minister for Foreign Affairs during Mr Peacock’s absence. The Minister for Foreign Affairs is expected to return on or about 23 June.
The Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) also left Australia on 1 June to attend the International Conference of Women Leaders in Israel and to take up activities associated with the International Year of the Child in the course of visits to Europe and the United States. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) is acting as Minister for Social Security until Senator Guilfoyle ‘s return on 24 June.
– I give notice that, on the next day of sitting, I shall move:
That the allegations made in the Senate on Thursday, 31 May 1979, by Senator Cavanagh in relation to the honourable member for Isaacs (Mr Burns), the Parliamentary
Housekeeper and the Secretary of the Joint House Department, be referred to the Committee of Privileges for investigation and report as to the accuracy of those allegations.
The motion will be seconded by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Simon).
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development who will recall the Treasurer’s statement to this House only 10 days ago that the Government had decided to increase the crude oil levy on import parity oil to take into public revenue the full windfall effect that has occurred since the end of last year and will continue to occur. Is it a fact that the Government has already backed away from this decision and has so informed the oil companies? If so, when were the companies informed and why has there been no announcement to this House and the public?
-The question of the oil levy was well and truly covered in the Treasurer’s speech. He made a special reference to the need to look carefully at the ramifications of his measures for small fields. On 31 May my colleague the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs introduced into this House a Bill which made that position quite clear.
– I remind the Minister for Defence of the continued representations by many members of this Parliament, notably by the honourable member for Henty, and by various service organisations and numerous individual servicemen for the restoration of the traditional Reserve and regular forces awards. Can the Minister advise when we may expect such restoration to be effected?
– I am aware of the views held by a number of honourable gentlemen on this issue but I would ask them to acknowledge that the matter is by no means free of difficulty. I would begin by reminding the honourable gentleman that the central thesis of the Millar committee’s report regarding the position of the Reserve was for the establishment of a total force concept. There is no ambiguity about that whatsoever, and I notice that the honourable member himself acknowledges it. I submit that in a very real sense there is a diminution of that total force concept when one seeks to give to the Reserve component of the total force awards of one character and a different set of awards to the other component. Further, I invite the honourable member and those who share his views, to acknowledge the fact that there were some 1 1 categories of Reserve awards, all of them granted under the old imperial scheme. I am sure that the honourable member would accept as being realpolitik that it would be undesirable completely to re-establish these awards and then to find that some time in the future a government of another kidney abolish them. It would be an intolerable state of affairs. Finally, I would say to the honourable member, the matter is currently under consideration by the Government. The Government is seeking to establish the means whereby the difficulties I have pointed out can be recognised and at the same time the substantial requirements of those who have an interest can be met.
– My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. Did he attend a luncheon- I hope that he can hear -
-Order! The House will come to order.
– I hope you can talk.
-Order! The honourable member for La Trobe will remain silent.
– You worry about him rather than me. Did the Minister attend at luncheon at the Parmelia Hotel in Western Australia on Friday, 20 April at which representatives of overseas and local oil companies were present? Had he been informed prior to attending that meeting that the purpose behind the luncheon was to gain support, including financial support, for the Liberal Party from the overseas oil companies?
– The answer to the latter part of the honourable member’s question is no.
– Can the Minister for Trade and Resources indicate the response there has been from the business community to the Export Now’ campaign since it was launched in February this year?
– I am very pleased that at all opening ceremonies for the ‘Export Now’ program, which has been taken up by all the relevant State governments, including the Northern Territory, there has been an excellent round-up of people from industry, commerce, trade unions and the public at large. I think that some 1 ,800 people have attended the various seminars. I would like also to express appreciation to the media for the way in which they have responded in bringing to the notice of the Australian people the importance of increasing our export performance. This is essential for balance of payments reasons, but it is also an area where we can increase job opportunities for people by creating greater market opportunities.
During this year, as part of this export program, there will be over 100 seminars, workshops, case studies, et cetera, covering all aspects of exporting and looking at the possibilities of markets overseas. Already there have been some seminars covering such specialist areas as the Middle East. Some 400 people were in attendance at the special seminars in South Australia, in Victoria 470 people were in attendance and at the seminars dealing with the Arabian peninsula almost 800 people attended. Since the launching of the campaign my department’s regional offices in the various capital cities have had approximately 1,800 telephone inquiries. At the regional offices there have been 650 personal inquiries by businessmen and some 300 firms have been visited by my own departmental staff, who have given advice on how these firms might get into the exporting markets.
There is a new atmosphere developing within the manufacturing sector in going and selling overseas. This has been brought about, firstly, because of Australia’s much better economic circumstances with the control of inflation; secondly, because of the adjustment of our currency rates; and thirdly, because of the incentive which the Government has given. A combination of these three factors coming together is opening up a new era for Australian manufacturing and exporting industries. I encourage them to look at the opportunities to see what success they might have.
– I direct my question to the Minister for National Development. On the evening of Monday, 28 May, did he give an off the record interview to Canberra journalists? During this interview did he say:
And the point I was trying to make was that the Great Barrier Reef Park simply had not been declared because those two areas infringed on it and that matter had to be settled with the permittee.
As that statement is consistent with the question asked of the Minister on this issue last Thursday, why did he deny its accuracy in the Parliament?
– In response to the honourable member for Robertson I say that the personal explanation that I gave in this House on Thursday afternoon was totally accurate.
-I refer the Minister for Industrial Relations to the announcement of the amended and slightly extended investment allowance arrangements and ask how the changes will affect business. Further, and in particular, how will the new arrangements affect those businesses whose entitlement has been threatened by industrial disruption by holding up the commissioning of equipment which must reach the stage of operation before the allowance can be claimed?
-The Government took the decision to alter the transitional arrangements for the investment allowance referred to by the honourable member from the 40 per cent phase to the 20 per cent phase as a means of ensuring that firms with investment actually in train are not laid open to industrial blackmail tactics. As the law stood, the 30 June cut-off date for the 40 per cent investment allowance put unions in a very strong bargaining position to hold businesses to ransom in the period immediately leading up to that date. As the law stood, if the plant in question was not fully installed and operating by 30 June the firms concerned would lose half of the 40 per cent investment allowance on the entire cost of the plant involved. Under such an arrangement it is easily understood that enormous costs may attach to a company which withstands union campaigns to gain wage concessions far beyond the wage fixation principles. This amendment is designed to take away that power and to assist employers in withstanding industrial pressures. Its purpose is to insure that wage increases, or shorter working hours are not conceded in what are very sensitive areas. Any such concessions would inevitably flow on with very damaging effects to employers and other industries at a time when maximum wage restraint is absolutely essential for the continued industrial pick up in Australia. This practical measure will enable firms to receive the higher allowance for expenditure incurred on plant ordered before 30 June 1978 and actually installed up to yesterday.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. Is it a fact that the boundaries of the proposed Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef
Marine Park overlap the area of permits Q/4P and Q/5P?
– My position on this matter was explained on Thursday afternoon in my personal explanation.
– Can the Leader of the House advise the House as to the number of opportunities provided for members to introduce private members’ business, such as matters of public importance, et cetera, the number of times the guillotine has been used and the number of times debates have been gagged? Can the Minister also advise the House how these figures compare with the performance of the previous Labor Government?
-I am indebted to the honourable gentleman for his question. Without doubt, he, as Government Whip, his colleagues the Deputy Government Whip, and the Whip of the National Country Party, and indeed the Whip of the Australian Labor Party, have helped tremendously in ensuring that private members have had a significantly greater opportunity to participate in the proceedings of this House since the change of government in 1975. I know that honourable members will be interested to hear some of the relative statistics. Much has been said in relation to the number of questions asked without notice. A suggestion was made last week by the honourable member for Chifley that under this Government, questions were running below the normal average. I know that the honourable member will be interested to hear that during Labor’s three years in office there were 2,957 questions without notice asked. In this Government’s first three years in office there have been 3,484 questions without notice asked.
I know that members of the Labor Party tend to suggest that perhaps the Parliament sat longer when they were in office. They will be interested to know that Parliament sat on 212 days then compared with 216 days since we came into office. There has been an average of 16 questions a day asked since we have been in office, compared with 14 questions a day when Labor was in office. In the same period 504 Bills were passed by the Labor Government compared with 581 passed by this Government. The most interesting part of all is that, whereas under Labor only 93 matters of public importance were discussed, under this Government 1 54 have been discussed. The Labor Government used the guillotine 26 times compared with the three times it has been applied by this Government.
The Labor Government used closures on 404 occasions compared with 296 under this Government. Mr Acting Speaker, without doubt there has been a marked improvement in the opportunities for private members in this place to initiate and conduct business and to pursue matters of particular concern to them since the change of government. Yet at the same time, there has been no reduction in the ability of the Government to pass legislation as it believes necessary to meet the circumstances of this country. Without doubt, the record of this Government in Parliament has been extraordinarily good, particularly when compared with that of the Labor Government’s disastrous three years.
– My question is directed to the Minister for National Development. Last Thursday he was asked:
Is it a fact that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared because the area of permits Q/4P and Q/SP infringes on the proposed section of the Marine Park?
He answered yes. Subsequently, he told the Parliament that he had misheard the question and that his answer was inaccurate. I ask: In what way was the answer inaccurate? Which facts contained in the question does he now disagree with?
– All I can say again is what I have said in answer to previous questions. The answer that I gave on Thursday afternoon was totally accurate.
– Is the Minister for Defence aware of the importance of the Casey Australian Defence Force Academy project to the economy of the Australian Capital Territory in relation to both employment in the construction industry and the forward planning for transfer of Government employed people to this city? Can a government decision on the future of the Academy be made as a matter of urgency?
– It deserves to be said to the honourable member for Canberra that just because one poor run is turned in it does not mean to say that he will not get the money. I am aware of the importance of the Australian Defence Force Academy to Canberra. I am aware of the fact that the honourable member for Canberra has sustained a well informed interest in the Academy for a considerable period. I am aware of the fact that the Joint Standing Committee on Public Works has reported against the Academy.
This is not the occasion on which to initiate a debate on the issue; some things nevertheless deserve to be said. The first is that the Committee, in reporting against the Academy, has not- with due respect to the honourable members who serve on it- given sufficient weight to the fact that there is in existence an agreement between the Department of Defence and the University of New South Wales whereby-
– Have you read the report?
– The honourable member who is interjecting has had his say in the report. I propose to have my say and the say of the Government on this matter. There is in existence an agreement which provides for the ultimate termination of tertiary assistance provided by the University of New South Wales to the Royal Military College. In the absence of that assistance the Government is faced with the difficulty of the future training of cadets at the Royal Military College. Both the Government and I are committed to the concept as a concept, but we are also obliged to face up to the practical difficulty. That which is not practical still remains spurious. The Government must face up to the difficulty of providing the means whereby the cadets who pass through the Royal Military College may gain tertiary qualifications. I trust that the House will accept the significance of the fact that, whereas in 1976 15 per cent to 16 per cent of the officers who served were in need of a tertiary qualification, by the middle of the 1980s that percentage will have doubled.
The last observation I make concerns a matter on which the Committee has reported, namely, the position of the Australian National University. The Prime Minister will recall, as do I, that as far back as 1946, when a committee was established under General Rowell to report on the training of cadets at the Royal Military College, the Australian National University was asked whether it would provide tertiary education for cadets at the Royal Military College. Its answer on that occasion was no. The Government has the report under consideration. The House may rest assured that the enormous implications of the report will be promptly and, if I may say so, realistically considered by the Government.
– Did the Minister for National Development give a background briefing for selected journalists last Thursday night? Was this the third such briefing in a fortnight to explain his role and statement on the future of the Great Barrier Reef? Were selected extracts from ministerial correspondence disclosed to journalists at this briefing? Did the Thursday night briefing follow a meeting in the afternoon between himself and the Prime Minister to discuss an answer which the Minister gave this House on Thursday morning?
– I have nothing further to add to the answers which I have given to questions already.
-The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs will be aware of inquiries from individuals and the community anxious to assist in the support, housing, settlement and adoption of refugees. Can the Minister advise the House of the procedures and assistance available through his Department or through associated voluntary organisations which would allow these offers to be accepted?
– I am aware that there is a great deal of goodwill throughout the Australian community. This goodwill is directed towards assisting the resettlement of refugees in this country. The refugee policy that is administered by my Department covers the settlement of people coming to Australia under these circumstances and deals with things such as housing, language training and employment assistance. The whole process is given great support by voluntary agencies throughout Australia. The agencies give support and material assistance in general welfare activities, hosting and friendship schemes and the movement of the refugees from the hostels to private accommodation.
The voluntary agencies concerned with this assistance vary from State to State. Rather than give a specific response to the question, might I say that anybody who is interested in making assistance available should contact the State branch of my Department for a list of the voluntary agencies which are operating in that State and in the relevant area. All offers of help would be very gratefully received because I believe it is tremendously important that the Australian community as a whole not only understands the nature of the refugee problem which is to our north but also in building on that understanding, contributes to the welcome and the resettlement of these people in the Australian community.
-I direct a question to the Minister for National Development. On 7
February did he state that a major discussion paper would be prepared shortly on energy policy? In one of his many background briefings to the Press, did he say in February that it would go to Cabinet in March? Did he further state on 26 March that the Green Paper would be distributed publicly very shortly? Has the original government paper been redrafted three times? In particular, how many times has it been redrafted since the Opposition’s energy draft paper was released? Can the Minister now state when the final draft of his Green Paper will be unveiled publicly?
-AllI can say about the Green Paper is that I have publicly talked about the Green Paper and the Government’s intention to produce it. It is still being written and I hope that at a date I can announce it will be released.
– Has the Treasurer seen strong criticism of his recent anti-tax dodge amendments to the Income Tax Assessment Act contained in the journal Taxation in Australia, particular in respect of section 82KJ? Is there any reason for concern by ordinary taxpayers undertaking normal commercial transactions that recent amendments to the Act, which are aimed at preventing tax evasion, would adversely affect them? Does the Treasurer intend to continue his effective and continuing campaign to ensure that the tax burden is shared fairly among all Australians who have the capacity to contribute to the cost of running this nation?
– My attention has been drawn to the article in the publication Taxation in Australia. I seek leave to have incorporated in Hansard the text of a letter dated 24 April 1979 written by the Commissioner of Taxation to that journal canvassing the concerns that have been expressed about the operations of sections 82KH, 82KJ and 82KK of the Income Tax Assessment Act. If the honourable member for Gellibrand would like the opportunity of perusing the letter before responding to my request, I would be happy for him to do so. There is nothing tricky about wanting to have it incorporated in Hansard. It has already been published in the journal. Given the interest of all honourable members in tax avoidance, I am sure that they would like to see it.
Leave granted. 24 April 1979
The Editor, Taxation in Australia, 19th Floor, CAGA Building, 8 Bent Street, Sydney, NSW 2000
It is not my usual practice to answer the many theoretical analyses of taxation legislation that appear in professional and other journals. I do not regard doing so as serving any good purpose. It has, however, been suggested that, because of widespread concern that is said to exist amongst ordinary taxpayers and their advisers about the scope of section 82KJ of the Income Tax Assessment Act 1936,I should make an exception to the general rule and say something about the commissioned study’ that appeared in the March issue of your journal.
The concern said to be being felt by taxpayers and their advisers is, as I understand it, based on the proposition being put by analysts that section 82kj, which deals with so-called pre-pay ments’ schemes of tax avoidance, may create great problems and uncertainties for people engaged in ordinary commercial transactions. I do not think that, when properly interpreted, the provisions have that effect.
There are two key features of section 82kj which are recognised by your analyst. He accepts that the existence of a tax avoidance agreement is but one of four elements all of which must be found to be present for the provision to have effect. In noting that the words ‘ at the time ‘ in paragraph ( b ) are critical he also accepts that the element described in that paragraph relates only, to use his own words, to ‘frontending transactions’. With these conclusions I am, of course, in complete agreement. The words ‘at the time’ are indeed critical and have the effect that the paragraph cannot be applicable, if a pre-payment is lacking, merely because a payment is excessive. I think any real concern that has been generated elsewhere about the possible application of the provision to excessive payments has been due to a failure to recognise this point which is basic to the provision.
I do not hesitate, however, to take issue with the suggestion by your analyst that ordinary annual plant-lease rentals, e.g., for motor vehicles, could conceivably be caught by the provision.
I think the best way to dispose of this suggestion is to examine ordinary plant leasing arrangements, otherwise acceptable for income tax purposes, in the light of the four elements that must be found for the provision to be applicable.
First, can there be detected in such arrangements a ‘tax avoidance agreement ‘ as defined for the purposes of the provision. In my view, clearly not. If the term had been defined in relation to an effect of tax avoidance and not, as it is, in relation to a purpose, there might be something in the argument. But that is not the case and, even if it were, the arrangement would still have a long way to go before it fell foul of section 82KJ.
The second question to be asked is whether, in an ordinary plant leasing arrangement, there could be said to be a payment of the kind to which paragraph (b) applies, i.e., one made as part of a ‘front-ending transaction . With respect, your contributor seems to me to put two arguments which contradict each other. The first proposition appears to be that there is a ‘ front-ending ‘ of deductions in a lease arrangement as compared with a hire purchase arrangement. The other appears to be that, because the leased plant is worth less in the later years of the lease than in the earlier, the later lease payments could be non-allowable under section 82KJ even though payments are much the same in amount throughout the term of the lease.
I could not accept that these arguments are based on a correct interpretation of paragraph (b). In the first place I do not think the paragraph sanctions anything but comparison of like with like; it does not permit a comparison of, for example, payments under a leasing arrangement with depreciation allowances. Secondly, however conservative a Commissioner’s views might be as to what is reasonable, surely he or she could not expect to sustain an argument that, in terms of paragraph (b), a payment of the final year’s rent for a car under a normal leasing arrangement is greater in amount than what might reasonably be expected to have been paid at that time if the payment had not been incurred under a (not ‘the’) tax avoidance arrangement. What is involved I think, with respect, is not a question of a strict temporal relationship between the expenditure and the benefit but one of whether, tax avoidance purposes aside, a payment as great as the particular amount could have been expected to have been incurred at the time that it was. And, in any event, can it be predicated that the benefit constituted by a right to use a car changes over time because the car grows older and depreciates in market value?
Thirdly, can it be said about a normal plant leasing arrangement that property (the plant) has been, will be or may reasonably be expected to be acquired by the taxpayer or an associate as a result of, by reason of, or as part of, a (supposed) tax avoidance agreement? Surely not. If confronted with a leasing arrangement of that kind I would probably have to consider whether the arrangement ought properly be regarded as a contract to acquire the plant rather than to lease it. If it were a contract of that kind, recourse to section 82kj would not be possible or necessary. Other provisions of the law would apply to disallow payments under the arrangement. Disallowance of the payments would be consistent with advice given and practices followed by previous Commissioners.
Finally, there is the question of whether the consideration for the acquisition of property- and it has to be property that answers the description in paragraph (c) that I have just spoken about- is or may reasonably be expected to be less than the consideration that might reasonably be expected had the expenditure in question not been incurred. Again, that is not something that one expects to find in a normal leasing arrangement. An arrangement has not been regarded as normal if it provides for a disposal of the subject plant at the end of the lease to be for less than the then current market value of the plant.
From what I have said, you will appreciate that I do not accept that ordinary leasing of a car or other plant is caught by section 82kj. To be wrong in that I must be wrong in respect of the applicability of all of the four tests contained in the section. I am sure that this is not the case. On the contrary, I do not think any of the tests would be satisfied by such arrangements.
Your contributor also raised the question whether section 82kj would deny a deduction for amounts paid as income equalisation deposits, but he notes the difficulty of applying the second test (in paragraph (b)) to a transaction in these securities.
I think that what I have said earlier is enough to dispose of any real concern that an income equalisation deposit deduction is within the scope of section 82KJ but I would have thought that your analyst himself would also have reached and stated the conclusion that it is not, for he has correctly commented earlier in his analysis that: ‘It also seems clear reading the section as a whole that, as foreshadowed by the Treasurer, only two step transactions will be affected, i.e., loss or outgoing combined with an acquisition of property not the subject of the original loss or outgoing.’. Income equalisation deposits do not fit that description.
Yours faithfully, W. J. O’REILLY Commissioner of Taxation
-The important thing about this letter is simply to make the point that some concern has been expressed that the sections went too far and affected normal commercial transactions. The Commissioner of Taxation is not a court of law. He is only expressing a point of view and explaining some background of the interpretation of the amendments. I also inform the House that it is the opinion of the Australian Finance Conference, which represents over 80 per cent of Australia’s leasing industry of more than $4 billion annually, that these changes do not impinge upon normal commercial transactions. I thank the honourable member for Macarthur for the question. I take the opportunity of informing the House that, particularly in the light of the details that I gave the House last week of the revenue shortfall expected for 1978-79 and the contribution to that shortfall made by the incidence of tax avoidance, the Government’s campaign against those practices will continue with renewed intensity. I hope that it will be possible during the Budget session to expose a redraft of section 260 of the Income Tax Assessment Amendment Act. The Government has been working extensively on this section. In present economic circumstances, it is more than ever necessary for the Government to continue its campaign against tax avoidance to restore greater equity to our taxation system.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for National Development. I refer the Minister to the fact that more than 30 offers of assistance were made through the Commonwealth decentralisation development program by February this year. Was one of these offers a $250,000 grant for the Launceston Conference Centre in the electorate of Bass and another a $345,000 offer for the Portland Harbour Trust in the electorate of Wannon, of which one-third was a grant? How does the Minister justify these offers with large grant components when the vast majority of other offers of assistance have been at the long term bond rate?
-The last part of the honourable member’s question as to why the two offers to which he referred had grant components is very easily answered. They were justified. I should explain the system of providing money through the Decentralisation Advisory Board. It is an advisory board which advises me of recommendations on applications. Each application is assessed according to a strict set of rules and guidelines. I do not see the applications. I see only the recommendations after the applications have been sifted by the Board. On that basis, each and every application that comes to me has been properly assessed by the Board. Therefore, I look at the recommendations at the end of that system. Any suggestion that any other criterion applies is false.
– Has the Prime Minister seen reports that the Executive Director of the Victorian Employers Federation, Mr Ian Spicer, has called on governments at all levels to prepare economic impact statements to accompany every new statute or regulation, such statements requiring governments, their departmental officials and their instrumentalities to show clearly the costs of any new action they wish to undertake, with that action and its cost being justified to the community? Does the Prime Minister think that such a measure would help to reduce the effect of big government as has been advocated for some time by the Australian newspaper?
– It is an interesting suggestion indeed, and it is worth noting that under the reviews we have undertaken under the Trade Practices Act, for example, and now under the advisory committee advising the Minister in relation to that Act and to the workings of the Act and also as a result of modifications we have made which have greatly increased the flexibility and improved the operations of the Prices Justification Tribunal, we have very much had in mind the thrust lying behind the honourable gentleman ‘s question.
Whether one could go so far as to have an impact statement made in relation to any decision of government, I am not sure, but quite clearly any government needs to take into account the economic consequences of all its decisions. If it does not, the result will be the end of development, the end of investment and the end of resource exploration. Of course it was precisely because a previous Administration took no account of the economic consequences of its decisions that Australia got into such very great difficulties when oil search was stopped dead at the very time when there was a major oil crisis in the world, when mineral development and exploration were stopped dead, and when manufacturers in Australia lost their domestic and overseas markets as a result of most rampant inflation.
I think it would be very difficult- certainly it would take many volumes of a very substantial kind- to have a full impact statement of the economic consequences of all the decisions made by the Australian Labor Party. But I have no doubt that as has been the case in past elections, in successive elections the people of Australia will make their own impact judgment of what the Australian Labor Party did.
– In the absence of the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs, for whom I have waited half an hour to come into this House, but who still has not done so, I ask the Prime Minister: Is Mr Harvey Bates still the exCommissioner of the Federal Bureau of Narcotics, or has he done an Eric Robinson? What caused Mr Bates’s resignation? Is there any way the Prime Minister can reduce the damage already done to the Bureau’s vital international links?
-Mr Acting Speaker, I think that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs will be here shortly.
-Has the Minister for Health seen reports that the Queensland Minister for Health will not co-operate in the proposed national hospitals inquiry and that the New South Wales Minister for Health has expressed doubts about the inquiry? Is it a fact that 60 per cent of Commonwealth health outlays of $2.9 billion is expended on hospitals? Is it also a fact that the average bed-day cost is $ 1 54 and that the Commonwealth’s contribution to the operating costs of the States’ hospitals is in excess of $ 1,000m? Is it the intention of this Government to reduce severely hospital services and thereby deprive people of hospital care, particularly in country areas? Is it the aim of the Commonwealth to interfere with minor details and day to day operations of the State hospitals? Can the Commonwealth afford to sit back and let the States waste hospital health dollars when it is paying half the operating costs?
-Order! The honourable member -
– It is not a bad speech.
-The honourable member for Wills will remain silent. The honourable member for Petrie will not suggest the answer to his own question. I ask him to bring his question to a close.
– Finally, should care and attention in a public hospital vary from State to State, causing an occupied bed-day cost disparity of $119 in New South Wales and $226 in the Northern Territory?
– I did notice the alleged statements of Sir William Knox in this morning’s Courier-Mail. I was surprised to read in the Courier-Mail that Sir William Knox is contemplating not co-operating with the Commonwealth in a public inquiry into hospitals throughout the Commonwealth. I have noted also that the New South Wales Minister for Health has publicly indicated his lack of support for such an inquiry. To me that seems a quite extraordinary reaction by Ministers who have a responsibility to taxpayers to get best value for the dollars spent in health care. With the South Australian inquiry by the Public Accounts Committee and with the ever rising costs of health and hospital care, one would have thought the State Ministers would have welcomed such an inquiry, particularly knowing that many of them will have to make some unpopular decisions where they have excess beds in certain parts of their inner metropolitan areas.
I find it very difficult to understand why any Health Minister should act in this way. They have a responsibility to the taxpayers of Australia as has any Commonwealth Minister of this Parliament. I would expect them to adopt a responsible attitude. It is true that hospital costs account for nearly 60 per cent of Commonwealth outlays. When I say ‘Commonwealth outlays’, I mean outlays that have been taken from taxpayers and spent in this manner. It is true that the net occupied bed-day cost is of the order of $ 1 54 at the present time. I acknowledge that the Government has done a lot to curb the rate of acceleration in hospital costs. When we first came to office as a government hospital costs were increasing at the rate of about 40 per cent per annum. Since then, we have reduced it very considerably to a figure slightly in excess of 10 per cent. There are indications from reports that come to us that there is a great opportunity for improving efficiency and productivity in the hospital sector. I would appeal to State Ministers and State governments generally to co-operate with the Commonwealth Government to allow for a full, frank and open inquiry into hospital administration throughout the Commonwealth. I would hope that we would have an interim report by the end of February so that the Commonwealth will be in a better position to negotiate with the States for Commonwealth-State hospitals agreements which fall due about 30 June next year.
-I refer the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs to the Commonwealth Employees (Redeployment and Retirement) Bill, clause 7 (2), which states among other things, that ‘regulations prescribing a reason’ for redeployment of public servants shall not be made except after . . . consultation . . . with . . . organisations representing the interests of employees’. Is the Minister able to confirm that no consultations have taken place with any employee organisation on proclaiming any regulation prescribing reasons pursuant to clause 7 ( 1 ) (b) (iii) and according is the Minister able to assure the Parliament that no instructions have as yet been given to draft any regulations prescribing a reason for the purposes of clause 7 ( 1 ) (b) (iii) of the Bill?
– We debated this clause at length in the Committee stage of the Bill. As I did then and as I do now, I give my assurance that before regulations are prepared and promulgated there will be consultation with staff organisations. A week or so before the second reading debate was resumed in this House I wrote to Mr Gradwell of the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations informing him that after the Bill had been passed by Parliament and had received the assent of the Governor-General I would be happy for discussions to take place with his organisation on a number of matters about which Mr Gradwell was concerned. I also recently advised the Administrative and Clerical Officers Association that the same consultations will be held with that organisation. I have sought to make it quite clear to CAGEO and ACOA that after the Bill passes the Parliament and receives the assent of the Governor-General there will be full and complete consultation with those organisations.
-The Minister for Trade and Resources will be aware of reports that China is seriously reassessing its ambitious development program. In fact, it has suspended some substantial contracts with Japan, I ask the Minister: What effects are China’s second thoughts about development likely to have on Australia ‘s trade with that country?
– It is true that China is reassessing some of its development priorities. However, these are not expected to have any significant effect on Australia’s trade with China. The rate of expansion of the iron ore trade might be restricted but it is expected that China will still be a very important market for Australia.
When I returned from China last year I made the comment that if China’s modernisation program were to succeed it would need the support of the mass of the people. I pointed out that to gain that support of the people it was terribly important that that modernisation program express itself in the agricultural sector where the great bulk of the people are engaged and also that it meet some of their enormous food requirements.
It is in the area of agricultural modernisation that Australia can play a significant role. We have had two important missions go to China this year. One has returned and prepared a very good report on the development and modernisation of a sugar industry. This mission was undertaken by representatives of all sections of the sugar industry. I want to commend them for the excellence of their report. I know that the Chinese Government is similarly impressed with the recommendations which were made. A mission on livestock has also gone to China. It was made up of representatives of the Queensland, New South Wales, Victorian and South Australian governments and will be reporting on the prospects of establishing pilot and experimental farms in China.
I expect also that the Chinese Vice-Minister for Agricultural Machinery will visit Australia this month. This is a result of our very successful trade fair that was held in Peking towards the end of last year. Various types of Australian equipment were displayed at this trade fair. All of the equipment was sold and this has led to contracts being written for more Australian equipment. I am particularly pleased to see the Chinese Vice-Minister coming to Australia so that he might get some idea of the vastness of our farming operations and how we handle them with our type of equipment. All told, I believe that there are no contracts under threat as a result of the reassessment of China’s programs. I think that the potential for agricultural development, particularly contracts for machinery and consultancy work, remains very high.
-I direct a question to the Prime Minister and I refer to the advice he received from Mr Rupert Murdoch in Saturday’s
Australian regarding a smaller and different Cabinet and Ministry. Will he give an undertaking to this House that he will consult Messrs Packer and Fairfax before making any decisions on reforming his Cabinet?
– I wonder whether the Leader of the Opposition will give an undertaking that he will not have any more Iraqi breakfasts.
– I address my question to the Prime Minister and I refer to the Constitution and to the Commonwealth Electoral Act. Is the Prime Minister aware that in the late 1960s a senator transferred to this House for the purpose of better carrying out his duties as a party leader? Is the Prime Minister aware of any examples of secretly appointed de facto leaders trying to follow that transfer example? Is it in order in terms of the Constitution for a major political party to have an interim leader without making a public announcement that the person is only temporarily filling the job? Finally, does the Prime Minister see disaster ahead for a Tasmanian senator?
-There was one occasion when a senator tried to make that transformation successfully. Honourable members will be able to -
– You fixed him.
-After that example, I would have thought that no other senator would be game even to try.
– You stabbed him in the back.
-Order! The honourable member for Newcastle will remain silent or I will deal with him.
– I would have thought that after that example -
– You stabbed him in the back. Tell the truth.
-Order! I warn the honourable member for Newcastle.
– I would have thought that after that circumstance no other senator would be game to try. It is interesting to note that certain events in recent times seem to have caused a flurry of activity in various political circumstances. I understand that Mr Barnard is thinking of re-entering this place as a senior citizen. It would have seemed to me that the Australian Labor Party has given away the current generation. In Victoria, people were somewhat startled when Labor supporters passed resolutions saying: ‘We have to advance to the 192 1 nationalisation resolution’, and that that was one way of going into the 1980s and approaching the year 2000. In Tasmania the Labor Party seems to have picked up something of that philosophy and is marching back into the past by picking up its elderly and senior citizens. Dad’s Army is fine on television but I am sure the people of Australia do not want it in this Parliament. I ask that further questions be placed on the Notice Paper.
– I raise a point of order. The Prime Minister, in evading a question from me, said that the Minister for Business and Consumer Affairs would be in the chamber to answer the question. He is not here and I want to put the question now to the Prime Minister.
-Order! There is no point of order.
Suspension of Standing Orders
Motion (by Mr Hayden) proposed:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent the Leader of the Opposition moving a motion that this House is of the opinion that the Minister for National Development has wilfully misled the House and is therefore unfit to hold ministerial office.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion of Censure
– I move:
I have moved this motion because it is clear from procedures this morning that the Government has no intention of giving a proper accounting of itself in relation to overwhelming and irrefutable evidence that two Ministers in fact, one in this House and one in the Senate, have embarked upon a program to mislead the House. The Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) has been undertaking this program for several weeks now. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) entered upon the program last week as a novice. The results were the same. They have both been caught out. Official records show beyond any doubt that both of these Ministers in their respective ways have sought to deceive not just the Parliament but the Australian public in relation to the very important matter of” policy concerning oil exploration and drilling on the Great Barrier Reef.
The matter goes well beyond these two Ministers, as I propose to indicate in the course of my comments. It also implicates the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). It is quite clear from the behaviour at Question Time this afternoon, for instance, that the Minister for National Development, with the full connivance of the Prime Minister and his senior Ministers, undertook tactics designed to avoid the Minister for National Development giving any accounting at all in any proper, conventional, responsible way of the reasons he sought to mislead the House so brazenly, so blatantly, so determinedly last week.
I mention the Prime Minister in this matter. The Prime Minister’s role goes well beyond the mere matter of deception, of misleading the House, and it is no mere matter in the normal sense of that conduct- thoroughly reprehensible. But the Prime Minister has set upon a course aimed at achieving a greater goal in his view; he has sought to mislead the Australian public by half truths and equivocation with the use of words, suggesting that the Government would not allow any oil drilling in or near the Barrier Reef in a way which would damage the reef, when in fact it is his intention to sell out to the oil companies of this country and to allow that sort of drilling to take place. It is also true of course that in an act of desperation as it were on the death bed, looking for repentance and exculpation, the Prime Minister intends to deliver a statement in this Parliament today on this matter. But it is an act of desperation, undertaken in panic, and undertaken solely because the Government wants to avoid being nailed for its irresponsible and dishonest conduct in this matter.
Nothing in the Prime Minister’s statement attends to the central issue about which this Parliament and this nation are concerned. Bear this in mind: When Ministers mislead this Parliament and when they do so patently, apparently, intentionally, as the Minister for National Development and the Minister for Science and the Environment have done, they are in fact imposing on the Australian public the greatest offence imaginable coming from this institution because it is the Australian public they are seeking to deceive- just as the Prime Minister has sought to deceive the Australian public with his statements about concern for the preservation of the Barrier Reef ecosystem.
I cannot believe that the Minister for National Development, who has always been quick off the mark from the front bench at Question Time in the past, quick to answer questions and who has had so much experience in answering questions, should suddenly discover last week that he had a hearing defect. He has been a member of this Parliament since 1975. Last session he answered 1 7 questions without any problems. This session he has answered 25 questions without any hearing problems. On Thursday, 3 1 May, it took him 4 hours from when he answered a question at the end of Question Time to when he came back into the Parliament to explain that he had made a mistake. So it seems he has defective hearing at the top end, as it were, or maybe it takes that long for arm twisting from the Minister for Primary Industry (Mr Sinclair) to work because it is quite clear that in this matter the Minister for Primary Industry was keen to preserve the ministerial position of one of his colleagues, the Minister for Science and the Environment. Let us look at what happened last Thursday. The Minister for National Development was asked the following simple question by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys):
To that the Minister said ‘yes’. He also made reference to the matter of the Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the Area of the Great Barrier Reef. Those two matters, but more especially the first, are quite distinctly different explanations by the Minister for Science and the Environment in the Senate as to why there has been a delay in the proclamation of this Marine Park. In the Senate he has consistently asserted that the reason for the delay is purely- I stress the word ‘purely’; exclusively, in other words- related to constitutional difficulties between the Queensland Government and the Federal Government.
At the same time the Minister for National Development was asked his question, the Minister for Science and the Environment was asked the same question. He said this among other things: the Capricornia section of the Marine Park has not been declared because of consultations on constitutional matters that are to take place between the Commonwealth and Queensland.
Mark this, ‘constitutional’. It is quite clear from what he said there that he was maintaining a consistent attitude, a consistent explanation with the one he had given in the past when this question had been asked of him several times. He said on other occasions it was ‘exclusively’, ‘purely’, entirely’ and ‘solely’- he has used variations of the ‘exclusiveness’ of the matter- a constitutional matter. It had nothing at all to do with the overlapping of boundaries and the conflict which arose from the self-interest of the oil development companies represented by the Minister for National Development with the support of the Prime Minister and encouraged by the Queensland Government, as against the Minister for Science and the Environment or the Minister for Housing and Construction (Mr Groom), both of whom have argued that the area ought to be preserved.
It is thoroughly misleading for the Ministers to equivocate and dissemble in the way that they have. Let me give some examples. In Hansard on 5 April, a letter from the Minister for Science and the Environment to the Minister for National Development reports that the subject of areas over which it is proposed to renew permits ‘is an important topic of conservation’. These are areas in respect of which it is proposed to renew permits for exploration. The Minister for Science and the Environment has argued consistently that there is no proposal before the Government to renew permits, yet here we have a letter from the Minister for Science and the Environment to the Minister for National Development in which that very point is conceded.
Believing that the veil of departmental confidentiality on such correspondence matters will preserve the dishonesty in this matter, the Minister for Science and the Environment embarked upon what can only be described as a campaign to lie and mislead the Senate, the Parliament and the people of Australia. Not once, but on a number of occasions he has said that there is no proposal to renew exploration permits. For instance, in the Senate Hansard of 3 May at page 1619, Senator Webster is reported as saying:
So far as I arn aware, absolutely no movement is pending to renew exploration permits in the area of the Great Barrier Reef.
On 5 April, one month earlier, here is a letter in which he talks about an impending renewal of a permit. There is the first major lie that is unmasked. On 3 May, Senator Webster said that the delay was purely because of constitutional matters. In a letter to Senator Webster, as far back as 22 January this year, the Minister for
National Development refers to the fact that there is a claim for renewal of permits. He says:
The Under-Secretary of the Queensland Department of Mines has advised my Department that the Department of Mines would have no objection to the proposed declaration provided the permittee of Q/4P and Q/5P is agreeable and only areas which the permittee proposes to relinquish are included.
As far back as 22 January this year, there was correspondence between the two Ministers which made it abundantly clear that the dispute between them and, accordingly, the delay in the proclamation of the Capricornia Marine Park off Rockhampton was- if for other reasons certainly- associated in its delay with the problem of overlapping boundaries between permits to explore and the proposed boundaries for the marine park. Again there is evidence of the lie and of the dishonesty which has been perpetrated against this parliament.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat for a moment. The frequent use of the word ‘lie ‘ is not acceptable. It is unparliamentary and I require the Leader of the Opposition to desist from its use.
– I understand that it is appropriate in a censure motion because it goes to the very heart of the issue.
-The term is unparliamentary and I ask the Leader of the Opposition to refrain from using that word.
– If it is unparliamentary, as a formality I withdraw, but it is quite clear that we cannot trust the Minister for National Development or the Minister for Science and the Environment. They have embarked upon a program which is designed to deceive and mislead the Australian Parliament and they have done that knowingly and wilfully. Their behaviour is not that of honest men. It is inexcusable and neither is fitted to be a Minister of the Australian Parliament. On the radio program PM on 8 May, the Minister for Science and the Environment declared- as far as I know- that there was no consideration of any exploration licence to be taken up in that area which is to be declared a marine park. At best one could say that it is a quibble over terminology or semantics. One has to say that it is not an honest statement because the whole dispute between the Minister for National Development and the Minister for Science and the Environment concerns the disagreement between the two of them as to the overlapping of the permit area for exploration and drilling by an exploration company and the wish of the Minister for Science and the Environment to declare boundaries for the marine park which would have overlapped that permitted area.
I come back to what the Minister for National Development said in this Parliament last Thursday. He sought to explain away the obvious conflict between the statement that he made at Question Time and the statement made by the Minister for Science and the Environment. They both made statements which were consistent. I must say that in fairness to them. In the statement he made, the Minister for National Development remained consistent in what he had said in correspondence with the Minister for Science and the Environment, namely, that there had to be a delay, that progress could not be made in the declaration of a marine national park off Rockhampton- the Capricornia one- until the matter of overlapping boundaries was cleared up. He even had the temerity to suggest that it could be cleared up accommodatingly only if adjustments in boundaries for the permitted area of exploration were acceptable to the oil exploration company.
It is a strange situation when foreign multinationals can decide what governments are going to do and can override the essential national interest of the people of this countryand that has been declared often enough in public polls. The essential national interest of the people of this country is quite obvious. They have made it abundantly clear that they do not want any drilling to take place on or near the Barrier Reef and it is that which the Government is seeking to undermine. The Minister said:
The reason why the Capricornia park has not been declared is that the Government wishes to finalise the question of agreement on extending the powers of the States into the territorial sea with the Queensland Government.
He goes on:
The reasons given in the Senate are, of course, entirely accurate.
He said: ‘Entirely’. ‘Entirely’ means ‘completely’, ‘exclusively’. That is sheer nonsense because correspondence from the Minister for National Development makes it clear that that is not the entire reason. It may be part of the reason but it is not the entire reason. Just as it is dishonest for the Minister for Science and the Environment to say that it is purely a matter of constitutional difficulties, it is dishonest also for the Minister for National Development- who, in his first answer at least was honest in the sense of being consistent with what he said before- to come here and say that the answer in the Senate was entirely accurate, when he had been arguing quite the contrary four hours earlier.
Why did he change his mind? There is a simple reason. He has been leant on by the Prime Minister and the Minister for Primary Industry. The Government is in no condition to take any more resignations, sackings or dismissals from the Ministry. It already holds the record for that sort of thing in the history of this country. There can be no arguing that the Minister for National Development came back into this House knowing full well that he was about to enter upon a deception of the Australian Parliament. He came back into this House knowing full well that what he was about to say was untrue.
It is not just a matter of correspondence which has been tabled in this Parliament. There is also the matter of a transcript of a background briefing that he gave to journalists. Yes, I too would pale if I were the Minister for National Development. On 28 May, he said:
I had you fellows in and I showed you the letter which I thought at that stage was quite appropriate to answering that accusation. And I showed you that there were two issues running on this. One, the issue of the Q/4P and Q/SP permits which I showed you a map and which I thought I explained there and then that overlapped in the area and that the matter had to be resolved before the Capricornia part of the Great Park be declared, and secondly that the Royal Commission was key to the whole thing being settled and that was something that I hoped would be settled quickly.
He refers to the matter that had to be resolved. The crucial matter that he spoke about almost exlusively was the need to resolve the conflict between the boundaries of the exploration area and their overlap with the proposed national park. He mentioned in passing matters associated with the Royal Commission, but they do not refer, as honourable members familiar with the report will be aware, to constitutional matters. The Minister made that comment privately on 28 May, three days before he came into this Parliament and perjured himself. That is not all he said. In that background briefing he also stated:
And the point I was trying to make additional to that night was that the Great Barrier Reef Park simply had not been declared because those two areas infringed on it and that matter has to be settled with the permittee.
There is no equivocation, no qualification and no vagueness. He said this quite bluntly and directly:
And the point I was trying to make additional to that night was that the Great Barrier Reef Park simply -
Simply ‘, is the operative word- had not been declared because those two areas infringed on it and that matter had to be settled with the permittee.
The Minister was saying that simply because there had been an infringement of the boundary between the two areas- the exploration area and the proposed national park-the Park had not been proclaimed. He said that that matter had to be settled with the permittee. Again we see a servile concession to a foreign multinational oil company. The Minister, out of his own mouth, hangs himself as a man of mendacity, a man without a shred of integrity left in the Parliament. He has sought to mislead the Parliament and has tried to brazen it out today.
I mention that the Minister is not alone in this matter. The Prime Minister is party principal to what has been going on. In a confidential document entitled ‘Great Barrier Reef Issues: Summary’, prepared in the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, the following appears at paragraph 40, under the heading ‘Public Presentation’:
Government spokesmen, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, have made it clear that the Government will not permit any drilling or mining on the Reef itself or which would cause damage to the Reef.
Honourable members should listen to this comment:
These statements have deliberately avoided any commitment in relation to activities which might take place in the area of the Reef but not on the Reef itself.
The Prime Minister is trying to fool the public. Mistakenly he tries to fool all of the public all of the time, but the public is not that damned silly.
The whole argument has been about the definition of boundaries. If the Minister for National Development has his way the boundaries for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park as proposed will be amended, contracted, so that the exploration can proceed if that is the wish of the permittee. What is the Barrier Reef or what is near the Barrier Reef is a matter of definition to be left in the hands of the Prime Minister.
Honourable members interjecting;
– Honourable members would not even buy a used family trust from the Prime Minister. The matter is left in the hands of the Prime Minister and the Minister for National Development. It is a bit like prescribing the use of camels and then defining all camels as horses. People can get away with murder if they are cold blooded enough. This Government deserves to be repudiated. The Minister for National Development is not entitled to hold his office, nor is the Minister for Science and the Environment entitled to hold his office. Both Ministers have embarked on a program to mislead and deceive the Parliament. The Prime Minister, with his half-truths, untruths, big lies, little lies and stupid lies in this Parliament has sought to deceive the people on this matter too.
-Order! The Leader of the Opposition will withdraw.
- Mr Acting Speaker, the use of the word ‘lies’ by the Leader of the Opposition cannot be permitted. I suggest that the words are unparliamentary and should not be allowed to be used.
-Order! The Leader of the House had no occasion to rise. I had already called on the Leader of the Opposition to withdraw his concluding remarks.
– I withdraw.
-Is the motion seconded?
– I second the motion. At Question Time today we witnessed the most extraordinary performance that I have seen in this House by any Minister. The Minister for National Development (Mr Newman) was given the opportunity by the Opposition to come clean and to set the record straight. Instead, he chose to give one and two word answers and to evade completely the questions that he had caused to be asked by his obfuscation last week. The Leader of the House (Mr Sinclair) has boasted that this Government has allowed more questions to be asked during Question Time. It is no wonder that we can get through 20 and 30 questions a day when we receive one word answers like the Minister for National Development gave today. The Minister has totally refused to answer a whole series of questions. Unfortunately, this last episode is just one of a series of evasive and deceitful replies to questions about the fate of the Great Barrier Reef and oil drilling on the Reef.
The credibility of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) is in tatters. The economy is in a mess. Quite clearly, the Government cannot afford to have another sacking. Therefore, a series of evasive replies- I would argue that they are dishonest replies- have been dreamed up by the Minister. Last Thursday the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) asked the Minister for National Development:
I ask the Minister for National Development: Is it a fact that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared because the area of permits Q/4P and Q/SP infringes on the proposed section of the Marine Park? Is it also a fact that the Capricornia section of the Marine Park cannot be declared until the Government knows where it is going with the report of the Royal Commission into Exploratory and Production Drilling for Petroleum in the Area of the Great Barrier Reef?
– We have been through all that.
– We are going through it again because this is a matter of national importance. It is about time that some honourable members on the Government side of the House started to remember that this is the place where people are supposed to tell the truth. So let us go through this matter once again so that honourable members on the Government side of the House, who were so quick to throw accusations around between 1972 and 1975, might keep the same standards when in office as they talked about when in Opposition. It is quite clear that the Government does not. Mr Newman replied:
The answers to the two questions posed by the honourable member are, yes and yes. I would like to add to that and say that the Government has not made any decision on this question. I now have prepared a submission which has gone to the Government for decision. I can only repeat what has been said by the Prime Minister and other of my colleagues, that this Government will not allow drilling on the reef, nor will it allow any activity that will in any way damage the reef.
At the very same moment, the same question was asked in another place of the Minister for Science and the Environment, Senator Webster. I will not go through the question because it was exactly the same. Senator Webster replied:
Mr President, I thought that you would take exception to a question being repeated here on so many occasions. That question has been asked of me on at least five occasions in this place. Seeing that the intelligence of the questioner is so dull that he is not able to read Hansard, I will give him the answer again. The Capricornia section of the Marine Park has not been declared because of consultations on constitutional matters that are to take place between the Commonwealth and Queensland.
Senator Button went on to ask whether the Minister was aware that the same question had been answered quite differently in another place. Even for a Government with the unique record for lying that this Government has, this was an extraordinary -
-Order! The remark when related to the Government as a whole is not as offensive against the Standing Orders as it would be if it were made in a personal sense. But I remind the honourable member that it is not a parliamentary expression. He should desist from using it.
-Thank you, Mr Acting Speaker. I have no intention of withdrawing the remark. It was not as though this was some obscure matter of which the Parliament and the nation were not aware. On the contrary, apart from the debate about the mess in which the Government has placed this economy, no issue has had more exposure than oil drilling on the Great Barrier Reef. It has been the subject of numerous questions in both Houses. It has been the subject of two discussions of public importance in the House of Representatives and of two urgency motions, two censure motions and a motion for the suspension of Standing Orders in the Senate. It has also been the subject almost daily of headlines in the nation’s Press. It has had widespread coverage on radio and television. One would have thought that even in a government that is as incredibly incompetent as this one the Minister’s primary concern would have been to understand the basic issues in the debate.
Immediately after Question Time it was obvious that the Government was in a lot of trouble. Both Ministers could not be correct. One of them was not telling the truth, and it was not as if the question was particularly complicated. In fact, the question asked of both Ministers was incredibly simple and easy to understand. The honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys) speaks very eloquently, very clearly and very concisely. Let me repeat the question:
Is it a fact that the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park has not been declared because of the area of permits Q/4P and Q/5P infringes on the proposed section of the marine park?
I would have thought that even the thickest Minister, or Ministers, would have been able to understand that question. Later on that day the Opposition learned that the Minister for National Development was to make a statement at 3. 1 5 p.m. Quite clearly the Government was in a panic. One wonders how a government notorious for its total inability to tell the truth about anything was going to reconcile different answers given by two Ministers. A book was being run on who was going to tell the truth, who was lying and how long it would take for the guilty person to get the sack. However, if events up until then had been bizarre, it was nothing to what we were treated to when the Minister for National Development came into the House to make a personal explanation. He said this:
On reading the draft answer to a question that was asked of me by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Humphreys), 1 find that I have misheard the question and my answer is . . .
After a series of points of order the Minister continued, I might add, without explaining what he thought he heard the honourable member for Griffith say. I think that is a very important matter. If he had misheard it, what did he think he had been asked? He did not say what he heard. He gave the following personal explanation:
The reason why the Capricornia Park has not been declared is that the Government wishes to finalise the question of agreement on extending the powers of the States into the territorial sea with the Queensland Government. This question is now moving towards resolution.
He then went on to talk about the reef, and so on. He did not at any time try to explain to this House what it was he thought he heard the honourable member for Griffith say. If he had misunderstood the question, if he had misheard the question, then at least he had the responsibility to tell this House what he thought the question was that the honourable member for Griffith had asked. He has not bothered to do that. Quite clearly there was a very fast attempt to cover up. As I said before, this was an incredible performance by the Minister. At no stage did he explain why the initial answer was exactly the opposite of the explanation he gave in the afternoon. He simply asks the House to believe that despite this matter being an issue for national debate, despite the particular matters referred to by the honourable member for Griffith being a matter of daily speculation in the media, he misheard the question. It simply is not good enough. No one in this House believes the Minister. Let us not forget that the Minister was until a few years ago a serving officer in the Army; he is not a doddering old man of 85 or 90 years of age. It would be nice if he had been given an order to fire and he had not heard it properly.
It is clear that what has happened is that the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) who, as I said, nobody in Australia believes any longer, decided at a meeting with the Minister that the only way out of the Government’s dilemma was to carry on the process that has marked this Government’s three and a half years in office: Tell them lies’. That is what we have heard for the last few days. Unfortunately, if a person is going to tell lies he has to be good at it. He has to be consistent. The next day we found that members of the Government are not even good liars. It was revealed in an article in the Financial Review that the first answer that the Minister had given in the House was exactly the same as he had given earlier in the week in a briefing of three journalists. In that briefing he had stated: . . and the point I was trying to make . . . was that the Great Barrier Reef park simply had not been declared because these two areas infringed on it and that matter had to be settled with the permitees.
So there we have the situation. The answer given by the Minister in the morning was exactly the same reply that he had given when questioned by three journalists earlier that week. Only after it had been discovered that the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) in another place had given a totally different answer was there hurried consultation with the Prime Minister to work out, after the debacle of the last few weeks with the horror Budget and all that had been going on there, how he was going to save himself from another bad week by being forced to sack another Minister. The Financial
Review stated that Mr Newman explained his statement to the Press by saying that he had been expressing a personal opinion and that he may have been speaking ‘loosely ‘. Is that not fascinating? Here we have a Minister of the Cabinet who has now given us personal opinions when speaking on matters concerning his own portfolio. Does each Minister now have two hats so that he can express a personal opinion and then provide the Cabinet opinion? Of course, we know that the honourable the Deputy Prime Minister (Mr Anthony) speaks with two voices, two tongues and with two of everything, but it is normal procedure for a Minister to speak once and with authority as a Minister of a Federal Government. He said that he was speaking loosely. I would have thought that a Cabinet Minister who cannot speak properly, who cannot speak authoritatively and who speaks loosely ought not to be in a Federal Cabinet. I think this House has had enough of this charade, this fiasco of deceit and obfuscation. I call upon the Minister for National Development once and for all to resign from Cabinet and let the position be taken by somebody who can tell the truth.
– This is a synthetic issue that has been introduced by the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) because he received prior notice of a statement that I was making today about the decision that the Government has made concerning the royal commissions into the Great Barrier Reef, about oil drilling in relation to those commissions and research as a result of those royal commissions. The honourable gentleman knows full well that there would have been no issue once that statement was made. Therefore the Opposition brings this matter forward and pushes aside the discussion of the matter of public importance on the question of the Federal Narcotics Bureau which was to have taken place today. The Opposition wants to speak about the Great Barrier Reef instead before the issue flies away from it. It is perfectly plain that once a statement is made later on this afternoon there will not be an issue before the Australian Labor Party in relation to the Great Barrier Reef.
The Government has made it perfectly plain time and again that it is the constitutional issue with the State of Queensland that has held up the declaration of the marine park. There are good reasons for that. As we know, going back a little, there was a High Court decision on jurisdiction of off-shore waters. That led to argument between State and Commonwealth on a number of very important matters. It led to a disputation about power, about administration off-shore in relation to fishing and the mining of petroleum right around the Australian coast. The Commonwealth Government, through its policy of wishing to work in consultation and co-operation with the States, has sought to resolve those issues by negotiation. In many areas the States and the Commonwealth, as a result of initiatives which we have taken, will be entering into joint arrangements in fisheries and in many other areas which will work to the benefit of the industries concerned. We have adopted this policy because we recognise the position of the States. We recognise that the States cannot suddenly cease to be concerned off-shore, from the low water mark out, and that the operations around the Australian coastline are of very real interest to the States.
One of the things we have been seeking to do is to establish the circumstance where the States would have authority out to the three-mile limit but where the administrations would be exercised jointly beyond the three-mile limit. Clearly, the residual and reserve power, as a result of the High Court decisions, rests with the Commonwealth. Within the three-mile limit we believe that matters would best be dealt with by the States themselves. In Queensland, because the reef comes so close to the shore at a number of points, that policy has implications for the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. Clearly, therefore, we wanted an examination of these total issues and resolution of a constitutional issue, and we did not want to pre-empt an appropriate agreed solution to that by a proclamation of the marine park that could have been premature as against the wider background. We made it perfectly plain right through that nothing will happen on the reef or off the reef that could in any way damage or prejudice it. We have indicated perfectly plainly that if an activity were likely to prejudice the reef or if there was doubt about whether an activity would have an adverse impact on the reef, that activity would not take place. The statement that I will be making later this afternoon will make it perfectly plain that that commitment has been fulfilled totally and absolutely, as the Leader of the Opposition knows because I have no doubt that he has read the statement.
That is the constitutional issue which has led to and is still responsible for delaying the proclamation of the Park. It is an issue which we want to resolve by resolution with Queensland having in mind our responsibilities for the Great Barrier Reef and the Marine Park itself as well as our responsibilities to work in co-operation with Queensland. That approach, I think, is in marked contrast with the approach of the previous Labor Administration which did everything by conflict. It said: ‘We have the power. We will do it totally. Other governments do not matter. We can run over them.’ That has not been our way. It is not our intention. The Minister for National Development, responsible for the royal commissions established by the Queensland Government and by the Commonwealth in relation to the Marine Park, was obviously concerned to see that the issues raised by the royal commissions in their report were got out of the way. In pursuing his portfolio interests, as he had every right and duty to do, he was making it plain that he wanted those issues resolved. The statement that I will be making later in the day again will indicate that these issues have been resolved by the decision that the Government made at the end of last week. It is quite plainly a separate but related issue. The Minister had every right to pursue that interest and say that these issues ought to be put aside and resolved. I think that what he was doing in that regard was entirely appropriate. I would have wondered what the position was if he had not been pursuing that interest as he had.
I think that to some extent both the Ministers involved in this matter were encompassed by the remarks of the Leader of the Opposition. Both are responsible Ministers. They have my full support and the support of our colleagues. That is the way it will remain. Some very odd things have emerged in respect of the Australian Labor Party in this debate. Members of the Australian Labor Party talked about conservation. They passed some laws about conservation and the environment. But it happens to be this Government which has done something about these issues. The reputation of Australia stands second to none around the world following all the environmental and conservation decisions that this Government has taken.
Opposition members interjecting-
– What I have said hurts because the Labor Party could only talk. We acted. We have done something.
– Another lie.
-Order! The honourable member for Adelaide will withdraw that remark.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I -
-The honourable member will withdraw without qualification.
– I withdraw the statement ‘It is another lie’.
-Order! I caution the honourable member for Adelaide. I call the Prime Minister.
-For the benefit of the honourable member for Adelaide who is held of no account in this place let me repeat what I said. The reputation of this Government stands high in conservation circles around the world. It does so because of the activities and decisions of this Government. Members of the Labor Party talked about conservation. They were phoney conservationists. They never did anything about it. To challenge our record is to challenge something which is unchallengeable. The actions which we took in relation to Fraser Island were difficult to take. There was some pain attached to them. They were taken in the name of conservation. The actions we have taken in relation to the Fox report on uranium have scrupulously followed the environmental recommendations on the establishment of the Kakadu National Park. Who established the inquiry into whales and whaling? Who altered the Australian policy in relation to whaling, putting Australia to the forefront in the world on that conservation issue? Again, all the Labor Party could do was talk about that issue. Under its administration the slaughter of whales went on year after year.
Opposition members interjecting-
-AU Opposition members can do is wail in this place. They do not like what I say because the record on conservation matters is clear. It is understood. People who know anything about conservation know that record quite well. There is not even a foundation member of the Australian Conservation Foundation from the Australian Labor Party in this House. There certainly is on this side of the House long before conservation was a trendy political issue which it had to become before the Labor Party would pick it up. The international reputation of this Government is high. This Government also established the Australian Science and Technology Advisory Council. That, of course, is instrumental and important if we are to be able to undertake necessary research to protect the environment on-shore and off-shore. It was a coalition government of an earlier time that established the Australian Institute of Marine Science which enables much of the work to be done necessary for the preservation of the reef and a proper understanding of what happens around Australia off-shore. To suggest that this Government has no concern for environmental issues and to suggest that it has not acted with strength and vigour in these issues is ludicrous in the extreme.
I would like to divert the attention of the House briefly to refer to an extract from a Press conference which is not strictly relevant to this debate but which concerns the credibility of a particular member of the House. I will read the transcript of the Press conference. It is not a very long transcript; it is only one and a half pages. I think that some honourable members might be interested in it. There was a person who visited Indonesia from the Australian Labor Party who, when he was in Australia before he left, made ringing declarations that when he was overseas he was going to do certain things. But what happened? He went to water. Last year prior to his visit to Indonesia, Mr Hayden was full of assertiveness about human rights. He wanted to see through a goal in Indonesia and speak to Indonesian political prisoners. What happened in the event?
– What has this to do with the reef?
– It goes very much to the issue of credibility. It is the Australian Labor Party that sought to raise that issue in this Parliament.
-Order! I ask the right honourable Prime Minister to remain relevant to the question before the House.
-Mr Acting Speaker, this is totally relevant to the question of credibility. What happened is shown by Mr Hayden ‘s Jakarta Press conference of 22 June 1 978. The transcript states:
Did you ask to see political prisoners?
Mr Hayden replied:
No, as I mentioned the other day, 1 indicated a range of things I was interested in doing, but as the program proceeds it looks fairly hopeless, certainly at this stage, for me to be able to fit in a visit like that, even locally, because the program as you can see today is over-running itself.
– What has this to do with the reef?
-Order! The honourable member for Batman will remain silent.
-Opposition members do not like this. The transcript of the Press conference continues: . . and it does not look as though it will ease.
– Make a fool of yourself.
-The honourable member for Cunningham will remain silent. 1 warn the honourable member.
– We hear the interjections from the jackals in the Labor Party. The transcript continues:
What is your program for tomorrow?
Well, we have got meetings in the morning and in the afternoon I want to call on a number of people but I’ll largely be arranging that privately. So I won ‘t be announcing it.
Are you disappointed that you won’t be visiting the political prisoners?
I am disappointed that I won ‘t be able to do a lot of things but I have got to be realistic about time that’s available to me.
Why do you think it wasn’t possible for you to visit them?
I ‘ve explained that a couple of times already.
Do you find you have such a full program tomorrow?
I’m satisfied that it’s full enough, and I have to make that decision.
What are you doing tomorrow?
A number of things. I’ve got some appointments in the morning and some private arrangements in the afternoon.
Apart from these political prisoners, did you raise with any of the people with whom you spoke the question of the human rights problem?
No 1 did not, because the time I had available -
– I raise a point of order. This has nothing whatever to do with the subject matter being debated. The Prime Minister should be brought back to the subject being debated. Mr Acting Speaker, perhaps you can press another button and put him on another program.
-Order! The Prime Minister insists that his remarks are relevant. I am not persuaded otherwise.
-Mr Acting Speaker, my final remark was that the Leader of the Opposition was trying to hide the fact that he had not raised the issue, even though before he left Australia he had trumpeted the fact that he would. That means that he has one voice in Australia and another voice overseas. How can a person who behaves in that way dare to raise the issue of credibility within this Parliament.
On the question of broad conservation issues, of which the Barrier Reef is a part -
Opposition members- Hooray, hooray!
-Mr Acting Speaker, Opposition members do not like their own arguments being thrown back at them. On the question of Fraser Island and Kakadu National Park, on the question of whales and whaling and on many other conservation matters, the reputation of this Government stands high in Australia and overseas, and none of the wailing of Labor members in this Parliament can alter that fact.
Motion ( by Mr Sinclair) put:
That the question be now put.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker- Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question put.
That the motion (Mr Hayden’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. (Mr Acting Speaker- Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the negative.
- Mr Acting Speaker, I claim to have been misrepresented.
-The honourable member may proceed.
-The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), during his statement to the Parliament, made reference to my interest, when overseas, in the matter of human rights in Indonesia. The fact is, when speaking with President Suharto, I had an extensive discussion in detail in the presence of the Australian Ambassador on this point. Subsequent to that Press conference that the Prime Minister referred to, I met privately with- I thought it was desirable to keep it confidential at that stage at least- a number of student dissidents, some of whom had been imprisoned as political activists. The only observation I make is that my approach to foreign affairs is quite conventional, unlike that of the Prime Minister in Singapore.
- Mr Acting Speaker, would you accept a point of order at this stage?
-I rather imagine the honourable member for Wakefield intended raising a point of order on a matter on which I was about to call the Leader of the Opposition to order. He was not speaking on the score of being misrepresented. He was debating the issue, and I intended to require him to resume his seat.
- Mr Acting Speaker, would you be prepared to hear the point of order? Would the Leader of the Opposition be prepared to tell the House whether a member of the external affairs -
-There is no point of order. The honourable member for Wakefield will resume his seat.
– Pursuant to section 37 of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation Act 1 973 I present the report of the Australian Apple and Pear Corporation for the year ended 31 December 1978.
– For the information of honourable members I present the summary of resolutions and recommendations of the seventeenth meeting of the Australian Forestry Council held in Christchurch, New Zealand, on 30 January 1979.
-For the information of honourable members I present a policy information paper on natural disaster insurance. The paper follows an announcement on this matter I made on 1 7 January in which I undertook to provide more detailed information on the measures proposed and on the considerations underlying the Government’s approach in a policy information paper which would be presented to the Parliament.
- Mr Acting Speaker, with your indulgence, I ask the Government to move that that paper be noted.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) proposed:
That the House take note of the paper.
Debate (on motion by Mr Jacobi) adjourned.
-I claim to have been misrepresented.
-It is customary to approach the Chair to seek indulgence to make a personal explanation in such situations. I will permit the honourable member to proceed if he claims to have been misrepresented.
– With respect, Mr Acting Speaker, I did approach you during Question Time, though it was during a hectic period. In an article in the Laurie Oakes Report, dated Canberra, 30 May 1979, entitled ‘Back Benchers Stiffen the Government’s Economic Backbone’, other members and I were misrepresented to a minor, but important, extent. The basis of the article I do not question. It does mention that other members of the Government Treasury Committee and I are against the indexation of pensions. In my case that is not correct. I would like to put the record straight.
-The honourable member for Melbourne will remain silent. The Chair apologises to the honourable member for Eden-Monaro. I do recall that he approached me during Question Time. I withdraw my admonition.
– For the information of honourable members, I present the text of a statement by the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) concerning the implementation of recommendations of the reports of the Senate Standing Committee on Science and the Environment on Wood Chips and the Environment.
– by leave- I inform honourable members that pursuant to section 48K of the Audit Act 1901, the GovernorGeneral has approved arrangements made by me for Mr Evan D. Cameron, F.C.A., Chairman of the National Management Committee of Hungerfords, chartered accountants of 167 Macquarie Street, Sydney, New South Wales, to be the independent auditor of the AuditorGeneral’s Office. Hungerfords is a national partnership totally owned and controlled in Australia. The firm is one of the four founding firms of Alexander Grant Tansley Witt, an international accounting association represented by some 8,000 people in more than SO countries. Whilst each of the member firms has the right to use the international firm name, Alexander Grant Tansley Witt does not itself practice. Its purpose is to lay down the technical standards and policies for all of its member firms in order to ensure that clients of the member firms are provided with services of the highest quality in whichever countries they operate.
Mr Cameron has been a partner of Hungerfords since 1962. He became Chairman of the firm’s National Management Committee in 1977. Mr Cameron’s appointment is for three financial years commencing with the year 1978-79. As required by the Audit Act, his first report will be in respect of the financial year 1978-79 and will be annexed to the AuditorGeneral ‘s Report in respect of that year.
-by leave-The statement made by the Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson) has some shortcomings in the view of the Opposition. It does not explain in any way to the House or the public at large what the role of the independent auditor is. I think it might at least have been explained to the House that this is a new role brought about by the audit legislation amendments made earlier this year. The role of the independent auditor is to audit the Auditor-General’s Office and to undertake efficiency audits. Some explanation of that fact is perhaps relevant to understanding the importance of this appointment.
It is worthy of note also- and those with a cynical point of view might care to take particular note- that the Government has given no reasons for choosing Hungerfords as against other firms of accountants or auditors. I think it is relevant in that context to note that the firm of Hungerfords was once known as Hungerford Spooner and the Spooner referred to was Sir William Spooner who was a Minister for National Development in various Menzies’ governments. This company, therefore, has close associations with the Liberal Party. I think that Sir William Spooner was a foundation member of the Liberal Party when it was formed around 1940. Perhaps in that context some explanation should have been given why this company was chosen against others.
It is also relevant, perhaps, to note that in this context the firm of Hungerfords is more particularly known for its work in liquidations rather than for auditing. Given the state of the economy at present, it is worthy of note that the Government has now called in the liquidator.
The following Bills were returned from the Senate without amendment or requests:
Wool Industry Amendment Bill 1979.
Wool Tax Amendment Bills (Nos.1 to 5) 1979.
Wheat Industry Stabilization Amendment Bill 1 979.
Wheat Industry Stabilization (Reimbursement of Borrowing Costs) Bill 1979.
-I have received letters from the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) and the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) proposing that definite matters of public importance be submitted to the House for discussion today. As required by Standing Order No. 107, the Acting Speaker has selected one matter, that is, that proposed by the honourable member for Prospect, namely:
The Fraser Government’s incompetent handling of the Federal Narcotics Bureau.
I 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-
-Mr Deputy Speaker -
Motion (by Mr Sinclair) agreed to:
That the Business of the Day be called on.
Motion (by Mr Sinclair)- by leave- agreed to:
That so much of the Standing Orders be suspended as would prevent Notice No. 46, General Business, relating to the disallowance of the Poker Machine Control (Amendment) Ordinance 1979 (No. 7 of 1979) being called on forthwith.
This motion to disallow the Poker Machine Control (Amendment) Ordinance is worthy of debate and consideration by the House this day, taking on perhaps a greater importance following the election results in the Australian Capital Territory at the weekend. The motion is of importance to those members and citizens interested in the ideal of government being as close to the people as possible. It is also of considerable interest to the members of the Australian Capital Territory electorate to find social welfare and community interests high amongst their own priorities. The Government and, indeed, the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) have shown a complete disregard for the plights of the people of Canberra and are insensitive to the social and economic problems confronting the unemployed and other socially deprived people in the community.
– On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker, I do not want to stop the right honourable member for Melbourne but I do suggest that the honourable member should be relevant at least at the beginning of his speech to the motion that is before the Chair.
– On that point or order, one of the major issues involved in the question of disallowing the ordinance is the fact that the funds that have been taken away from the area of responsibility of the Assembly to be dispersed in the community of Canberra have a relationship to the areas to which I have made reference. Now, I am challenging the actions of the Minister. It is his ordinance. It appears that what I am about to say is most relevant.
-Order! I call the honourable member for Melbourne to continue.
-The Minister is getting a bit sensitive. What is the matter? Can he not take it? The arrogance and the insensitiveness of the Minister to the unemployed in this country are enshrined in this ordinance. He sits there like God dictating the pace and seeing what the taxes of the Australian Capital Territory, not outside the area and not in the general Consolidated Revenue -
– Talk to the people behind me. Don ‘t talk straight at me.
– You intrigue me. I want you to get the message.
-I suggest that both honourable members address their remarks through the Chair.
– The present conservative Government and, of course, the Minister have responsibility in the Australian Capital Territory and have attempted to score considerable political advantage by labelling the Whitlam Labor Government as centralist and bureaucratic. Today I will detail an example of the regressive and conservative centralism of this Government and, indeed, the Minister.
The Australian Capital Territory Poker Machine Control (Amendment) Ordinance 1979 has the effect of removing control over the expenditure of domestic Australian Capital Territory revenues from the elected representatives of the people of Canberra to the Minister for the Capital Territory by specific Australian Capital Territory taxes on the people and incorporated bodies of the territory. Revenues derived under the Poker Machine Control (Amendment) Ordinance of 1979 are such a domestic revenue. They are a percentage of profits generated by poker machines in registered clubs in Canberra. Those clubs are principally composed of and patronised by residents in the two Federal electorates in the Australian Capital Territory. Originally, 10 per cent of the clubs’ profits from poker machines were to be made available to the Poker Machine Licensing Board and the Legislative Assembly would call on the accumulated funds to be disbursed for community projects. The Territory’s Legislative Assembly, composed of 1 8 elected representatives from the two Federal electorates, decided which community organisations and which projects were to receive the revenue derived from the operations of poker machines, and honourable members ought to think about that. Eighteen elected representatives from the local community deliberated upon and decided how the $lm per annum generated by the use of poker machines in the clubs would be expended. But the Minister has changed all that in his old arrogant style. Now it is the Minister for the Capital Territory who is to decide who gets grants from poker machine revenue. It seems to me that honourable members ought to have a very serious look at this arrangement.
– I raise a point of order. Is the honourable member entitled to refer in a derogatory fashion to any member of this House?
– It was not derogatory.
– It was arrogant. You want to grow up.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Order! I remind the honourable member for Melbourne to keep his language parliamentary.
– Any attempt to use the sensitivity of the Minister to try to interrupt debate on this matter will not save the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) or any of his cronies. The Minister does not represent the people of Canberra. In this House he represents the upper crust, the upper class in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. He represents the people in Double Bay, Watsons Bay, Vaucluse, Paddington and Woollahra. They are the people whom this Minister represents- Sydney’s trendy bourgeoisie and retired rinsers
The Minister’s compromised representation of the Australian Capital Territory is amplified by his shabby treatment of the people of Canberra in the amendment to the poker machine ordinance, and it is instructive to illuminate the history of this matter for the information of honourable members. On 28 February this year the Minister wrote to the Legislative Assembly saying that he was ‘inclined ‘ towards a change in the existing arrangements. The Minister also said:
Before I make a final decision however, I would be glad to have the Assembly’s view on the matter.
What was the Assembly’s view. At the meeting of the Assembly on 5 March, immediately following receipt of the Minister’s letter, a motion was moved to inform the Minister that the Assembly wished no change. In particular, the motion stated that the power of the Assembly to disburse poker machine funds had been in existence for more than three years and therefore formed part of the ‘present arrangements’ for which 63 per cent of electors voted in November 1978 and formed an essential part of the arrangements on the basis of which the Assembly agreed to the ordinance. That motion was moved by the Leader of the Labor Party in the Assembly and, despite the fact that the Labor Party was a minority party in the Assembly, the motion was carried. It is heartening to know that following Saturday’s Assembly election the Labor Party will now be the majority party. It seems to me that the editorial in the Canberra Times ought to be referred to the Minister. It is interesting reading and if I have time in this debate, I will quote a couple of paragraphs from it.
The elected representatives of the people of the Territory told the Minister that in their opinion the present arrangements for the distribution of poker machine revenue ought to continue. But did the Minister enter into some sort of dialogue over this difference in view and give effect to what he had undertaken to do? The next that the Assembly heard of the matter was the news that the Poker Machine Control (Amendment) Ordinance had been gazetted. I am sure that honourable members and the more thoughtful among our community will see this action of the Minister as both arrogant and undemocratic. It was arrogant because the Minister did not attempt to enter into any meaningful discussion with the elected representatives of the Australian Capital Territory. The Minister’s action was undemocratic because it vested more power in the centralised decision-making structure and removed it from a body more representative of the people. The Minister will talk about delays in the distribution of poker machine revenue but it will be all crocodile tears. Honourable members should realise that the policies which this Minister supports have deteriorated living standards in the Australian Capital Territory which has the highest unemployment level in the country. The people in the Territory are suffering under policies for which the Minister is responsible.
Following the gazettal, the Legislative Assembly immediately moved and passed a motion calling for the disallowance in the Senate of the amendment to the ordinance. It is in sympathy with that motion that I have moved disallowance today in this House. It is up to the Minister to stand up and be counted. He should answer the questions that have been raised and tell the elected representatives in the Assembly why he disregarded their views. The challenge is there following the result in Saturday’s House of Assembly election. The people of Canberra have spoken. The obligation is now on the Minister to refer this matter back to the House of Assembly for further consideration and recommendation in the light of the decision of the people of Canberra in Saturday’s House of Assembly election.
It must in all fairness be said that the Minister did reply to the Legislative Assembly’s refusal to accept his attitude to the amendment. However, it must also be said that this letter reached the Assembly the day after- I repeat, the day afterthe notice of the gazettal. So much for consultation. So much for dialogue. First there was the gazettal and then the summary rejection of a well-based argument. And the Assembly did have a well-based argument. As the Legislative Assembly motion of 5 March stated, last November 63 per cent of Australian Capital Territory electors voted for ‘no change’ in the present arrangements for the Australian Capital Territory. The people said: ‘No change’. But what did the Minister do? The referendum itself proved to be a farce. If a racehorse had run as dead as the Minister ran in that referendum the horse would have been swabbed and the owners rubbed out for life. The Minister, on some spurious argument, changed the then existing arrangements.
It is not just the Labor Party and the Legislative Assembly that are opposed to the sneak-thief tactics of the Minister. I have received a letter from the Licensed Clubs Association of the ACT. This is the organisation that -
– What have you been doing now?
– Something that you have never done. It represents the bodies which actually operate the poker machines. One might put the Association in the category of an interested but unbiased observer on this question. The Licensed Clubs Association is strongly against the Minister’s action and I believe that I should quote from this letter for the Minister and the people of the Territory. The letter, from Mr Terry Rule, the Association’s secretary, says in part:
My Executive has directed that I write to you expressing this Association’s full support for your foreshadowed move to disallow the recently gazetted Poker Machine (Amendment) Ordinance.
My Association is particularly concerned that the effect of the Amendment to the Ordinance would be to remove from the ACT elected representatives the prerogative for the disbursement of poker machine revenue derived solely from within the ACT.
The shallow argument put forward by the Minister in his letter to the Assembly for the centralisation of poker machine revenue defies belief. He said that the 63 per cent of the electors who voted for ‘no change’ to the Legislative Assembly really were saying that the Assembly should have no power of any kind. Believe you me, that is the Minister’s philosophy. That philosophy was enshrined in the self-government legislation for Norfolk Island. It is enshrined in this Ordinance. It is enshrined in the whole range of issues in which the Minister has been involved. I hope that I am not boring the Minister; he is now speaking with someone else.
The Minister, with his experience, should recognise the impossibility of such an argument standing up in any jurisdiction in which he may be involved. It is a fine example of a doublepeak. The people vote for ‘no change’ and the Minister then interprets this result as an argument in favour of such change. Presumably the Minister applied the same rationale to suggest that the people of the Australian Capital Territory wished that the Legislative Assembly should have its name changed to the House of Assembly. What a load of rubbish. The people said ‘no change ‘.
But once again it confirms the attitude of the Minister when he changes it at his own behest and for the same reason that he prefers to dictate the pace himself. Very patronisingly he asks the opinion of the elected representatives of the Australian Capital Territory at Assembly level and then immediately makes up his own mind. I said before that he does not represent the electorate of Canberra but he is a Minister of the Crown. As far is I am concerned it is obligatory upon him to take into account the express views of those elected to give a voice to the people of Canberra. The Minister has a responsibility to the newly elected Assembly. He should put the same question to the Assembly and give it the courtesy of waiting for its answer before proceeding to make his decision. However, the Minister knows as well as I do that his stated rationale was only a shallow subterfuge. The real reason was more honestly spelt out in a letter to the Assembly by the Minister’s predecessor, the present Minister for Finance (Mr Eric Robinson), back in July 1977, long before the self-government referendum. In that letter he stated that Poker machine and Totalisator Agency Board revenues accruing to the Legislative Assembly: . . cannot continue being regarded as a welcome bonus . . . over and above what the Government itself appropriates for recreational, cultural and welfare disbursements in the ACT. All these moneys must be considered as a total financial package;
All those moneys must be considered as a total for disbursement in the same way as any other moneys appropriated in that way. He continued: . . they should be counted side-by-side with the appropriation made by Parliament for the general expenses of the ACT.
A very telling statement. The present Minister for Finance was then saying to the Assembly that the Fraser Government intended to take control of domestic Australian Capital Territory revenues raised from poker machines and the TAB and these revenues would not be used to increase the level of welfare services enjoyed by the people of Canberra. There he was saying that the revenues were not going to be used for the purpose of relieving the plight of women in refuges, to relieve the plight of the unemployed, the homeless or the young people seeking job opportunities in this area. The revenues are not going to be used in the way that they could be best used, namely, to relieve the plight of people who now find themselves in their present situation because of the policies of the Government and, more particularly, the policies supported by the Minister for the Capital Territory, who is at the table. The revenues are not to be used to help defray the social costs of the forms of gambling which have been legalised recently.
The Government was to take over these revenues to help defray the costs of prior existing commitments of the Australian Capital Territory. The Australian Capital Territory was to be relegated to a position where local taxes would not be applied to the Australian Capital Territory but would be used as the Minister determined. The Minister may well set up some committee which for political purposes he would stand over at the drop of a hat to ensure that these revenues were disbursed in the interests of the Government. In this way the people of Canberra would not receive a red cent extra from those additional sources of revenue-
– What is the Assembly going to do with the money? What would you do?
– I would ensure that the newly elected members of the Assembly had the first say, in consultation with the people whom they represent. After all the bellyaching you did about the place and all the statements you made in condemning the Government forks policies, I would have thought -
– I rise on a point of order.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Drummond)Order! Firstly, I remind the honourable member for Melbourne to address remarks to the Chair and not to respond to any interjections. I call the honourable member for Canberra on a point of order.
– The honourable member for Melbourne said that I criticised the Government in the last few weeks. I did not.
– If you did not, you should have. I withdraw that. It is not all that important. It shows that the social costs of legal gambling were to be completely ignored by the Government. The present Minister for Finance called for this in July 1977, a full 16 months before the selfgovernment referendum, as a result of which the present Minister told the Assembly that his raison d’etre was his grab for the pokies’ revenue. The Minister for the Capital Territory interpreted that as giving him carte blanche to do what he liked with moneys collected in the Territory itself from the people living in the two divisions of Canberra. There we have it. The annexation of the pokies’ profits by the Minister for the
Capital Territory clearly has its roots in the letter from the Minister for Finance 18 months ago. The referendum result had nothing to do with this. It merely gave the Minister a show card whereby he could bluff the pokies’ revenue out of the Assembly. There is only one reason why successive Ministers for the Australian Capital Territory were so keen to grab the pokies’ profit and that was to reduce the deficit and for spending by this Fraser Government. Summing it up, as I said before, it is a money grab. It was designed to meet with the philosophy of the Minister at the table. Surely he has an obligation to the people of Canberra to refer this matter back to the Assembly, to set aside the ordinance and give the Assembly a real chance to discuss where the money should go.
-Order! The honourable member’s time has expired. Is the motion seconded?
-I second the motion and make some points in doing so. This is not so much a debate about poker machines as about the funds they generate. I have what one might call a paternal interest in the whole enterprise. During the golden age when I was the Minister in charge of Canberra, the poker machine ordinance came forward from the Assembly. I had very strong feelings about poker machines and such like. However, the decision was made by the local legislative body, it was accepted by the local political parties and, despite my grave reservations, I approved the decision and it was passed into law. I believe that is the way in which the Legislative Assembly should be treated. I might say the same thing happened with the Liquor Ordinance. I have reservations about it but as it had been passed by a responsible body of people, responsible to the citizens of Canberra, I approved it and it passed into law. I am baffled that the Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott) should be interfering in this way with the funds generated in Canberra.
The important issue here is this: Do we have any confidence in the representative system of government or do we have confidence only in the representative system of government when the members are elected to this Parliament? I was interested in the interjections of the honourable member for Canberra (Mr Haslem) who implied that he disagreed with the way the Legislative Assembly was disbursing the funds. I can understand his point of view. I may well do so myself. But when we disagree with what we might call a subordinate body in Australia, are we to take away its powers to disburse its funds or do what it will with them? I only wish the Government would adopt the same attitude with the Queensland Government in its attitudes to Aboriginal lands and such like. I am absolutely baffled that the Minister should want to take over this responsibility. He may exercise his influence; he might even go along and convince the Assembly otherwise. He might take his place as what one might call a semi-temporary citizen of Canberra and talk to the Assembly as one person might talk to another. Why does he not do that? What are we doing here? We are exchanging the advice of the members of his Department- people of great competence who sometimes needed correcting during their role of advisers to a previous Minister- for the views of the locally elected people. There are two bodies of advice in this instance. The Minister has chosen to disregard completely in this instance the advice of the locally elected people. I think it is a totally wrong principle. I cannot understand why he would want to do it. Why would he want to be the distributor of these funds? It would be churlish and I think a wrong interpretation, considering his previous political behaviour, to think the Minister wanted to use the funds as a form of patronage, but it could happen in the hands of other people.
I regard this as a piece of ministerial conceit which I do not think this Parliament ought to tolerate. It is a local responsibility. The funds are generated locally and people who are elected locally ought to be charged with the responsibility for them. The funds belong to them. Not all that many funds are generated totally in Canberra as a result of decisions taken by the people’s legislative body. The funds are taken almost entirely from the local citizens. These are Canberra funds and they ought to be distributed by the representative body of Canberra. I think that that is one of the principles we ought to observe.
The other matter involved is the evaluation of the institutions and the forms of distribution. Who is qualified to make the best judgment? Over the last four years or so we have had a Legislative Assembly composed of 18 elected people. In my view the election should have taken place three years after the representatives were first elected as was originally conceived. But now we have a new body. Its personnel has changed a good deal and that is the normal situation of elected institutions in democratic societies. Why cannot those people be entrusted with these funds? Are they not likely to have as much competence in judging and evaluating the applicants for these funds as anybody else- the staff of the Minister, the Department, or even the Minister himself? I know that there is a certain Godgiven wisdom that falls upon people when they become members of the front bench opposite and that therefore they now claim they are more able to exercise a wisdom in judgments that they have never shown before and do not show afterwards. But this is the responsibility of the people of Canberra. It is not only their right to do it through their representatives; I think it is their duty.
I state in answer to my colleague, the honourable member for Canberra, that surely this body ought to be charged with this responsibility? How can it become anything other than a rubber stamp or engage in a ritualistic exercise if it is not entrusted with this form of judgment? I think that this goes to the very spirit of government. We either have faith in representative institutions and the capacity of representatives to make decisions or we do not. Obviously the Minister is not only making a judgment about the former Assembly; he is also making a judgment about succeeding assemblies and in particular the people of Canberra. I cannot understand it. I think it is totally wrong in principle that it ought to be rejected by the House. The Minister himself ought to withdraw the Ordinance and give the matter a second thought.
It is no wonder that the people of Canberra have lost their faith in this Government. I thought that the propositions which were put to the people of Canberra in the referendum which was conducted last year were badly formed. I do not blame the people for not accepting them. As the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) has pointed out, when the people voted for no change, they voted for the Assembly to behave and to proceed in the way it has been, or at least to exercise the sort of authority which it had already been given. One of my most serious criticisms of the way this Government has proceeded is its failure to take other people into trust. It is nonsense to talk about the Government of which I was a member being centralist when this Government is much worse. The Labor Government made an effort to generate and develop in Canberra a local governing body with some authority and responsibility.
During that period members of the Assembly were consistently critical, not only of the Government, I suppose, but certainly of me and the fact that the Labor Government did not define their powers. I do not think that that was part of the job. My view is that government will evolve only if it is allowed to develop out of its own initiatives and dynamics. No person in Australia ought to take lightly the job of writing a new Constitution. It is almost impossible to write one which will work. My advice to the Minister- I make an appeal to him- is to generate new legislation without the authority of the House of Assembly only very tentatively and to disagree with it only very rarely. There are matters of principle with which we would all disagree. If the Government brought in a piece of legislation to reintroduce capital punishment in this city I would certainly oppose it very strongly. But over very large areas of social policy, and without interfering with the general structure of Canberra, I believe that the Assembly ought to be entrusted with the job and given the machinery to get on with it.
If I have one regret about the Labor Government’s term of office it is that we did not give the Legislative Assembly enough drafting facilities. There are all sorts of reasons for that. It was not due to a lack of trying. It was hard to drag that little republic or empire, the Attorney-General’s Department, into the debate. I really cannot understand this move. We have a situation in which Canberra’s representatives are not being entrusted with the sort of task that we would give to the smallest municipality in Australia. It is one of the claims to pride of this Government that it makes direct grants to people without strings being attached so that bodies of people all over Australia- known and unknown- are granted money and are allowed to use it and distribute it as they see fit. In the very heart of the nation, in the place from which many of the decisions of government flow, we do not entrust the elected representatives with this task. I believe that this is totally wrong in principle. It goes to the heart of government. There will be no faith in local government or no development of selfgovernment or any other government in this city unless this is done. As I said earlier I am absolutely baffled -
– What does the New South Wales Government do?
– I am not responsible for the New South Wales Government. If the honourable member would like me to give it some advice I will do so. I did so on occasions when we were involved in negotiations concerning Canberra. I say to the honourable member for North Sydney that this is one of the troubles of modern government. It is one of the great difficulties of modern representative government. It is not responsive to the people to whom it is responsible. We seem to have no faith beyond ourselves or our official advisers. I do not think that that is good enough. Representative government is under attack all around the world.
Citizens must be brought more and more into the decision-making machinery. Unless that is done the institution will become increasingly irrelevant. Canberra is a good place for us to take this step. Frankly, I cannot understand the reason for this Ordinance. If the reason is, as the honourable member for Canberra has said, that the Assembly was making the wrong decisions, that will have to be altered in some way as we ordinarily do in government. We have to persuade governments to do things in some other way. I. put to the Minister that whilst I recognise the authoritarian nature of his political party and its general attitude to people- after all, the whole Party to which he belongs is a late development of the feudal system- this is no place for such policies to be implemented. This authority should be returned to the House of Assembly. If we disagree with what it has done, let us pass resolutions in this Parliament and tell it that we disagree. Let us go as a deputation and discuss the matters with its members. But I do not know why the Minister should take this authority unto himself. It is a battling reversion to form by the Liberal Party of Australia which internally was starting to make slight and tentative steps towards being democratic. However, as it treats this Parliament, with no respect, I do not suppose that we can expect it to treat the House of Assembly with any respect.
– I thank the honourable member for Wills (Mr Bryant) for his lecture on how to act as Minister for the Capital Territory. It is true that a great deal of responsibility is imposed upon the Minister under the existing arrangements. In a very democratic way last year the Government put to the people of the Australian Capital Territory whether they wanted self-government or whether they wanted the existing arrangements to continue. Quite clearly, the people of the Capital Territory decided that they did not want self-government. They wanted the existing situation to continue, whether or not I liked it. They expressed a preference and that preference was to continue a situation in which the House of Assembly was purely an advisory body.
The most interesting thing that has fallen from the lips of the honourable member for Wills or the honourable member for Melbourne (Mr Innes) has been the statement made by the honourable member for Wills who reflects back on that golden age when he thought that money grew on trees, as did many of his colleagues. As he reflected he said that he passed this Poker Machine Control Ordinance into law, with the consent of the Governor-General, but that he had grave reservations about it. I thank the honourable member for his usual honesty. I suggest that the reason he had grave reservations was that he knew that he was placing large sums of money into the hands of a body which was quite independent of him, as the Minister who had the ultimate responsibility to Parliament. I suggest also that he thought the Assembly would truly become a legislative assembly. It did not, for the reason pronounced by the people of Canberra in November last year.
Some body has to have the day to day responsibility for the administration of large sums of money. At the moment, $1.8m or $ 1.9m- honourable members should not hold me to these figures precisely- is in the poker machine account. That is a very substantial sum. It is not that the view that the Assembly should utilise these moneys at its own discretion has gone unchallenged. Many people in Canberra who are involved in welfare work are considerably disturbed at the possibility that this body should undertake projects which, for instance, had nothing whatsoever to do with welfare and which ignored the needy people in the community.
What happened last year when the question arose to what should happen to these funds? It is a very interesting story. On 18 September the Assembly resolved to commit poker machine trust moneys for the construction of an indoor recreation complex in Civic. It purported to commit funds for further study of the project and to commit future trust moneys to it. On 22 September last year the President, Mr Pead, who is a member of the Poker Machine Licensing Board of the Australian Capital Territory, directed the Registrar of Poker Machines to pay $ 1 4,000 into a new account to pay travelling expenses of Assembly members Pead, Leedman and Whalan while they were examining various recreation centres. On 5 October 1979 the AttorneyGeneral’s Department advised that the resolution was invalid; that future funds could not be earmarked; and that the Ordinance did not authorise the payment of travelling expenses. A copy of that advice from the Attorney-General’s Department was referred to the Legislative Assembly on 10 October.
Because I do not believe that the privilege of this place should be abused, may I make it perfectly clear that I am not in any way reflecting on the bona fides of any of the Assembly members. I have no doubt that what they did was done honestly. However it is quite clear the Assembly was putting forward a proposition to build a very expensive and expansive indoor community recreation centre which would cost much more than $1.7m and which it would, of course, not be within the competence of the Assembly to provide. Why? The Assembly would have to add the cost of the building, the cost of the site and the running cost, which no doubt would be many hundreds of thousands of dollars per annum. When confronted with this large sum of money, the Assembly decided to put it into this substantial building project. But it could not deliver the goods. Why? It could not do so because it had to depend on the Minister and on land which only the Minister could provide. It had to depend also on funds for the running of the centre which only the Government could provide. At the outset the Assembly demonstrated why it was, I should think, the honourable member for Wills had grave reservations about this matter. Not only was it undesirable that nobody should have responsibility, and not only was the Assembly’s proposal inconsistent with what the people of Canberra decided last November, but also an indication was given to the type of venture into which the Assembly thought these moneys should go. Section 43 of the Poker Machine Control Ordinance, as it was put into law by the honourable member for Wills, states:
The Board shall, from time to time, at the request of the Legislative Assembly, pay out of the trust account established in accordance with section 42 such sums of money (not exceeding the balance standing to the credit of the account) to such bodies, organisations or persons for such community projects as the Legislative Assembly determines.
Apparently the Legislative Assembly intended to set up its own trust. No body had been set up previously to build an indoor recreation centre. How were these funds, which were supposedly to provide for the people in need and the welfare agencies, to be used for cultural, artistic and sporting purposes other than directly through an indoor recreation centre? In other words, at the outset the spirit of this Ordinance was completely ignored. The Ordinance merely reflected what was already in the Betting (Totalizator Agency) Ordinance. That Ordinance contained a similar provision but payment of funds was subject to the approval of” the Minister.
In a sense that may be the negative side. The positive side is that I believe these funds and other funds that are available through the TAB and through the Government, whether through the Department of the Capital Territory, the Department of Health or the Department of Social Security, for community use and development in the Territory ought to be rationalised. They ought to be brought under one heading and they ought to be administered through one fund so that the bodies, the interests and the projects concerned may be considered by one group of people. Needless to say that group would have to be subject to ministerial control. Funds that are raised from the public should be subject to ministerial control. In New South Wales $98m raised in this way goes into Consolidated Revenue. In the Territory the money is to be used for community purposes but it should be used under the control of a responsible Minister. In this way the basic propositions of parliamentary government will be understood and enforced.
Therefore, the proposition I face- I do not face it in this Parliament, by the way- is one of rationalising the funds that are available in this area and making sure that they are used in the most efficient way. In doing that, I look forward to working in a very positive and creative way with the members of the new House of Assembly. I believe that if they approach their task in a non-party-political sense we will get on fine. Of course, if they believe that their aim is to try .to attack the Minister for the Capital Territory as a prelude to the next Federal election, not much love will be lost between the Assembly and the Minister. On the other hand, if there is a creative, approach by both sides to these matters, we will see created, either with the Assembly’s approval or despite, a system of administering welfare and community development funds in this Territory with which I hope everybody will be very happy. It is not to the credit of a government, a house of assembly or a legislative assembly to have welfare agencies knocking at the door and wanting funds for the needy. In recent months I have referred to the Assembly the question of distributing $150,000 of that morney. I have recently received its recommendations, and I will be making announcements in relation to them. Why? I shall be doing so because there are organisations in Canberra that are in need of welfare funds. I will respond to their need in the light of the recommendations made by the old Legislative Assembly.
I have been asked whether I would refer this Ordinance back to the new House of Assembly. I do not propose to do so because I believe that the proper course to follow is simply to endorse the grave reservations of the honourable member for Wills, to realise on them and to make sure that these funds are going to remain under ministerial control. Should a time come when an indoor recreation centre might be necessary for Canberra, it will be my hope, if not my complete expectation, that funds for such an institution will come through the funds of government and not through the funds that are provided through the poker machine ordinance. I am not suggesting that this city does not need an indoor recreation centre. I would like to see one, for instance, near the Bruce Stadium so that we may be able to develop a complex. I would like to see an olympic standard swimming pool and other facilities there so that we might have something in Canberra like I saw when I was in London at Crystal Palace where there is a complex of sporting buildings that can be used by the community on the one hand and by people who are pursuing excellence in sport on the other hand. We need such a centre in every capital city of this coun try. I would hope that we would be able to develop it in this city.
When we do, I do not expect the funds from poker machine takings to provide it. I hope it will come through ordinary government funds. I hope that in this city those funds will be turned to community purposes and to community development. With very great respect, the Government does not accept the motion and will oppose it to the last man.
Mr BRYANT (Wills)-I wish to make a personal explanation.
-Does the honourable member claim to have been misrepresented?
– Yes. The Minister for Home Affairs and Minister for the Capital Territory (Mr Ellicott), during his speech, said that I had stated earlier that I had great reservations, I think, about the ordinance. In any event, that was the implication. I had grave reservations about the whole poker machine neuroses, one might say. I happen to oppose them as an instrument of raising money. I oppose them as a general moral question. That was the basis of my reservations about the ordinance which was passed into law during my term of office. I hope that that remark will be corrected; that people and even the Minister will understand that was what it was about, not the particular section which dealt with the distribution of funds. Mr Deputy Speaker, I am sorry that we have not been able to make much progress with the Minister.
Mr ELLICOTT (Wentworth-Minister for the Capital Territory)- Mr Deputy Speaker, I wish to speak on the same matter. I accept what the honourable member for Wills says. I just thought that he had a perspicacity which apparently he did not have at all.
That the motion (Mr Innes’s) be agreed to.
The House divided. ( Mr Acting Speaker-Mr P. C. Millar)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– by leave- The Commonwealth Government has taken decisions on the question of future petroleum exploration in the area of the
Great Barrier Reef. The royal commissions into exploratory and production drilling for petroleum in the area of the Great Barrier Reef reported in November 1 974. All commissioners- Sir Gordon Wallace, the Chairman, Dr J. E. Smith, and Mr V. J. Moroney, the members agreed that drilling should not be permitted on any cay, island, or reef or national park or marine park when declared. Both Dr Smith and Mr Moroney considered that drilling could be permitted in certain areas provided recommended buffer zones and safety precautions were strictly applied and supervised. Sir Gordon Wallace was of the view that petroleum drilling should be postponed, and be planned and permitted only in the light and with the aid of full scientific knowledge of all the effects of oil pollution direct and indirect, short and longterm, on the coral and other marine life.
The Commonwealth Government has given detailed consideration to these differing views and has decided that, in line with the recommendations of the Chairman of the royal commissions, there should be no further exploration for petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef region and that there should be no renewal of petroleum exploration permits in the region until the results of both short and longer term research are known.
This decision will give positive effect to the categoric and absolute guarantee I expressed in Parliament on 22 May, when I made it clear that the Government will not permit any drilling on the Great Barrier Reef or any drilling or mining which could damage the reef. On that occasion, I indicated that AMSTAC- the Australian Marine Sciences and Technologies Advisory Committee- had been asked by the Government to submit advice to the Government on a program of research on the reef environment for consideration in the Budget context. AMSTAC, which is under the chairmanship of Professor Birch, a distinguished scientist, is a standing committee of the Australian Science and Technology Council.
On 4 April this year, I wrote to the Minister for Science and the Environment (Senator Webster) and suggested that the Minister might present a submission to AMSTAC on a possible program of research into the ecosystem of the Great Barrier Reef. As a result of the Minister’s submission and on account of AMSTAC ‘s own expert knowledge proposals relating to the research program will shortly be available for consideration by the Government. I am confident that the resulting research program will do much to minimise Australia’s existing lack of knowledge with respect to the ecosystem of the reef.
An important feature of arrangements with respect to the reef is the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority. This body has the responsibility of recommending areas within the Great Barrier Reef region for declaration as parts of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park. The Marine Park Authority, in its 1977-78 annual report, foreshadowed the possible declaration of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef region as the first section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The Government acknowledges that it has constitutional powers in this area. It has been engaged in discussions with the Queensland Government against that background. It is desirable that the declaration of the Marine Park should await the outcome of discussions with Queensland which flow from the 1978 Premiers’ Conference agreement that the powers of the States be extended to the territorial sea, including the sea-bed. Because of the proximity of the reef to the Queensland coast, the question of appropriate jurisdiction over that national asset is of obvious relevance in that context.
To this end, I wrote to the Premier of Queensland on 19 December last year and suggested that there should be consultation between our respective governments on development of the arrangements resulting from the Premier’s Conference agreements and also the establishment, control, care and development of a marine park in the Great Barrier Reef Region. Consultations, both at the officials and ministerial level, have taken place, most recently in Sydney on 1 7 May and I am confident of an early resolution of these complex questions. I am hopeful that an early announcement can be made on the declaration of the Capricornia section of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park.
The Government’s attitude and position on these issues is clear. The Government has stated repeatedly that it will not permit any drilling on the Great Barrier Reef or any mining or drilling which would damage the reef. I have said that if there is a doubt about an activity and its effect on the reef, that activity will not take place. Let there be no confusion on this point. No part of the reef is going to be damaged by an activity that takes place on the reef or off the reef. The Government has adopted the recommendation of the Chairman of the royal commissions that petroleum drilling should be postponed pending the receipt of the results of short and long term research into the reef, the Government has asked AMSTAC to recommend a program of research to the Government and will be considering that recommendation in the Budget context. Discussions with Queensland on the interrelated questions of the Premiers’ Conference agreements on the extension of State powers to the territorial seas and the management of the Great Barrier Reef region are at an advanced stage.
– by leave- The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) has made this statement, outlining the restrictions on exploration for petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef region, as a grudging concession to the situation in which he has found himself. To the extent that a concession has been made, it is welcome. The circumstances under which it has been made do not embellish the quality of the problem with which the Prime Minister is confronted. Very shortly, the Prime Minister was faced with the situation in which two of his Ministers had been caught out misleading the Parliament. In a desperate effort to obscure the real nature of debate on this matter, today the Prime Minister has produced this statement.
I said earlier in the day that it was a statement produced with some sense of panic. The evidence of that is quite apparent. The statement was delivered to me after the bells had started ringing for the commencement of the parliamentary sittings today, that is, less than five minutes before Parliament was due to commence. The point is that the Prime Minister was hoping to deliver the statement and have it debated immediately after Question Time when statements are dealt with by the Parliament. That means that the Prime Minister was proposing that on that occasion the practice would fall well short of the convention that there should be two hours’ notice to the Opposition of any statement before it is actually delivered in the Parliament. It is quite clear that what the Prime Minister was about was a patently obvious exercise to try to take the heat off the Government. Two Ministers have been caught out in deception in misleading the Parliament. The Prime Minister wanted to obscure the real issue. To the extent that there has been a concession it is welcome. This is a promise from the Prime Minister which we hope will have a unique quality- it will be kept. If it is, it will be remembered because it will be so different from the other promises which he has made.
Nonetheless, some matters deserve attention. We are told in this statement- the product of haste, worry and insecurity on the part of the
Government- that there will be short and longer term research and that, until the results are known, no further exploration for petroleum in the Great Barrier Reef” region will take place and there will be no renewal of petroleum exploration permits. One would hope, however, that there would be no delay in funding this research. Yet there will be no provision for funds until next August, some three months away. It flows from that that one would also hope that there would be adequate funding of the undertaking. There is no firm guarantee of that either. It is very important that there should be no such exploration or renewal of permits. As the Prime Minister is well aware, that has been the policy of the Labor Party for some considerable time. In fact, that matter was dealt with in the submission from his Department providing a synopsis of Cabinet attitudes on this topic from which I quoted earlier today. For instance, it refers to the Labor Party’s attitude in 1975 which states:
No drilling should be permitted in the area of the Reef until such time as reliable scientific information is available on the effects of oil on the Reef and its organisms.
That policy still stands. What we hope is that there will be no temporising, no quibbling semantically, with the meaning of what the Prime Minister says when he states that until the scientific research is completed there will be no further exploration in the reef region. We hope that he will not contract the definition or the boundaries of the region as time goes by and as pressure from the foreign oil corporations builds up.
There can be no excuse for the Government not having declared the boundaries of the Capricornia marine park by now. In June 1977, the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Authority placed advertisements in newspapers calling for information on the Capricornia section; that is to say, the Government was proceeding then to describe what the boundaries should be. Yet here we are two years later and there is still no action and in the Prime Minister’s statement we find that there is still complete uncertainty about when the definition of the boundaries will occur. The Prime Minister says disarmingly, if I can put that word in inverted commas to indicate heavy irony, that:
The Government acknowledges that it has constitutional powers in this area.
Of course it has. Under the Seas and Submerged Lands Act it has constitutional power beyond the low water mark and, accordingly, I cannot understand why there has been so much temporising and so much delay on this matter. The boundaries ought to be defined immediately, and they ought to be defined according to criteria which identify and respect the national heritage that the Great Barrier Reef represents and people’s aspirations in that respect. But we find that that is not the cause of delay at all. The delay in declaring the Marine Park is due to the Government awaiting the outcome of discussions with Queensland which flow from the 1978 Premiers Conference agreement. So the Government is having discussions with the Queensland Government and the outcome of those discussions will determine what is going to happen. If one refers again to that confidential document of the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet, one receives no reassurance at all that proper protection will be established as a result of that discussion and that appropriate and proper boundaries will be defined. Let me quote from the document. Under a section headed Great Barrier Reef- Discussions between Commonwealth and Queensland Ministers’, paragraph (b) states:
Queensland wants exclusive control (including control over declaration of marine parks and mining) within the 3 mile limit measured from the baselines referred to in (a) -this would require amendment of the Great Barrier Reef Marine Park Act
But it goes on more importantly, to say: -from the discussions and subsequent statements by Mr Camm, it seems that Queensland contemplates some mining in this area;
What that obviously means is that there is going to be a drawn out dispute between the Federal and State governments, with the Queensland Government wanting the definition of the boundary to be compromised in such a way that it will be allowed to authorise mineral development in the area. In case it is argued that the area is outside the 3 mile limit, let me go on to quote paragraph (c) of the document:
Queensland showed no sign of agreeing to a joint authority for marine parks within the area in which it wants exclusive control but proposes nevertheless that there should be a joint authority for marine parks in the Commonwealth area of jurisdiction.
One would not leave the Queensland Government alone with that sort of authority and one would not be happy about sharing that authority with the Queensland Government because one knows that the attitude of the Queensland Premier is that what mineral development corporations believe is in their best interests is therefore in the best interests of the Australian community. It also happens that it is most often in the best personal interests of the Premier of Queensland too, but that is another matter.
This is not good enough. What comes out of this confidential document very simply is this:
That discussions with Queensland in relation to the definition of the boundaries of the Capricornia marine national park will be interminable. Unless Queensland can establish a deal which would be totally unacceptable to more than 70 per cent of Australians who would be totally opposed to the sort of thing Queensland wants to undertake, then Queensland will be obstructionist and obscurantist in this matter. That is unacceptable. Queensland wants exclusive control within the three mile limit so that it can do what it wants, so that it can run wanton on the issue of exploration and development in the Barrier Reef area if the whim takes it, or if the pressure, the recommendation, comes from a foreign oil development company. In relation to areas outside the three mile limit, Queensland wants to participate as a joint authority on the definition of the boundaries. This is totally unacceptable.
I make it quite clear that we in the Labor Party recognise that the constitutional authority resides clearly and exclusively with the Australian Government. That has been established by a High Court decision. We would adopt the authority available to us and proceed immediately to the declaration of the boundaries of marine national parks. Whilst we would be prepared to discuss these matters with the States, we would not be fettered by the narrow-minded, development-at-any-cost approach of State governments. We believe that the national heritage of this country, in the form of unique but easily and permanently damaged ecosystems like the Barrier Reef are altogether too valuable to be put at risk in the hands of people such as those who control the Government of Queensland, people who put the national interest a long way down the scale of priorities.
Finally, I repeat what I said earlier: We feel some unease about the sustainability of this latest promise of the Prime Minister. Will it fare any better than other promises he has made? Will it prove to have better stamina than that long list of promises that he continues to break? Can we feel confident that on this occasion at least, the national interest will be protected? My conclusion is that there is a very high doubt that we can feel any reassurance at all. I again quote from the confidential document from which I have been quoting and from which I quoted earlier today. Under the heading ‘Public Presentation’, it states:
Government spokesmen, including the Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Minister, have made it clear that the Government will not permit any drilling or mining on the Reef itself or which could cause damage to the Reef.
But it goes on- and these words are highly significant to the caveat they convey:
These statements have deliberately avoided any commitment in relation to activities which might take place in the area of the Reef but not on the Reef itself.
That is a highly qualified, equivocating statement. It is not the sort of statement one would expect from a man who has a firm conviction on the issue of the conservation and preservation of a unique ecosystem such as the Barrier Reef. If he tried once to go through this process of attempted dissembling before the Australian public, how can we feel sure that it will not happen again? That is what worries the Labor Party. The Prime Minister’s record is not one that gives the Labor Party any reassurance or the Australian community any conviction at all that this promise will be kept. We hope that it will be kept, but the record is very strongly against it being kept. We hope that the exception will occur on this occasion.
Debate resumed from 28 May, 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 National Health Amendment Bill 1 979 and the motion to take note of the papers on health care costs, as they are related measures. Separate questions will of course be put on each of the Bills and the motion at the conclusion of the debate. I suggest, therefore, Mr Deputy Speaker, that you permit the subject matter of the two Bills and the motion to be discussed in this debate.
-Is it the wish of the House to have a general debate covering these three measures? There being no objection, I will allow that course to be followed.
-Mr Deputy Speaker, it is a pleasure to have you in the Chair because you are one of the few people in this House who can follow all the health insurance changes brought in by this Government. I think that you have about four degrees, some of which are above the Bachelor status, but it would be better for Australians if a person did not need four degrees in order to follow the health insurance changes that have been brought in by this Government.
I shall go quickly over the history of health insurance in this country over the last few years. Honourable members will recall that the main topic of conversation when talking about health insurance changes is what happened during the Labor Government’s introduction of Medibank. Medibank was introduced on 1 July 1975 after some three years of thorough discussion in the form of Green Papers, White Papers, amendments, changes and agreements with all kinds of interest groups. Finally the legislation was passed in 1974 and Medibank itself came in on 1 July 1975 as far as medical insurance aspects were concerned. As far as hospital insurance was concerned, in the case of those States which cooperated with the Government it came in on 1 July, but in some cases it came in as late as 1 October 1975.
Medibank was never given a chance to work as the Labor Government was dismissed by the Governor-General on 11 November 1975. We were never given a chance to see how Medibank would perform when administered by a Minister sympathetic to the reform which had been introduced. That is a relevant point. I emphasise again that it took three years of discussion to decide just how to go about it. What has happened since then? We talk about some of the so-called banana republics and the overthrow of their governments and we talk about destabilisation, but that is exactly the situation we have reached as far as the Australian health insurance system is concerned. It has become completely destabilised. The Liberal Government took over on 11 November 1975 but did not do anything about Medibank until October 1976. Since then there have been nine changes, some of them not major.
– Improvements, says the honourable member for La Trobe, which indicates very clearly that he is one of those people I referred to earlier in my remarks who cannot follow what is going on. Whatever one says about any one of those changes, they cannot all have been improvements because it has been going like a yo-yo.
– No, it is a progression.
– It is a progressive yo-yo.
– Progressive improvements.
-I am certainly not impressed by the knowledge of the honourable member for
La Trobe on this issue. I go back to what has happened since 1975.
– Medibank mark 10.
-Let us go back slightly before then.
– Go back to creation.
– Creation started, appropriately enough for the honourable member for Murray, with Sir Earle Page in 1953. That was the creation of medical insurance in Australia.
– He was a good man, too.
-I will not go into an argument now on that. I am sure that the Minister for Health is keen to go back to what Sir Earle Page introduced in 1953. He is certainly making every attempt to do so. In 1953 the health insurance system was introduced in Australia. There followed a number of significant changes but basically what happened was that some people were privately insured and some were not insured until 1975 when Medibank came in. People took out private insurance and the government subsidised that insurance on a hospital basis and on a medical basis. Major changes were introduced by the introduction of Medibank mark 1, as far as the medical insurance system was concerned. Then everybody was covered and entitled without contribution to an 85 per cent refund of charges. In other words, people did not have to pay any contribution towards medical insurance but got an 85 per cent refund of the common fee. Pensioners became eligible for free attendance at private specialists. I think that was an important point at the time. Pensioners until then had been covered under the pensioner medical service purely for attention by general practitioners. If they needed to see a specialist or a pathologist to have tests performed or to have x-rays taken, they could not get them at a private source because until Medibank was introduced the Government would not pay for them. They had to have the tests done as outpatients at a public hospital. That was changed under Medibank and pensioners became eligible for treatment by private specialists.
As far as the hospital aspects of Medibank were concerned, there was the abolition of the means test. Previously public wards were free but there was a means test, and then the Labor Government changed this to what is called standard ward treatment which was free. For practical purposes that has not changed since then, though some changes are now being introduced under this legislation. Secondly, there has been since then a strike by specialists at hospitals in the Australian Capital Territory and in many New South Wales hospitals. In other words, they have refused to man outpatient departments in many cases and have refused to do work for which they were appointed and which was part of their contract with the hospitals. It is important to remember that visiting medical officers, or what were then called honorary medical officers, benefited in a material sense as well as in a professional sense from being attached to a hospital. In a professional sense it is essential for many medical practitioners, and certainly all specialists, to be somehow associated with a hospital to see what is going on and to have contact with patients and with fellow specialists. In a material sense it was important for them because that was the only way they could get patients into hospital. They certainly got preference so far as the admission of so-called private patients was concerned. They had use of the facilities of the hospital and still do, and they used the staff of the hospital at no cost.
If a specialist surgeon, for example, performs some operation at a hospital on a doctor of choice patient, he is entitled to payment for it. I am not complaining of that, but he is able to use the hospital, the staff of the hospital and the back-up facilities of the hospital at no cost. If anything goes wrong he can use the medical staff of the hospital without cost. That has been the set up for a long time. In return for that, he undertook to treat without charge the so-called public patients at hospitals. Originally they were the socalled indigent poor. Changes have been made and the suggestion when Medibank was established- it certainly has been the case in all the States apart from New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory- was that the doctors, since the Government accepts responsibility for the so-called indigent poor, the specialists and other visiting medical officers would be offered payment on a sessional basis, or on an hourly basis- not on a fee for service basis. A doctor may perform whatever he is doing at that particular hospital, whether it is surgery or seeing patients as a physician, or whatever, and is entitled to payment on a sessional basis. In all the other States the doctors have now accepted that proposition, but they have not done so in New South Wales and the Australian Capital Territory. I think it is wrong that they should not accept the proposition and yet be able to benefit by being able to use the facilities of the hospital for their private patients where obviously they are entitled to fee-for-service payment.
When Medibank was introduced, the first thing that happened in October 1976 was that the Liberal Government introduced a 2.5 per cent levy on those who continued to be covered by Medibank or a compulsory private insurance scheme. The taxpayer had to tell the Taxation Commissioner that he was covered by private health insurance. If he was not covered by private health insurance he had to pay a 2.5 per cent levy. There have been other relatively minor changes dealing with things such as what are called front-end deductibles and noncompulsion. The next major change was introduced last year when there was the abolition of the levy as from 1 November 1978. Hospitals remained as under the Labor Party’s Medibank 1, and the medical aspects became a mixture. Pensioners were treated as under Medibank 1 . In other words, doctors were entitled to an 85 per cent refund of the common fee. A classification of disadvantaged people was introduced. The doctor is entitled to 75 per cent of the common fee provided he bulk bills these patients and provided the patient does not carry any private insurance. So there is a reduction from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee in respect of those patients. For the rest of the population, a 40 per cent of the common fee payment or a $20 maximum payment was introduced. My view is that all these changes were brought about, not for the purpose of improving the system of health care delivery in Australia. They were based purely on attitudes in the Treasury or the Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.
On 24 May the Treasurer, appropriately, made an announcement, followed by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who had been overseas, that new changes had been decided on in the Minister’s absence. Those changes now wipe out the 40 per cent refund until the medical fee reaches $20. After that, the Government continues to pay the amount in excess of $20. Changes have also been introduced in relation to chronic patients in hospitals. I would like to deal with those changes later in this speech. It is probably worth while to quote the Minister for Health. On 24 May 1 978 he said:
Until an improved data base becomes available, the Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance system.
I agreed with him. I think that all honourable members in this House agreed with him. The Prime Minister was not in the House at the time. Soon after 24 May in the middle of August considerable changes were introduced without any attempt to show that an improved data base had become available. Exactly one year after 24
May- when the Minister made that statementfurther very significant changes have been introduced. I deplore these changes. Hopefully, the Minister deplores them and hopefully those honourable members, even on the Government side of the chamber, who think about the importance of health insurance for a large proportion of the population, deplore these frequent changes. It is very difficult for people who do not continually read newspapers and advertisements and leaflets distributed by the Minister for Health, to keep up with the changes. In many cases they are persuaded to take out unnecessary insurance. They are persuaded, in a number of cases, to take out insurance which is not applicable to them. Health insurance is no different from ordinary insurance in that often people who can least afford that insurance or who least need that insurance contribute to it.
– They like their independence.
-That is fair enough. I have no objection to that as long as they know what they are doing. I think the important point is that people must understand what they are doing and that applies in every case. In many cases they do not know what they are doing. But I do not want to get into an argument on this matter now.
Let us look at the changes that have been introduced. The main change is the abolition of the 40 per cent rebate by the Government on individual charges of less than $20 and the introduction of a new classification of nursing hometype patients in public hospitals. This change comes into operation on 1 July 1979. The definition of a ‘nursing-home-type patient’ is a person who has been in a public hospital for 60 days unless that patient has a certificate of exemption from a doctor which states, basically, that he has some acute condition, perhaps temporarily or some other condition that has to be treated specially. I realise- the Minister will probably argue this in his reply- that it is a question of equity, that there are similar people in nursing homes who have to contribute $50.75 a week or $7.25 a day towards their upkeep and why should not people in public hospitals make a similar contribution? There is that point to the argument and I accept it. I think that it is more important to ask: Why are we doing it? We are surely not doing it to be equitable. We are doing it for some other reason. I had assumed that the reason was one involving money, that the Government had decided that it was not fair that certain people were in hospitals and were not contributing towards their upkeep. Now we find that, in fact, the Government will lose money on this proposition, that the $50.75 a week which is collected by this Government and the State governments from these people- mainly pensioners and elderly people who suffer from chronic conditions and who are declared nursing home patients- is more than cancelled out by the fact that the proportion of the patients who were covered by private insurance was so great. Previously, the funds contributed $40 a day- $280 a week- and now there will be a loss to the governments by introducing this new system.
– Some 8,000 people will be declared nursing home-type patients and from now on, will have to pay $50.75 a week. This is an increasing amount, of course, related to the pension. These people will not be able to insure themselves for this cost. It is a net transfer of money from pensioners to the funds. Let us be clear on that. State and Federal governments will lose on it. Pensioners will lose $50.75 a week. That money will go to the funds which will not collect the $50.75 but save themselves paying $40 a day for those people who were insured with them for that service. It is interesting to note that the Government does not allow insurance for that amount. People who are not pensioners cannot insure themselves with a private fund for that expenditure of $50.75 a week. I think it is shameful that this charge has been introduced. I have not checked on what happened before Federation but this is the first time since Federation that pensioners in public hospitals in Australia have had to pay for their upkeep. It is the first time since Federation that pensioners have not had free hospitalisation. I emphasise that no longer will they be able to have free treatment in a public hospital after 60 days.
– And yet people next door in nursing homes do.
-We have always had the problem of lack of equity. People in psychiatric hospitals have to contribute to the cost of service. Yet psychiatric patients in a general hospital do not have to contribute. I do not think that the way around that problem is to make the psychiatric patients in public hospitals contribute. The way to get around that is to look at what ought to be done for the psychiatric patients in psychiatric hospitals so that they are covered and do not have to contribute to the cost of services provided. It is depressing, as I said, that some 8,000 people in public hospitals at the present time, on 1 July, will suddenly be told that they have to contribute $50.75 a week.
– For their board and lodging as they do in nursing homes.
-The Minister says for their board and lodging. If I go into hospital I do not have to contribute to my board and lodging, only the pensioner has to contribute.
– You would if you were a nursing home patient.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Dr Jenkins)Order! The honourable member for Prospect will continue without the Minister’s assistance.
-I am pleased to see that the Minister defends that policy. I thought it was purely the policy of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) but it appears that the Minister is now keen that the people in his electorate who are quite often patients in some of the small public hospitals and who have up until now been treated for nothing will suddenly have to pay $50.75 a week.
Let us look at the elimination of the 40 per cent Government contribution for amounts less than $20. Last week the honourable member for Calare (Mr MacKenzie) proposed for discussion a matter of public importance emphasising that the belief of Government members was that the welfare dollar, including the health dollar, should go to the needy. We on this side of the House certainly supported that statement, although we did not agree with the examples he cited. What the Government is doing with the national health scheme now is contrary to the proposition that the money should go to the needy. It is going to the people who are not in need. The needy are the people who have to go, to general practitioners frequently or have to make repeat visits to specialists for a chronic condition. They are the ones who should be subsidised. Their medical services should be subsidised. They will not be subsidised at all now.
Who will be subsidised from now on? It will be those people who, because they have the money to take out private health insurance and go either into private hospitals or into public hospitals as private patients. They will be subsidised and their insurance funds will be subsidised. If I take out medical insurance now and I go into a public hospital as a private patient or into a private hospital let me make it quite clear what the Government will do for me. Let us say that I have to have a gall bladder operation, a cholecystectomy. The Government will pay $220 for the surgeon, $28 for the assistant surgeon and $36 for the anaesthetist. A total of $284 will be paid by the Commonwealth Government towards my medical costs; yet I am a person who is better off than the average person in the community. I have taken out private insurance and I can afford to pay for private insurance. Assuming my wife is confined as a private patient. The refund from the Government on a fee of $176 will be $ 1 56. For an appendectomy the refund will be $135 for the surgeon and the anaesthetist. There will be a complete refund for every charge above $20.
The whole trend of the Government’s policy is to push government money to those least in need, and I emphasise that. The family with a number of sick children with, let us say, asthma, other chronic chest conditions or chronic urinary tract infections, diabetes or any other chronic condition, will not get any subsidy from this Government in future for medical insurance. It will not get anything. We are talking about a government which tries to pretend to the community that it is a government that is looking after the little people, a government that is looking after the families. It does nothing of the sort. In this legislation making changes to the Health Insurance Act it attacks the family. From now on all the money that goes into the medical insurance system will be pushed towards those who can best afford to pay. It will be pushed away from the general practitioner, the so-called doctor of primary care, towards those people who are charging very large fees.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was debating the health legislation that has come into this House following the changes proposed in the Government’s horror Budget introduced into this House on 24 May. I referred to two of the major changes introduced by the legislation. Firstly for the first time in Australian history, some 8,000 public hospital patients, including a large proportion of pensioners, will have to pay $50.75 a week if they are chronic patients who are declared nursing type patients even though they will be in public hospitals. Secondly, the 40 per cent Commonwealth medical benefit which is applicable at present for all services under $20 will be abolished for all people except those who are eligible pensioners and disadvantaged persons.
I pointed out that the most important aspect of these changes was, in a philosophical sense, that it meant money would be going from people who most needed it to people who least needed it. In the case of the pension changes, as far as chronic patients are concerned, it means that money will be collected from pensioners and from other chronically ill persons. This money will not go to the Treasuries of the Commonwealth or the States. The Commonwealth and States will lose from this legislation. The net result will be considerable saving of money by the private fundshardly a needy section in the Australian community. The health insurance changes go against the needy. The only people who will benefit in future will be those who take out private insurance and who go into hospitals for procedures as private patients. I emphasise that, as private patients. There will be no benefit whatever from this Government for chronically ill adults or chronically ill children.
All the benefits will go to those who take out private insurance, who are admitted into private hospitals or public hospitals as private patients and who have surgery or other procedures carried out on them. From now on, only those people paying for services worth more than $20 will be reimbursed at all by the Commonwealth Government. I therefore move this amendment to the motion for the second reading of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1 979:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to exclude (a) the re-classification of public hospital patients as nursinghome type patients and (b) the abolition of the 40 per cent Commonwealth medical benefit presently payable for professional services, where the specified fee is $20 or less’.
I give notice that at the end of the cognate debate on these Bills, when the National Health Amendment Bill, is presented for debate, I shall move:
That all words after ‘That’ be omitted with a view to substituting the following words: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted so that registered funds will continue to pay the current appropriate benefit to eligible contributors for the full period of their stay in hospital’.
This will force the funds to continue to pay the benefits so that those who are privately insured and have to stay in hospital for more than 60 days without a certificate of exemption will be able to obtain some benefit. May I emphasise that the Opposition deplores the legislation which has been introduced into this House on a number of grounds. The two grounds which I have mentioned are probably the most important ones in that these Bills move money from those most in need to those least in need. There is another important ground which I want to emphasise. Hopefully this ground will be supported even by those on the opposite side who generally support those least in need. This proposition is that there should not be so many changes to health insurance; that the changes themselves are extremely destabilising and depressing especially for those people in the community who have difficulty in following involved legislation.
I appeal again to the Minister to use whatever powers he has in the Government to try to prevent the Government from continuously changing the legislation. Let me emphasise that it was only seven months last Friday that the previous changes were introduced in to this House.
-Is the amendment to the Health Insurance Amendment Bill 1979 seconded?
– I second the amendment.
-The two Bills and the ministerial statement before the House signify significant changes to the Government’s health scheme. In the near future they mean changes to medical benefits insurance, the classification of long term nursing home type patients, the beginning of a preventive health policy and an improvement to the isolated patients’ scheme. In the longer term, with the hospital inquiry, hopefully they will mean more significant reductions to health care costs. As I see them, the reasons for the changes are as follows: Firstly, the need by the Government to prevent a dangerous increase in the Budget deficit next financial year. All sectors of government have had to share in the pruning. However, with health, there is the additional problem that although the present Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has been successful in reducing the annual increase in health costs to under 1 1 per cent per annum, or down to about one-third of what the increase was when the Australian Labor Party lost office, that increase is still too high. Australia has one of the highest gross national product percentages of health costs in the world. We are running along at about 2 per cent behind the United States which at the moment spends about 10 per cent of its gross national product on total health costs.
My final point on the debate on the changes is the opportunity it provides to move to new priorities in government-sponsored health care and to sort out some of the existing anomalies. The amendment moved by the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) is most interesting because he is saying that if Labor were returned to power it would not reintroduce Medibank. I want to say that most definitely and specifically because with the amendment he has moved he is asking only for the 40 per cent Commonwealth medical benefit to be retained. I challenge the Labor speakers who will be following me- if I am wrong in my assertion I will be very pleased to be corrected- to say whether Labor reintroduce the original Medibank or not. From the wording of this amendment and from what I understand from discussions that have gone on between members of the Labor Party, Labor has no intention of reintroducing the original Medibank. I would like the Opposition to say so because the people of Australia would be interested to hear not just the negative criticisms of the Opposition on this matter but what it would do if returned to office. If the amendment moved by the honourable member for Prospect means that Labor would retain only the existing health insurance scheme- that is what the amendment states-then it is retaining something that it roundly criticised when this Government moved to that position last November. I think Labor should sort itself out a little before this debate progresses much further.
The most significant immediate change is the abortion of the 40 per cent medical benefit payment contribution by the Federal Government, with the following exceptions. I will list these exceptions. The first is that pensioner health benefits cardholders will retain their present arrangement. Secondly, disadvantaged individuals will retain their present arrangement. Both of those groups will thus be protected. Thirdly, there will be the introduction of a universal medical guarantee whereby the Commonwealth will meet all medical benefits scheduled payments beyond the first $20 for service as it is doing at present. Coupled with these changes are the maintenance of coverage for pensioners and the disadvantaged, protection against disastrous medical expenses, and the continuation of free public ward hospital benefits. These are consistent with our philosophy of concentrating welfare towards those in genuine need.
I regret the changes to the medical benefits scheme that are being passed tonight. I agree with the point made by the honourable member for Prospect about the need for an adequate data base- we do not have one at the moment- on which to make realistic or accurate decisions. I also acknowledge that earlier Liberal-National Country Party governments, through Sir Earle Page, introduced the Government contribution. I would have preferred to have seen a reduction in the current 40 per cent contribution by the Government, and a widening of the $20 gap, instead of that which is being introduced. I believe that too many changes have been made and that the public is confused. There is also the problem of timing. The new medical benefits arrangements begin on 1 September. I understand that on 1 November the new medical benefits schedules- that is the recommendations of Mr
Justice Ludeke- will be implemented. There will be the annual changes to charges allowed by nursing homes in the various States. One change is required for the health funds by 1 September and another by 1 November. This further adds to the ordinary person’s confusion.
I have doubts about the universal guarantee, that is, the 20 per cent maximum payment. Will it in fact protect needy people from embarrassingly large medical bills? I doubt it. There are two groups which come to mind. There are people with chronic illnesses who are required to repeated visits to general practitioners. Each ordinary GP consultation will not be above the $20 mark. This raises the parallel problem that chronically ill people are presently placed under financial stress by repeated medical benefit prescriptions at $2.50 a time. I will return to that point later. The second group will be single income families with a number of dependent children who have the recurring problem of visits by those children to doctors. There is the further problem of a possible tendency to push patients into the more expensive specialist sector of surgery when this may not be necessary.
Contrary to what I have been saying- that is, that there have been too many changes already to the health scheme- I must say that, if the new guarantee system of $20 does not in practice provide protection against large medical bills in certain sectors of our society, the policy should be changed. There is a number of ways in which it can be changed. I will suggest one. That is the introduction of catastrophic medical cover which I believe could more adequately and efficiently and, from our view point, philosophically, protect those at risk. The scheme would operate by requiring a person to be automatically covered for the rest of his or her medical bills, once so many dollars had been spent in a 12 month period. The amount would vary depending on the status of the person- whether he or she was single, married, with or without dependent children, et cetera. The introduction of a catastrophic or front end deductible scheme has been discussed on a number of occasions. At that time I would have opposed those schemes because they would have interfered with other principles of health insurance which I support. That situation no longer applies.
It will be of interest to honourable members that President Carter is developing for presentation to the United States Congress a national health plan, which has a medical cost catastrophic cover proposal as its first priority. However, one of the positive aspects of the change is that the Government now has a reduced commitment to an ill health policy, and can develop a more comprehensive well health or preventive health policy. I congratulate the Minister for grasping the opportunity to initiate a national health promotion program for which purpose $500,000 has been allocated initially. The value of preventive health expenditure is hard to quantify. I would suggest that we should concentrate on one or two definable areas. It would be a sick joke if, in the next Budget, funds for the school dental and community health schemes were abolished or severely reduced. At the present time, they are our only general preventive health schemes.
I note again President Carter’s health plan in which he provides a cash incentive to encourage people to join health maintenance organisations and he finances the pilot programs in preventive care, focusing upon one or two major diseases. I believe that the changes which have been made with respect to nursing home patients in hospitals are equitable. The anomoly that because a person was able to be placed in a public or private hospital he or she was financially better off than if he or she was placed in a nursing home. Where he or she should have been placed is removed. Similar arrangements to those in the State nursing homes will apply to public hospitals. At the moment the percentage of daily bed costs, that States require a pensioner to pay from the pension, varies considerably.
I understand that the question of uniform percentages and /or charges has been raised with the States and that progress is being made in this direction. The uniform bed charge in private hospitals will be $7.25 a day. I understand this charge can be waived under certain circumstances. The insurance benefit level will be maintained and the Government will maintain a bed subsidy of $ 1 6 a day. All of these charges are necessary to preserve the private hospital system. People might be critical of the private hospital system but there are not enough beds in the nursing homes or public hospitals to go around, particularly in some country areas.
There are various types of private hospitalsand I want to refer to the bush nursing hospitals in Victoria- which are registered as private hospitals where adjustment will be difficult with the new classifications of patients. I believe that because of what the Minister has been able to retain for patients classified as long term patients in private hospitals, such as the bush nursing hospitals, this adjustment will be acceptable.
The honourable member for Prospect criticised the Government on the point of raising charges for nursing home type patients in public hospitals. He said that it was unfair. If it is unfair for a person in a public or private hospital to be charged a daily bed rate, surely it is equally unfair if that person is placed in a nursing home? I- and obviously the honourable member for Prospect- cannot see any difference in charging a person a certain amount if he or she is in a nursing home where he or she should be, or, if that nursing home bed is not available, charging a similar amount if he or she is in a hospital bed. If it is wrong to charge when that person is in a hospital, it is wrong to charge when he or she is in a nursing home. When Labor was in government, no attempt was made to abolish patient charges in nursing homes.
– In fact, Labor reduced what the patient could hold from $6 a week to $4 a week.
-That is right and the Minister for Health improved the situation for patients. The honourable member for Prospect also said that this proposal would actually cost more money. In the short term, on a running cost basis, that is correct. He needs to look a little beyond that to the question of capital costs. If we do not make this change either a large number of hospital beds will not be fully utilised, or more nursing home beds will have to be made available, all at considerable capital cost. When one looks at costs in this situation, one should look at all the costs, and not just those selected because they are favourable to the viewpoint of the Labor Party.
As the honourable member for Prospect said, the private health funds will gain about $13m a year from this rearrangement. However, I say that this is a good thing because it will help the private health funds, which are not flush at the moment, with the problems that they will face because of the new benefit schedules that will be required and because of the inadequacy of the reinsurance arrangements that presently prevail. I believe that hospital bed charge increases are overdue. It is almost three years since they were last increased. A completely artificial situation prevails with the determination of bed charges in this country. The charges appear to be more related to the influence they will have on the consumer price index than to the actual daily cost of a bed in a hospital. Hospital bed charges should be increased annually to maintain reality and a relativity between the different categories of hospital beds.
I refer now to the proposed inquiry into hospitals. Hospitals represent the greatest cost factor in our health care scheme. Many people have mentioned that they account for about 60 per cent of the cost of the scheme. Hospitals are also the least accountable factor. Not even a Ludeketype justification arrangement as there is for general practitioners or fee for service doctors is required for hospitals. Gradually, more and more sectors of our society, government expenditure and private organisation charges are being subjected to some form of public scrutiny. The first inquiry was into the primary and manufacturing industries by the Industries Assistance Commission and the Prices Justification Tribunal. This term it is into hospitals. I hope that education will be next. I hope also that tertiary industry and all the self-imposed service charges by lawyers, accountants, banks, et cetera, at some time in the not too distant future will come under equal public scrutiny. Not only are hospitals not accountable but also the control system is fragmented. Six State and two territorial arrangements apply. There are various types of private hospital ownership. The Minister tells us that bed charges range from $1 19 a day in one State to $220 a day in a Territory. Bed ratios vary tremendously.
The inquiry should have a tough, noquestionsbarred, independent chairman so that it will not be an in-house type review. There should also be a hospital administrator from an overseas country, hopefully Canada or the United States where some attempts have been made to quantify hospital efficiency. State representatives should be involved because the inquiry will be important to the States. I note the objection made by Queensland and the reservations now expressed by South Australia, New South Wales and Victoria on this matter. The cost of our hospitals is not just a matter of State responsibility and has not been since this Government entered into the hospital costsharing agreement with the States whereby the taxpayers of Australia through the Commonwealth Government paid for half the costs of those hospitals. That alone is justification for the Commonwealth to be conducting such an inquiry. I hope that the States will co-operate because I think that there are advantages for everybody in such an inquiry.
Private hospital representatives must also be included on the inquiry. They play a significant part and there is quite a variety of them. There is obviously a great variation in their efficiency. The Hospital Corporation of America which has purchased and is rebuilding a number of existing private hospitals, should also be asked to give evidence at that inquiry. As I understand it, its entry into Australia is based on the premise that there is profit in applying modern business practice to hospital management and that a superior service can still be provided to patients. One can question that view but I believe that this is a good opportunity for the Corporation to give some evidence.
When considering public hospitals we should be looking at the future of Commonwealth funding of unnecessary, acute hospital beds in inner city areas and the need for a better criteria to be applied to the funding of teaching hospitals. We should be reviewing the outpatient charging system in view of the change to the medical benefits scheme. There is a danger that outpatient facilities will be overloaded and that some sort of requirement for rationing or part charging may have to be introduced. Outpatient pharmacy departments are being used increasingly for the provision of prescription drugs without the application of the $2.50 prescription charge. There is a need to introduce criteria in respect of pharmaceutical benefits to cover the chronically ill and to protect them against this repeated cost. In addition, many Australians are not within easy distance of an outpatient department. We should tidy up the anomalies which apply to the chronically ill and to outpatients by ensuring that those in genuine need will be protected from excessive medical and pharmaceutical bills. It should not matter whether the service is provided through outpatient departments or through the ordinary commercial GP and pharmacy system. We should ensure that outpatient facilities are provided only for those in need.
Finally, I wish to deal with the isolated patients’ scheme. One of the valuable initiatives of the present Minister for Health and of the Government was to provide some equity in health care for country people. Labor Party members are very strong on inequity and having a social conscience when dealing with medical and hospital matters within city areas, but they are very silent on the inequity which exists between country and city areas. Let us hear a bit more from honourable members opposite so that one can believe that their social conscience extends to all Australians. I note the improvements in the isolated patients’ scheme, particularly the removal of the need for prior approval and a more consistent definition of isolation. More changes may be necessary in this area and I trust that, with the present Minister, these changes will be made. I conclude by repeating the challenge to Labor members to tell us what they would do with Medibank if they were back in government. Would they reintroduce the original scheme or would they continue the scheme that we are now ending, as their amendment appears to indicate? I support the legislation.
-This is the fifth major change which has been made to health provision arrangements since 1975. The first change took place in May 1 976 and another change followed some months later in September 1976. In 1978, which was a record year for changes, changes were made in May and October. Now a change has been made in June 1 979. Indeed, three major and somewhat contradictory changes have taken place in the last year. As I reminded the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) the other night, on 12 October 1978 he said:
This is clearly the finest scheme we have seen in this country.
He was talking about the scheme that was in operation nine months ago. I intend to ask the honourable member tonight to state, when he has his chance to speak, whether he intends to describe this scheme as a pluperfect scheme. 1 look forward to hearing his comments on it.
The honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) tonight repeated in principle his views on the matter. Last year he stated:
I hope that this is the last fundamental change to our national health scheme for many years.
Tonight he admitted that he had been disappointed by this further change. It is true that last year he said that the scheme might need some fine tuning. But I am quite sure, from the views he expressed tonight, that he would not describe the changes that have been made as simply ‘fine tuning’.
The changes themselves have been contradictory and confusing. For instance, bulk billing was abolished in May 1978 and was partially reintroduced in October 1978. It was abolished and reintroduced in principle at least; I know that in practice the situation has been somewhat different. The health levy was maintained in May 1 978 and abolished five months later. A new universal medical benefit, the 40 per cent Commonwealth cover, was introduced in October 1978 and is now abolished in June 1979. The Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) told us last year that one reason for the 40 per cent Commonwealth cover was that ‘the cost of health insurance premiums has become uncomfortably high for many people ‘.
The Minister in many of his speeches last year said much about the insurance savings that would result from this measure. The changes envisaged in the Bills before us tonight, plus the anticipated increase in doctors’ fees in the next six months, will mean that any insurance gains made in 1978 will be more than wiped away in 1979. In the Minister’s own words, slightly amended, ‘the cost of health insurance premiums will have become uncomfortably high for most people by December of this year’. The fact is that for all Government members’ claims to be sound, solid and reliable managers, on the whole they are a pack of slick charlatans lurching from one crisis to another, and the health measures have tended to be the victims of those crises. They have tended to produce contradictory rhetoric and responses in each situation. Indeed, frankly it has to be said that health provision under this Government has never had a very high priority. It has been simply the victim of the Government’s incompetent economic policies. The Melbourne Age put this point, I thought quite clearly, the other day in an article which stated:
Clearly changes to the health insurance system are based on budgetary strategy, with the quality of the system and the availability of medical care firmly in second place.
Finance is all; universality, equity, even efficiency are relegated before the ever-changing financial needs of the Government. For instance, let us look at bulk billing. The attempt by the Government to abandon bulk billing in May 1978 was simply to meet the Government’s deficit problems of that time. The medical levy, as I think is now universally admitted, was jettisoned in late 1978 in order to manipulate the consumer price index figures. The abolishment of the 40 per cent Commonwealth cover in 1 979 is in order to solve the deficit problems of the Government. Nevertheless, despite this inconsistency, I think we can see two elements of consistency that have run through the Government’s chaotic administration of the national health scheme. One of those elements was the desire to restore to favour the plethora of competing private insurance organisations which have been the beneficiaries of many of the changes. Secondly, there was the desire to shift the financial burden, no matter to whom- the States, citizens or private organisations; to anyone but the Commonwealth Government- without adequate consideration of universality, equity or even efficiency.
I think this final emasculation of Medibank, this final honouring of the pledge by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to maintain Medibank, forces us not just to condemn the Government’s confusing administration, but also to fight again for the principles which underlay the national health provisions of the Labor Government. The final destruction of Medibank brought about in this Bill has ensured that health will certainly be a major issue in the 1979-80 election campaign. Way back in 1976 the Minister for Health said:
Somewhere, sometime, someone must pay. The only fair and equitable method is that the user pays in accordance with his ability to pay.
He said that in 1976. Then the Minister talked about a balance between cost and equity, a balance which I support. On 24 May this year a similar statement was made by the Minister for Health. He stated:
It is important to notice the moral deterioration that has taken place. In the whole of that latter statement the concentration is placed simply on the financial problem, not on the problem which is an essential aspect of this field, of balancing financial costs against considerations about the principles that should underlie national health provisions. They were there in the Minister’s statement in 1976 but they disappeared in his statement of this year. No mention was made in that statement of universality and equity. As I shall show, the system emerging from this Bill is no longer universal, is no longer in any comprehensive sense equitable, and in many ways is not even efficient.
It is true that when the Minister gets rattled on these issues he tends to talk about the costs of the 1973-75 period. Out tumble community costs, gross domestic products and the Labor Government’s extravagances. There are vague assertions that somehow these rises are the fault of Medibank. Let us admit that there was undoubtedly an increase in the proportion of the gross domestic product spent on health in those years. Three major reasons lie behind this. Firstly, part of that reflected simply a catching up in the health services in this country after the neglect of the last decade of Liberal Country Party rule. Secondly, the rise in the proportion of the GDP spent on health in Australia was paralleled in nearly every Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development country in the mid-1970s. Inflation, wage increases and increased popular expectations all had the effect of increasing the proportion of the GDP spent on health, whatever the type of health provision. Finally, the major surge came in 1 974-75, that is, before Medibank was operative. Therefore, it is a little difficult to see the Medibank scheme as the critical factor.
There is a problem here because we all thought the surge took place in 1974-75. Last year the Minister for Health told us that the gross domestic product figures were as follows: For 1974-75, 6.83 per cent; for 1975-76-this is the important figure- 7.38 per cent of GDP; and 1976-77, 7.67 per cent. However, in a table which the Minister provided for the House the other night he dramatically revised the critical figure, that is, the figure for 1975-76. He increased it by $400m, thus raising the percentage of total GDP spent to 7.84 per cent, which produces the extraordinary anomally that in the following year he was able to reduce the proportion of GDP spent on health. If that table is correct and it is not just a manipulation, the Minister clearly does not understand it. I am certain that if he did, he would have spent at least a quarter of an hour discussing his achievements in 1976-77. 1 would ask the Minister to have a look at those figures and see how they relate to the figures he has provided over the past two years, particularly in relation to the critical 1975-76 year.
Let me just take what is the latest academic assessment of the Medibank contribution by Professor George Palmer, head of the School of Health Administration, University of New South Wales. On the contribution of Medibank I to health costs he made three points. I am prepared to admit both the bad and good features of those points. Firstly he noted that the Medibank hospitals agreement did allow greater expenditure, not so much as a result of increased usage, but greater tolerance of wage and salary demands. We accept that as one feature and one problem which we need to face in relation to Medibank and its effects. I quote his second point:
The tentative conclusion which may be drawn is that no substantial increase in the usage per head of medical services was caused by the introduction of Medibank.
Thirdly, he pointed out how the administrative costs of Medibank were a great improvement on the previous private insurance systems. That is a balanced assessment admitting some of the financial problems that arose in relation to Medibank and some of the advantages. I think it fairly effectively discredits much of the propaganda that has been used about Medibank I.
There were obviously cost containment problems, particularly in relation to hospitals, certainly a great increase in the burden of the Commonwealth Government. The Australian Labor Party, if in power, would certainly face up to the problems of cost containment. We were given no chance. It is important to remember that Medibank was not fully operative until 1 October 1975. Six weeks later, through a perversion of the Constitution, the Labor Government was destroyed. Quite frequently the Prime Minister blathers on about what the tax grab today would be if the Hayden 1975 tax rates still applied. It is simply an absurd argument. The Prime Minister changes his tax processes every few months and apparently Labour is not to be allowed that kind of flexibility. It is equally absurd to suggest that because certain cost problems arose with Medibank I, once it was operative and the Labor Government was out of power, we would not have faced up to such problems had we still been in power.
Let me say that we would have faced up to them responsibly and not as the Government has done in the last three years, irresponsibly.
What do we mean by facing up to these problems, responsibility? First of all, we would have collected the data, which this Government, by its own admission, has never done, which would have enabled us to act about the cost containment problem in a sensible and rational way. Secondly, when we did act, we would have tried to act, and will act, comprehensively, in a single and complete measure rather than pursue what has happened in the last three years in a confusing, contradictory series of ad hoc steps. Above all, we would have remained cognisant of the principles which health provision should serve. In trying to deal with the cost containment problem, it is imperative that we remind ourselves that the national health provision should ensure universality, should attempt to achieve equity, and also should be efficient. I want to look briefly at how these measures achieve those three objectives. I refer to universality first of all. The discussion paper prepared for the Government itself entitled ‘Paying for Health Care’ published last year stated:
Universal basic cover . . . should be regarded as a permanent feature of health financing in Australia.
– What is basic?
– I take ‘basic cover’ to mean a cover for all base medical costs.
– At what percentage?
-That is an issue which we can debate. The honourable member thought that the 40 per cent might have been sufficient. All I am saying -
– No, you are saying that 40 per cent is sufficient. That is your amendment.
-We are saying 40 per cent at this stage. That is the amendment we would make. What I am saying is that universal basic cover is clearly no longer a permanent feature. I think that the Government admitted that in the statements it made. It admitted that universal basic cover was no longer a feature of health financing in Australia.
– I am more interested in what you would say as a Labor member.
– I will now try to say it. Last October the Minister for Health constantly insisted that a key element of the universality of his national health scheme was the Commonwealth medical benefit of 40 per cent. These Bills remove that key element in a universal provision. The very first step we would make, as we have suggested in our amendment, is the retention of that 40 per cent provision because it is a universal one.
– So you would not reintroduce Medibank.
– I will deal with that in one moment if I get the chance. Eighty-five per cent of medical charges today are rendered for services costing less than $20. Thus, 85 per cent of services will not be covered unless private insurance is taken out. It can scarcely be pretended, if that is the proportion of services not covered, that in some sense the Government provides a universal cover. Last week the Prime Minister talked about a universal health service. As I have suggested previously, there is not much relationship between the words which the Prime Minister uses and their meaning for the rest of us. However, I think that the Minister for Health is more responsible or perhaps more circumspect. He described these provisions, not as universal basic cover but as universal protection against higher cost items of medical service. I am quite prepared to let him have the bits of the scheme that are left. I do not deny that the protection left now is for higher cost items of medical service. Secondly, there remains the universal hospital cover although, for the first time, there are problems for pensioners in public wards in Australia. I do not think we can pretend that that kind of cover is universal. It is certainly not an equitable cover.
Again, I refer to the discussion paper issued by the Health Insurance Commission entitled ‘Paying for Health Care ‘. It states:
That, too, has gone. The great bulk of contributions after this measure will bear no relation to the income of the contributor. The whole private insurance system which will now dominate the market in no way redistributes health costs in a non-regressive way. The man on an average wage pays the same amount for the same cover as does the Prime Minister. There is no relationship between health insurance costs and income , in the whole private insurance system. With the increases involved in these Bills, plus the foreshadowed increase in doctors’ fees by the end of this year, the family rate for hospital and medical cover for a man on the average wage will be $ 10 a week. That is about $500 a year or 8 per cent of his gross wage. Many of the people in the poorer groups who do not or will not measure up to the category of socially disadvantaged will be paying much higher proportions of their income. It may be up to 14 per cent. The figures issued in relation to low income earners taking out full insurance cover suggest that there is very little equity in those provisions. The tragedy of the situation is that 10 years go the Nimmo Commission which began the serious consideration of health provision in this country stated:
The contributions have increased to such an extent that they are beyond the capacity of some members of the community and involve considerable hardship for others.
By the end of this year we will be back to the kind of position criticised by the Nimmo Commission 10 years ago.
The incentives for the healthy, particularly those without dependants and the wealthy with tax rebates simply to drop out narrow the pool of the insured, thereby inevitably pushing up the rates and increasing the costs to the sick and to the average family man who tend to be pushed into private insurance provision. Where is the equity in provisions which encourage this narrowing of the insurance pool?
Of course, we must also consider the position of the old age pensioners and the socially disadvantaged. The Minister claims that the socially disadvantaged provisions are working well. The fact that only 3 per cent of services involve the socially disadvantaged suggests that he has a very narrow view of that section of the community. I invite him to come out to my electorate and spend a short time talking to people. He will then learn about specialists who believe that the socially disadvantaged should be treated only in hospitals; of doctors who pry out the embarrassing details of poverty from those who seek to be treated as socially disadvantaged; and of the doctor who will recognise no one as socially disadvantaged unless he has some kind of social welfare certificate. These people ignore the whole point of the Henderson inquiry which pointed out that one of the major problems of poverty in this country is the low income family with only a single income and a large number of dependants. Equity in the provisions is neglected and universality is now compromised.
Finally I turn to efficiency, which, I think, is equally debased. Once more, the plethora of organisations and the fact that the private insurers now have a much bigger and more competitive field, will lead to more complicated options being offered to the public. We will return again to the position of 1969 about which the Nimmo Commission stated:
The operation of the health insurance is unnecessarily complex and beyond the comprehension of many.
That is the way we are moving with the health insurance changes that are being made. They are unnecessarily complex and beyond the comprehension of many. Undoubtedly, the opportunities now exist for a much wider, broader and more complex series of offerings to the public leading to greater confusion. I have no doubt that administrative costs are going up. One of those costs is simply the expensive series of advertisements and pamphlets that has to be provided each year, or every six months in the last year, to explain the new changes made in health plans in this country.
-The honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett) quoted me in the House tonight and the other day as stating that the last scheme that the Government introduced as an amendment to the original Medibank scheme was the finest scheme. He was rather critical of my description of it. I say to the honourable member that the Government is improving the shocking scheme which the present Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden) introduced as Medibank Mark 1 about five years ago. Under the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) the Government is continually refining the scheme. For the major part of my speech I want to dwell on the hospital aspects of the scheme. I have had a running battle for some days with the Queensland Health Minister. I refer to a headline in the Courier-Mail last Saturday, 2 June which states ‘Knox and Hodges in hospital clash’. From the outset I give credit to the Queensland Government for some of the desirable features of its scheme. The Minister for Health, in answer to a question last Thursday, outlined some of the desirable features. But that does not mean to say that the Queensland system is the ultimate. I hoped that the Queensland Minister for Health would have welcomed with open arms the national inquiry to be conducted into the operation of hospitals and hospital costs in this nation that has been announced by the Federal Minister for Health.
Let me point out the desirable features that are in operation in Queensland at the moment. The other States of Australia would do well to look at these desirable features. Firstly, the central purchasing scheme of the Queensland hospital system could well be adopted by the other States. Secondly, specialists in Queensland are paid on a sessional basis. The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) no doubt would understand that that is a desirable feature of the operation of our hospitals in Queensland.
The Minister for Health in my State says that I advocate the closure or the severe cutting back of services in country areas. I refute that absolutely. It is not necessary in rationalising hospital services in Queensland by cutting back services to deprive people of necessary hospital services. The Queensland Minister for Health is reported in a newspaper article on Saturday, 2 June as saying:
As for claims that I am not helping Federal-State relations, my concern is for the health and welfare of Queenslanders.
But I can assure Queenslanders that Mr Hodges’ public statements on health matters will not influence the State Health Department to cut bed numbers or close hospitals.
I suggest to the House that that is a very belligerent approach on the part of the Queensland Minister for Health. He has a closed mind on the subject. The fact is that there are a number of areas in the State of Queensland in which we can see an improvement in services and indeed a saving to the nation. The Queensland Minister for Health went on to say- and I believe that this is an admission that there is something wrong with the Queensland system, although it does contain some of the better features that I mentioned earlier:
We have a team working on an overall rationalisation of hospital and health services for some months.
As I say, that indicates that there are problems in the Queensland system. We want to see the best possible value for our health dollar, not only because the Commonwealth is assisting the States by way of a 50-50 contribution for operating costs, but also because it is taxpayers’ funds that are being spent. The Queensland Minister for Health went on to say:
Mr Hodges naively assumes we can leave huge areas of the State with no hospitals just to suit some statistician in Canberra.
That is not true. I say to the House that I do not want to see services reduced for Queenslanders or indeed for any people in this nation who live in outback areas, because I came from an outback area in north Queensland and I realise the value of services to people who live in remote areas. Let me continue to quote from this newspaper article, the remarks of Sir William Knox. He is reported as saying:
Queensland’s second city, Townsville, had only a 49 per cent bed occupancy rate while occupancy rates at Mount Isa, Cloncurry, Goondiwindi and Ayr varied between 44 and 34 percent.
I believe that that is an indictment of the Queensland system. The very point that I was making and to which Sir William Knox replies in this newspaper article is that there are inefficiencies in the Queensland system. The fact that hospitals, regardless of where they are, are operating with an occupancy rate as low as 44 per cent indicates to me that there is a lot of room for improvement.
So we continue the running battle in today’s Courier-Mail. In an article in today’s CourierMail the Queensland State Minister for Health, Sir William Knox, told the Queensland people that the national inquiry proposed by the Minister for Health would face strong opposition from Queensland. That view was echoed, though perhaps in a milder form, by the New South Wales Minister for Health. The article reads:
Yesterday the Queensland Health Minister (Sir William Knox) said his Government would resist any moves by Federal authorities to dictate policy on hospital services in Queensland.
– What about sharing half of the costs?
-As the Minister for Health has said, we are sharing half the costs. If the Queensland Government is prepared to waste taxpayers’ money, I for one, as a supporter of this Government, am not prepared to follow suit, and I hope that everybody on this side of the House would agree with that. The New South Wales Minister for Health, Mr Stewart, was reported as saying that his Government wanted more information from Canberra before deciding on co-operation with the proposed Federal inquiry. He said:
We won’t co-operate until we know what the Federal Government intends, what its terms of reference are, who will conduct the inquiry and what rights States will have at an inquiry.
I suggest to the House that this surely is not a time for resistance by the States.
– It is not. The honourable member for Melbourne Ports may well laugh. After all he made no progress in the Victorian scene after many years, and of course he will make less progress in this House. It is not a time for playing politics. It is not a time for pointing to constitutional rights or wrongs. The New South Wales Minister for Health asked: ‘What are the terms of the inquiry? Who will conduct the inquiry? What rights will the States have?’ I put it to the House that they are public funds that are being expended and therefore everyone, including the Labor Minister for Health in New South Wales, should be concerned. Expenditure of public money is at stake and whether those funds are from the Commonwealth or from the States’ own sources surely is immaterial. The waste must not be allowed to continue. In sharing the net operating costs of hospitals on a 50-50 basis, the Commonwealth has a large stake in where and how the money is expended. If the States want to waste their funds on inefficient hospital operations, that is their business; they will be answerable to the electors. The Commonwealth Government has a right and a duty to ensure that wastage is kept to a minimum, thereby gaining the maximum for every health dollar expended.
It is obvious from all investigations conducted and reports produced in recent years that the States have been less than careful with expenditure on public hospitals. Sixty per cent of Commonwealth expenditure on health is expended on hospital services. In the last few years the Commonwealth has entered into hospital costsharing arrangements with the States which in 1976-77 resulted in this Government spending $873m. Some two years later, in the 1978-79 financial year, it is estimated that the amount will increase to $ 1,067m, an increase of 22 per cent. The hospital cost-sharing arrangements provide for the Commonwealth to meet on a 50-50 basis the cost of approved hospital budgets as submitted by the States.
The States have allowed their hospital systems to become inefficient. In Australia there is an oversupply of hospital beds. This fact is borne out by comparing Australia with similar Western world countries. The average occupancy rate of only 68 per cent of hospital beds is a true indication of the oversupply of beds. Indeed, half of our hospitals have less than a 60 per cent occupancy rate. The Federal Minister for Health has announced that a national inquiry will be conducted into the efficiency and administration of hospitals throughout Australia. The States have a duty to support this inquiry and to assist it to deliver an early report. One must surely ask why hospital costs have escalated to such a degree and why we have such a low bed occupancy rate. Why have the States, who are responsible for administration of the hospital system, not been monitoring operations to ensure such wastages are minimised? Political expediency must rank high on the list of reasons, particularly in my home State of Queensland.
There are glaring examples of the need to rationalise hospitals, particularly in country areas, where no argument exists for the retention of some hospitals on the basis that people’s health will be affected. Some country towns only a few kilometres apart support hospitals which have low bed occupancy rates and which just should not exist. I am not advocating cuts in services to country people, but merely a sensible approach with substantial savings to our system. Why have some of the services been retained and indeed some of these hospitals been rebuilt instead of being put out of service? They are retained because of political pressure. Many State members of parliament know that the facilities should be rationalised, yet exert pressure for their retention, in full knowledge that the services are costly and inefficient and should be abolished. Our health dollar must be put to better use and the States must be sensible and assist the Commonwealth to achieve this end.
I point out to the House some of the glaring examples of hospitals in cities and towns in close proximity to each other in my own State of Queensland. I instance Cairns, which has a general hospital of some 348 beds and an occupancy rate of 69 per cent. Fourteen miles south of Cairns is the town of Gordonvale, with a hospital of 41 beds and a 52 per cent occupancy rate. Twenty-one miles south of Gordonvale is Babinda whose hospital has 40 beds and a 30 per cent occupancy rate. Sixteen miles south of that, Innisfail has a hospital with 1 73 beds, with a 46 per cent occupancy rate. The town of Mareeba in north Queensland has a hospital with 1 12 beds, with a 63 per cent occupancy rate. Atherton, 20 miles away, has a hospital with 130 beds with a 54 per cent occupancy rate; and 36 per cent of those patients are geriatrics. Twelve miles away from Atherton is Herberton which has a hospital with 44 beds with a 90 per cent occupancy rate; but 82 per cent of those patients are geriatrics. Looking at the twin towns of Ayr and Home Hill, Ayr’s hospital has 108 beds with a 50 per cent occupancy rate; and 46 per cent of those patients are geriatrics. Home Hill on the other side of the Burdekin River has a hospital with 43 beds with a 3 1 per cent occupancy rate; and 75 per cent of those beds are filled with geriatric patients.
I want to make a comparison between some of these figures. There are other examples in my own State of Queensland and indeed throughout all of the States. I want to point out to the House the conditions experienced by people living in these towns and cities that are in close proximity to each other and the distances and the travelling time it takes people in country areas to reach a hospital, compared with the travelling time and distances of people in some of the major cities to reach a hospital. There are good roads between these country towns. There is less distance and in many instances no traffic to be encountered. In the major capital cities people spend up to an hour, or two hours sometimes, travelling to hospitals. By comparison there are hospitals in country areas, with good roads connecting these towns, and no traffic to impede them.
Obviously, there is a need for a thorough investigation of the continued existence of all the hospitals throughout the Commonwealth. An examination of the position in relation to geriatric patients is needed because many of them do not need full hospitalisation. It is true some ofthem do, but my guess is that many of them could bc accommodated in nursing homes. There is a need to reclassify beds to nursing home beds. It may well be that some hospitals can be closed as such and converted to nursing homes. This Government, I would suggest, is subsidising the cost of nursing homes and aged persons’ accommodation built by church and charitable organisations while assets in the form of hospitals go begging. There is a waste of capital funds that must stop. When we look at recurrent costs and make comparisons, the average hospital bed in Australia today costs $154 a day to maintain. On the other hand, a nursing home bed costs of the order of $200 weekly or $30 a day. It is obvious from these figures that a reclassification is necessary.
Let me sum up the position in relation to hospitals in this nation. It is not the intention of this Government to reduce severely hospital services and deprive people of hospital care, particularly in country areas. I do not want anybody on the Opposition side to make that claim. The aim of the Government is, of course, to see that we get better value for the health dollar. It is not the aim of the Commonwealth to interfere with the minor details and the day to day operations of State hospitals. I hope everybody will appreciate that fact. The Commonwealth cannot afford to sit back and let the States waste hospital health dollars when the Commonwealth is paying for 50 per cent of the net operating costs of hospitals throughout this nation. One could argue that costs will vary from State to State. I would not necessarily disagree with that. The question I ask is this: Should care and attention in a public hospital vary from State to State so as to cause an occupied bed day cost disparity of $1 19 in the State of New South Wales and $226 in the State of Victoria? They are points that ought to be very seriously considered by this House and indeed by everybody in this nation.
-I do not think the last figure is right. It was for the Northern Territory, not for the State of Victoria.
-The figure for the next lowest State approximates $160 an occupied bed day. The differencial between about $120 and $160 a bed day is surely something that warrants close examination by all who are responsible for health care and our hospital system in this nation.
It is a well established fact that the availability and the supply of hospital beds in this nation depend on the costs. If we look at the areas where the greatest number of beds are provided, we find that administrators tend to fill those beds. If one looks at the Sax report- a discussion paper on paying for health care which was produced in February 1978- there is clear evidence and cases quoted that where the hospital beds are provided they will be filled. The report states:
Particularly in America the pressures -
-I thought you were just claiming there was only a 50 per cent occupancy rate.
– There are many hospitals in the nation, as I have stated to the honourable member for Prospect, where in actual fact we have 50 per cent or indeed less than 50 per cent occupancy. It is time that the States took notice of the inquiry that is proposed by the Minister and co-operated to the fullest to ensure that we get to the bottom of why some of these hospitals are occupied only to the extent of 50 per cent. It has been proved in the United States of America that, where there is what might be a comparative shortage of hospital beds, when a disaster occurs and hospital beds are needed those hospital beds will be found by making sure that the people who are occupying them indeed vacate them. So it is well established-
-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
– It seems almost indecent at this stage of the debate to remind the House that every Government member was elected in 1975 on a promise made on their behalf by the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to ‘maintain and improve Medibank ‘. That statement was made at a time when the Prime Minister knew the cost of Medibank, understood the principle of universal health care and understood the method of operation. Some four years later, in May 1979, not even the most earnest admirer of the Prime Minister or the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) could argue that Medibank has been maintained; nor is it even arguable when one looks at provisions in this legislation that this Bill consitutes any improvement at all in our helath care standards or in our practices. This is the fifth major change in the health scheme in Vh years.
– The honourable member for Prospect said there were eight changes.
– The last change was slightly under seven months old when the present changes were announced. I remind the honourable member for Petrie of what his own Minister for Health said less than 12 months ago, on 24 May. He said:
Until an improved data base becomes available the Government believes that it would be premature . . .
The Government believes that it would be premature to proceed further with the consideration of major adjustments to the health insurance scheme.
Does the Minister for Health now assert that that data base is established? Of course not. These latest changes not merely reduce the 1975 promise of the Prime Minister to a monument to political mendacity unrelated to any coherent philosophy of health care but are based on one criteria and one criteria only, and that is the failure of this Government to manage the economy. Caught with economic pressures and problems it sought to make cuts wherever it could. This legislation reflects that mentality. Do not let the Minister for Health or any of his spokesmen pretend that what this Parliament has before it is legislation which is in any way at all related to the establishment of any kind of health care philosophy. I refer the House to the report of the Senate Standing Committee on Social Welfare. Let me remind the House that, on that Committee, supporters of the Government- Liberal and National Party members- are the majority. What does the report of that Committee available only within the course of the last few weeks say? At page 1 , the report states:
In Australia, we have little idea of whether our health and welfare efforts are appropriate, effective, efficient, or equitable.
That is a judgment made by a majority of Government supporters about the Government’s health and social welfare programs. Let me repeat it:
In Australia, we have little idea of whether our health and welfare efforts are appropriate, effective, efficient, or equitable.
The report continues:
Those are the terms used by the Committee:
At page 3, the report continues:
In order to achieve an efficient, effective national and equitable health and welfare system, it is necessary to conduct on going evaluation … the consequences of not evaluating are possible indiscriminate cuts in funds, indiscriminate handing out of funds, continuance of the present ad hoc decision making process, perpetuation of the present inadequacies in the health and welfare system, and a possible lack of alternative solutions to problems in health and welfare.
If any legislation ever fulfilled the descriptions of that Senate Committee, on which there is a majority of Government members, it is this legislation. Not even the Minister in his moments of political fantasy would suggest for one moment that there has been any evaluation. This Government has changed health benefit schemes five times in three and a half years despite the Minister’s own recognition, less than 12 months ago, that proper evaluation was not possible. This legislation has one political objective- and one only. It is unrelated completely; it is cant and hypocrisy to suggest for one moment that what we are talking about is some kind of new concept that has emerged out of the primeval back doors of the Liberal Party room where members have worked their way through some health care philosophy. What has emerged is the decision to slash, cut and rend health and welfare policies.
-Well, the Prime Minister is somewhat adroit with the use of the knife; so slash, cut and rend is a phrase that would not be unknown in the Liberal Party room. The decision to slash, cut and rend our social welfare and our health policy schemes is what this legislation is all about.
What does this legislation do? The most important section of the new charges which will affect most people is the abolition of the 40 per cent rebate on scheduled fees and the Government’s decision not to contribute towards the cost of the first $20 of medical services. In more detail, Department of Health spokesmen have confirmed- as indeed, in fairness to the Minister, he has also confirmed- that most medical fees come within this category. Visits to general practitioners, repeat visits to specialists, ordinary blood tests, simple pathology tests and the day to day medical needs as they are sought by the average family and the average citizen are all covered in terms of the first $20. The term ‘treatment’ under existing criteria means a single visit to a doctor or clinic. It has been pointed out that, if a patient requires continuing visits or a combination of services such as is required in the case of a coronary occlusion, the total cost could be as much as $450.
– It should be paid for, too, by the individual.
-Of course, that is part of the philosophy of the honourable gentleman opposite. I understand that. At least he is honest about it. But his Prime Minister was not honest when he pledged himself to maintaining Medibank. The difference in philosophy between the honourable gentlemen on the Government benches and those on this side of the House is that they believe this health care is something that is purchased in the open market place. They believe the standard of medical care will be determined not by the needs of the Australian citizen, not by the injury or the disease that affects them, but will be dependent solely on the amount of money that the citizen has in the bank. It is a laissez-faire mentality and a corrupt mentality.
– How much do you spend at the Totalisator Agency Board and at the bar?
– I leave it to the honourable gentleman to argue with his own backwoodsmen in Queensland. They are of his intellectual standard. I do not propose wasting any more time on the honourable gentleman.
-That is a racist remark.
-Yes, it is, too. It is also a truthful remark. Let me repeat it: Let him argue with his own backwoodsmen in Queensland. I do not want to waste time with the honourable gentleman. I stand by the proposition that what this Government is saying is that, if there is a series of treatments which can total up to $450, in relation to a rebate, where previously 40 per cent of that total cost would have been refunded, unless someone is insured and new arrangements are made by health benefit funds, the total cost is to be paid by the individual. As one medical practitioner in Melbourne has pointed out, for many people in the community it would prove to be a lot better, under this legislation, for a person to have a lung removed than to have it progressively treated and cured. All one can ask about that example is how in terms of this so-called health care philosophy, this macabre exercise can be justified in terms of any philosophy of health care.
What are the social results of this legislation? Uninsured people, unless they are pensioners or socially disadvantaged, will have no cover at all for most of their medical treatment.
– That is rubbish, absolute rubbish.
– The honourable gentleman is an expert in rubbish. I leave him to his views which he has put somewhat inadequately to this House. The aged, those on fixed incomes and those living on superannuation are in a difficult situation. Many of those people might only be receiving $10, $20 or $30 a week above the pension. They would not necessarily qualify as being socially disadvantaged. It is an odd view that says that the sole determinant of social disadvantage is the medical practitioner.
– Who else is going to determine it?
– I say this to the honourable gentleman: Unlike the Prime Minister he is just a simple hypocrite. At least I will say this for the Prime Minister: He has the capacity, at least, to make mendacity an art form.
– I take a point of order. The honourable gentleman referred to an honourable member of this House as a hypocrite. I do not believe that that is parliamentary language.
-(Hon. Ian Robinson) - I ask the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to clarify the matter because I found it somewhat difficult to follow him. I think that, if interjections were regarded as being out of order, as they should be, there would not be a departure from the rules of this House. I ask the honourable member for Melbourne Ports to clarify his statement.
- Sir, I said that the honourable gentleman was unlike the Prime Minister who had enough capacity to raise mendacity to an art form. He probably does not understand that. That is why he did not ask for a withdrawal. In determining the criteria of ‘disadvantaged’, one has to raise the question: Why do medical practitioners, have to be the sole determinant, whatever their skills, and given all the problems that beset them in running a practice, of what constitutes the socially disadvantaged?
The new system proposed by this Government makes the decision to join or not to join a health fund a bigger gamble than it has been in the past. The National Times, a fortnight ago, in examining the provisions of health care, set out a table which showed quite frankly and openly that it would be against the economic interests of people who were young and fit and healthy to join a fund. It said it would be better if they did not join. It pointed out that the social implications of that was that the health insurance funds would increasingly have to raise their fees to cover the aged, the infirm and the sick. It is that increasing cost which has been slid over or not even dealt with by Government spokesmen. Do they deny that the health insurance funds will have to raise their charges in order to replace the 40 per cent Government contribution on bills under $20? Do they deny that the health funds are already geared to make some increase in contributions to meet the rise in doctors’ fees expected later this year? Does the Minister for Health now deny the strong possibility that family medical and hospital insurance rates are likely to reach over $ 10 a week by the end of the year? I frankly say that in the present economic climate a payment of $10 a week for health care insurance is too much for the average family. The average family will have to either pay that much or neglect the early symptoms of illness or, when symptoms become so bad, seek treatment at the already overburdened outpatient clinics at public hospitals. A spokesperson who has already dealt with the implications of the health care is Ms Diana Sonenberg of the Western Region Council for Social Development. She pointed out the problems that this will create in the overburdened outpatients department of the Western General Hospital. Ms Sonenburg said: the combined deterrents of inability to pay high health insurance costs or full medical bills, and loss of time from work will ultimately lead to further strains on existing hospital beds and emergency specialist services.
Already, waiting time for treatment at public hospitals is from four to six hours a week. This means that people who go to outpatient departments for attention can look forward to having to take the whole day off work. There is absolutely no evidence at all to suggest that the fairest and most effective way of containing health care costs is by making the patient pay more. Parliament is aware, and we are reminded of it almost every day, of this Government’s and this Prime Minister’s endless capacity for mendacity.
The concept of maintaining and improving Medibank is in tatters, but more importantly the Government has failed to provide any meaningful or rational alternative to the people of Australia. The people of Australia still desire a system of health care that guarantees every citizen, irrespective of income, full access to the best medical treatment for injury or disease. Whatever the problems with Medibank, it met that criterion. This muddle that we now have before us masquerading as a health care system is the unique product of the Fraser Government. Wealth, age and general health are all ingredients which in the philosophy of this Government make health care another purchasable commodity in the market place. On any view of this concept the people of Australia will reject it not merely because it involved broken promises and stands as a permanent record of this Government’s dishonesty, but also because, from any view of this legislation, what is now being structured as a so-called health program is expensive, inefficient and socially divisive of the Australian people, and a completely socially inadequate response to the health care needs of the average Australian and his family.
– I have been following with considerable interest tonight the contributions from both sides of the House in the debate on the amendments to the health insurance Bills. One of the things I have been looking for in the debate is evidence of a consensus between the Government and the Opposition parties on the approach to health care. I regret to say that so far I can see no evidence of a bilateral approach to this very important question. The Opposition members are rejecting the amendments being put forward by the Government. In fact the Opposition has moved certain amendments and I will come to those amendments in a moment. There has been much talk tonight about opposing change. It seems to me that it is opposition for opposition’s sake rather than the Australian Labor Party having alternative proposals of any merit whatsoever.
I welcome the claim made by Opposition speakers that health will be an election issue at the next federal election. The Government would welcome it. But I am surprised quite frankly that Opposition members want to make an election issue of it. I do not think that the original Medibank proposal introduced in 1975 had anything like the respect in the Australian community that Opposition members believe. Let us consider why members of the Opposition are resisting the changes. Can the Opposition not identify that the changes which have been made to the health schemes- there have been several since this Government came to office- have been to improve those schemes and the services provided? Why does the Opposition resist change when it is to effect an improvement, a refinement, of the scheme? Why do members of the Opposition take such an extraordinary inflexible approach? The honourable member for Melbourne Ports (Mr Holding) said that there should not be a change because there is not enough information available. What a specious argument that is. He did not define the stage at which he would regard the information as sufficiently fullsome to enable a more rational change to be made. What I would like to point out to him is that when the Australian Labor Party Government brought in the original Medibank proposal in 1975 -
– In 1974-75. It is absolutely correct to say that at that time the then Labor Government had no idea of the costing of that proposal. It is of no use to talk about a lack of information at this very moment. The original Medibank proposal is five years down the track. But there is now a wealth of information available, and as time goes on more information will become available and maybe that information will be helpful. What the members of the Labor Party cannot get away from, and I say this in answer to the honourable member for Melbourne Ports, is that when the Labor Party Government brought in the original Medibank proposals it had no idea what would be the escalation in health costs. That scheme was begun without any evidence of a substantial nature about the costing of the scheme.
– Have you any evidence of that assertion?
– The honourable member for Batman asks whether there is any evidence. Yes, there is plenty of evidence. But, in answer to the honourable member, the best evidence is what happened to the escalation in health costs after Labor brought in Medibank. In 1 974-75 -
– You cannot blame that on Medibank.
– If the honourable member listens he will hear the answer, so he should just pay attention. I want him to know that in 1974-75 total health costs increased by no less than 35 per cent. If he thinks that is bad enough, and he obviously does, he should also know that in 1975-76 they increased by another 27.1 per cent. When the Fraser Government came into office it had to take certain steps to put an end to this excessive cost escalation in health services, so it made certain changes. In that year 1976-77 there was still an increase of 19.7 per cent and this year the increase will be about 10.7 per cent.
I ask the honourable member who keeps interrupting me what he thinks is a reasonable escalation in health costs. What does he think the taxpayer can sustain as an annual escalation in health care costs? He has no answer to that question and neither have his supporting speakers because not one of them has set out a proposal -
– How do you know that costs would not have been ultimately reduced if Medibank had been maintained?
– It is no good arguing like that or saying that health will be an election issue, unless you have a policy. The most significant feature of tonight’s debate, revealed in all its glory, is that the Australian Labor Party does not know where it is heading regarding a national health insurance scheme. The points that have been made by Opposition speakers in this debate show clearly that they are at odds with one another. There are four or five proposals. Nobody knows which is the policy. Quite clearly, the conclusion we can draw is that of those Opposition speakers who have taken part in the debate this afternoon and this evening, there are at least four or five different policies. On the one hand, the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), who leads for the Opposition, has moved an amendment which, if literally interpreted, makes it perfectly clear that he believes the Labor Party has moved away from the original Medibank concept. On the other hand, it is apparent from the speeches made by certain other members that they do not accept the changes that the Government has made in the past or will make in the course of this amendment.
– Some do accept it because their amendment seeks to reimpose the previous Government’s scheme that we are dropping.
– That is right. The honourable member for Murray points out a very important feature. When the Government made the changes to Medibank last year the Opposition opposed them. Tonight they have come into the House and are moving an amendment which effectively asks the Government to go back to the last set of amendments which it made in 1978. I fully expect that some Opposition member in this debate is going to ask for reapplication of the Medibank levy. I can remember the second series of improvements to the health insurance scheme that were made by the Fraser Government, namely, to do away with the levy. I can remember speaking in that debate and I can remember the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden), as I think he then was at that time, coming into the House and moving an amendment which effectively sought to reintroduce the Medibank levy.
If the Opposition wants to make health an election issue the Government welcomes it because we have the policy and the improvements to the original Medibank program. We have made the refinements and we have made the improvements. We are at the stage where we have a rational’ approach to the nation’s health situation.
If the Opposition cannot agree with the detail of the amendments, can it at least agree with the criteria upon which we make our approach to the whole question of health? Let me discuss the criteria for a moment to see whether we can get at least some sort of agreement in the course of this debate. I think health care, hospital care and medical service are important to everyone. Every electorate is affected by this issue. Every member of Parliament is confronted with it every day. I think it is an issue the importance of which ought to be looked at in some sort of bipartisan way by the Government and Opposition members.
I am looking for a consensus to come out of this debate tonight. Honourable members who are a little bit cynical on these things may give me fairly long odds that I will be able to identify a concensus. Nevertheless I think it is worth trying because I believe on issues like health, medical service and hospital service, the people of Australia are looking to the Government and the Opposition to come up with a proposal, a scheme or an amended scheme, which is within the reach of everybody in the community and which makes full and adequate care available for people whose particular circumstances make it extremely difficult- in many cases impossible- to take out private insurance.
These people have to be helped in a very particular and special way. I know that this is very much in the mind of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) in the course of these amendments. Also, I believe the consensus argues that there should be a very high and efficient standard of professional care available to everybody. Let me say quite categorically that the thing that most interests anybody who has the misfortune to be hospitalised, and interests relatives, friends and those interested in them, is that they should have the full benefit of a very professional and far reaching medical service and standard of hospital care. Is anybody in the Opposition prepared to argue or debate that the Government has compromised any of those objectives by these amendments? I do not hear even a whisper so I think it is reasonable to conclude that there is consensus on that issue, that the Opposition does support the fact that the Government has reinforced those very virtues, those very criteria on which I have elaborated.
I say to the Minister that if there is one thing which has come out of tonight’s debate that he should be very pleased with, it is that he has come up with a series of amendments which have met those criteria. They also have particular reference to a criterion which I know the Government takes very seriously, that the escalation in medical and hospital costs just has to be curtailed. These costs could not continue to escalate at the rate we have seen in previous years. Earlier I gave some figures regarding the escalation in health costs. I would like to mention very briefly the escalation that has taken place in the hospital cost average per bed. Australia-wide, the average cost per bed in a hospital is $150 a day. In 1976, by way of comparison, it was $120 per bed per day. Going back a few more years to 1973, it was $41 per bed per day -
– Six years.
– The Minister is quite right. Effectively, what the Government is saying is that the cost has gone up nearly four times in the course of six years. I ask anybody in the Opposition: Can that rate of increase be sustained?
– They are dumbfounded.
-The Opposition is not dumbfounded; it is just not prepared to say yes. It will not say no because it is incontrovertible that it cannot be sustained. I seek leave to incorporate in Hansard a short table setting out total community health costs.
-Is leave granted?
-I understand the figures are out by $400m for the relevant year 1975-76. Leave is granted with that exception, provided this is reported in Hansard.
The table read as follows-
-I am a little upset that leave was so grudingly given. They are official figures. If the honourable member for Prospect believes I have misrepresented anybody I wish he would spell out the details because they are the official Australian figures. If they are incorrect the Government should know. Perhaps the honourable member will tell us where they are incorrect. Again, silence, so I can take it that silence is golden or the honourable member agrees that the figures are right. While I am mentioning hospital costs there is one thing I would like to say to the Minister and the Government. It is in respect of the William Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully. I am sure that the Minister will recall -
-Do you want some more money for it?
– If the honourable member will just be patient, I will spell it out for him. The Minister very likely will recall the representations I made on behalf of the William Angliss Hospital in Ferntree Gully regarding the hospital’s building program. I know that it has been argued very effectively- including in the course of this debate by honourable members on both sides of the Parliament- that nationwide there may be an excess of hospital beds. Although that may be statistically correct, what has to be recognised is that we need hopsital beds in the growing areas of the metropolitan cities. If people are hospitalised, whether it be for a welcome occasion like the birth of a child or for a less satisfactory reason of being ill, the one thing they are looking for is to be hospitalised in or adjacent to their local community. They want to be near the people and the medical staff they know and to be easily visited by friends. This is where raw figures can be misleading.
In the case of the William Angliss Hospital, the obtaining of funds for capital works has been a political issue for some years. I am very pleased that I have a brief to present to the Minister tonight. I thank him for the co-operation with the
Victorian Hamer Government. I know that the member for Monbulk, Mr Borthwick, in the Victorian Parliament has been instrumental in those negotiations whereby the next stage of the building program at the William Angliss Hospital has been approved. Clearly that work could not have gone ahead if the Commonwealth Government, through the Minister, had not been prepared to participate in the hospital sharing arrangement for the William Angliss Hospital. I say this to the Minister without any equivocation: The William Angliss is one of the finest hospitals in the Melbourne Metropolitan area. It is providing a tremendous service -
– It is a very good hospital.
– Yes. It is providing a tremendous service and it is held in the highest possible regard by the local communities. The medical staff, Matron Henderson, the hospital board and the auxiliaries in the area have worked tremendously hard to see that the development of the William Angliss Hospital goes ahead. When people render services like this and when we see the dedication that so many people have put into their local hospital this should be recognised in this Parliament. I would like to place it on record and say to the Minister and to the Government that the funds that have been allocated to the William Angliss Hospital will provide a most excellent service for the people of the La Trobe electorate.
– It is going to close up beds in Country Party electorates, though.
– No, that is not a fair comment to make. Let us not talk in ‘either/or’ terms. Let us not look for division. I say to the honourable member for Prospect that this is not a debate within which to identify divisions. This is a debate to define consensus. The reason for consensus is because we are talking of essential health services for the whole Australian population.
– Victoria has only 1,100 occupied bed days per thousand of population. It has a more desirable level than any other State.
-From what the Minister has said I have no doubt that that is the confirmation for his approval in respect of the William Angliss Hospital. That is fair enough. It is not a question of the William Angliss Hospital taking funds from other competing hospitals. It is a question of satisfying a need in the electorates that count, in this case the electorate of La Trobe.
Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Armitage)Order! The honourable member’s time has expired.
-At the outset I want to put at rest the assertions of some Government members that the Australian Labor Party is not committed to some form of universal health insurance. The first point for honourable members opposite to understand is that our amendment with regard to the withdrawal of the 40 per cent general subsidy reads: the Bill be withdrawn and re-drafted to exclude … the abolition of the 40 per cent Commonwealth medical benefit presently payable for professional services, where the specified fee is $20 or less.
That amendment does not state that we will not reintroduce a comprehensive national health insurance scheme. It merely implies that we are most definitely opposed to the removal of the present 40 per cent subsidy which is inherent in this Bill. I refer any honourable member who doubts our intentions to page 92 of the platform of the Australian Labor Party. At the top of the page it says that we will ensure access to basic health insurance for all, regardless of income. That certainly means to my mind and it must mean to anyone else in the Australian Labor Party that we stand committed to the principle of universal health insurance in whatever form we decide to implement it in government.
These Bills mark the final destruction of Medibank in clear contradiction to the promise of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) on 27 November 1975. Of all the Prime Minister’s broken promises, which include the provision of jobs for all those who wish to work, the removal of the 2.6c in the dollar tax surcharge, full tax indexation and half-yearly adjustments of pensions, the Medibank betrayal is probably the most reprehensible. The Australian people voted for a comprehensive national health insurance scheme in 1969, 1972, 1974 and, because it was then part of this Government’s election manifesto, also in 1975. This is because people most likely believed the promise of the Prime Minister. When Labor was in office it kept its promise. Yet this Government dishonoured its promise.
Let us look at the record. The original scheme started under the Whitlam Labor Government. It was funded from taxation since the Senate had obstructed the imposition of a 1.5 per cent levy on taxable income. It took this Government exactly nine months to break its promise. The first assault was in 1976 and a 2.5 per cent levy- 1 per cent more than Labor’s proposal that it rejected in the Senate- was implemented in October of that year. Of course, the prime motive of that change was to start the exodus back to private health funds. In May 1978 we saw the socalled health cost control program extolled by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) who is now sitting at the table following the recommendations of the Sax report on health care costs. In early June 1978 we saw another major assault in which benefits were reduced from 85 per cent to 75 per cent of the scheduled fee. There was also an increase of the maximum gap from $5 to $10 per service, plus the abolition of bulk billing for all except eligible pensioners. The next savage attack came in the 1978 Budget. Medibank Standard and the health insurance levy were completely abolished and a 40 per cent general subsidy was implemented. It was supposed to be payable to those outside health insurance and to the health insurance funds on behalf of their members. It was left to the medical profession to decide who was sufficiently disadvantaged to receive the privilege of having their medical accounts bulk billed direct to the Department of Health. The accounts of 75 per cent of disadvantaged persons were met and 85 per cent of the accounts of pensioners were also met. We said then that the 40 per cent subsidy would not last for the duration of the financial year, let alone be a permanent policy feature. We also warned that it was stupid and an intrusion of privacy to allow the medical profession to determine whom of the unemployed, the disadvantaged families and the pensioners would be extended the bulk billing privilege. We were right. There is ample evidence that many people in these three categories are being charged the full amount by some doctors. In addition, as the National Times pointed out last week:
A whopping 24 per cent of families near or below the poverty line are estimated to be paying for hospital or medical cover.
These families are doing so either because they know they will not be extended the bulk billing privilege by their doctor or because they are reluctant to ask for it. Of course, we were right on the other count too. The 40 per cent subsidy has disappeared in the welter of broken promises enunciated by the Treasurer (Mr Howard) in his recent horror mini-Budget. Medibank was killed in this final act of deliberately considered destruction which has been going on, step by step, for three years. The Opposition considers that Medibank is merely dormant until Medibank Private can be resuscitated into a comprehensive national health insurance scheme which the people of Australia demand and are entitled to receive.
Let us look at the effects of the changes in the horror mini-Budget. Firstly, the Government has abolished the 40 per cent general subsidy and increased to $20 the amount above which benefit is payable. It is interesting to look at what the funds have been charging in New South Wales up to this point. I take Medibank Private as the criterion. Medical benefit funds which return 75 per cent of the scheduled fee currently cost $3.40 per week. It costs $4.22 a week for intermediate ward coverage under the hospital funds. It costs another $1.96 a week to be covered in the extras table. Those figures add up to $9.58. This is even before the abolition of the 40 per cent subsidy is considered. If one merely wishes to be covered for 75 per cent of medical costs and the intermediate hospital cover the total is $7.62.
Hospital charges have been raised from $40 to $50 a day for intermediate ward patients and from $60 to $75 a day for private health patients. The new rates are to commence on 1 September. As a result of the loss of the 40 per cent subsidy, medical benefit contributions will rise by $2.50 a week. The increase in hospital bed-day charges will ensure that hospital fund contributions rise by $1.30 a week. That means that the medical benefit table which provides only 75 per cent coverage will go up to $6 a week and that the hospital fund coverage for intermediate wards will rise to $5.50 a week. Therefore the combination of 75 per cent medical cover and intermediate ward hospital cover will now cost a staggering $11.50 a week. It will cost another $2 a week to be covered under the extras table. This makes a total of $13.50 a week or an amazing $702 a year.
The Government hopes to save $2 15m by abolishing the 40 per cent subsidy. What will be the effects on contributions and those who are not currently members of health funds? Obviously, for those who are in health funds the contributions will go up, as I have stated. They must either pay the extra or leave the funds. Currently some 37 per cent of possible contributor units, that is, single individuals and families, are not in health funds. Their decision is most difficult since many of them are low income families and single low income people. Do they join a fund as the Government obviously wishes them to do? Do they join the 24 per cent of families on the poverty line who are paying these grossly exorbitant rates? If they do, their standard of living will fall even further, even though their health insurance needs are covered. Those who stay out of the funds will certainly receive free hospital treatment in a public ward under a hospital doctor, but they will still have to pay for every medical service that costs less than $20. That includes visits to general practitioners. Those people whom the family doctors refuse to classify as socially disadvantaged will pay the $9 plus for a GP consultation.
When the Minister for Health abolished Medibank Standard, I said that it would tempt people to gamble on their future good health and to avoid seeing doctors when they should do so. Now that the 40 per cent subsidy has been taken away this trend will accelerate. As a result of the actions of the Minister and the Government, how many people, including children, from low income families will be denied early medical attention for a significant illness? By removing the 40 per cent general subsidy the Government has achieved the feat of increasing contributions for those who stay in medical funds and of increasing the medical bills for those who stay out of medical funds. The Minister has finally created what he has been attempting for the past three years- the destruction of universal health insurance and the creation of a misbegotten inequitable system whereby those who can pay receive the best in medical attention and those who cannot either make sacrifices to see a doctor, avoid seeking medical attention or beg to be treated as disadvantaged persons.
Let us consider the position of the disadvantaged. The Minister and his Department qualify as pensioners only those in receipt of age, invalid or widows pensions. Supporting parents, receipients of social security payments and their dependants and the unemployed do not qualify as pensioners. They rely on the mercy and good grace of doctors. Let me repeat that many doctors and specialists feel no obligation whatsoever to bulk bill and to receive 75 or 85 per cent of their fees. Representatives from Community Youth Support Scheme programs in my electorate only yesterday spoke publicly of the many complaints received from unemployed persons about doctors refusing to bulk bill on their behalf. There are even allegations that some doctors who are bulk billing ibr unemployed people are still attempting, against the law, to retrieve either all or part of the remaining 25 per cent from the unemployed patient. Because of the horrendous unemployment figures, the Government must ensure that Commonwealth Employment Service officers are instructed to inform unemployed people- perhaps it can be done simultaneously with the payment of benefitswhich doctors and specialists in their particular area will bulk bill. This would serve the twin purpose of aiding the unemployed and exposing the greedier elements of the medical profession who seek to batten on the unemployed.
I now turn to the situation regarding hospitals. Besides increasing the bed-day charges, as I have already pointed out, this Government has already abolished the hospital development program whereby it shared with the States the capital costs of the development of new hospitals. The Commonwealth Government’s share of this now defunct program has fallen from $ 107m in the 1976-77 financial year to nil in this financial year, two years later. In addition, the Government now seeks to cut by some $200m the recurrent expenditure which is also shared on a dollar for dollar basis under the Commonwealth-State cost-sharing agreement. At least that is the figure that is mentioned in the media. I think it has been mentioned in this House also. How many jobs will be wiped out across Australia because of that cut? I have also heard the figure of 18,000 people mentioned. I ask the Minister to clarify his intention. Is that figure of $200m a definite one? Will that many jobs be at stake in the Australian health system if the Minister persists with his attempts to prune payments under the Federal-State cost-sharing agreement for recurrent expenditure?
The Minister has also squeezed the community health program- perhaps the only real economy measure that the Australian health system has going for it at the moment. Remember that under the Whitlam Labor Government 90 per cent of the recurrent expenditure of the community health centre program was funded from Federal revenues. This financial year that expenditure has been cut to 50 percent- a $ 16.5m cut. While the Minister whinges and squawks about the cost of providing health services in Australia and perhaps, in some way, rightly talks about the $ 1 ,067m that the Federal Government is supplying to the States for hospital recurrent expenditure, in the same breath so to speak, he cuts the community health program by a lousy $ 16.5m to $57m. He then promotes private hospitals to fill the vacuum. Let me just digress slightly and once again record my opposition to organisations like the Hospital Corporation of Australia, a subsidiary of Hospital Corporation of America, stepping in to fill this lamentable gap. I have read about the executors boasting that they made 16 per cent profit on investment in the United States in this area. I have read of their worries that their profits may be pegged by United States legislation to 10 per cent and of their expectations that their move in Australia will restore the 16 to 20 per cent profit margin. I have also seen their expansion plans. I ask for leave to have this document incorporated in Hansard. It is a list of the current takeovers by Hospital Corporation of America of existing private hospitals and of its plans to build new ones.
The list read as follows-
-I thank the House. Honourable members will see that there have already been eight takeovers of existing private hospitals and that HCA plans to build five new hospitals in Australia. I might add that the biggest one planned to be built is in my electorate. We certainly do not need another private hospital in the electorate of Cunningham. What we need are geriatric hospitals and nursing homes. I have no confidence that HCA will supply that sort of need when it can receive only $140 or $150 a week for a nursing home bed and some $500 a week for a private hospital bed. One thing is certain. We do not want a hospital built by Hospital Corporation of America in the electorate of Cunningham; nor would I have thought that many other electorates would want one as an alternative to the provision of services in a proper way by the Federal and State governments in the areas of need.
These moves to downgrade community health centres and replace public hospital beds with private hospital beds contradict the warnings in the report on rationalisation of hospital facilities tabled by the Minister. The report specifically urges the expansion of low cost alternatives to hospital care by offering funds to the States for specific community health centre projects. It warns that there is a geographic and functional maldistribution of existing hospital facilities and warns against allowing private hospital organisations to take their own decisions about the siting of new private hospitals and which services they will provide. We are at a watershed in the provision of health services. The Government seeks to contain costs by cutting expenditure in the public sector, encouraging private facilities and destroying national health insurance. We take the other course, the integration of a comprehensive national health insurance with the expansion of community health and medical centres providing a full range of medical facilities by employing salaried staff. This is not unobtainable. No longer does the Australian Medical Association, that bastion of conservatism in medicine, fully control its own members. It is split on the right by the General Practitioners Society and on the left by the Doctors’ Reform Society.
There is an oversupply of doctors. We all know and admit that. Already we have reached the one doctor for 540 patients ratio envisaged for 1 990. Rather than seek to stem the flow, let us offer them decent jobs on just salaries at public hospitals, in community and health centres and medical centres. This is the way to an equitable health insurance scheme and a true national health service. The people of Australia reject the class conscious confusing hotchpotch that now passes for a national health program.
-I call the Minister for Health to close the debate.
– I understand that there is an agreement with the Opposition. I understood I was to close the debate now. I will withdraw my right to rise at this stage and close the debate, to avoid unnecessary trouble in the House. Might I suggest that the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) have the call in my place at this stage. We will close off the debate before halfpast ten. Hopefully, with the co-operation of the Opposition, we will get both Bills through the Parliament.
-The Minister places me in a difficult position in that I would normally, in accordance with precedence, call a member from the opposite side to that which has just spoken. However, if that is an agreement I will call the honourable member for Batman.
– I will not take up the time of the House for long, but I think it is only reasonable that important changes such as these ought to be properly debated in this House. I think that health, along with employment and housing, represents one of the basic needs of people throughout this nation. It ought to be placed on record that the Opposition strongly condemns the way that this Government has conducted itself in the health area. Over the 3 1/2 years that this Government has been in power, we have seen three major changes and many minor changes to the health scheme which was introduced by the Labor Government in 1974; a scheme which in 1975, this Government, when in Opposition and when moving towards power, said that it would implement and continue. In fact, we have seen a movement progressively, not always consistently progressively, away from universal health insurance. We have now reached a point where we have returned to the worst days of the 1 960s in which people all over Australia lack the kind of universal health cover which was the commitment, one thought the bipartisan commitment, by both Government and Opposition in 1975.
I think that one ought to take particularly seriously the current situation of people who are not insured. The latest changes in the Government’s health plan are likely to fall most seriously on such people. One needs to think particularly of the chronically ill. It is the chronically ill people, who are forced back to receive medical attention again and again, who are not going to be covered by these latest changes. The people represent in a real sense the disadvantaged. They are not necessarily going to be the disadvantaged as classified by the Government when it talks about that term. We have to recognise that people in this community who have need have not necessarily lost their prime. They are not people who want to receive charity. I would have hoped that at the end of the 1960s we had succeeded in removing charity as the basis of health, welfare and social security in this country. What this legislation does is reintroduce the notion of charity into health care. So that people will, in a real sense, depend on the doctor very often to classify them in a certain way, to classify them as socially disadvantaged if they are to receive free health care. That situation, I believe, is intolerable in the 1970s. It ought to be resisted. The Labor Party is very strongly committed when it returns to power to moving back to a system of universal health insurance, a system in which people, irrespective of their income level and their health situation, can depend on receiving care at no direct cost to themselves. People fought for many years to achieve that goal. It is a very sad day to have reached the point with this legislation when that goal has been sacrificed.
When one reflects on that fact, one has to recognise what has changed since the early 1970s to the present time. I refer particularly to unemployment. About 500,000 people are now unemployed. Some would argue that the figure is more likely to be 800,000. Under the changes introduced by this Government, those people have no right to free health care. They have to go to their medical practitioners and beg. They have to get down on their knees and claim that they are socially disadvantaged. The medical practitioner still has the choice to regard them as deserving or undeserving. That situation could well have been avoided. This Government has created that situation not, as previous speakers in this debate have suggested, for reasons of health care or even health financing and insurance, but because it has itself in such a mess fiscally that it is now forced to use the health system as a mechanism for balancing a budget which has proved increasingly difficult to balance. It is very unfortunate that the Government ought to have treated the health system on the one hand less than 12 months ago as a mechanism to reduce the consumer price index and the rate of inflation and now, seven months later, to use the mechanism in this legislation to reduce the public deficit. That has very little to do with the health system as such and very little to do with health policy.
The Government has reflected in this area as it has in so many other areas that it has almost no substantial interest in policy. No positive policy proposals have stemmed from this Government in the health field. Certainly there have been chopping and changing in health financing. There has been discussion over three and half years about the need for rationalisation in the hospital system. The hospital development program has been substantially cut back. Surprisingly, given the suggestion that the Government is moving away from hospitalisation towards more preventative measures, there have been substantial cutbacks in the community health program. On one hand the Government has been moving against preventative medicine and on the other it has cut back on the institutional systems delivering health care, particularly hospitals. One is aware that a great deal has been said in the report of the committee of inquiry into health costs last year, and, more recently, in the paper presented along with these Bills on the rationalisation of hospital costs about the centrality of the hospital in the escalation of costs in the health care field. One has to agree with the Government that there is a need overall for some rationalisation in the delivery of hospital services. But the Government has had a great deal of time to look at the hospital system. The best that it has been able to do three and a half years later has been to produce the slimmest of discussion documents on hospital costs and to propose a royal commission which could well take several years to be completed. As we all know, the chances of whatever that commission may determine as necessary actually being implemented, given the political forces involved, represent another great area of doubt.
I believe that it is entirely regrettable that the Government has moved away from comprehensive health insurance. It is entirely regrettable that long term patients in hospital over the 60 day period ought to be charged by the Government even though they are located in hospital systems. As the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) suggested, this is to happen for the first time since Federation. It reflects the lack of any basic philosophy of this Government. I think that the Government, particularly in the health care area, is completely without any sense of direction or purpose. It lacks any real sense of justice. It is moving the health system back towards charity. It is extraordinary, given the importance of these changes, that when the Government recognises that it is doing something unpopular it seeks to cut short and limit the area of debate.
– I will not take up much of the time of the House but I will make a couple of points, especially in relation to the royal commission to which the honourable member for Batman (Mr Howe) has just referred. It is interesting to note that in 1971-72 expenditure on health was $2,232m. That figure has grown to just over $7,000m in the last financial year. It is expected to be around $8,000m this financial year. Last financial year’s health expenditure represented about $504 for every man, woman and child in Australia. In the past three and a half years this Government has made real progress in reducing markedly the rate of acceleration of increase in the nation’s health expenditure. However, costs are still far too high. Therefore, the Government has attempted to control expenditure in the most costly area, that is, hospital costs. Clearly, any such moves cannot put at risk the proper concern for the safety and welfare of the patients. In attempting to control health costs, especially hospital costs, two factors ought to be borne in mind.
Firstly, the Minister gave details of the net operating costs per occupied bed day from 1979-80. They were estimated to be as follows: In New South Wales, the figure was $1 19.33; in Victoria, it was $142.28; in Queensland, it was $124.82; in South Australia, it was $140.54; in Western Australia, it was $158.25; in Tasmania, it was $155.05; in the Australian Capital Territory, it was $167.32; and in the Northern Territory it was $226.20. The variation itself shows that some States could perhaps learn from others in order to obtain the most efficient hospital administration possible. The second factor that ought to be borne in mind is the findings in the report of the South Australian Public Accounts Committee concerning South Australian hospitals. Let me outline some of the findings of the report by way of example. The number of staff employed in metropolitan general hospitals increased from 3,981 in June 1967 to 10,317 in July 1978. That is an increase of 159 per cent. The average daily number of in-patients increased from 1,515 to 1,937, an increase of 28 per cent. So there was a 159 per cent increase in the number of staff and only a 28 per cent increase in the number of people using the hospitals. The staff employed in the central office in South Australia increased from 91 in June 1967 to 278 in July 1978-a 205 per cent increase. The total number of staff in all three categories, that is, the metropolitan psychiatric hospitals, the general hospitals and the central office, has increased by 145 per cent while the overall number of daily in-patients has fallen by 1 37 or a decrease of 3.7 per cent.
An investigation in South Australia reported on some of the problems that were occurring in some of the hospitals. In April 1976, Mr J. A. Epps of the Auditor-General’s Department reported on food costs at Northfield wards and recommended that a further investigation be made into the control of food costs at other hospitals. Despite this recommendation, two years later the South Australian Government had still taken no action. The Epps report estimated food losses at Northfield between 1970 and 1975 to the value of $80,000 per annum. In this regard I mention a transcript read to me over the telephone tonight of an interview held in 1977, prior to the State election, between Mr McEwin, a reporter in Adelaide and Mr Dunstan the then Premier of South Australia. During that interview, Mr Dunstan first said that he had not read the report and that in any event the waste was much less than $80,000 a year. When pressed, he still denied the waste but later said that he had seen the report. I think it is lucky for Labor and Mr Dunstan that Mr Dunstan got out of politics.
Although evidence of misappropriation at Queen Elizabeth Hospital was not uncovered, the police reported ‘gross wastage caused to some degree through mismanagement by hospital supervisors’. Since then, meat consumption at Queen Elizabeth Hospital has fallen by 20 per cent, which represents a monthly reduction of two tonnes of meat valued at $3,600, or an annual saving of $43,200. Of course that figure would be a lot higher now. I believe that these two factors- the variation in State operating costs and some proof of waste in South Australian hospitals- are two good reasons for the Commonwealth’s holding an investigation into health costs with a view to increasing the efficiency of hospital administration in Australia.
The other factor to which I wish to refer very briefly is the isolated patients’ travel and accommodation assistance scheme. This scheme, which commenced on 1 October 1978, provides financial assistance to help meet the travel and accommodation expenses incurred by people who travel more than 200 kilometres to receive specialist medical attention. Previously, these people could have been faced with considerable expense when they required specialist medical attention. The scheme was a great innovation by this Government. However, there were some anomalies. Clauses 4 to 8 of the National Health Amendment Bill and the regulations proposed to be made give effect to changes which will overcome a particular problem on Kangaroo Island in my electorate. As will be known, the allowance was paid only to those people who lived beyond 200 kilometres from the place where the specialist was giving treatment. Obviously the people of Kangaroo Island had to bear costs which were far in excess of costs being borne by people just over 200 kilometres from Adelaide. The people of Kangaroo Island were not entitled to the allowance because they did not live 200 kilometres from specialist services. Some parts of the island are in excess of 200 kilometres away from Adelaide, but most of the population lives within the 200-kilometre radius.
I give credit to the Minister for Health for the fact that when I pointed this out to him he said that clearly those people were meant to be included because they probably incur higher costs than those who live on the land 200 kilometres from specialist services. So he has introduced these amendments to the National Health Act to allow people on that island and on a number of other islands to become eligible for the allowance. Those people were obviously in the mind of the Government when it introduced the initial legislation. This legislation is of great benefit to people in the country areas of South Australia and in the country areas of Australia in general. I believe that the Government is to be commended for this great improvement in the scheme.
– The Opposition has accused the Government of having no policy on health programs. The Australian Labor Party has had 18 months in which to announce its policy in respect of health insurance, and the silence has been deafening. The Australian Labor Party has not officially announced its policy in respect of health insurance, yet tonight we have heard four possibilities in that regard from members of the Opposition.
– There were five.
– The honourable member for Murray says that there were five policies. Well, certainly four policies were announced and the honourable member for Cunningham (Mr West) went further than most and suggested that if the Labor Party were returned to office it would restore Medibank, which would cost the Australian taxpayers no less than $500m on present day costs. Then there was some talk about the community health program. This Government was accused of having reduced the funding for community health, in association with the States, from 90 per cent to 50 per cent. I pose the question: Should the Labor Party ever get back into office, will it restore the funding in association with the States to 90 per cent of the community health program? So let us not beat about the mulberry bush. Let us be fair and frank about it. I would be delighted to know what is the Labor Party’s policy in respect of health insurance. Quite clearly, if we were to go back to the universal-type Medibank cover, that would be a great way in which to dissipate the resources of both the high income people and the low income people alike. 1 do not believe that that is either necessary or equitable. If one wants to achieve equity, one achieves it for sure through the taxation system. But I do not see why a universial health insurance system virtually has to hand on a silver platter to every member of the community free health services.
The Hospitals Corporation of Australia, which was alluded to by the honourable member for Cunningham, is building a private hospital in the honourable member’s electorate, which happens to be in the State of New South Wales. The Corporation is doing so with the concurrence of Mr Wran, the Premier of New South Wales. Mr Wran happens to be the leader of the Labor Party in New South Wales, and I suggest that he has the power to control private hospitals in his State. If Mr Wran exercises that power and encourages the Hospitals Corporation of Australia to embark on building new hospitals in the electorate of the honourable member for Cunningham, the honourable member should riot blame the Commonwealth Government for it.
The honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman) complained about hospital patient contributions but he supports the concept of patients making a contribution towards their board and lodging in a nursing home. Indeed, while the Australian Labor Party was in government it strongly supported the patient contribution to board and lodging, even to the extent where it reduced the amount that a patient in a nursing home could retain from the patients’ own pension, from $6 to $4 a week. Yet the Labor Party talks about equity. What sort of equity was that? Since we came to office we have acted to provide patients with a new arrangement so that they will retain no less than 12’/4 per cent of their pensions for their own personal use. That has been done by Act of Parliament. So it is nonsense to suggest that as from 1 July, for the first time since Federation, public hospitals will charge pensioners. Indeed, for some time now, some public hospitals have declared part of their hospitals as nursing homes or as geriatric units.
Order! It being 10.30 p.m., I propose the question:
That the House do now adjourn.
- Mr Deputy Speaker, I require the question to be put forthwith without debate.
Question resolved in the negative.
– For some time now some public hospitals throughout Australia have, in fact, designated part of their hospitals as nursing homes or geriatric units. The policy is presently in progress but the Government will make that policy universal. The rationalisation of hospital facilities cannot be fulfilled without designating beds and facilities for geriatric or nursing home care. I have good reason to believe that the States generally support that policy. The use of hospital facilities where there are unused facilities, particularly in country areas, for the care of nursing home patients makes good sense. Country hospitals will continue to be viable both on financial and health grounds. This legislation will help to retain country hospitals in spite of the rationalisation proposals that are being investigated. It will help to reduce the costs of operating public hospitals in the longer term. Hospitals that readjust their systems to cope with nursing home patients instead of having acute patient staff ratios as at present will be rationalising their cost benefit ratios.
It is unfortunate that the Government has found it necessary to make a number of adjustments to the structure of the health insurance system. To put the record straight for the honourable member for Bonython (Dr Blewett), there have been two major changes to the structure of the health insurance system and two minor changes- not five as he indicated. However, the Government inherited an expensive open-ended universal health insurance system, extremely benevolent to the rich and low income earners alike. It proved to be a bonanza for the health providers and the medical practitioners, to the pathology and diagnostic laboratories. No government- not even a socialist governmentcould have continued to fund such an expensive scheme without increasingly taxing the people with impunity. Members of the Opposition when in government achieved universal cover, but at great cost. One cannot blame them at this stage for sitting like mutes and not announcing what their policy might be. It is very easy to criticise.
-(Mr Giles) - Would the honourable member resume his seat. I am not going to put up with this sort of shenanigan that is going on. Honourable members of the Opposition will be quiet while the Minister is making his reply.
– I wish to raise a point of order. The Minister referred to the Opposition as mutes. I would like to draw to your attention, Mr Deputy Speaker, that many members of the Opposition would like to speak in this debate but the Government has declared its intention of getting the Bill through tonight. You can understand how we feel provoked when a statement like that is made.
-There is no further point of order. The Chair has the message. I was not aware of the phrase.
– The honourable member for Bonython talked also of the inequities of the present system. The changes do not affect the position of pensioners with pensioner health benefit cards. The same arrangements will apply to disadvantaged people as apply at the present time. Neither the arrangements for disadvantaged people nor for pensioners will alter as from 1 September. In any event, the taxation system itself is designed to take more of the dollar from the higher income earners than from the lower incomes and the $ 1,600m subsidy for the health insurance system is, after all, taken from the Australian taxpayers through the taxation system. Once again I challenge Opposition members to reveal to the public at large just what their policy is in respect of the health insurance system. It is apparent that Opposition members are not prepared to commit themselves to an insurance system based on the previous Medibank which proved far too costly even for them.
That the words proposed to be omitted (Dr Klugman’s amendment) stand part of the question:
The House divided. (Mr Deputy Speaker-Mr G. O ‘H. Giles)
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
Leave granted for third reading to be moved forthwith.
Motion (by Mr Hunt) proposed:
That the Bill be now read a third time.
– I just indicate, so as to save time in respect of going into Committee at this late hour, that there is obviously no point in dividing again at the Committee stage of the National Health Amendment Bill. However, the Opposition opposes all those clauses which deal with the reclassification of public hospital patients as nursing home type patients. The Opposition also disagrees with those clauses which lead to the abolition of the 40 per cent Commonwealth medical benefit which is presently payable for professional services. If we had gone into Committee, we would have opposed those clauses.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a third time.
Debate resumed from 28 May, on motion by Mr Hunt:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– I move:
We have moved this amendment so that, as we indicated in respect of the Health Insurance Amendment Bill, registered health insurance funds will no longer have to contribute the $40 a day to those contributors who have been in hospital for more than 60 days. Those contributors are declared nursing home-type patients and the health insurance funds then have to contribute only a varying amount, depending on the State in which the patient is in hospital. As I indicated earlier, the results of the changes proposed in the legislation are that pensioners and chronically ill patients will have to pay $50.75 a week and that the benefit does not go to the Commonwealth or a State. The net result is a transfer of money from the pensioners to the health insurance funds. We strongly oppose that.
-Is the amendment seconded?
– I second the amendment.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Message from the Governor-General recommending appropriation announced.
The amendment I have moved concerns the extension of eligibility for the domiciliary nursing care benefit. The benefit was introduced early in 1973 to provide a viable alternative to nursing home care to those people who choose to care for patients in the comfort and familiar surroundings of their homes. The benefit was designed to help meet the additional costs involved in maintaining nursing home-type patients at home and charges for services were” raised. The Government is convinced that the operation of the scheme over the past six years in relation to geriatric patients has demonstrated the value of people providing care to the chronically ill and infirm.
The Government has now recognised the significant contribution made by the people concerned towards the welfare of younger patients with similar long term nursing care by extending the eligibility for the domiciliary care benefit for eligible patients over 16 years of age. The benefit of $2 day is presently restricted to people caring for patients aged 65 years or more. The amendment to the Bill before the Committee implements this Government initiative. The benefit under the expanded eligibility criteria will be payable from 1 November 1979. Of course persons will be able to apply before that date and have their applications processed by my Department to ensure that the benefit is payable from 1 November.
The Government’s intention will be to provide a cash benefit to all people who choose to care for their chronically ill or infirm relatives at home irrspective of the age of the patient. This is provided either by way of the handicapped child ‘s allowance payable to a mother or guardian to help meet the exceptional costs of bringing up a severely or substantially handicapped child up to 16 years of age, up to 25 years of age if a full time student or by the domiciliary nursing care benefit payable to a person who provides adequate nursing or other care to an older child or adult in his or her home.
-The Opposition supports the amendment moved by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). The Opposition also felt it was necessary and has previously called for this change to be made to the arbitrary age limit. We are pleased that the Government has agreed to our proposal that this change be introduced.
– I congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) for implementing a commitment made by the Government during an election campaign. I believe it is a tremendous step forward for those people in our society who are chronically ill and who up until this stage have been prevented from being included in the domiciliary home care scheme because of the age limitation. Congratulations to the Minister on this significant advance.
– I join with the honourable member for Murray (Mr Lloyd) in congratulating the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and the Government on this most excellent initiative. The legislation provides for people faced with hardship who are determined to look after their near and dear ones rather than commit them to what we might term other institutions’.
– The humbug party!
– I take on board that insult to people in Australia who for many years under extreme difficulties have laboured to keep the chronically ill relatives in their own homes without any help from the previous Labor administration. It is good to see that the present Minister for Health has taken heed of the representations that have been made to him. I know that many representations have been made by members of the Liberal Party and by members of the National Country Party. He has taken on board the initiatives which have been displayed by them. This is in contrast to a Labor administration which during its period of office put an age limit on eligibility of people to receive this benefit. I have always personally maintained that the benefit should be given on account of the illness rather than the age. Under the previous rules, that was not possible and it created an injustice.
I join with the honourable member for Murray in congratulating the .Minister. I also . congratulate the honourable member for the efforts that he has made over a long period. I would say that there is no prouder ‘man in Australia than the honourable member for Murray, who has displayed great initiative and courage in this matter.
– I too applaud this measure. Nevertheless, I think it is somewhat belated and the domiciliary care benefit ought to have been increased. It is simply a matter of economics is it not? For instance, the domiciliary care benefit is $2 a day or $14 a week. The benefit is payable on visits by a community nurse. Assuming that the wages and the ancilliary costs associated with the employment of a community nurse are about $300 a week and the nurse looks after 10 patients a week, it costs $440 to keep people in their own homes. If they are in a nursing home and attracting a benefit of $13.65 a day or $95.55 a week, the total cost for 10 people is $950. Obviously it is more economic to keep people at home than it is to pay the recurrent and capital expenditure associated with nursing homes. I can only suggest to the Government that it should increase this benefit from $2 a day to at least $5 a day. It would still come out a mile in front.
– There appears to be some vying for credit for this measure. I would just remind the Opposition members that the runs are on the board and the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) has produced the goods. There is no doubt whatsoever that this measure will save money in the long term, but that is not the point. It is cost effective and that is what many of us on the Government side of the chamber have been saying to the Minister for a long time. This debate provides us with a chance to remind honourable members and the people of Australia that concern for the socially disadvantaged is typical of this Government. The socially disadvantaged will always win under a government of our persuasion.
Opposition members- Ha, ha!
-There is much laughter from the members of the Opposition. They are very good on words but when it comes to effective deeds we see that they are very small. I remind the Opposition of this Government’s record. I instance the indexation of pensions that was introduced for the very first time by this Government. I instance family allowances, which for the very first time gave low income families an opportunity to take advantage of money that would go to mothers to assist in the support of their children. I also instance the massive amount of money that is going into the funding of aged people’s accommodation. These forms of assistance are going not to relatively well off people but to the socially disadvantaged. The assistance is going to them because of the positive measures of this Government. I am most relieved that after quite some time during which there were many representations from members of this place the domiciliary nursing care benefit is to be extended in a time when the Australian people understand that the Government needs to be careful with taxpayers’ money. This is a most commendable measure and I know that both sides of the chamber support it.
– I too congratulate the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) on extending the domiciliary nursing care benefit. It is an humane decision. I also congratulate the Australian Labor Party shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Prospect (Dr Klugman), because the honourable member and I spoke to the Minister -
– You forced him into it.
– That is right. Approximately three years ago I spoke to the Minister about two cases in the electorate of Sydney. One involved a blind person who was being looked after by her daughter and the other involed a woman 99 years of age who was being looked after by a daughter 60-odd years of age. Because the legislation provided that the nursing sister had to make two visits a week, these people were denied the benefit of $2 a day. I went to see the Minister while he was at a Christmas function. I knocked on the door and again asked whether there was any possible chance of these two people being looked after. There was publicity about this matter. I am pleased to say that the Minister was sympathetic. The legislation is now being changed to give all people a benefit.
– Even though it took three years.
– It might have taken three years but I congratulate the Minister because he was trying to do his best. Although the benefit is only $2 a day, it saved many people from having to go into nursing homes. As has been stated by members on both sides, the decision to extend the benefit is an humane action. It will give people a chance to look after their loved mothers or fathers at home rather than sending them to a nursing home. We should be looking after older people. I congratulate the Minister.
Proposed new clause agreed to.
Bill, as amended, agreed to.
Bill reported with an amendment; report- by leave- adopted.
Bill (on motion by Mr Hunt)- by leave- read a third time.
House adjourned at 11.1 p.m.
The following answers to questions upon notice were circulated:
asked the Minister Assisting the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 8 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following information has been obtained from departments and authorities:
b ) Forty-five typist positions have been relinquished.
It should also be noted that the majority of installations quoted in 2 (c) above will be in replacement of existing automatic typewriter installations and that all machine numbers given refer to keyboard /workstations. With regard to 2 (b) and 2(d) above, I have been advised by the Public Service Board that no typists have been retrenched from the Australian Public Service as a result of the introduction of word processing equipment, and that no retrenchments are expected as a consequence of installations now planned. (Note: The information provided is based upon information current at the end of 1 978. )
asked the Minister for Post and Telecommunications, upon notice, on 15 November 1978:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 28 February 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The NH & MRC has approved recommendations limiting noxious gaseous and particulate emissions from fixed sources (industrial emissions) and from mobile sources such as motor vehicles, and has made recommendations on the restriction of the lead content of petrol. It has also approved guidelines for hygienic standards in the atmosphere of the workplace.
Ozone does have certain adverse health effects depending on its concentration in the ambient air. Such health effects may include irritation of the eyes, nose, throat and lungs and discomfort associated with breathing. Although ozone levels of 0.2-0.4 parts per million are usually reached before symptoms are experienced, less severe effects have been attributed to lower concentrations.
Attempts to relate the onset of specific health effects to varying levels of ozone in the atmosphere have been made but the difficulty of associating a particular health effect to a specific air pollutant is immense. The World Health Organisation (WHO) long term goal, of 0.06 parts per million for ozone, is, as stated, a long term goal, not to be seen as a level capable of immediate achievement, particularly in the city environment. This goal is more stringent than the prescribed levels that have been adopted by some countries as a basis for legislation. As Minister for Health it is my responsibility to ensure that any association between health incidence and photochemical pollution are adequately researched.
Carbon monoxide can effect psychomotor function e.g. lassitude and headache are reported when an equilibrium level of 10 per cent carboxyhaemoglobin is reached following exposure to 60 parts per million of carbon monoxide for over eight hours. Chronic effects are believed to include damage to the cardio-vascular system. Animal experiments indicate that the observed relationship between cardiovascular disease and cigarette smoking, (which raises carboxyhaemoglobin levels), may well be explained in terms of the chronic or repeated exposure to the carbon monoxide.
According to WHO the ambient air carbon monoxide concentrations required to reach a 4 per cent carboxyhaemoglobin level in blood, in one, eight and 24 hours are 100, 30 and 25 parts per million respectively.
(a) There is no established incidence in Sydney of disease caused by oxidants or carbon monoxide as general environmental pollutants. A recent survey by Dr Gibson of the Australian National University, however, suggests an association between air pollution in Sydney and below average lung functions.
As no relevant incidence has yet been established in Australia in any year, change is not quantifiable, nor, over a 30 year period, are there any relevant data.
asked the Minister for Employment and Youth Affairs, upon notice, on 28 February 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Prime Minister, upon notice, on 22 March 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
I refer the honourable member to my answer to Senate Question No. 780 (Senate Hansard, 10 May 1979, page 1888).
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
Medical Association Journal, 8 March 1975, wherein Stephen M. Drance, M.D., Chairman of the Department of Opthalmology, University of British Columbia, in an article entitled ‘Myopia- genes or environment?’ states that a study of an isolated community failed to support the orthodox view that myopia is influenced by heredity, suggesting that schooling could be a factor, quoting supporting evidence from experiments on primates and calling for research which may prevent myopia and reduce blindness.
Brumer’s claims to be able to prevent, retard and relieve myopic patients and others by modified approaches to refractive correction.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
(a) This is a matter for the Victorian College of Optometry and I am unable to comment.
Experiments with Live Animals (Question No. 3718)
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 1 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 4 April 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 2 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Health, upon notice, on 3 May 1 979:
What percentage of GDP was Federal health expenditure in(a) 1976-77,(b) 1977-78 and(c) 1978-79.
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The eight unsuccessful competitors for the contract were:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The three unsuccessful competitors for the contract were:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 8 May 1 979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Transport, upon notice, on 9 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Administrative Services, upon notice, on 10 May 1979:
– The answer to the honourable member’s question is as follows:
The following information therefore relates to these offences:
One offender resides in the Electoral Division of Isaacs. This person has not yet appeared in court.
Five offenders, not residents, have committed offences in the Electoral Division of Isaacs: two have appeared before a Magistrates Court and both have been placed on a S200 bond and ordered to pay $ 1 00 into the court poor box; three have yet to appear in court.
Ninety-one cases in the Electoral Division of Isaacs are still under investigation.
Cite as: Australia, House of Representatives, Debates, 4 June 1979, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/hofreps/1979/19790604_reps_31_hor114/>.