30th Parliament · 1st Session
The PRESIDENT (Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke) took the chair at 11 a.m., and read prayers.
– I present the following petition from 1 75 citizens of Australia:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate, and the Honourable the Speaker and Members of the House of Representatives in Parliament assembled, the Petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth:
That distress is being caused to social security recipients by the delay in adjusting pensions to the Consumer Prices Index months after prices of goods and services have risen, and that medications which were formerly pharmaceutical benefits must now be paid for.
Additionally, that State housing authorities’ waiting lists for low rental dwellings for pensioners grow ever longer, and the cost of funerals increase ever greater.
Your petitioners call on the Australian Government as a matter of urgency to:
Adjust social security payments instantly and automatically when the quarterly Consumer Prices Index is announced.
Restore pharmaceutical benefits deleted from the free list.
Update the State Grants (Dwellings for Pensioners) Act of 1974, eroded by inflation, to increase grants to overcome the backlog.
Update Funeral Benefit to 60 per cent of reasonable cost of funeral. (This benefit was 200 shillings, 20 dollars, when introduced in 1943. It was seven times the 1943 pension of 27 shillings a week).
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray.
Petition received and read.
– Petitions have been lodged for presentation as follows:
To the Honourable the President and Members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned citizens of Australia respectfully showeth that the recent budgetary allocations endanger the quality of Australian education, especially for disadvantaged groups, and, in particular, for migrants, Aboriginals and tertiary students from poor backgrounds.
Your petitioners believe that all persons admitted to institutions of ternary education in Australia have a right to adequate living conditions and that it is the responsibility of Government to ensure that sufficient funds are allocated to protect that right.
Your petitioners therefore humbly pray:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Ryan.
To the Honourable the President and members of the Senate in Parliament assembled. The humble petition of the undersigned respectfully showeth:
That whereas all people should have the right to life, liberty, and political and religious freedom; and whereas there are increasing reports on human slaughter and repression by the Communist-led government in Cambodia; your petitioners humbly pray, that the Senate, in Parliament assembled, should:
And your petitioners as in duty bound will ever pray. by Senator Knight.
– I give notice that 6 sitting days after today I shall move:
That Amendment No. 6 of the Telecommunications (General) By-laws, made on 20 May 1976 under the Telecommunications Act 1 975 be disallowed.
-I ask the Minister for Science: Can he explain to the Senate why the decimetre has not become a standard unit of measurement under Australia’s metric system?
– I realise how anxious the Opposition is to have short answers from Ministers. My answer to the question is no.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for
Transport. Is it a fact that mainland fruit growers, being fearful of the competition from the high quality Tasmanian apples and pears arising from the removal of the freight disadvantage which Tasmania previously has suffered, are endeavouring either to have the Tasmanian fruit exempted from the freight equalisation scheme or to have the Minister modify the schedule. Can the Minister reassure Tasmanian growers that mainland pressures will not jeopardise this magnificent scheme which means so much to Tasmanian industries?
– I have heard from several sources that there is a fear amongst Tasmanian. fruit growers that there will be an attempt to break down the freight equalisation scheme to the prejudice . of Tasmanian fruit growers. I have no knowledge of the fact of any such attempts. I understand quite clearly the apprehension of Tasmanian fruit growers in this regard, as they depend very substantially upon mainland markets for their well-being. Because it is important, I will bring the matter to the attention of my colleague the Minister for Transport and ask him to give the honourable senator an answer.
– Can the Minister for Science inform the Parliament whether a millibar adjustment is carried out at the beginning of each cyclone season and again at the end of each cyclone season? What is the number of millibars in each adjustment and what is the reason for the adjustment? Can he also inform the Parliament of the highest and lowest millibar recordings in cyclones in Australia and when those cyclones occurred?
-Obviously that is a Dorothy Dix question and it would take too long to give the answer! If the honourable senator places his question on the notice paper I shall seek an answer for him.
– I direct my question to the Minister representing the Attorney-General. Did he see in the Press a report of a conference at the weekend at which the Labor shadow AttorneyGeneral, Mr Bowen, stated that the Senate has no power to dismiss a government by refusing Supply? Does that view fit in with the view expressed in this chamber by former Senator Murphy, now Mr Justice Murphy, and the view expressed by Mr Whitlam before he became Prime Minister of Australia? Can the Minister also relate that view to the views of other great constitutionalists on this question?
– I certainly did see, with very grave concern, a statement made by Mr Bowen, the shadow Attorney-General. Presumably he is the man who provides the highest legal advice to the Opposition and, if it ever were returned to governnent, would supply it to that Labor Government. Although Mr Bowen made a personal explanation about this matter, claiming to have been misreported, I note that he is recorded in Hansard as having said that section 53 of the Constitution did not give the Senate power of rejection and that there was no need to receive the Senate’s approval to a Supply Bill. I think the Australian people should take the greatest notice and heed, of that statement, and the greatest warning. Senator Wood asked’ me whether that view is in accordance with other views expressed by notable Labor leaders, particularly Mr Justice Murphy, as he now is, and even the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Whitlam. That statement sits very strangely with statements which were made by those 2 leading members of the Labor Party and which are well known. I think they are of such importance that I ought to refer to them again. Mr Whitlam, on 25 August 1 970, in speaking in the Budget debate of that year, said:
We intend to press our opposition by all available means on all related measures in both Houses.
He meant in the Senate as well as in the House of Representatives. He went on:
If the motion is defeated, we will vote against the Bills here and in the Senate. Our purpose is to destroy the Government which has sponsored it.
He said later, and correctly:
An election is the only way to give them the opportunity.
He was referring to the position the Opposition was trying to create in 1970. Senator Murphy, as he then was, when speaking in the Senate on the States Receipts Duties (Administration) Bill in June 1 970-1 remind the Senate of his wordssaid:
The Senate is entitled and expected to exercise resolutely but with discretion its power to refuse its concurrence to any financial measure, including a tax Bill. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers except the limitations imposed by discretion and reason. The Australian Labor Party has acted consistently in accordance with the tradition that we will oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill or other financial measure whenever necessary to carry out our principles and policies.
I think there are even higher authorities on this subject than Mr Justice Murphy or Mr Whitlam. I refer to a quotation from the convention debates in 1891 by Sir Samuel Griffith, the first
Chief Justice of Australia and one of the founders of the Constitution.
– I take a point of order. Question time is being taken up by a ministerial statement. The question was supposed to be a question without notice. A printed answer is being read. Senator Wood asked whether Mr Bowen said certain things and whether they conflicted with statements by Mr Whitlam and Mr Justice Murphy. The Minister replied that they did conflict. The question has been answered. Because the Minister is lacking in support in this matter he is naming all the constitutional lawyers who disagree with Mr Bowen. I suppose we should find that a lot would disagree with the Minister, if we searched the records. The question has been answered. I think it only right that question time be not taken up by long statements of Ministers justifying their actions in the past.
– I speak to the point of order. I point out that I asked not only whether Mr Bowen ‘s statement was in conflict with statements of Mr Whitlam and Senator, now Mr Justice, Murphy. I also asked whether the Minister knew of any other great constitutionalists who had given opinions.
- Senator Durack will continue with his reply.
-Thank you, Mr President. I was about to refer to a statement by Sir Samuel Griffith. I quote:
But it must be remembered that it is not proposed to deny the Senate the power of veto. Surely if the Senate wanted to stop the machinery of government the way to do that would be to throw out the Appropriation Bill. That would effectively stop the machinery of government.
I come finally to probably the greatest authority on the Constitution and one for whom I should have thought the Australian Labor Party would have had the highest respect, namely Alfred Deakin.
– I take a point of order. I do not want to take up any more time than is necessary -
– Then sit down.
– I will sit down when I am right and ready. Perhaps objection could be taken to the fact that we are now receiving a legal opinion and that is not what the Minister should be giving at question time.
– A senator cannot ask for a legal opinion, but a Minister can give one.
– Then Senator Wood should not have asked for one. On that basis he should have been ruled out of order. If we are getting a legal opinion in reply to a question, the point of order ought to be raised. I have a further point. The Minister is now raising a highly controversial matter which should be the subject of a debate. The statement that he is making and the opinions that he is quoting at present cannot be tested at question time. Perhaps he should make this statement at a later time so that we can take the opportunity to debate the issue.
– The Minister is replying to a question in the manner that he desires. He will continue his reply.
-I thought that the Opposition would be more interested in what Alfred Deakin had to say because I would have expected honourable senators opposite to accept him above all others as the greatest authority on the Constitution and one of the greatest leaders this nation has ever had. This is what Alfred Deakin said in relation to the Senate’s powers. He said it in 1 897 when they were under debate at a Constitutional Convention. He said:
Under this Constitution that right is given without qualification; and the special circumstances and certain special occasions are left to the senators themselves to determine. This power of veto may be exercised absolutely. Suppose the 2 Houses came into conflict and the main thing they are likely to come into conflict about is finance, what is the only remedy? Dissolution- an appeal to the whole people.
- Mr President, I take a point of order. I draw your attention to standing order 363 which says:
A Document relating to public affairs quoted from by a Minister of the Crown, unless stated to be of a confidential nature, or such as should more properly be obtained by Address, may be called for and made a public Document.
The document from which the Minister was reciting his answer has not been claimed by the Minister to be a confidential document and I therefore call for it to be tabled.
– The honourable senator would have to move for that to be done.
– I am very happy to incorporate all of the document. There is a great deal more interesting material in it than I quoted. In deference to the Opposition’s objections I have been selecting my quotations. I seek leave to incorporate the document.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Hansard: Representatives p. 1207
Personal Explanation by Mr Bowen.
I did say that section S3 of Constitution did not give Senate power of rejection and that it certainly did not give it the power of amendment . . . What I did say was there was no need to receive the Senate ‘s approval as long as the Supply Bill was submitted for consideration of any suggestion or request the Senate wished to make ‘.
Although he said ‘I made no claim that a Labor Government would continue to govern without Supply’ above admission is in effect a statement to effect that it would.
Governor-General need not intervene even if Section 53 of Constitution was justiciable because High Court had the power, but claims that case of Osborne V Commonwealth indicated that Section 53 was justiciable, i.e. GovernorGeneral has no powers of intervention.
QUOTES ON CONSTITUTION
Whitlam: 12 June 1970-Hansard p.3495-(States Receipts Duties (Administration) Bill).
Any Government which is defeated by the Parliament on a major taxation Bill should resign. The sooner this Government resigns the sooner the people can elect a Government . . .’
Murphy: 18 June 1970-Hansard p.2647-( Receipts Duty (Administration) Bill).
For what we conceive to be simple but adequate reasons the Opposition will oppose these measures.
In doing this the Opposition is pursuing a tradition which is well established, but in view of some doubt recently cast on it in this chamber, perhaps I should restate the position. The Senate is entitled and expected to exercise resolutely but with discretion its power to refuse its concurrence to any financial measure, including a tax Bill. There are no limitations on the Senate in the use of its constitutional powers except the limitations imposed by discretion and reason. The Australian Labor Party has acted consistently in accordance with the tradition that we will oppose in the Senate any tax or money Bill or other financial measure whenever necessary to carry out our principles and policies. The opposition has done this over the years, and in order to illustrate the tradition which has been established, … I shall incorporate in Hansard at the end of my speech a list of the measures of an economic or financial nature, including taxation and appropriation Bills which have been opposed by this Opposition in whole or in part by a vote in the Senate since 1 950 ‘.
See Hansard 1 8 June 1 970 pp. 265 1 -2654.
This number 169 to this date.
Whitlam: 25 August 1970-Hansard p. 463- (Appropriation Bill, (No. 1)).
Let me make it clear at the outset that our opposition to this Budget is no mere formality. We intend to press our opposition by all available means on all related measures in both Houses. If the motion is defeated, we will vote against the Bills here and in the Senate. Our purpose is to destroy the Government which has sponsored it. We reject the Budget but even more we reject the philosophy behind the Budget . . . We oppose and deplore the social implications of this Budget as much as its actual contents; and we have no choice but to oppose it by all the means at our disposal . . .’
The question for all Australians is whether we stand for a society embodying justice and fairness and equality of sacrifice and equality of privilege. The Budget fairly poses the question … the people should have the opportunity to answer this question themselves. An election is the only way to give them the opportunity. We have no doubt how they would answer. In such an election, on such a cause, the people would be delivering judgment not only on this Budget not only on the Gorton Government, but on themselves as a nation. If, as I firmly believe they stand for justice, for the fair go, they will throw out this disgraceful Budget and with it throw out this discredited Government’.
Whitlam: 1 October 1970-Hansard: pp. 1971-2
We all know that in British parliaments the tradition is that if a money Bill is defeated … the Government goes to the people to seek their endorsement of its policies. The Government did not do this. If this Bill had been introduced again and defeated again the Government should still go to the country. In fact, if the Bill were now rejected, more than 3 months after the previous rejection, and Bill had again been rejected, the Government could have had a double dissolution . . . obviously the Government is not prepared to run that risk.
Gorton: 30 September 1973-Federal File
The only way that an Opposition could properly bring on an election on the sort of grounds of responsibility that I’ve mentioned, is not by meddling around and throwing out bits of Bills or bits of other Bills: it’s by forcing the Government to go to the country and the only way you can do that is by cutting off its monetary supply’.
Schil: ‘Would that be regarded as irresponsible?’
Gorton: ‘Well, it’s a matter of judgment. If it’s irresponsible to force a Government to go to the country, after all the dangers of the bad paths . . . ‘
Francis West, ‘Constitutional Crisis 1975- An Historian’s View’, Australian Quarterly, Vol. 48, No. 2, 1972. (Dean of Social Science and Professor of History and Government, at Deakin University, Geelong)
Section 53 of Constitution states that Senate may not amend laws “appropriating revenues or monies or imposing taxation” although it has equal power with House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws. ‘
Section 49 of the Constitution says “that the powers, privileges and immunities of the Senate are those of the House of Commons.’
The Australian Constitution is a statute and it defines the Senate ‘s powers. ‘ Against this convention has little weight as “You cannot have a convention which says that the Constitution means the reverse of what it says, for you cannot have with a written constitution, a convention which is itself unconstitutional, unless you can cite a series of judicial decisions which so interpret it. In the absence of High Court decisions the only argument left . . . would be an historical demonstration that the Founding Fathers intended something other than actually what they said. This was not so as the greatest amount of time was devoted to the Senate’s powers ‘.
SEE STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-GENERAL
The Australian Constitution spells out, in so many words, certain British political customs and conventions which thereby become written rules.
Particularly it spells out . . . convention where it is being changed from British practice. This was deliberately done in the case of the Senate’s being different from the House of Lords.
O’Connell; ‘The Dissolution of the Australian Parliament, 11 November 1975’ The Parliamentarian, LVII, No. I, 1976. (Chichele Professor of Public International Law, University of Oxford)
Theory of constitutional convention on Subject of Supply in Australia is not readily sustainable. To alter the intendment of the written text of Constitution there would have to be:
1 ) practice to th at effect;
support of practice by general consensus.
Francis West, op. cit. Australian Quarterly
There is no such practice but Constitution has been interpreted to mean that by never using its ‘theoretical’ powers the Senate in practice had always accepted the paramountcy of the House of Representatives.
But this is a political, not judicial interpretation since it asserts that the Constitution means other than what it says.
SUMMARY OF STATEMENT BY ATTORNEY-GENERAL ON: THE DISMISSAL OF THE LABOR GOVERNMENT
Sir Owen Dixon: “… if a difficulty arises between the executive government and the Parliament it shall be resolved in an appeal to the people, and we place on the representative of the Sovereign the responsibility of saying whether the case is one for the dissolution of Parliament and a general election. This we can do because we have proudly preserved the monarchy as the apex of our constitutional system. (Government under the Constitution).’
With respect to the relationship between the two Houses on money bills, it was decided that the Constitution should make express provision and not leave it to practice to be derived from other countries. Sir Henry Parkes said at the first Convention (Convention Debates 1891, p. 26): (N.B. Against Westminster Analogy).
I contend that it will be absolutely necessary not to trust to derivations to be drawn from principles or practice in other countries, but to expressly provide that all money bills shall originate and undergo amendment only in the House of Representatives. ‘
The framers of the Constitution did not leave the relationship between the two Houses to convention but expressly defined it in Section 53.
Sir Samuel Griffith described it ( Debates 1 89 1 , p. 429):
But it must be remembered that it is not proposed to deny the Senate the power of veto. Surely if the Senate wanted to stop the machinery of Government the way to do that would be to throw out the Appropriation Bill. That would effectively stop the machinery of Government in a Federation. There is much more likelihood of that power of rejection being used than there is of the power of amendment being used.’
Deakin (Debates, 13 April 1897, p. 507) said:
Under this Constitution that right* is given without qualification; and the special circumstances and certain special occasions are left to the Senators themselves to determine. This power of veto may be exercised absolutely. Suppose the two Houses came into conflict and the main thing they are likely to come into conflict about is finance, what is the only remedy? Dissolution- an appeal to the whole people. ‘
- The Senate’s power of rejection.
Barton (Debates, 15 September 1897, p. 620) said with regard to the Senate’s veto of money bills and thus to destroy the Government’s capacity to govern:
It is only when the fuel of the machine of Government is withheld that the machine comes to a stop and that fuel is money.’
Deakin (Debates, 30 March 1897, p. 295) said that if Government’s money bills are vetoed by the Senate there should be an election:
If the Senate decided to take the important step of rejecting the financial policy of the executive, what would happen? It would thus challenge the policy of the Government and the Government would consult the electors. ‘
A number of delegates conceived that party Government would operate after Federation.
For some delegates it was in relation to the stoppage of supply that a need for section 57 arose. Barton (Debates, 15 September 1897, p. 620).
Section 53 of Constitution says:
Except as provided in this section the Senate shall have equal power with the House of Representatives in respect of all proposed laws.’
The description by the paper writers of this as a literal interpretation of a merely theoretical power to refuse supply seems to be an attempt to use political arguments to determine what is essentially a question of constitutional law.
Reading words of limitation into Section 53 relies on several arguments.
However a House considering a measure has many alternatives: it may pass, amend, defer, or reject it. There is no suggestion in parliamentary practice or Section 53 that one must precede the other.
This view also overlooks Sections 1 and 58 of Constitution.
Section I vests legislative power in the Queen, Senate and House of Representatives.
Section 58 contemplates that a bill will only be presented to the Governor-General after it has passed both Houses.
Evidence of Whitlam’s acceptance of the Senate’s power to reject:
It is apparent from a reading of the Constitution that some powers are given to:
Powers of dissolution in sections 5 & 57 are given to Governor-General. Executive Councillors and Ministers of State hold office during the pleasure of the GovernorGeneral.
I believe the framers of the Constitution clearly had the question of reserve power well in mind. Evatt and Forsey, both socialists, give many illustrations of reserve power to:
If it were not for the reserve powers the Governor-General would be a mere automation to do the bidding of a Prime Minister. In 1972 Sir Paul Hasluck said:
It is not that the Governor-General . . . can overrule elected representatives of the people but in the ultimate he can check the elected representatives in any rule of law or the customary usages of Australian Government and he could do so by forcing a crisis. ‘
It is open to the Governor-General to obtain advice on the constitutional question from other quarters- perhaps from the Chief Justice, the Attorney-General or eminent counsel- and then a solemn responsibility rests on him to make a judgment on whether a dissolution is needed to serve the purpose of good Government … by giving to the electorate the duty of resolving a situation which Parliament cannot resolve for itself. In crude terms the case for dissolving Parliament in mid term is that Parliament has become unworkable. ‘
We do not know what passed between Mr Whitlam and the Governor-General except that the Governor-General in his letter said:
You have previously told me that you would never resign or advise an election of the House of Representatives or a double dissolution . . .’
It is unlikely that Sir John Kerr would have written that if it had not been true. When a parliament moves into a crisis situation such as occurred in October 1975 there is a great need for statesmanship on part of Crown ‘s Chief Adviser for this is the Crown’s protection. ‘He is under a special duty to give that advice which will resolve the crisis without involving the Crown’s representatives in it personally’. While Governor-General has been accused of deceit and impropriety an objective legal analysis is what is required.
Lists a number of relevant facts, which have already been raised.
Believing that the Constitution appeared to give the Senate this power (even though you might have thought its actions wrong), knowing that a half-Senate election would in all probability not solve the problem, knowing that you were after all choosing a course which in the circumstances and the Constitution permitted of sending the whole Parliament to the people and confronted with a choice- would you have thought it unreasonable to take this course?’
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Foreign Affairs. Is the Minister aware of the considerable concern of a large number of Australian citizens over the trial of Archbishop Lamont in Rhodesia? First, can the Minister inform the House whether, notwithstanding the fact that Australia does not have diplomatic relations with Rhodesia, the Australian Government has made any endeavours to send one of Australia’s diplomatic staff in South Africa to observe the trial of Archbishop Lamont? Secondly, what is the Government’s attitude towards applications from former Rhodesian nationals who wish to migrate to Australia? Has the Australian Embassy in South Africa been directed to adopt a favourable attitude towards such applications or is it correct, as I have been informed, that the Australian Embassy is not even bothering to reply to such applications?
-I think that general concern is shown about a trial which may not be on all fours with the sort of justice we have in this country. The second part of the question related to whether the Government has made any attempt to send observers to Rhodesia. I shall have to ask my colleague in the other place about that. I suppose that this is one of the problems which arises. It is so easy to break off all relations and put people in quarantine that when something happens it is difficult to return to take action to protect other people. As to the last part of the question, I think that I ought to ask not only my colleague the Minister for Foreign Affairs but also my colleague the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs as to whether the allegation is valid.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Science. I remind him of a question by Senator Button 2 days ago seeking the current rate of conversion between millimetres and inches, and of other questions today relating to other metric measurements. Will the Minister agree that speculation on conversion rates has generally been considered to be highly irresponsible, whether it applies to millimetres, joules, ergs, dynes or dollars? Nevertheless, will he agree that the current and official conversion rate of 25.4 millimetres to the inch remains and that any speculation that the parity could alter is, to borrow a current phrase, ‘just not on ‘?
– It is correct, as the honourable senator states, that the metric conversion rate is bound to stay. It will be with us, irrespective of questions asked or conversations held throughout Australia. It is a fact that 3.94 points are the equivalent of 1 millimetre. The conversion is fairly simple. Senator Baume ‘s conversion of 25.4 millimetres to an inch of rain is quite correct. I make no comment on the possibility of other conversion rates. Apparently, there is speculation abroad in that field.
-I ask the Minister for Science to recall an undertaking he gave to Senator Knight in the Senate on 23 March 1976 that he would take up with his State colleagues the problem of European carp affecting filtration systems in certain areas of Australia. Can the Minister assure the Senate that he has done this with all State Ministers and, in particular, with the Tasmanian Minister?
-Senator Knight showed a great deal of interest in the infestation of carp in the waters of the Australian Capital Territory. My recollection is that I told Senator Knight that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation which had been investigating this problem stood ready to take requests from any State government which might ask it to research this matter. If I remember my answer correctly, I stated that the Victorian Government, which is a Liberal Government, had taken action on behalf of the people in its State, had contacted a British institution and was sending samples of carp to that institution. The fish were being looked at to see whether it was possible by breeding to neutralise the male so that no more carp would breed in certain waters. I did not contact every State Minister and I would not expect to do so. Neither did I say that I would do so.
If the Tasmanian Government wishes to do something and if it has not the research facilities it knows that the greatest research facility in Australiaan acknowledged world research facility-is available to it at the CSIRO. The CSIRO has been investigating carp over past years. This has been the subject of questions in this place. Further development has taken place because of the interest Senator Knight has shown. It has been conveyed to me that he has been attempting to find a use for carp. He has tasted carp which have been cooked in various ways. He advises me that there is a strong possibility that if research could be carried out into ways in which carp could be consumed it might eventually be found to be a delicacy. He does not feel that it is so at the present time but smoking, soaking and other research may establish that carp can be used in other ways. I see that Senator Grimes is anxious to ask another question on the same matter. I reiterate that if the Government of Tasmania has taken an interest in this matter he may be able to tell me where it has contacted me in relation to it.
-Mr President, I wish to ask a supplementary question and I apologise to the Senate. Do I understand from the Minister’s words that he is denying that he gave an undertaking to the Senate that he would take up with his State colleagues the problem of European carp affecting the filtration systems in certain areas of Australia?
-The honourable senator asks whether I recall my words at some date in March. I do not recall the actual words I used. My understanding is that I answered that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation would stand ready to take up research, if it were requested by State governments. To the best of my knowledge, that has not been done.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Administrative Services. I refer to a seminar at the National Library of Australia in March this year at which resolutions ‘ were passed seeking improved library services for visually and physically handicapped persons. Can the Minister say what action has been taken to initiate a survey of braille and talking books available throughout Australia and to compile a national catalogue of this material? Can the Minister also say whether consideration might be given to the establishment of a National Library service for the visually and physically handicapped along the lines of services provided by the United States Library of Congress?
-I am informed that the National Library has written to almost 300 Australian organisations seeking information which would help improve library services for the blind and physically handicapped.
– Has it written to Western Australia?
-I said that it had written to 300 Australian organisations seeking information which would help improve library services for the blind and physically handicapped. Maybe that is a matter for jocular comment, but I do not think it is. This survey is designed to ascertain what braille and talking book material is available in Australia. It also is designed to ascertain the nature and scope of existing collections, where they are located and the number of readers they serve. We hope that the immediate result of this survey will be a directory listing those organisations which have collections of braille and talking books.
As to the latter part of the honourable senator’s question, the establishment of a National Library service in this area would involve substantial funding and, whilst I know that everybody is keen to do as much as possible, I think that things other than what we are doing at the moment most probably will have to wait for a presentation on this subject by me to the Government when the next Budget is being put together.
– My question is directed to you, Mr President. I preface it by saying that when Senator Durack was answering a question without notice he was asked to table a document. Instead of doing that, he got leave of the Senate to incorporate that document in Hansard. Will you look into what is published in Hansard? Will Hansard show the typewritten document; will it show the notes at the side of the document; will it show the underlining; and will it show the crosses through paragraphs which were not acceptable for inclusion in an answer to a question? Will you do that in order to see that we get a true reprint of what appears in the document?
– The document will be incorporated in Hansard in accordance with the indicated desire of the Minister.
-Mr President, may I make an explanation in regard to this matter?
– Yes. I call Senator Durack.
– The document from which I was quoting contained notes that I had prepared in anticipation of a speech which I may well yet make in the Senate on the matter. Any notes in my handwriting or any lines through what is in the document were put there simply to assist me to determine what I would be selecting for use today. They have no significance in relation to rejection of any of the material contained in the document.
– I address my question to the Minister for Education. Has he seen reports of a statement by the President of the Australian Teachers Federation that by the end of this year a quarter of a million children will be taught in one-room portable classrooms and that no new libraries, art classrooms or general purpose classrooms will be built over the next financial year? Has the Minister noticed that the reason for this claim is that schools are $50m short in their building programs, according to the President of the Australian Teachers Federation? Are those claims true?
– I saw the report. Indeed the report follows upon, as I think it indicates, a visit by a deputation from the Australian Teachers Federation to me. Honourable senators will be interested to know that throughout the time I have been the Minister I have had very regular and useful meetings with the Australian Teachers Federation. We propose to meet at very frequent intervals. We had such a meeting recently.
The Australian Teachers Federation did raise with me the need for further capital commitment above that which is contained in the Schools Commission report and which will be a matter of submission by the Government to the Senate in the near future. Since the Australian Teachers Federation is talking about the backlog of capital building of classrooms, I should remind the Senate that the substantial reason for the backlog is that in August last year the then Whitlam Labor Government decided to cut education in its 4 education commissions by $105m for this year, and it did so. The heaviest hit area was capital and capital construction. The heaviest part of the Schools Commission commitment for funds was in respect of capital, my own memory being that something like an $80m reduction in capital was made for 1976 as distinct from 1975. Therefore the backlog as we turn into next year is entirely due to the fact that the Whitlam Government made a decision to cut back -
– I rise on a point of order. This part of the answer has no relationship to the question asked by Senator Martin. The honourable senator’s question related to a visit by members of the Australian Teachers Federation to the Minister.
– On the point of order, I asked the Minister whether the reason given for these claims was true and the reason given was that this Government had not provided $50m for a building program. I believe that the Minister is answering that question.
– I call Senator Carrick.
– I repeat in response both to Senator Martin and to the Australian Teachers Federation that the primary reason for the backlog in school building construction is the substantial cutback in capital works made by the Whitlam Government in August last year. I am happy to say that in the triennium that is now foreshadowed involving 1977 and the 2 subsequent years we have restored real money growth and triennial funding and progressively more money will be made available both for recurrent and capital works.
-I direct my question to Senator Webster. I refer to a question asked earlier by Senator Grimes who asked Senator Webster whether or not he had implemented the obligation he gave on 27 March to take up with certain States matters relating to the question of the infestation of European carp. Senator Webster gave a lengthy answer. I will not quote all of what he said. I will not refer to the part of the answer in which he informed us how well the European carp can leap and how they ingest mud from the bottom and squirt it out in a mucky spurt. I will just refer to the precise words he used. He said:
I shall take up the problem with my State colleagues who have their departments viewing this matter.
I ask the Minister: Is it a result of his bad memory that he did not realise what he was reading at the time, or was he trying to mislead the Senate?
-The Leader of the Opposition puts an offensive question to me and one should not answer it. The fact is that if the honourable senator reads the words in their correct sense he will see that I say that I will take up the matter with those Ministers who are interested in it. The wording that the honourable senator read a moment ago indicates that I will take the matter up with those States which are interested. In short I knew that my State of Victoria was very concerned and I took the matter up with it. I have some recollection of the matter being discussed with a Tasmanian Minister. I have some recollection, but I am not certain whether it was on this particular point. But in truth I say that until I have read the question and referred to correspondence I am not able to give a proper answer to the honourable senator. I shall seek the information and give it on a future date in the Senate.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I have received representations from the Northern Territory regarding the fact that it is anticipated that, because of the present establishment of staff for the Department of Health and also because of the likelihood of further cuts in the number of staff throughout the Northern Territory, the Department of Health may not have sufficient staff to operate facilities such as health projects under construction and nearing completion in Darwin, Katherine, Alice Springs and other places. If this is a fact, what action is being taken to ensure that provision will be made for sufficient staff and that applications will be invited to fill the vacancies?
– I am advised by the Minister for Health that within the overall Department of Health staff ceiling it has been possible to provide the Northern Territory division with additional employment capacity in this financial year. Plans are being prepared to ensure that all essential health facility projects will be opened this financial year. However, in a time when restraint is required it may be necessary to reorder priorities with the consequent effect on staff utilisation. Every endeavour is being made to ensure that adequate health services are maintained in the Northern Territory. It has been difficult in the past to recruit and retain sufficient health staff for the Northern Territory. This has contributed, in a large degree, to many of our present difficulties. However, action to recruit medical, nursing and paramedical staff is continuing and negotiations are currently in hand to recruit a total of 12 1 officers in the above categories. I hope that this will result in adequate services for the Northern Territory. I shall inform the Minister for Health of the honourable senator’s interest in this matter.
– I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Defence. By way of preface, I point out to the Minister that it is claimed that the United States of America has the nuclear capacity to destroy the Soviet Union 35 times and that the Soviet Union has the nuclear capacity to destroy the United States 15 times. In view of the warning of the General Secretary of the United Nations, Kurt Waldheim, that the armament fever was becoming an epidemic, how seriously does the Government view the call from the recent Returned Services League Congress for Australia to embark on nuclear armament?
– My colleague in the other place, the Minister for Defence, has already made a statement on that matter. I have nothing to add to it.
-My question is addressed to the Minister for Industry and Commerce. I refer to this morning ‘s report of the projected investment of $600m in a new steel development in Western Australia. Is this not an indication of the growing confidence in the emerging economic recovery being shown by investors and businessmen and which is supported by many other prominent and experienced observers?
-Yes, it is without any doubt. One is always fascinated in Australiawhere economic recovery obviously is important to every citizen- to find so many people hoping and praying that their country will drop dead.
-My question is directed to the Minister for Science. I preface it by reminding him of recent rumours of the abolition of the Department of Science and the Minister’s stated concern that he, too, was worried about the possible abolition of his Departmentas reported in the Canberra Times on 12 May this year. Can the Minister advise the Parliament of the latest developments in regard to the rumoured abolition of his Department? How does the Minister equate this possibility with his Government’s so-called and professed concern for science and how it should be working for social goals?
– The honourable senator is correct in saying that there was news publicity some months ago concerning the possibility of the abolition of the Department of Science. The situation as I understand it at this minute is that there is no possibility of the abolition of the Department of Science. 1 certainly have not been informed of any such proposal. Interest in this matter arose from the Coombs report which, honourable senators may recall, requested a gentleman who was a mathematician, I believe, to head a task force to inquire into the matter of science and to present a report. That report brought forward a proposition which, although at that time the report had not been delivered to
Dr Coombs, prompted my comment that I believed the Coombs report would probably include the words contained in the task force report.
That task force report advocated the abolition of the Department of Science and advised that each Commonwealth department should have an interest in science and a cell related to the interests of science. My reaction to that comment was to say that I thought that that advice would probably be contained in the Coombs report. At the time I went on to say that I thought that that advice was so much against the interests of science that it was difficult to believe that any group of people could be so silly as to advocate, whilst claiming an interest in science, that the Department of Science should be abolished, no matter what government might be in power. As I said, that prompted my comment at the time that I had no doubt that the Coombs report would carry something of the advice of the science task force report. I believe that this Government is devoted to the interests of science. It has demonstrated that in its very strong financial support for science. I see no reason to believe that science will be harmed in any way under this Government.
-I ask the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development whether he is aware of the following statement made in the other place regarding the Albury-Wodonga growth centre and I quote:
The statement continued: the interest bill on the land acquired so far is approximately $6m per annum and will continue to grow.
The statement went on: . . some of the land to be acquired under the previous Government’s plans would not have been used for about 30 years. Some of it would never have been used at all.
Will the Minister ensure that any land acquisition planned by the previous Government will be investigated in detail in order to prevent the acquisition of land just for the sake of spending taxpayers ‘money?
-I am aware of the matter which Senator Lajovic mentions and my recollection of it is in the same terms as he has stated. Over a considerable period there has been some great controversy over the land acquisition policies that were pursued during the terms of the previous Government. The aim of land acquisition is twofold- first of all, to make sure that the land acquisition and land development can be such that serviced land in sufficient quantities can be obtained when it is needed and at the most reasonable price possible and, secondly, consistent with that, that undue hardship should not be caused to those from whom the land is compulsorily acquired. There has been considerable argument in recent years to the effect that the practice of acquiring land so far ahead may contain some arguably wrong elements. I am aware of that. I will direct the attention of my colleague, the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development in another place, to the question asked by the honourable senator and, specifically, to the final part of his question.
– I ask the Minister for Social Security whether she will deny the strong rumours that, if State governments announce a decision not to fund the Australian Assistance Plan in 1977-78, Federal funds will be cut off immediately? Can the Minister give a guarantee that the Federal Government will continue to fund AAP regional councils for the rest of this financial year?
– The Government has announced already its proposals with regard to the Australian Assistance Plan. It will fund for the remainder of this financial year the persons professionally engaged in the Plan and also the projects for which commitments had been made. With regard to the earlier part of the question, concerning the possibility of the Federal Government withdrawing funds if State governments announce that they will not proceed with the Australian Assistance Plan, it has been made perfectly clear that the Federal Government has a commitment until the end of this financial year, but it has made no commitments beyond that time. It was considered that the Australian Assistance Plan was an appropriate plan to be developed at State or local government level, and the additional funding which has been provided to State and local government in the Budget this year means that those governments are in a position to decide to continue or to develop an Australian Assistance Plan or some other community development plan in a way which they consider suits their own communities. What I am saying, briefly, is that the statement that the Government made with regard to the Australian Assistance Plan prior to the Budget this year is the policy. The strong rumours, or whatever may be suggested in the honourable senator’s question, have no relevance to the Government’s policy on this matter.
– Is the Minister for Administrative Services aware that copies of the daily Hansard in recent months have been arriving later than was the case earlier this year? Does the Minister agree that the speedy provision of Hansard is important in ensuring that honourable senators are able to carry out their parliamentary duties? Will he endeavour to arrange that the supply of Hansard is made earlier than has been the case recently?
– You should lift the staff ceiling.
-I have received a number of complaints from honourable senators and honourable members. As a result of those complaints, I obtained some figures from the Government Printer some time ago. They read as follows: Of the 43 Senate Hansards printed this year to 9 September, 14 were dispatched by 9.15 a.m.; 23 were delivered by 9.30 a.m. Altogether 40 were delivered by 10.30 a.m., and the remaining 3 were delivered by 11.15 a.m. Of the 44 House of Representatives Hansards, 19 were dispatched by the Government Printer by 9.15 a.m.; 27 were dispatched by 9.30 a.m.; and 39 had been dispatched by 10.30 a.m. For obvious reasons, occasionally Hansard is late. This is due to mechanical breakdowns and such problems. The point I make is that if honourable senators do not receive their copies of Hansard early in the morning it is generally the fault not of the Government Printer but of the distribution within the Parliament. From now on I intend to monitor daily the time of delivery by the Government Printer.
-Yes, personally. I will even check when they are delivered to my office because the Government Printer has copped a lot of abuse over recent years which rightly has not belonged to him. Generally the trouble has been due to poor distribution within the Parliament. There was an interjection earlier, I think from Senator McLaren, as I commenced my remarks, as to the problems of Hansard staff ceilings. Mr President, it is not a question of staff ceilings. I think the problem can be revealed from a newspaper cutting which I have here. It carries a New York dateline and I particularly draw it to the attention of Senator McLaren and some other honourable senators. It reads as follows:
A State representative has proposed that any member of the House who speaks longer than three minutes be ‘shot, stuffed and displayed in a glass case in the State Museum’.
The order, filed yesterday by Mr James Erwin, also stipulated that this legend be hung around the neck of such executed legislators:
Here I am, forever enshrined,
My mouth is open, my teeth are shined.
My colleagues ‘treatment less than kind,
I talked them all deaf, dumb and blind. ‘
The interesting thing is that when the honourable member in that legislature in New York put down that proposal it was cheerfully killed as soon as it was read.
– I direct my question to the Minister for Science and I remind him of an answer he gave to my colleague Senator McIntosh on 27 May this year regarding an electron microscope. Is the Minister now aware of the need for such an instrument and of the support of many Australian scientists for moves to purchase such an instrument? In the light of this will the Minister now recommend the immediate purchase of the one million volt electron microscope?
-I recall the question asked by Senator Mcintosh in which he revealed that he had some advice that an electron microscope of a particular power would be of use to the community. Since I have been Minister for Science I have had no representations from anyone in authority suggesting that a microscope of that quality is required. Electron microscopes are available in Australia for the use of the science community. They are most valuable instruments. However, the original question was devoted to whether there was a definite requirement in the community for one of such power. Such a requirement has not been established to me. Undoubtedly some scientists would say that they would like to have equipment, whatever the standard happens to be, but that is not my advice at the moment.
– My question is addressed to the Minister representing the Minister for Employment and Industrial Relations and refers to a report that the Transport Workers Union in Western Australia has agreed to support the operations of ACTU-Solo in that State. Does this mean that they will continue to supply ACTUSolo stations during industrial action? Would this contravene the law on restrictive trade practices? If so, what action could the Government take?
-The Senate would appreciate that I cannot give a legal opinion.
– You gave one before.
– No, I did not. I was quoting the opinion of others, which is a different matter. However I can say this much, that the Trade Practices Act does have a restricted application to the actions of employee organisations. The Government at present is considering the recommendations of the Trade Practices Review Committee, one of which is that the application of the Act to such organisations should be extended.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Social Security. I refer to aged persons who are inmates of private nursing homes and who have a $25 gap between their fortnightly pension and the current aged nursing homes tariff. In view of the fact that the Budget contains no reference to any alleviation of this problem, does the Minister contemplate introducing any interim measures, particularly when in many instances the dependants of the aged, who are on relatively low wages, have to pick up the tab between the pension and the nursing homes tariff?
– It is not accurate to say that this matter comes within my ministerial capacity. The Minister for Health deals with the recurrent expenditure of nursing homes. However, I am happy to answer the question as Minister representing the Minister for Health. I acknowledge the very great difficulty which is being experienced. In some States the gap is even wider than the one which Senator Mulvihill mentioned. At present the Government has a committee looking into all aspects of the care of the aged. It has as one of its urgent references the matter of the financing of nursing homes. I hope that it will be reporting shortly. It is of great concern to me that persons who are in nursing homes and those who seek that sort of service have this enormous burden of cost which must be overcome in some way. I hope that shortly the Government will have the report of the committee and will be able to take some measures which will be of assistance.
– Can the Minister representing the Minister for National Resources say when the report of the River Murray Working Party will be tabled in the Senate? If there is to be any further undue delay, due apparently to the fact that the report must be tabled simultaneously in the State Parliaments of New South Wales, Victoria and South Australia, will the Minister ascertain whether copies can be made available to individual senators, as a number of copies have been made available through the Australian Government Publications and Inquiry Centre?
-Merely to get Senator McLaren off my back, I shall certainly see whether I can do what the honourable senator asks. I have no knowledge of this report, but I shall certainly seek it from my colleague. I shall seek from the Department information as to whether sufficient copies are being printed.
– My question, which is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Environment, Housing and Community Development, follows an earlier question. Is it a fact that, given funding at the rates set in past years, the Albury-Wodonga Development Corporation will go into a profit situation at the end of 12 years from the date of starting and will repay all government moneys by the end of the twentieth year?
– Since this question requires detailed information I ask the honourable senator to put it on notice, and I shall get the information for him.
– My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister assisting the Prime Minister in Public Service matters. I am continually receiving complaints from Australian Government employees that since the introduction of flexi-hours in the Commonwealth Public Service a considerable amount of time is being wasted. Some officers, I am informed, commence duty at 8 a.m. or 8.15 a.m., but due to the fact that business in the department does not commence until a later hour they waste a lot of time. Can the Minister have this matter investigated to see whether flexi-hours need to be made more workable or whether they should be scrapped altogether?
– This question is an interesting one. As far as my Department is concerned, I can say that the flexi-hours scheme has been successful. I have had no reports of the kind to which Senator Sheil referred.
– The Public Service Board in its annual report said that the scheme has been successful.
-I thank Senator Douglas McClelland. I am most grateful for his assistance in answering this question. The point which Senator Sheil raised is a matter which no doubt should be investigated. I shall pass it on to the Minister whom I represent.
– My question is directed to the Minister for Education. Is it a fact that the Department of Education has had to have the title page of 3000 copies of the report entitled Literacy and Numeracy in Austraiian Schools reprinted because of incorrect spelling on that page? If so, what are the details and what has been the total cost of the reprint? As a result of this extraordinary occurrence does the Minister have some doubts about the standard of literacy in his Department?
– I am not aware of the truth or otherwise of the allegation, but even my own Department, which is remarkably efficient, may well have had aberrations having had to withstand 3 years of Labor Government. Indeed, the general standard of numeracy and literacy in Australia has been put under question only since the aberration of that triennium. However, I shall look into the matter and let the honourable senator know. If he feels that this perhaps suggests some inferiority let me inform him that we have available the standard tests on numeracy and literacy for 10-year-olds and 14-year-olds, and I invite him and any of his colleagues to submit themselves to the test so that the results can be published for the future edification of Australia.
-I direct a question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. I preface it by saying that no doubt the Minister is aware of a growing body of evidence to the effect that the smoking of marihuana, even a moderate amount two or three times a week, can lead to potential damage to the entire cellular process of the body and damage to the respiratory system. There is also evidence that points to the serious possibility of irreversible brain damage amongst those who smoke marihuana. No doubt the Minister is also aware that in the United States of America a large number of people in their teens and early twenties already suffer irreversible brain damage and, whilst their ability to function improves if they abandon cannabis -
– You are not drawing any inferences, are you?
– It sounds as though honourable senators opposite are suffering from it.
– I rise to order, Mr President. There is a standing order which indicates that an honourable senator may not give information when he is asking a question. I respectfully suggest that that standing order has been infringed by the honourable senator and that his attention ought to be drawn to it.
– There is no substance in the point of order.
-No doubt the Minister is also aware that those people in America who suffer that damage -
– Why do you not ask the question?
– If the honourable senator will give me time I will ask the question. Even when they give up smoking marihuana they remain partial mental cripples, like some of our colleagues over yonder, and are unable fully to recover the abilities of their pre-cannabis years.
– Ask the question, please.
-Can the Minister advise the Senate what action is being taken by the Government to inform the young people of Australia of the true dangers of smoking marihuana, even in small amounts?
– I am unaware of any action or program that is being undertaken by the Government in regard to the matters that have been raised. I shall refer the question to the Minister for Health for information.
– I direct a question to the Minister for Science.
– Do not give information.
– I shall give just a slight amount of information. I remind the Minister of his media release of 9 September in relation to the progress of housing reconstruction in Darwin. Can the Minister tell us whether the new houses built since cyclone Tracy are utilising anti-cyclonic measures? If so, how many of the houses are built to withstand cyclones and what degree of stress are they built to withstand? Further is the Department currently analysing the need for anti-cyclonic housing for regions most affected by cyclones, such as in Queensland, the Northern Territory and north western Australia? Can the Minister provide details of such research and its current progress?
-I have been advised that every house that has been built in Darwin since cyclone Tracy contains a cyclone proof cell. I ascertained this information after the question had been raised and after the number of houses built had been stated in the Senate. I do not know whether the other 2 matters follow from my answer to the honourable senator’s question. Perhaps I could look at the question and give him a more complete answer.
-Will the Minister representing the Minister for the Northern Territory please indicate to the Senate what assistance is being made available to pastoralists and others who have suffered as a result of the recent bushfires in the Northern Territory?
-I am unable to answer adequately and directly the question about the compensation which may be made available. I imagine that the situation is that, upon applications being made for benefit, the applications will be studied, and if benefit is thought necessary it will be transmitted. If the honourable senator has instances of applications being made for assistance by those who have suffered through the bushfires, I will be very pleased to take them up with the Minister for the Northern Territory and to see that some advice is given to the honourable senator.
– On behalf of my colleague the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Cotton, I present, for the information of honourable senators and pursuant to section 11 of the Life Insurance Act 1945, the annual report of the Life Insurance Commissioner for the year ended December 1975.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of the Australian Council on Awards in Advanced Education for 1975.
– For the information of honourable senators I present the annual report of Qantas Airways Ltd for the year ended 3 1 March 1976.
That the Senate take note of the Paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report by the Bureau of Transport Economics entitled Townsville Airport: Economic Evaluation of Proposed International Facilities.
That the Senate take note of the Paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks at a later date.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 53 of the Overseas Telecommunications Act 1946I present the annual report on the Operations of the Overseas Telecommunications Commission for the year ended 3 1 March 1 976.
– Pursuant to section 6 of the Darwin Cyclone Damage Compensation Act 1975 I present the report on the operations of that Act for the year ended 30 June 1976. Copies of this report are expected from the printers during the course of the next few days. They will be distributed as they become available.
Senator ROBERTSON (Northern Territory) byleave- I move:
That the Senate take note of the Paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later:
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– For the information of honourable senators I present a report prepared by the Chairman of the Working Party on the Organisation of Clinical Services in Canberra Hospitals dated 1 September 1976.
That the Senate take note of the Paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– Pursuant to section 37 of the Law Reform Commission Act 1973 I present a report by the Law Reform Commission entitled Alcohol, Drugs and Driving.
That the Senate take note of the Paper.
I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
-I present the sixth report of the Publications Committee.
Report- by leave- adopted.
– I present a report on the outstanding references of the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs and move:
That the report be printed.
Ordered that the report be printed.
– I seek leave to move a motion for an extension of time for the Committee to report on the alterations of the law made by the Misrepresentation Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory and the Manufacturers Warranties Ordinance of the Australian Capital Territory.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
That the date for presenting the report of the Legislative and General Purpose Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs on (1 ) alterations of the law made by the Misrepresentation Ordinance 1965 of the Australian Capital Territory, as amended by the Misrepresentation Ordinance 1976 of the Australian Capital Territory, and (2) the alterations of the law made by the Manufacturers Warranties Ordinance 1975 of the Australian Capital Territory be extended to 30 November 1976.
I should briefly explain the need for this motion. The report which was presented to honourable senators only this morning is a report on the outstanding references and indicates that those references are proceeding and the state in which they are placed. The motion relates to the requirement that the Committee should report on these 2 Australian Capital Territory ordinances by 30 September this year. As a result of seeking evidence and submissions, the Committee has received a number of submissions and has heard a number of witnesses. The witnesses so far heard have all represented consumer organisations and consumer views and the Committee felt it necessary to seek the views of producers as well since these ordinances are a matter of some dispute. Consequently the Committee has received some such submissions and is still to receive some submissions from producer organisations.
Naturally we want to hear from them and have a balanced judgment on the whole question. In addition, some of the submissions and the evidence which have been most valuable to the Committee have raised various complex issues and questions which we need to look further into. We anticipate that we will be able to complete these references well before the date sought but it is important that all views on this subject are properly heard by the Committee before it comes to its judgment and presents its report. I therefore hope that the motion will be agreed to by the Senate.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Motion (by Senator Primmer) agreed to:
That the following matter be referred to the Senate Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs and Defence for inquiry and report: The need for an increased Australian commitment toward development in the South Pacific.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That unless otherwise ordered, Government business take precedence of general business after 3 p.m. this day and that the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate take effect at 10.30 p.m. this day.
Motion (by Senator Withers) agreed to:
That the Senate, at its rising, adjourn till Tuesday, 5 October 1976, at 2.30 p.m., unless sooner called together by the President, or, in the event of the President being unavailable owing to illness or other cause, by the Chairman of Committees
Senator WOOD (Queensland) < 12.16)- I move:
That the Fifty-fifth Report of the Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances, relating to Australian Capital Territory Ordinances containing substantive legislation, and presented to the Senate on 27 May 1976, be adopted.
The purpose of this motion is to seek the Senate’s concurrence with the Committee’s proposal that the Committee should no longer apply to Ordinances of the Australian Capital Territory its fourth principle, namely: that they are concerned with adminstrative detail and do not amount to substantive legislation which should be a matter for parliamentary enactment.
It is the intention of the Committee to continue to scrutinize Australian Capital Territory Ordinances on the basis of its other 3 principles, that is, to ensure:
The Committee’s 4 principles are not part of its terms of reference in the Standing Orders, but were recommended by the Committee and adopted in the Senate in 1938.
The reason for the proposal now put forward by the Committee is given in the, report as follows:
In 1959, with the concurrence of the Senate, the Committee ceased to scrutinize ordinances of the Northern Territory. The reason for that decision was that the partly elected Legislative Council of that Territory had power, conferred by statute, to make ordinances for the Territory, and such ordinances were no longer subject to disallowance by either House of the Parliament
The situation in the Australian Capital Territory does not correspond to the situation in the Northern Territory at that time. Although there is now a fully elected Legislative Assembly in the Capital Territory, it is itself established by ordinance and not by Act of the Parliament. The Assembly’s functions are advisory only. It has no power to make ordinances. They are still made by the Governor-General with the advice of the Executive Council, and are still subject to disallowance by either House of the Parliament.
While the Committee therefore would not be justified in withdrawing altogether from the scrutiny of A.C.T. ordinances, the Committee considers that it would be proper for it to cease to apply to ordinances of the A.C.T. the fourth principle which it adopts in scrutinising regulations and ordinances, i.e., that they should not contain substantive legislation which should be a matter for parliamentary enactment.
The report assumes that all Australian Capital Territory Ordinances are referred to the Legislative Assembly for debate before they are made. This is the present practice. In case this practice is not adhered to in the future, I wish to make it clear that the Committee is reserving the right to apply its fourth principle to ordinances which might be made in the future without first being referred to the Assembly, or which have been rejected by the Assembly. The Committee’s report sets out the third point of the terms of the agreement reached with the Minister for the Capital Territory, namely:
That the Committee would recommend to the Senate that it be authorised to revise its charter so that it will no longer apply to A.C.T. Ordinances approved by the Legislative Assembly the Committee’s fourth principle relating to substantive legislation.
Bearing that in mind, I would ask the Senate to support my motion.
– The question is: ‘That this motion be agreed to’? Those of that opinion say aye, against say no. I think the ayes have it.
– No. Under Standing Orders may I have my opposition to the adoption of the report recorded?
– You wish to have your opposition registered?
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Debate resumed from 22 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
– Before this debate was interrupted last night I was saying that health care in Australia- or any other country, for that matter- is one of the most perplexing problems that any government can have. I think all of us want to see that the health needs of the population are satisfied. I said also that in a modern community the cost of providing the health services that all the people want- I use the word ‘want’ rather than the word ‘need’ because some people tend to want many more services than they need- becomes so prohibitive that a line has to be drawn somewhere between what the Government is prepared to pay for and what the people themselves should be prepared to pay for. It has been shown in other countries that any attempt to provide totally free services leads to a strain on the economy that no responsible government can be prepared to allow. I believe that that is what we have seen developing already in Australia, even though the Medibank scheme has been operating for only a year or so. Of course, even before Medibank was introduced costs were escalating, but I do not think that the strain on the government sector was rising as rapidly as it has risen since Medibank was introduced. All the indications were that the rise in medical costs would continue. If the previous scheme had continued it would have been a rapidly increasing expense which the general taxpayer would have to meet.
Earlier this year we saw the introduction of the first legislation to alter the Labor Medibank scheme. That action was taken relatively early and before the situation was allowed to get right out of hand. I believe that the changes were necessary. We now have a need for those who can afford it to insure themselves privately with one of the private funds or with the government fund. Of course, people can do nothing about private insurance and pay a levy on their salary. During the last weeks I have spoken to many people about health insurance and have found that a fair deal of confusion is abroad. Our opponents have tried to add to this confusion and to capitalise upon it. I do not think that car stickers such as ‘Medibank slashed; what next?’ are entirely truthful. No doubt such stickers are printed and sported by those of our opponents who would like to see the economy of Australia ruined. However, I believe that the general population realises that it has to pay for medical services one way or another. I believe also that the man in the street will be pleased to see the Government attempt to rein in expenditure on health, because he realises that there cannot be an entirely free health scheme. I believe that once people have decided which scheme they will support the confusion which is abroad now will diminish rapidly.
The complexity of health care services- they are complex because in a country such as Australia they have to cater for so many different groups in the community- results in complicated legislation. No doubt, in the next few years other amendments will have to be made to the National Health Act to cater for the changing needs of the community. Incidentally, I should like to say that I have been a member of the Medical Benefits Fund for a considerable number of years.
– No commercials.
-In deference to Senator Brown, although we are not on the air I will say that I have been a member of a private health fund. 1 have chosen to remain in that scheme. Several factors have influenced my decision: Firstly, I believe in the free enterprise sector and I support the free enterprise health funds in the same way, 1 suppose, as I support the free enterprise airlines, whenever I can, rather than the government enterprise. It seems to me that the Government agencies are socialistic. That is why I chose a private fund. Secondly, I have always had good service from the -
– You were getting a commission out of them through your chemist shop.
– I do not, because I paid my fee direct. I can show the honourable senator the receipt from the fund, if he likes and he can see that what he just said is not correct.
– The receipt does not matter. The proprietor gets the commission, not the contributor.
-Not if it is paid direct to MBF. The honourable senator will have to join that fund so he can find out the secrets involved. In Tasmania a great many people are much better off for being members of the private funds. Over past years we have seen some 70 per cent of Australians retain some form of private health insurance, and I believe a great many of these will remain in the private funds.
We have before us today certain legislation that seeks to amend legislation that was considered earlier this year. This legislation has been introduced in accordance with a promise made by the Government following discussions with different groups, the health funds, the Australian Council of Trade Unions and other interested parties. The aim of some of the amendments is to help the efficiency of the funds and so to keep the costs of funds down and, indirectly, keep contributors ‘ costs down.
– They will need to improve on their past performance.
– Let us hope that they can improve. It is interesting to see that, in spite of the levy that all honourable senators on the Labor benches have been complaining about, the Government’s contribution to health will still be of the order of $1,1 20m. That is about $100 each year for each man, woman and child. It represents about one-third of the total cost. State revenue will also contribute a sizeable amount. Between the States and the insurance funds about $180 per person per year will be contributed and the Medibank levy will only make up something like $30 for each person each year.
– It is hardly worth the trouble then.
-The honourable senator might think that $375m towards the Government -
– You said so.
– I did not say it was not worth the trouble. I think it is worth the trouble and I shall get on to why I think it is worth the trouble in just a moment. The break-up per person per year is $100 from the Commonwealth, about $180 from the other 2 areas that I mentioned and about $30 from the levy. So the levy will make only a small contribution, I agree. Most of the money for health care comes from those who already pay high taxation. We have heard some criticism about the ceiling for the levy. People on higher incomes pay higher tax, both to the State and to the Commonwealth, and they also pay the highest levy. So we rightly have those people in the community who can afford to do so paying towards the health care of the less fortunate. I believe that that is the way it should be. Do not honourable senators opposite believe that?
– No. The higher your income is the less percentage you will be paying.
-People on higher incomes are paying more tax to the State and to the Commonwealth; so they are contributing more than the average towards, the health care of the country and therefore towards the less fortunate. That is quite simple, straightforward and obvious to all except some who do not want to see.
– Is that not reasonable?
– Even Mr Whitlam paid $2 1 ,000 in taxation 2 years ago.
– What is wrong with that?
– What is wrong with that?
-Who is running this show?
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)-Order!
– Some people have criticised those who have taken out extra hospital cover for private hospitals. I cannot find any criticism of that. I do not think that any of us would deny that the public hospitals in this country offer a very good service but some people, quite fairly and rightly, have decided that they want the services of a private hospital. I can find no fault with catering for the need. If people are prepared to pay an extra levy towards that I can find no criticism of that action.
– If you were knocked over by a car on a Sunday, you would be taken to a public hospital, not a private hospital.
-Yes, I know, but the insurance that one pays is used for that too. That is not a very good argument. Some of the arguments I have heard in this chamber over the past day or so have not been very conclusive. If people want to go to a private hospital I do not see why they should not be allowed to do so. It may be that they want to go to a hospital in a certain area or that they want to go to a hospital of a certain religious persuasion. That is a right I certainly support but there is more to it than that. The private hospitals of this country have offered a service over many years. If they were forced to close not only would this place a tremendous strain upon the public hospitals but it would also leave the community much worse off and much poorer than it is at the moment.
I will make a couple of comments about Medibank private insurance. It is interesting to see that those members of the Labor Party who once upon a time complained with great gusto about the number of health funds have not complained nearly as often or as loudly about the establishment of Medibank private insurance. It makes me wonder whether such people are serious in their claims that there are too many funds. Would it be closer to the truth that ideologically they want a socialist fund that they hope they would one day be able to use to squeeze the private funds out of existence.
– They will amalgamate it.
-That is what they will try to do.
– You will try to squeeze Medibank out of existence. That is your policy.
– It was a surprise to me that Medibank private insurance was established at all but it was. Medibank private insurance is a registered organisation subject to all the rules and regulations that relate to the conduct of private health funds under this legislation. It will have no competitive advantage over the other funds. In this case it will have to meet all the costs that the private funds usually have to pay such as payroll tax, sales tax and stamp duty. In no way is it intended by the Government that Medibank private insurance will have an advantage or an edge over the private funds. I am pleased to see that the Government has insisted upon that although personally I would have been happier if Medibank private insurance had not been started. As a private enterprise person I believe that private enterprise could have handled the insurance situation in an efficient manner. I believe that unless we have some financial disincentive -
– In view of the importance of what Senator Townley is saying, Mr Deputy President, I draw your attention to the state of the House. (Quorum formed.)
– I am not pleased to see that there are still only 3 Labor senators in the chamber. That quorum was called by our friend, the senator from South Australia, who I believe has the nickname ‘Feathers’. I do not know whether that is because he thinks he is an eagle. I reckon he is more like a starling than an eagle. Anyway, I appreciate the honourable senator’s thoughts. I assure him that my comments are made with good grace. I believe that there should be a financial disincentive. Unless there is, the costs of health care in the community tend to get right out of hand. I know that some people will say that a financial disincentive may stop somebody going to the doctor when he needs to. I admit that could be true. But it is also true that if people go to the doctor as often as they want to go, without any cost to themselves, it puts a strain on the health services which the country cannot stand. It is then likely that t he number of deaths that would result directly from the stretching of the health services of the country would be higher than the number of deaths that would result from a slight financial disincentive. A levy does not stop people going to a doctor. It is a human nature that if one pays towards something one will try to get a return from it- in this case from the health services. Therefore, we need a levy to help pay for the scheme. As I have pointed out, the levy is not a sizeable contribution to the cost of the whole scheme. We need a slight financial disincentive to stop over-use yet we still have to allow those without the means to receive the health care they may need at any time. I feel that these amendments help towards that aim.
The amendments also relieve the funds of paper work which they felt was unnecessary, such as sending in a list to the Government of all their contributors each year. Individuals can easily identify the fund to which they belong in their taxation returns in the same way that they give other information which the Government requires. The amendments also remove the need for a private fund to carry a person who has not paid his subscription for a couple of months. The person who has not paid can still obtain help from the fund to which he should have paid as long as he repays the outstanding amount. There is another amendment that I would like to see proposed at some stage. It relates to the ministerial power to appoint a manager to the private insurance funds if, at any time, the Minister feels he wants to do so. I feel that the Minister has far too much power at the moment without the private funds having the right to appeal to, say, the Supreme Court. I think the Government could look at this area in the near future. It seems completely at variance with the Liberal Party policy but I am sure that members of the Labor Party would like to see that provision left in the legislation.
Health care costs can cripple any government. They must be under continual scrutiny by any responsible government. There is ample evidence of what happens in countries where this is not done such as Britain, Canada or Switzerland. The level of spending on health care in any country or the amount that any country can afford to spend on health care will always be hotly debated. It is a very open and emotive issue. I hope that gradually the people of Australia come to realise j lust how much of their taxation dollar is being spent on health care. Medibank cost the Commonwealth something like $ 1,400m in the last financial year. It was anticipated that it would cost about $2,000m in this financial year. If it was allowed to increase continually in the way costs tend to increase, that is exponentially, it could have rapidly reached the stage where it would have crippled the country.
– How can you blame Medibank in that respect?
– I am saying that that is what would have happened if we had not brought in some amendments. The ruining of the economy by way of the health scheme which has been shown to happen in almost every other country with such a scheme would have played right into the hands of those subversive people who would like to see the country ruined. It was proposed in May of this year that those who used the health services should contribute something towards their cost. In that way people will perhaps begin to understand just how much the health scheme costs and will use it only when necessary. Costs can be kept down only if people realise the true cost of what they are using and with the aid of some financial disincentive. I have said that there is some confusion abroad about the schemes but I believe it is only in respect of details. Most of the people I have spoken to seem to have decided to continue with the health fund to which they have contributed for a long time.
There is one other adjustment to the scheme which I believe is warranted and that is an added incentive to people not to over-use the system. If we had some kind of no-claim system whereby people would receive $40 back from the Taxation Office, for example, or $40 off next year’s premium, we would get 2 effects. If people saved their doctors’ bills and found that they did not exceed $40 in doctors fees, they would not claim from the fund or Medibank, and this would help to reduce the multitude of small claims, the processing of which must add up to a great pan of the cost of the operations of the health funds and the entire scheme.
– Are there any figures to show how many people over-use the system?
-I am not talking about over-use of the system. I finished with that subject ages ago. Wake up. Another way of reducing the cost of operating funds and Medibank would be to allow people to claim from whatever organisation they contribute to only, say, four times a year unless they have spent more than $40, for example. They would still save their receipts but the number of claims on the schemes would be reduced. Allowance would have to be made for large bills. In that case they would have to be allowed to claim more often than every 3 months. If we could reduce the number of claims that people are making on the schemes I believe we could reduce the cost of operating our health system. I support the Bills and I thank the Senate.
-The Senate is in the process of debating three of 5 Bills which will have the effect of disabling the proven and efficient Medibank health insurance scheme which was introduced by the Labor Government. The whole thrust of the Government’s argument has been religiously reproduced parrot fashion in this chamber. I shall read from the second reading speech, on the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2). In it the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) quoted a statement by Dr Catchlove.
– Actually it is Dr B. R. Catchlove.
-I thank the honourable senator. No initials were included in the second reading speech. Dr Catchlove was speaking on behalf of the Australian Hospital Association and he said:
The Government proposals for reorganising Medibank have, we believe, made the first real attempt to come to grips with the enormous escalation in health costs, while maintaining the principle of universal health insurance.
This is the publicly stated reason why the Government is interfering with what was seen by the Australian community to be a very simple and clearly understood scheme whereby everybody was covered for standard ward accommodation. If people wished to extend their coverage to intermediate and private ward accommodation they had the opportunity to do precisely that, and at the same time to claim tax deductions in respect of payments made to the private funds. I repeat that that is the only stated public reason for this action. My belief, and I believe it is borne out by examples, is that the true reason for the Government’s assault on Medibank has nothing to do with health insurance and nothing to do with the health of the community. It is purely and simply an ideological question and it points up the philosophical and ideological difference between my Party and the present Government. Senator Townley, along with other honourable senators, simply mouthed religiously in a parrot-like fashion outrageous assertions based on the false assumption that Medibank itself is responsible for the escalation in the cost of health services.
– That is not correct. I did not say that in any way.
-Senator Townley implied that by innuendo. I ask honourable senators to consider what the Medibank scheme was all about. It was designed to provide a reservoir of funds to pay for the health services of the community, both medical and hospital. Medibank has no influence on costs. One has only to take into account the recent decision by the doctors in respect of their fees. I do not question the right of doctors to receive a reasonable salary commensurate with their profession and their responsibilities. I do not question their right to have a continuing movement in their salaries commensurate with that applying to other persons in the community in order to meet the ever-increasing cost of living. But Medibank is not responsible for that increase. Honourable senators will recall that in recent times doctors agreed to increase their charges by 7.5 per cent. This must add to the already costly services of the medical profession. I doubt very much whether this has been taken into account by the Government when making its decisions to date. Apart from that 7.5 per cent increase in their charges the new arrangements provided by the Government in this legislation will enable doctors to charge the difference between the standard fee and the actual fee and this will net them an additional 1 5 per cent.
I have dealt with the medical side and now I want to look at the hospital side. I obtained from the Parliamentary Library a copy of appropriate extracts from The Medical Journal of Australia dated 7 August 1976. This is a special article entitled ‘Hospital Staffing and Hospital Costs’. It was produced by Professor R. R. Andrew, M.D., F.R.C.P., F.R.A.C.P., of the Department of Medicine at Monash University, Melbourne. I wish to quote briefly from this article and I also seek leave of the Senate to incorporate in Hansard the tables contained in it which are of critical importance in order to substantiate what I say.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The tables read as follows-
-I thank the Senate. The article by Professor Andrew states:
A comparative study of costs per bed per day in teaching hospitals affiliated with Monash University compared with large non-teaching metropolitan hospitals (1964-1974) shows they are much higher in teaching hospitals. There is no evidence that this is due to the additional costs arising from the clinical schools. Research in the teaching hospitals and the accompanying high professional standards and demands on services are major factors accounting for the difference. Over the decade studied, the resident staff have increased by 77 per cent and other salaried staff by 24 per cent. The index of expenditure for the three teaching hospitals in the decade has increased by 386 per cent.
The article goes on to say:
Hospital bed costs over the last 20 years or so have shown exponential growth (Tables 1 and 2).
Those are the details that the Senate agreed to have incorporated in Hansard. The article goes on to state:
The causes are numerous: increasing sophistication of medicine; higher capital and maintenance cost of apparatus; increasing expectations by patients; and greater demands by doctors who determine most of the expenditure.
I make one other brief quotation. It is:
There is no doubt that in all hospitals rapidly rising salaries are the most significant factor.
Then table 3 is referred to. The article continues: the intern salary has risen from $2,406 to $9,672. At the same time the highest specialist (full dme) salary has increased from $9,663 to $28,808 per annum. These are increases of 302 per cent and 198 per cent respectively. Increasing numbers of professional staff employed add greatly to total expenditure. In this regard, the aggregate of the resident staff of the 3 hospitals studied (Table 4) has risen from 49 in 1947-1948 to 266 in 1974-1975, while over the same period the paid full time salaried staff (Table 5) has increased in number from 67 to 296, increases of 443 per cent and 341 percent respectively.
If one takes into account those 2 sources of delivery of health services to the community and has regard to the substantial increases in those service costs, one can understand why there has been such an increase in the cost of health services.. It cannot be laid at the door- I repeat, cannot be laid at the door- of Medibank as a health insurance scheme. Senator Townley would have us believe that if we reduced the number of claims made by people for these services we would automatically reduce the costs of the services. There is no evidence- in fact, the evidence shows the reverse situation- of over-use or misuse of the scheme by patients. I will separate the medical system on the one hand and will deal only with the hospital system. If there has been over-use of the hospital system- I am not suggesting this has been the case, but this is the allegation by the Government- it cannot be laid at the door of the patient, because no patient can have himself admitted to a hospital. He has to be admitted at the request of the doctor. A criterion is set down by the hospital to ensure that a patient is entitled to be admitted. So we return to one aspect, and that is the medical system. Generally speaking, that is the general practitioner.
– No, it is not.
-I said that generally speaking it is the GP. Usually the GP refers the patient to the specialist, as I understand the system. An over-use would be calling into question the competence of the medical practitioner. If he enjoys the competence which he could be expected to have, surely he would realise that the patient did not require the treatment which was being sought. There is no substance in the Government’s claim that the escalation in costs is attributable either directly or indirectly to Medibank. We talk about actual economies of a health insurance scheme. It is not a health scheme, it is a health insurance scheme. It is a scheme simply designed to provide a reservoir of funds for the payment of services by doctors and hospitals. It is nothing more or less, irrespective of the system which is used- whether it is private insurance or the system we introduced. In many respects it could be said that our system was underwriting the private insurance scheme and was propping up an inefficient- I repeat, inefficient- medical and hospital system, the private enterprise system. If we are being perfectly frank about the matter, at least our system enabled people to have access to services which they might not otherwise have had.
Let us look for a moment at the relevant costs of the 2 systems. Some honourable senators opposite may say that this is old hat. Let me assure them that it is not. Medibank was the most economical and effective means of insurance, as was proved in the very limited period that it was in operation. I refer now to a report on the services carried out prior to the introduction of Medibank. Incidentally, this committee was established by the former Liberal-Country Party Government. It was chaired by Mr Justice Nimmo. It reported that the administrative charges for the servicing of voluntary funds, on average, was about 15 per cent and that the charges of some ran as high as 22 per cent. In other words, the purchasing power of those health insurance services was reduced by an average of 15c in the dollar, and as high as 22c in the dollar in some instances. Put another way, for every $100m collected by the voluntary health insurance funds $15m had to be written off as administrative charges.
What was the position with Medibank? Remember that these figures relate only to the first year of operation and remember the circumstances of the introduction of Medibank, to which I propose to refer a little later. It was shown that the administrative costs of Medibank were no more and no less than 4 per cent. In other words, 96c out of every dollar spent for the services of a doctor or a hospital had purchasing value. Put another way, for every $ 100m that the Medibank insurance scheme derived $96m was available to purchase medical and hospital services. The figures speak for themselves. One of the advantages that Medibank enjoyed, in my view, was that everybody was automatically covered. Nobody had to do anything. If a person wanted intermediate or private ward cover there was an opportunity for him to insure himself. Medibank must be looked at in the light of economy of scale and efficiency of operation. One must look behind the stated public reasons of the Government for interfering with such an efficient and effective operation. The reasons which the Government has given publicly are not the real reasons.
I refer to the position after 1 1 November when the caretaker Prime Minister, in the course of his policy speech on 27 November, said many things in relation to Medibank. I assume I can say this, because it would appear to be right. He said among other things: ‘We will maintain Medibank and will ensure that the standard of health care does not decline ‘.
– That is precisely what he has done.
-That is precisely what he said. It would be fair and reasonable to assume that when he said that, he wanted the people to believe that the Medibank to which he was referring was the universal health insurance scheme introduced by the Labor Government.The people were entitled to believe that. I think that is a reasonable observation to make. Prior to his saying that, our proposal for such a scheme had been the subject matter of public debate for about Vh years. From memory, I think we actually had it in our policy speech in the 1969 election. We had it in 1972, 1974 and 1975. While we were in government- never in power- it was the subject matter of extensive and detailed debate both in this place and outside by all interested parties when a White Paper was produced. I think a Green Paper was produced. In other words, I cannot remember any matter the subject of legislation of the National Parliament receiving such widespread consideration.
Sitting suspended from 1 to 2.15 p.m.
– Before the suspension of the sitting I was reminding the Senate of the promise that the Prime Minister made during his election speech on 27 November. He said:
We will maintain Medibank and ensure that the standard of health care does not decline.
He obviously intended that the Australian community should believe that he was referring to the universal health insurance scheme that the Australian Labor Party produced. I was pointing out also the extent of the exposure and public scrutiny which our health insurance program received prior to the introduction of the legislation which brought about what is now known and what has been known for over 12 months as Medibank, It was subjected to Vh years of public debate and at least 3 elections- those in 1972, 1974 and 1975. From memory, it may even have been part of our 1969 election policy. So it would be fair to say that the Australian community knew and understood what we intended and that it was entitled to believe that what the Prime Minister promised was that Medibank, as it was known, would not receive the kind of treatment that it has received. How different is its treatment by this Government from the way in which we dealt with it.
The Medibank Review Committee was established in indecent haste. Regrettably, no one outside the Government knows- it may well be that only the Cabinet knows- precisely what recommendations or proposals were made by that Committee. It tickles my fancy when I think of recent statements by the Prime Minister about the need to reduce the degree of secrecy in government. Why should he have prevented the proposals or the report from receiving the same exposure and public scrutiny as our proposals received prior to the introduction of Medibank? I do not criticise the members of the Committee, but they may well be the object of criticism because of the belief that the Government’s proposals stem from their recommendations. We would not know whether they do. I think that the members of the Committee are entitled at least to some redress on that score.
Now I want to refer to the second reading speech of the Minister for Social Security on the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2). 1 refer again to the statement by Dr Catchlove, which is the basis upon which the Government has relied to substantiate or support its disabling alterations to Medibank, as it was known. He used the words ‘while maintaining the principle of universal health insurance’. This sort of argument has been reproduced by a number of honourable senators in the course of their contributions, namely Senator Sheil, Senator Messner and Senator Walters. I think it is necessary, in order to understand precisely what we are talking about, to look at the precise meaning of the words ‘universal’ and ‘universality’. I believe that their real meaning was the understanding that the Australian people had of our scheme and what the caretaker Prime Minister, as he then was, on 27 November promised to maintain. This morning I went to the Parliamentary Library and selected Webster’s Third New International Dictionary, Unabridged, 1966. I took extracts in the following terms: universal . . . entire, whole . . including or covering all or a whole collectively or distributively without limit or notable exception or variation.
Then I looked up the word ‘universality’, because this is the key to my argument. It is said to mean the following: the quality or state of being universal (as in extent, occurrence, or application).
It is not a question of being pedantic and it is not a question of indulging in semantics. Those are the true meanings of ‘universal’ and ‘universality’. Our program was known and advocated as a universal health insurance scheme. Once anything was done to disturb that universality, no one could still claim, as the Minister claims and as the rest of the Government supporters claim, that the present scheme and the basic concept of the universality of Labor’s original universal health insurance scheme are one and the same thing.
– They certainly are.
-They are not. That being the case, not only has the Government been prepared to distort the truth and by outrageous assertion to claim that the costs of Medibank will, if not in whole, at least in part be responsible for the ever-escalating costs of medical and hospital services; but it has used the same technique to misrepresent the meaning and intention of our original scheme which was a universal scheme. On neither count can the Government justify the substantial alterations which destroy the original scheme and make it just a hotchpotch collection of alternatives which inevitably will lead to an increase in the costs of insurance because of the additional or increased costs in administrative charges to service those alternative schemes. In other words, the Government is destroying what are generally referred to as the economies of scale.
I now want to refer briefly to some of the comments made by Senator Sheil. As recorded at page 838 of Hansard of 22 September he said, amongst other things:
I am delighted that the Opposition has picked up my implacable and consistent opposition to Medibank. After the last 2Vi years of debates on the subject I should be surprised if even supporters of the Government had not dropped to my attitude to Medibank.
It would seem that Senator Sheil does not concur with the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) or the Prime Minister. He said:
Nevertheless in just over a week now the Government is going to take us through the jaws of what I call the Medibank monster’. I should have thought that the Opposition, the perpetrators of nationalised health, would have been more pleased with the action the Government has taken than its members have shown in the debate. They speak as if we were dismantling Medibank.
First of all, I want to deal with the part relating to nationalised health’. Do I have to repeat that what we are talking about is not the provision of a health scheme as such? It does nothing more and nothing less than provide the funds to pay the accounts of doctors and hospitals. It has no influence over or beyond that precise reason for its existence. To introduce the term ‘a nationalised health scheme’ is to misrepresent and, I believe, in a calculated and deliberate way, to distort the truth and confuse people. Senator Sheil has said that we stated that the Government was dismantling Medibank. I make this comment: It is obvious that the present Government was not prepared to make a frontal attack, in other words, to propose legislation to abolish Medibank. What the Government is doing quite effectively- one must give credit where it is due- in these 3 Bills plus the 2 levy Bills will in fact disable Medibank to such an extent that it will finally be dismantled and destroyed. That is quite clear.
In order to appreciate this, one has only to cast one’s mind back to the debates which have taken place over the past 3 years. One can see from them the stance of the Opposition, as it then was -now the Liberal-National Country Party Government- coupled with interests outside this place, namely, the private funds, the Australian Medical Association and the General Practitioners Society. I ask honourable members to think back over their performance over the past 3 years during our quest to endeavour to honour the undertakings which we gave to the people on 2 occasions. Obviously honourable senators on the Government side did not accept that we received a mandate from the people to introduce a universal health insurance scheme. I am sure that honourable senators on the Government side believed that if they fought us and if they were able to defeat our intended provision of a 1.35 per cent surcharge on taxable income, that would be the end of our scheme.
We were not to be denied our scheme. We resorted to the use of Consolidated Revenue. On reflection, while it is true that this happened only by chance, nevertheless it proved to be the most effective way of underwriting the charges imposed by doctors and hospitals for the services provided for the people. Why should this not be so? It proved to be the most effective and progressive form of taxation. I see no reason why health services should be separated and dealt with differently from the provision of funds from Consolidated Revenue for defence, for schooling, and one could go on ad nauseam. One might say that this is the most progressive form of taxation and that it is the most appropriate form. Those who are able to pay do so according to their means. Those who are unable to pay are able to derive the benefit as a consequence of those who are in a position to make the appropriate payment. In the Senate Hansard at page 847 Senator Missen repeats these outrageous allegations.
– Are you sure it was Senator Missen? Was it Senator Messner?
– It was Senator Messner. I thank Senator Baume for his correction. He is very helpful today which is very unusual. Senator Messner stated:
The rapid escalation of costs, the lack of self-discipline inherent in the system and the Opposition’s paranoid concern for controlling people, in their health care -
And so he went on. He implies that the rapid cost escalation is directly attributable in some strange way to Medibank. That argument cannot be sustained, nor can it be sustained that we had a concern over controlling people in their health care. With the introduction of Medibank for the first time we provided a scheme which enabled people to have access to standard ward treatment and medical services which they had not been able to afford under the previous arrangements of private health insurance schemes. So it is wrong to use such language. The honourable senator also referred to the universality principle. I think I have dealt with that matter sufficiently.
Let us look at the position now. I think it was at about 20 May this year that the Government decided to act eventually upon some proposals or recommendations from the Medibank Review Committee which nobody knows about, except probably Cabinet. It is quite clear that from the moment it was suggested that there be modifications I say this with respect to the Minister- he was not quite sure where he was going. I do not blame him for that because I am sure that those who were behind him and expecting him to produce certain results, likewise were not quite sure how to give effect to their intentions. But if honourable members think back over the months from last May, June or July until now, they will see that there have been many changes or alterations. There have been statements and counter statements, like orders and counter orders, and so we have what can be described as the Medibank muddle. That describes it perfectly. There is an article in the Melbourne Age which I think points up this matter quite sharply. It is dated 16 September, written by Jo Wiles, and states:
Medibank queries jam funds’ phones. Thousands of Victorians -
I assure honourable senators that this position is not peculiar to Victoria because Victorians are no less intelligent than people in other States- puzzled about the Government’s new Medibank scheme, are jamming health office switchboards. HBA, the State’s biggest health fund, is being swamped by 1400 calls a day. Medibank ‘s central inquiry office at Moonee Ponds is getting 1300 calls a day. Medibank offices and the major private funds- HBA, Manchester Unity, ANA and La Trobe- are telling people not to panic
This happened only 6 days ago. The article continues:
Most of the callers say they don’t know the difference between the ordinary levy and Medibank Private insurance. Confusion reigns supreme’. That’s how one private fund yesterday described the chaos.
It is now September, so 4 months have passed by since May when the Government first announced its intention to do certain things. But it has changed its mind so often that honourable senators can understand why the situation has given rise to such confusion. I think 2 pamphlets have been produced by the Government. The first one was out of date almost before the printer’s ink was dry. The second pamphlet raises the question of whether it truly reflects the intention of the new program. I think it is about 22 pages long. I have spoken to a number of quite intelligent and average people. They say that anybody who can understand that pamphlet would, to say the least, be unique. There have been newspaper and radio and television advertisements, not just by Medibank, but also by the private fund organisations. I think it is intended to spend something in the vicinity of $lm of taxpayers’ money to explain to the Australian, public the simplicity of this innovation of the Government. That speaks for itself. I ask: Does one have to say any more? I do not think any honourable senator from either side can rise in his place and suggest that this confusion just does not exist. If anyone does, then I think that only adds to what I have already said about the outrageous and false assertions which have been made by supporters of the Government as justification for their support for these changes. A further interesting article appears in the Melbourne Age of 12 June 1976. 1 think it sums up what this matter is all about. It is entitled:
The Fraser doctrine of the disposable promise.
It is by a Mr Peter Cole-Adams. The article states:
When he says he proposes to do something definite, as likely as not he ‘11 do something different.
Can honourable senators think of any other language that could more adequately and succinctly describe what has happened not only to Medibank but also to many other promises? One other brief extract from the article is:
In other words, while a politician may find it ‘appropriate’ to promise us all sorts of things to woo our votes, he may find it quite inappropriate to deliver the goods once the ballot forms have been filled in.
In my view that describes in clear and unmistakable terms the Fraser philosophy. However, this situation is not peculiar to Medibank. As I said in the short time in which I had to speak on the Budget debate, the main ground for the conduct of the then Opposition during the 1972-75 period in pursuing a course designed to destroy a government which had been democratically elected twice within 18 months was its claim: Elect us and we will correct unemployment, inflation and a great range of other things’. This is not the appropriate time for me to talk about unemployment and inflation but those matters speak for themselves. However, the same sort of treatment has been given to Aborigines, the Australian Assistance Plan, growth centres, wage indexation and pensioners. Undertakings were given by the Government during the course of the election campaign that it would ensure that the income of pensioners would at all times be commensurate with the movement in the cost of living. One can prove that this has not been the case at all. There has been 6 months delay between adjustments. In the September quarter there will probably be a 3 per cent increase in the consumer price index. This figure could be exceeded. If we then take into account the anticipated increase of 5 per cent in the December quarter, it means that the cost of living will have increased by 8 per cent over the next 2 quarters, but pensioners will receive no increase between 1 November 1976 and 1 May 1977. So much for the undertakings given to them.
In summary, it could be said that the assertion by the Government that there was need for these changes so that it could come to grips with the enormous escalation in health costs cannot be sustained. That reason cannot sustain the argument for the alteration of Medibank. The suggestion that patients have been responsible for overuse of services also cannot be sustained. If it is a question of over-use of hospital treatment not only the doctor who recommended admission can be held responsible but also the hospital, because the patient would have to comply with the criteria set down for the admission of the patient. There is no evidence to suggest that there has been over-utilisation by patients to the extent claimed, if there has been any at all.
This brings me to the Medibank scheme itself. Medibank has nothing to do with health services as such. Our Government attempted to do something about the delivery of health services by establishing community health centres but health services are separate and distinct from the provision of money to pay doctors and hospitals for the services they provide. In the final analysis this is what Medibank will do, irrespective of the way in which it is done, although the way chosen by the Government will be much more costly. The Government’s proposals, will transfer to people a burden over and above what they were previously required to carry for their medical and hospital treatment. It was suggested that the introduction of tax indexation and family allowances would improve the living standards of people. It may, but only until 1 October. Once the Medibank levy is imposed and people feel the effects of the Government’s attitude to wage indexation and the response of the Conciliation and Arbitration Commission to the Government’s attitude- all of which means that wage indexation really has not been given full effect- it will be found that the people who are least able to bear the cost of these expensive services will be worse off after 1 October than they were prior to 1 October under the original Medibank scheme. Everybody concedes this. Therefore, when these Bills are debated in the Committee stage we propose to move certain amendments. Being realistic, we do not anticipate that we will be successful because of the number in this and the other place but I can assure honourable senatorsand this can be recorded in Hansard for- all Australians to see- that when, not if, we are returned to government in 1978 we will restore health insurance to the people of Australia based on the original concept of Medibank, with improvements that may be found necessary to increase the value and efficiency of the system.
-I will take only 2 minutes to explain that I will be voting with the Opposition on these Bills. The Government should not have left debate on this most important issue until this very late stage. Certainly I am confused about the Government’s proposals as are people in the State which I have the honour to represent. The fact that the Government has left it until this last minute to introduce this legislation shows its attitude to this chamber. All the organisational work has been done in the Department of Health and by Medibank in anticipation of the vote in this place. The Government has said that these proposals are part of its package which also includes improvements in family allowances and indexation of taxation. However, both the family allowances scheme and taxation indexation came into effect on a date different from the date on which the Medibank levy will come into effect. I would like to know whether the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) would withdraw this Bill. I know it is a faint hope but I think that the Minister should have regard to what the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) said yesterday about further tax cuts. So that working people will be able to afford the Medibank levy, why does the Government not delay imposing it until the Prime Minister is prepared to introduce the further tax relief he has promised? Those are some of the reasons why I feel obliged to vote with the Opposition on these Bills.
– in reply- We have had a fairly wide-ranging debate on the 3 Medibank Bills. I do not want to delay unduly the Committee stage of the Bill where I believe some amendments will be moved by the Opposition; but I feel that in closing the debate there is a necessity for me to clarify some of the matters that have been raised and also to correct some of the incorrect assumptions that have been made and some of the incorrect information that has been given by various honourable senators as they have proceeded to make their points in the debate.
Senator Grimes, in leading for the Opposition, said that nothing in the new arrangements would improve health care delivery or contain costs. I think that what Senator Brown said in his speech probably expressed some of the thoughts I have with regard to the previous Medibank scheme. Nothing in the previous Medibank scheme as introduced by the Labor Government was intended to improve health care delivery or to contain costs. In fact, what was introduced was a scheme that imposed a costly burden on the Australian taxpayer. It was a scheme that was openended in its cost. It was one which, because of its nature, could have led to overutilisation, overservicing or encouragement of demand. No government should allow that to happen. I believe that experience in other countries has shown that, where there is this type of scheme, eventually the burden becomes too heavy to carry, the scheme itself becomes reduced and ultimately health care itself is diminished.
In the scheme that we are proposing now, with the modifications and amendments that have been introduced, we believe we have set out to have an influence on how the service is delivered so that the system becomes more efficient and those who are really in medical need get easy and early access to the services that are available. Private health insurers are competitive and they will be looking to keep the contributions as low as possible. They also will need to see that services are good. They will be competing with one another. They will be competing with Medibank Standard and Medibank Private in a way that will give the choice that we on this side of the chamber have been stressing throughout the debate. The monitoring of utilisation, the availability of proper services at the level of care needed and a co-operative arrangement with the professional providers of health services are all inbuilt features of Medibank Mark II, if one likes to define it that way. Medibank Mark I has had a short experience, but that short experience has shown the taxpayer that it was not free. It has shown that it was a very costly scheme. It has shown that eventually the costs would have been competing with other essential services of government. I believe that it was time the
Government took in hand the costs that were foreshadowed, looked at what had been the experience already and found some way in which costs could be contained and competition could be introduced.
Senator Georges made some criticism of the reinsurance pool as a means of support to the private funds which could not compete with Medibank. The reinsurance pool takes the place of the Special Account, as we formerly knew it. The government money that will be available for the pool will be limited. This proposal provides for the cessation of the open-ended Special Account system and makes the private funds pay a proportion of the costs of chronic care which they did not have to pay under the Special Account arrangement. Senator Georges’ criticism therefore is somewhat misplaced, because it must be remembered that the Special Account was backed by the Labor Party when it was in government. The present Government has provided for 2 important social reforms with regard to the reinsurance pool. The first one is that the Special Account was available for immediate transfer of patients by private funds on account of pre-existing illness. This Government does not allow private funds to have the exclusion rules for chronic illness or pre-existing illness for basic tables. Those who really need help will receive it. The second reform is that the Government has increased the rates of benefits available. The maximum amount payable from the Special Account was $30 a day in a public hospital and $46 a day in a private hospital. The Government has increased these rates to $40 a day and $56 a day respectively. This will provide the additional assistance to people in those categories, who needed special consideration.
Senator Walsh criticised the fact that a patient can get a 100 per cent refund of the scheduled fee charged and that this is not a deterrent to people obtaining unnecessary services- something which the Government has set out to achieve. A patient can get a 100 per cent refund in that he gets a benefit refund of 85 per cent of the scheduled fee under the basic medical table and he can obtain the balance by subscribing to gap insurance which is available under an optional table which private insurance funds may offer to those who seek it. But the criticism by Senator Walsh is entirely out of place. If there is to be any criticism he should be criticising his own Party and the previous Labor Government, because that Party when it was in power promoted and allowed private insurance funds to offer and sell gap medical insurance. That was the basis on which the previous Medibank system worked. It provided only standard care and only certain benefits; other benefits needed to be covered by private insurance. The remarks were somewhat misplaced and perhaps show a misunderstanding of the scheme as it existed formerly and as it now provides the cover that people will require.
Senator Sheil, a Government senator, said that the plan to raise medical standards in Australia through proposed review groups would lead instead to a deterioration of standards. He said that the Government was working on the assumption that medical standards in Australia needed elevating. This assumption is incorrect. I suggest that experience in Australia since Medibank was implemented indicates that a small number of practitioners are engaging in undesirable or questionable practices in itemising medical services. The Government considers that action should be taken to curb undesirable practices and the unnecessary use of scarce resources. The information to be collected from registered medical benefits organisations and Medibank will enable these practices to be monitored and identified. It is the Government’s policy that, in addition to any action that is taken by committees of inquiry, undesirable practices should be forestalled by corrective arangements by the medical profession. As a consequence, the Australian Medical Association has been asked to develop a system of peer review to improve the standards of medical practice and to involve those who initiate the use of expensive facilities in systems justifying their use and influencing the priorities. I believe that the fears that were mentioned by Senator Sheil are protected and covered by the arrangements that are now introduced.
I would like to make some comments on the remarks that were made by Senator Ryan. Firstly, I refer to her remarks on the question of choice. We need to set down some facts, as they exist with regard to this scheme which is now modified, for there to be an understanding of what is offered and what the commitments will be. I should restate that the maximum contribution to Medibank Public is $300 a year for family cover. This is the amount that will be paid by people with a taxable income of $12,000 a year or more. Those with taxable incomes below that amount will pay less than $300 for a family in each year. Schedules setting out the rates were released quite a long time ago. The basic medical and hospital insurance cover offered by private insurers will cost citizens in excess of $300 a year -sometimes well in excess of that figure, depending upon the services and cover they offer.
I ask the question then: Why would we, in terms of what Senator Ryan said, expect that at least 50 per cent of the population would choose to join private insurance organisations when by staying with Medibank Public they could pay less? A choice obviously is being made by that proportion of the population. That choice is a real one because it is a choice that is being exercised. Even though they need to pay more for private insurance, people are prepared to take that cover as an alternative to the Medibank cover which would cost the family less.
One needs to ask: Why does everybody not stay in Medibank public, which would require a cheaper yearly premium than private insurance? It could be said that that would be the case and that that would be the option that was exercised. But this is not the case. To what extent it will not be the case is yet unknown, but I believe that what we are hearing from both Medibank offices and private insurance offices in recent weeks shows that people are exercising a choice. Some are making a choice to go to private insurance and the Government is making that additional service available through Medibank. Others are exercising a choice to have private insurance through the private funds.
We have eliminated what was a compulsory system, introduced by the Opposition, which did not have universality as its essence but uniformity. I think that if Senator Brown when talking about ‘universality’ were to have looked at the Webster’s dictionary definition of ‘uniformity’ he might have seen the basic difference between what we are now offering and what was offered before. It is true to say that universality will exist in relation to health insurance because everybody in this country will have a cover. It will be a cover obtained by exercising the choice of the options which I have mentioned, but it will be a universal cover. It will not now necessarily be a uniform cover because people will have different needs and will exercise their right to choose what they consider best suits them and their families.
Senator Ryan stated also that the patient is disadvantaged by transfer to the reinsurance pool and the private funds will not be called upon to meet the cost of the chronically ill. Both of these ideas are quite incorrect. The reinsurance pool applies only in the basic hospital table. At no stage can a privately insured person be denied the $40 a day benefit. Transfer to the reinsurance pool is merely a mechanism for private funds, including Medibank Private, to share in an equitable manner the cost of providing hospital benefits for the chronically ill persons. The Government will make a payment of $50m a year to this pool to replace the open-ended arrangement which was covered by the special account that I mentioned earlier. The new system therefore requires the funds to meet benefits for the hospital care of the chronically ill; the special account, now being discontinued, provided for the Government to meet all these costs.
Senator Ryan quoted a letter from the Council of Australian Government Employee Organisations. That letter was written before the Government made the significant decisions to allow Medibank to operate as a private health benefit organisation and to introduce ceilings on the levy. These decisions of the Government removed the objections raised in the portion of the letter quoted by Senator Ryan. I think it is important to have it stated in the record of this debate that the fears that were expressed in the letter are no longer existent and that the quoted contents of the letter had been overtaken by decisions announced by the Government.
Also, Senator Ryan spoke of the position in the Australian Capital Territory. I think I should take a minute or two to clarify one or two matters that were raised in connection with that because I know that there would be interest in having clarified the points that were raised last night. The point was made that people seeking attention at health centres will have to have cash in hand to pay for services given. I should like to state what the position will be. Firstly, any person obtaining services from a private medical practitioner will be treated in the same way as under the existing system, that is, services from a private doctor in ordinary circumstances are covered by the scheduled benefits payable by Medibank or private insurance. That doctor may or may not bulk bill. The second situation relates to a privately insured person receiving services from a salaried doctor. The Health Commission will attempt wherever possible to bulk bill the private health insurance funds. Medibank Private will be accepting bulk billing so the situation is not of concern in that case. Levy payers and other eligible persons with Medibank public will not be charged for services from salaried doctors. I hope what I have said does clarify those points that were raised.
Other matters were raised last night. Reference was made to a working wife paying the levy as well as her husband. I should like to draw the attention of the Senate to the Press release of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) dated 16 September, in which the position as it will exist for those 2-income families was clearly stated. The Treasurer stated that the schedules of the pay as you earn deductions released to the Press and published on 1 September last referred to this situation and stated that a husband whose pay is significantly more than $1 15 a week, the point at which the single rate of ceiling starts to apply, has an option to have the levy deducted at the family rate. A husband who wishes to exercise this option needs only to ask his employer to apply the optional column in the new pay as you earn schedules.
In a case where a husband exercises this option it will depend on the amount of his taxable income and thus on his levy liability whether his wife is to be assessed a levy. Where a working wife satisfies the Taxation Office that her husband has exercised the option and that his income is such that he will be liable to pay the full family levy at the end of the year, the Taxation Office will, on her application, authorise the wife ‘s employer not to make any deductions on account of a levy from her pay. The Treasurer said that many working couples no doubt would choose to take out private insurance as that would often be cheaper than paying the levy. If one member of the couple takes out family private insurance, both of course are entitled to lodge an exemption claim with their respective employers and to have the levy component excluded from their pay as you earn deductions.
The other matter raised by Senator Ryan referred to a sole parent, which is related to the matter about which I have just spoken. I should like to quote from some statements made by the Treasurer on this matter. He stated that a taxpayer who is a sole parent is entitled, as are other resident taxpayers, to the general concessional rebate. This rebate was $540 last year and is $610 this year in the case of married taxpayers. The additional rebate of $400 for a spouse that was allowed in 1975-76 has been increased by the Government this year to $500, while the additional rebate for a sole parent has gone to $350 from $200. To be eligible for the sole parent rebate of $350 the single parent must have the sole care of a dependent child or children, that is, there must be at least 2 people in the family. It follows for levy purposes that, just as the family ceiling rate of levy applies to a married person because there are two or more people in the family, so the ceiling levy for a sole parent is at the family rate. As we understand it, this is consistent with private insurance practice and a sole parent, like a married person, for full cover with a registered private fund would have to take out insurance at the family rate. I believe those statements clarify what may have been doubtful in what was mentioned last night.
Another matter raised relates to family planning services. I believe it is important to clarify that matter. I want to assure the Senate that there will be no breach of confidentiality in respect of wives and daughters who seek family planning services. The general policy will be that privately insured persons will be charged at scheduled rates for clinical services and benefits and these will be reimbursed by the funds. It is hoped that the family planning organisations will bulk bill the funds. Levy payers and those eligible for Medibank benefits will not be charged and the family planning organisations will receive health program grants. There will be unbillable persons with private health insurance. These are the dependants of the family contributors. So that there will be no breach of confidentiality, those dependants will not be charged. Therefore, there will be no evidence of the service known to the contributor. In these non-billable cases, the Government will pay health program grants to cover the costs of the family planning clinics. The guidelines for these services are at present being established and I believe that the confidentiality of the service that is given to persons within a family is protected by the arrangements that I am announcing.
Senator Townley referred to the provisions in the legislation with regard to judicial management of registered organisations. These were related to the legislation passed in the autumn sittings of Parliament. Those provisions were contained in the new part 6a of the National Health Amendment Bill 1976 which was passed in June. I will not restate in much detail the concern which Senator Townley expressed with regard to that matter. Part 6a of the National Health Amendment Act contains provisions empowering the Minister to appoint an inspector to investigate the affairs of the registered organisation and for the funds operated by such organisations to be placed under judicial management and to be wound up by the Australian Industrial Court. Certainly this is a new concept in the Government’s administration of the health insurance scheme but it was considered to be necessary under the modified Medibank arrangements.
To honour the Government’s commitment to the maintenance of universal health insurance it is essential that persons electing to contribute to private organisations receive basic benefit entitlements. Where an organisation may become unable to provide those entitlements it is important that the Minister vested with the responsibility of registering the organisations should have a course of action open to him. In the past de-registration of an organisation has been the only available course of action. This is a negative approach and provides no protection to the contributors whom the Government has undertaken to provide with a universal coverage.
Part 6a of the Act which I mentioned provides the Minister with a positive and responsible course of action. Following the receipt of a report from an inspector appointed to investigate the affairs of a registered organisation, where the Minister believes the course of action should be followed as provided in the new part 6a he may make a special application to the Industrial Court. I emphasise that from that point on the course of action to be taken is one for determination by that Court. The basic elements of the scheme in part 6a are similar to those in the Life Insurance Act 1973 and the uniform companies legislation. The provisions give confidence to those people who use insurance funds. They are protective provisions which the Government believed were essential to the matters we are now discussing.
Senator Brown compared the costs of administration in private insurance funds and Medibank. Perhaps any comparison is unreal. It certainly can be oversimplified. If one were to look at one or two areas of Medibank one would acknowledge that Medibank payments to public hospitals could, in fact, involve the drawing of about 96 cheques a year when the Commonwealth is dealing with 6 States and 2 Territories on a monthly basis and sharing 50-50 the costs of the hospitals concerned. On the other hand, we know that the private health insurer has a direct relationship with each patient and contributor whether that patient is in a public or private hospital. Private insurers pay benefits to or for each of their contributors. Therefore they can be examining many thousands of claims and making payments in much greater detail than Medibank which has been dealing with the States regarding their public hospitals. I mention that as an instance of the difference in procedure which exists. One could talk about amounts of Sim a year in respect of some administrative costs or costs of providing information. I believe that, in a scheme of health insurance cover reaching an expenditure of $ 1,500m or $2, 000m or whatever the top level of cost may be, the costs ensuring choice and information are rightly an expenditure of public funds. Mr Deputy President, these are the matters I feel should be clarified before we proceed to the Committee stage. I commend the Bill.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 12- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 13 (Reinsurance Account in hospital benefits fund).
-The Opposition opposes clause 13 of this Bill which sets up the reinsurance account in the hospital benefit funds. We oppose this clause because what the Bill refers to as a reinsurance account is referred to by the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) and today by the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) repeatedly as a reinsurance pool. The Opposition believes that it is not a reinsurance pool as the term is commonly known in the insurance industry and it is quite wrong to call it such.
The Opposition has never made any bones about the fact that it believes that the provision of standard medical care in public hospitals and paying 85 per cent of the medical fees in a community is a legitimate area of public expenditure. It also believes that those who want to take out further insurance either at the intermediate or private level should be able to do so. They certainly should not be prevented from doing so but they should pay for such insurance at the proper rates. The aim of the series of Bills now before the Senate- the National Health Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976, the Health Insurance Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976 and the Health Insurance Commission Amendment Bill (No. 2) 1976- and the Bills still to come before the Senate which are the Health Insurance Levy Assessment BUI (No. 2) 1976 and the Health Insurance Levy Bill (No. 2) 1 976, is to encourage the development of private health care and voluntary health funds in this country. The basic aim of the Bills is obviously not to cut the total cost of health care.
We believe that the $50m reinsurance pool, as the Minister for Health and the Minister for Social Security insist on calling it, is merely a $50m subsidy to the private health funds. The former Labor Government was accused of trying to hide the cost of health care by submerging it in Consolidated Revenue by taking it out of the taxation funds. The Opposition now accuses the Government of trying to hide the cost of intermediate health care in the case of those who are chronically ill and who wish to go into intermediate wards by burying it in a reinsurance pool which is made up from Consolidated Revenue.
– How can that be hiding it when we have given it?
-I say to Senator Walters who loves to interject- and we know whom she represents in this place- that she will have plenty of time to speak.
– I rise to take a point of order. I believe that Senator Grimes said he knows whom Senator Walters represents in this place. He said it in a way -
– It is the people of Tasmania.
– If it is the people of Tasmania, I am happy, Mr Temporary Chairman, as long as Senator Grimes will acknowledge that that is what he was saying.
– Order! I rule that no point of order arises.
– I do not know what Senator Baume was implying I said, but if the cap fits both he and Senator Walters, they should wear it.
- Mr Temporary Chairman, I believe that the Labor Party has a series of amendments to these Bills. Could we have a copy of them?
-It is not my responsibility to provide the honourable senator with anything. My understanding is that we are dealing with clause 13 of the Bill.
– At the moment there is no amendment; we are opposing clause 13 of the Bill. If that is not clear enough for Senator Townley I shall arrange to have it written out for him. This subsidy to maintain people in hospitals in intermediate wards, people who are chronically and therefore severely ill, will go, we believe, to maintaining the extra medical facilities supplied in these hospitals. We do not believe that it will do anything to provide quality health care. I was surprised to hear the Minister for Social Security say that contributions will be made to this reinsurance pool by the voluntary funds. In another place we of the Opposition asserted that in fact $50m would be contributed from taxation, from Consolidated Revenue, and that the contributions of the patients involved, after the 35 days period, would go into the pool and that money from the private funds would not go into it. At no stage did the Minister for Health attempt to correct that assertion. At no stage did he attempt to say anything different.
We believe that if the Government wants to set up a reinsurance pool it should set up a proper one, a pool established from contributions from all the private funds, including Medibank Private, which are involved in private health insurance. Therefore we believe that the contribution rates, the premiums for those people who wish to join the private health funds and wish to take up this sort of insurance, should be readjusted to cover that point. People at the moment are joining private health funds believing that they are paying insurance for all their illnesses and to cover themselves completely.
– For 70 per cent.
– Order! When I ask for order I expect to get it.
– Just bear with me, dear senator. Seventy per cent are joining and paying, believing that they are going to be insured for all their illnesses.
– They are not. Seventy per cent.
– Order, Senator Walters. Senator Grimes is addressing the Chair.
-For all their illnesses. They are not joining and not paying to be covered for chronic illnesses, and people do get chronically ill. These people are not going to be covered by the funds; they are going to be covered by the taxpayers’ money. We believe that if a person is chronically and therefore usually seriously ill the best place for that person to be cared for is in the public hospitals. We do not believe that taxpayers should subsidise people to be cared for in other than public wards. We believe that if people want to go into intermediate wards they should pay for it at a proper and economic rate. That is our reason for objecting to this clause. That is our reason for saying the Government should remove it and come back with a proper clause setting up a proper reinsurance pool.
– As I understand the intention of the Opposition, it is to have the clause relating to the reinsurance pool removed. I regard this action as one more attempt on its part to try to destroy the private health funds. One of the conditions applied to the activities of the private health funds at the moment is that they shall apply a community rating; that they shall allow anyone to take out insurance with them.
– And they should pay for it
- Senator Grimes would know, if he read carefully, that the funds are going to be able at a later date to place entry requirements. If this carries through, the chronically ill eventually could be excluded from the right to have private insurance if it proved impossible for the private insurers to carry their costs. There is a small group of people with catastrophic illnesses for whom there is no way to provide, actuarially, private insurance. The Government recognised this by the provision of a special account in years gone by. The reinsurance pool being established now will enable these people to take out private insurance and thus enable part of their cost to be met from the private sector. The alternative is for all these people to be a complete charge on standard Medibank and be a further charge solely upon the public purse. The reason why this problem becomes important is that the public hospital sector, as it is set up in this country, does not have the capacity to otter everyone facilities. Let me develop that point. In certain areas in the city in which I live, areas which Senator Grimes would know well, there are no public hospital beds, or very few.
– There should be and this is going to make the situation worse.
– There are not enough public hospital beds. It is a fiction to say, as the Labor Party has said for years, that we all have a right to a standard ward bed, because those beds do not exist. For some time I was admitting officer at one of the large public hospitals in Sydney; that is to say, I was the non-admitting officer. My job was to keep people out of an institution that had more occupants than it could cope with. To use the jargon of the social scientists, there was a large area of unmet need with which the public hospital sector could not cope. What I am developing is the view that is taken by 70 per cent of Australians- that to hold insurance for something more than standard ward cover is not an option but a necessity. If you have a stroke in one of the large cities you may well find that your local public hospital, anxious as it may be to help, simply does not have the space or resources to offer you assistance. If my daughter gets appendicitis tomorrow it may be that the local teaching hospital does not have a bed for her and if someone has an urgent illness it will not wait. Extra insurance is a necessity and not an option. That is how many of us view it who live in the areas where the number of public beds does not allow us to depend upon standard Medibank.
The reinsurance pool will allow us to continue to have that access to some of the good facilities that exist in the private sector, to have access to hospitals like the Sydney Adventist Hospital where people get medical care of the highest quality. But people require health insurance cover to help meet that cost. If the Labor Party had its way and the reinsurance pool were abolished, eventually all these patients would become a total charge upon standard Medibank. Through this proposed arrangement the cost is to be shared. I think the Labor Party argument is hollow and without merit.
-I would like to correct a few of the things that Senator Grimes said. To begin with, people do not believe that their private insurance will insure them against 100 per cent of the cost to the country of their health care. They all well know that there is a Government subsidy of $16 a day to the private hospitals for their beds. They are quite well aware of this fact. They also know, because they have been told and told repeatedly, that those people who are insured in private health care funds pay 70 per cent of their total health care. Those who pay the levy and just the hospital side of the private funds fees will pay 40 per cent. Those who pay the levy alone pay roughly 18 per cent of the cost of their total health care. How can Senator Grimes say that the levy payers are subsidising those who are privately insured when I have given him those figures showing the percentage of their full health care that they are paying? It is impossible for him to say that through their taxes they are paying a subsidy to the private funds. This is completely false. Perhaps now the honourable senator might understand the situation.
-Mr Chairman, I am left speechless by the incredible statement of Senator Walters. Well may Senator Baume sit with his head in his hands. Senator Walters completely misinterpreted my previous statement. She converted my statement about taxpayers into one about levy payers. Then she went on with the nonsense that Mr Fraser came out with about the relative percentages of people on different incomes who pay for their health care. It demonstrates to me what we have suspected all along. Senator Walters has not a clue on what she is talking about
Senator Baume brought up a very important point. He brought up the Catch 22 situation about which we were talking and about which he knows. He knows and admits that we have an inadequate number of public hospital beds in this country. He knows and admits that we should have more, that there should be facilities to look after these people and that this country is sufficiently affluent to provide basic medical care for all its people, including its chronically ill. It cannot do so because successive governments have refused to build more public bed accommodation when and where it is needed. The governments of Victoria have been particularly remiss in this area. That is the first point which comes into the situation. We then have the situation in which the taxpayer in this country subsidises private health insurance. People in Victoria, not the chronically ill but the very low income earners who would be happy to go into a public bed, are forced to take out voluntary insurance to get any sort of bed. When they get sick they must go into a private ward. Then the Government says: Look, the people do not want any more public beds. We will not provide them’. We get an extraordinary Catch 22 situation in which, by government action, people are forced into private wards when they would prefer to go into public wards. Because they are forced to do so by Federal Government action, the State Government says: ‘We do not want any more public beds. In fact, we have fewer, than we had previously’.
We are concerned about the chronically ill in this country. We are concerned about the facilities for the care of them. We believe that they can be cared for best and most adequately in proper public wards which should be built to cope for them, but those wards will not be built under this sort of set-up. We will have more and more of the hot bed hospitals such as the Baulkham Hills hospital. It was built for profit. The building has a sign outside which says ‘Hospital ‘. To everyone in this community that means a place where a person will be cared for if he is sick. Yet if someone is mowed down by a car, has an accident in his home, is poisoned or is desperately ill, such hospitals will not take those persons because the hospitals want hot patients- patients who get into a bed and get out of it quickly. Therefore they are profitable. The more of those profitmaking hospitals which we have, the more difficulty we will have in getting public hospitals, public beds and teaching hospitals. Senator Baume knows that as well as anybody else does.
This is not a reinsurance pool. It is a $S0m donation to the private health funds so that they can advertise that they will cover people for all their illnesses. Senator Walters should know that, but I suspect that she does not. We are not opposing this clause because we are against the chronically ill being treated properly. We are not opposing this clause because we do not believe that some arrangement should be made to treat the chronically ill properly. We are opposing this clause because we think the whole concept is a fraud. We are opposed to government promotion of private health care which is more expensive and more inefficient than any other form of health care in this country.
– This clause covers the provision relating to the reinsurance pool and the operation of the reinsurance trust fund. The purpose of this clause is to improve the existing provision. That was inserted in the Act by the Bill passed in May 1976. That related to contributors. The effect of the opposition to the clause, therefore, would be to revert to the existing provision and to deny to contributors the improvements contained in the new clause. This action by the Opposition is in keeping with its negative attitudes in these matters and with its lack of appreciation of the social reforms on which we have embarked in this proposal. The Government wishes to improve the position of contributors in this area. Therefore, it is unable to accept the Opposition’s stance.
– I never cease to be amazed by honourable senators opposite. It appears that the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) conveniently overlooked the fact that the accumulated assets of the private health insurance funds stood, I understand, at about $250m. They are the collective accumulated assets. She very conveniently overlooked the fact that there is no doubt that some of those accumulated assets have been employed by the funds to undercut the rate of contribution which normally would have been charged to members of the funds. At the same time the object of the exercise of the private funds is to encourage persons to take out private insurance. It is quite clear, as plain as a pikestaff, that that is the whole intention of the Government. It is advocating this. It is on record that Government members have said this. This was part of the major intention. After the funds have undercut Medibank, by way of deceit, in my view- by utilising accumulated assets to undercut Medibank- after approximately 12 months, if it is that long, the funds will increase their fees. They will do so once they have a clientele in their web. In the interim, Medibank must be disadvantaged. The private funds will have every justification, as a consequence of the increases in doctors fees and of the ever increasing charges for hospital accommodation, to increase their fees.
We have shown our concern for people who are ill and who had no opportunity to be covered by any fund prior to the introduction of Medibank. Either the Nimmo report or the Henderson report indicated that over 1 million persons were not covered by any form of insurance prior to the introduction of Medibank. We are saying in effect that if the champions of the free enterprise system are so confident of it and of its style of operation being successful, why do they have to underwrite it by subsidies from the public purse? That is a clear question which needs to be answered.
– There seems to be some misunderstanding about the operation of the reinsurance pool. There was always a special accounts system which looked after people who had long term illness. The reinsurance pool that we are now describing is one in which the Government will contribute $50m. It should be understood that once a contributor is placed in the reinsurance pool, all the contributions to the private funds are also put into the funds’ reinsurance pool. Some funds will pay into the pool, some will draw from it, depending upon the extent of the benefit that they require for their patients who are chronically ill. The pool, the equalisers, the experience of the funds in paying benefits for the chronically ill must be looked at. The Hibernian Society has heavy commitments as result of paying benefits for the chronically ill. This pool eases its burden. All the funds help to share the burden. With what has been said already regarding the availability of hospital accommodation for the chronically ill, I think it should be understood that the contribution which the Government is making to the reinsurance pool will act in a way that will share the burden instead of having a burden placed where it is unable to be borne. Senator Brown said that the private funds have accumulated reserves of $ 1 80m.
– I said $250m.
– He said $250m, but I think he might have been overstating the position. For a long time the Australian Labor Party has been complaining about the level of the reserves that have been accumulated by private funds and suggesting that they should be used to reduce contribution rates. Now the Opposition is saying that private funds are using them unfairly to compete with Medibank.
– That is the most intellectually dishonest statement you have made today.
– I am making the point that it is inconsistent to suggest that accumulated reserves should be used in one sense and then to complain that by using accumulated reserves the private funds are engaging in unfair competition with Medibank Private insurance. I simply state these facts to put into perspective the objectives of the reinsurance pool. It is an essential part of the Bill because of the alleviation of burden that it gives. The Government is unable to accept the Opposition’s amendment.
That the clause stand as printed.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator T. C. Drake-Brockman)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-On behalf of the Opposition I wish to move an amendment to clause 10. Clause10, in part, states:
Schedule 2 to the Principal Act is repealed and the following Schedule substituted:
SCHEDULE 2 Section 30
A committee, to be provided for by the agreement-
In paragraph5 of proposed Schedule 2, leave out all words after sub-paragraph (c).
This amendment refers to the Heads of Agreement with the States, which have been a matter of controversy since the present Government decided to change the hospital agreements between the Commonwealth and the States which were agreed to last year and the year before by the previous Government. I think it is worth while pointing out briefly that those agreements were made with the States, often after very hard negotiation. They resulted in a considerably better deal for the States in hospital funding from the Federal Government, particularly for Queensland where the increased funding has improved hospital conditions dramatically. I point out that some of the States in fact have a Liberal Party government. In Tasmania, on the insistence of the Liberal Party Opposition in the upper House, which is largely made up of members who are called independents, the Parliament as a whole considered those agreements. The Liberal Party and the independents looked at those agreements. They took advice and decided that the agreements were valid. Later on we were suddenly told one night that the present Attorney-General of the Commonwealth (Mr Ellicott) had suddenly decided- conveniently decided, I might say- that the hospital agreements were invalid and that new hospital agreements would be set up. All the States disagreed with him. The reply of the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) was: ‘If you disagree, take it to the High Court’. In the meantime, of course, the States would get no money. In our opinion that was a political act by a man acting as a politician, not as the first law officer of this country.
Then the Commonwealth Government and the States negotiated further hospital agreements for the payment, roughly, of 50 per cent each of the net hospital costs in each State. The State Government was to pay 50 per cent and the Commonwealth Government 50 per cent. I imagine that the negotiations, as they were when we were in government, with the States were pretty tough. Eventually, I believe on 3 September, all governments came to an agreement as to what the Heads of Agreement would be. It was decided that any further changes would naturally necessitate further negotiations. On 7 September, by telex in most cases and by telephone conversations in other cases, followed by letters, the State governments were informed that an extra clause would be added by the Commonwealth Government without further negotiations whether the State governments liked it or not.
I think that some of the other heads of agreement also may not be good ones, but the States accept them. As this is a Commonwealth-State agreement and as this country is supposed to be a federation we think that if the States accept the agreement it is fair enough and we will go along with them. But the States object to this extra clause, and so they should. They are suspicious of the Commonwealth Government’s motives. Why should they not be? This clause gives the Commonwealth the opportunity to get out of paying what it had promised to the States it would pay; that is, 50 per cent of the reasonable net costs of operating hospitals. That means that if there is a sudden, unexpected increase in hospital costs in a State for whatever reason and if that had not been talked about at the previous State-Commonwealth meetings- I believe they will be held twice a year- the Commonwealth can say to the States: ‘Too bad, mate. You do not get your money’.
The Commonwealth is naturally concerned about Commonwealth-State agreements. It is concerned that the States do not get open ended agreements. Apparently the Commonwealth believes that the States will suddenly start ripping it off. But I point out to the Government that this is a 50-50 agreement. No State government is likely to start spending money hand over fist. For example, it will not spend $50m to get another $50m from the Federal Government. Things just do not work that way. State governments are not so stupid. This offending clause in these heads of agreement was not negotiated between the State and the Commonwealth governments. It was put in and the States were dictated to. There was no agreement to insert the clause. Hence we oppose that clause and we have moved the amendment that the offending words be removed.
(3.50)- The amendment moved by the Opposition will delete from Head 5 in the schedule to the Bill that part of the schedule which provides that Commonwealth hospital cost sharing payments will be based on agreed budgets and variations thereto, as they relate to the net operating costs of public hospitals. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) at the Premiers Conference, the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) at his meetings with State health Ministers, and Commonwealth officials at their meetings with State officials have all made it clear that the Commonwealth Government will meet 50 per cent of the net operating costs of recognised hospitals based on agreed budgets. They have made known that a standing committee in each State, comprised of Commonwealth and State representatives will meet in March and November of each year to formulate the budgets and variations thereto for the consideration of Commonwealth and State health Ministers. These budgets as varied will form the basis of the 50-50 cost sharing. There will be a meeting in October of this year to set into train the discussions and considerations which have to be undertaken. The States are in complete agreement with these proposals.
The agreements which are to be entered into with the States will provide that the standing committee at its November meetings will reexamine the previous year’s budget and variations thereto in the light of the established net operating costs of that year. The committee will do this having regard to the principles and factors taken into account in the formulation of that approved budget and variations and, having regard to the net operating costs, will bring forward further recommendations concerning this retrospective period to health Ministers for their consideration. Should there be items the subject of dissent within the committee I expect that the Ministers will work towards a mutually acceptable position. The Government has declared publicly that it was concerned with the open ended nature of its commitments under the existing arrangements. We are all agreed that action should be taken to avoid this situation. I remind Senator Grimes that when Mr Hayden addressed himself to this Bill in the other place he made some remarks which I believe should be restated. No-one would question Mr Hayden ‘s commitment to Medibank and to its successful operation. I do not quote the honourable member out of context because in the early part of his speech he said that he shared the concern of his colleagues with regard to Head 5. He went on to state:
Having said that I am not without sympathy for the point of view that there is need for some constraints on the way in which the mutual commitments are entered into in relation to financing of hospital budgets. Again I remind honourable members of the extreme difficulties under which we laboured in trying to draw up hospital agreements. We knew, first of all, that we had a hostile situation in this Parliament. Just about anything we sought to do was highly likely to be thrown out- and certain to be thrown out in relation to Medibank- by a hostile Senate. The State governments well aware of our precarious political position, never ceased to exploit our vulnerability.
Later Mr Hayden in his speech stated:
We had to accept agreements which I would have liked to see in an even tighter form, because the situation was created by the obstructionism and the blind opposition of the Liberal-Country parties to most things we wanted to do, whereby we had to cut our cloth as best we could. It is a shame that this sort of tidying up occurs at this late stage.
Then he rebuked us, suggesting that if there had been a more responsible and intelligent approach many of the things which occurred in the Medibank negotiation area could have been avoided with benefit to the national interest. As Mr Hayden said, he believed that agreements with the States depended on the political situation as it existed at that time. It is necessary to have an agreement such as the one which has now been embarked upon between the Commonwealth and the State governments. The Heads of Agreement and the agreements which will flow from them will achieve this objective. At the same time they will provide for a 50-50 cost sharing arrangement of net operating costs of recognised hospitals based on agreed budgets.
Statements have been made that the new agreements will make provision for the Commonwealth to pay each State amounts equal in total to 50 per cent of the net operating costs as they will be defined by the agreements in relation to all recognised hospitals in a State or the total of the amounts paid by a State from its own resources towards meeting those costs, whichever is less. Statements have been made by people such as the Victorian Premier. In his Budget Speech he referred to a State standing committee comprising Commonwealth and State officers to be established under the new Medibank arrangements with the responsibility of checking and recommending budgets at recognised hospitals for each financial year and for reviewing those budgets at appropriate intervals during the course of the year. Those are the things which will flow from the proposals which we now support in the Bill which is being debated.
The Premier of Victoria went on to say that where actual expenditure or receipts differed significantly from the approved Budget estimates an investigation was to be made. There is no question about the Commonwealth continuing to meet 50 per cent of the approved net operating costs of recognised hospitals. The proposed Heads of Agreement in this Bill do not deviate from that undertaking and the Prime Minister gave an undertaking to the last Premiers’ conference that the Commonwealth wished to exercise some influence over the total running costs of hospitals. Our concern, and we acknowledge it, is with the open-ended nature of the previous arrangements and, while Senator Grimes may say that no hospital would embark on expenditure simply to find matching expenditure from the Commonwealth Government, I believe that if the test of efficiency were applied, some heads of agreement would need to provide for the recognition of approved costs before we would be able to have the cost sharing arrangement which is the basis of the agreement with the States. The agreements between the Commonwealth and the States on hospital cost sharing are now in their final draft form. It is anticipated that they will be determined on a mutually acceptable basis quite shortly. For all those reasons the Government is unable to accept the amendment of the Opposition to these clauses.
– I rather gently enter the debate again in the Committee stage but this time just to point out that what we are opposed to is the additional clause because it was said that the Heads of Agreement were part of the negotiations between the Commonwealth and the States. Our attention to this clause was drawn by 3 States. They told us that was not in the agreement. They showed us the telex and the message sent 3 days later. It is utterly wrong for the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) to say that all these Heads of Agreement were agreed to by the States. I agree with everything that Mr Hayden said. I agree that open-ended financial agreements between the Commonwealth and State governments are wrong, are bad and should be avoided. The point that we made about the previous CommonwealthState hospital agreements was that the Commonwealth law officers said they were valid. Also, every State law officer and every State Government asserted that they were valid before and after the present Federal AttorneyGeneral (Mr Ellicott) quite conveniently one night at about midnight decided they were invalid just as the Government was bringing in its new Medibank arrangements. Pardon me, Minister, but we think that is suspicious. We think it is rather strange. The Minister’s argument that the States can be reassured by the Prime Minister’s saying ‘We will share the net acceptable costs with the States 50-50’ carries about as much weight with us as the Prime Minister ‘s statement that he will not interfere with Medibank, that he will not cut spending on Aboriginal affairs and all the other statements he made before 13 December last. Arguments like that cut no ice with us.
That the words proposed to be left out (Senator Grimes’s amendment) be left out.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator T. C. Drake-Brockman)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 16 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
-Mr Chairman, I have 7 amendments which I seek leave to move in globo.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator DrakeBrockman) Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The portions of the clauses to which my amendments relate read as follows:
Section 3 of the Principal Act is amended by adding at the end thereof the following sub-section:
In this Act-
Part IIa of the Principal Act is repealed and the following Part substituted:
PART IIa- MEDIBANK PRIVATE 8a. (1) The functions of the Commission include the functions of conducting a medical benefits fund or a hospital benefits fund, or both, in respect of a State or of the Northern Territory, in accordance with rules determined by the Commission. 8d. ( 1) The Commission shall determine, and, whenever appropriate, re-determine, with the approval of the Minister, principles in accordance with which there may be ascertained, in respect of expenditure of the Commission related to the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions, the amount of that expenditure that is to be treated, for the purpose of this Act, as expenditure wholly and exclusively related to the performance of its general functions and the amount of that expenditure that is to be treated, for the purposes of this Act, as expenditure wholly and exclusively related to the performance of its medibank private functions.
The Commission shall, in respect of expenditure of the Commission related to the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions:
Section 34 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are substituted: 34a. ( 1 ) In the performance of its medibank private functions, the Commission shall pursue, so far as practicable, a policy directed towards securing revenue sufficient to meet all the expenditure of the Commission related to those functions that is properly chargeable to revenue.
Section 35 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section substituted:
Where moneys are required for expenditure by the Commission in connexion with the performance of both its general functions and its medibank private functions-
Section 36 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following sections are substituted: “(2) The Commission may, with the approval of the Treasurer, borrow moneys that are from time to time necessary for the performance of the medibank private functions of the Commission.
Section 40 of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section substituted: 40.(1) The Commission shall cause to be kept proper accounts and records of the transactions and affairs of the Commission related to the general functions of the Commission and shall do all things necessary to ensure that all payments out of its moneys by way of general expenditure of the Commission are correctly made and properly authorized.
In clause 3, leave out ‘medibank private ‘ (wherever occurring), insert ‘supplementary’.
In clause 7, leave out the heading ‘PART IIAMEDIBANK PRIVATE’, insert ‘PART IIA- MEDIBANK BENEFITS AND HOSPITAL BENEFITS FUND’.
In clause 7, leave out ‘medibank private ‘ (wherever occurring), insert ‘supplementary’.
In clause 8, leave out ‘medibank private’, insert supplementary’.
In clause 9, leave out ‘ medibank private ‘ (wherever occurring), insert ‘supplementary ‘.
In clause 10, leave out ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), insert ‘supplementary ‘.
In clause 12, leave out ‘medibank private’ (wherever occurring), insert ‘supplementary ‘ .
In a spirit of reconciliation I inform honourable senators and anyone else who is present that we will not divide the Committee on this issue. The amendments are essentially to change the name Medibank Private’ to ‘Medibank Supplementary’. We realise that this is purely a gesture. We realise also that there is no hope of the amendments being passed by the Committee, just as there was no hope of their being passed by the House of Representatives. Throughout the second reading debate and during the Committee stage of the Health Insurance Bills we expressed our concern that the whole aim of the Government’s exercise has been to promote private health insurance to the detriment of public health care. We believe that by moving these amendments we are expressing our objection. We believe that it is more appropriate that people have standard medical insurance through Medibank and, if they want private medical care and private medical insurance, insure separately, unsubsidised by the taxpayer, so that they know exactly what that insurance is costing them and the community. Therefore we believe that it is better that the scheme be called ‘supplementary insurance’.
We believe also that the term ‘ Medibank ‘ used in respect of the Health Insurance Commission as it will be amended by the Government and in the words ‘Medibank Private’, is a misnomer, a plagiarism and a corruption of the term we had before. We believe that it would be better if Medibank Private or the Private Health Insurance Commission were completely separarate and had a separate name. As I have said, we make our gesture of moving our 7 amendments to this Bill.
– The amendments moved on behalf of the Opposition merely propose the deletion of the word ‘Private ‘ in relation to Medibank ‘s private health insurance function. The amendments propose that the word ‘Supplementary’, or the term ‘medical benefits fund’ or ‘hospital benefits fund’ be used instead of the word ‘Private’. The words ‘Medibank Private’ are simple and clearly understood by the general public. What the Opposition proposes can only confuse the general public at this stage and can do nothing to promote Medibank Private insurance. Senator Grimes used some words to express a gesture. We can only say that surely this is an exercise in semantics. We are unable to accept the gesture that has been made by the Opposition.
Bill agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Guilfoyle) read a third time.
Debate resumed from 22 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Wood)- Is it the wish of the Senate to have a cognate debate on these 2 Bills? There being no objection, that course will be followed.
-I probably have said this before: In the 2!4 years that I have been in this Parliament I seem to have spent much of my time debating legislation relating to health insurance and Medibank. The 2 Bills now under consideration have been presented very late in the piece, as Senator Harradine pointed out; indeed, at the deathknock, just before their provisions are to come into effect. I believe that this sort of thing will happen again and again. In June we debated at length the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill (No. 1) and its associated Bill. We were told by members of the Government that those Bills represented the new Medibank; that this was the new style of health insurance which would solve all sorts of problems, not only in respect of health insurance but also in respect of inflation, disposable income and just about everything else that was going. We predicted at the time that there would have to be amendments to that legislation. We predicted at the time that there would have to be changes. We did not realise what the changes would be. We did not realise that the Government, which then was so opposed to a ceiling, would decide that it was time to introduce a ceiling. We did not realise that the Government, which then was so opposed to Medibank Private set up the way it is now, would come along here and introduce the changes that have been introduced. We did not believe that members of the Government Parties would be in the difficult situation in which they have been, of vigorously defending the Government’s proposals on Medibank for 5 months but having to change the basis of their arguments every 2 months or at times every 2 weeks.
The most spectacular thing that the Health Insurance Levy Assessment (No. 2) Bill doesthis will affect most people in this country- is to make the final provisions for the introduction of the levy. The levy has had a chequered career in the history of health insurance in this country. When Labor was in office and introduced the original national health insurance scheme in the form of Medibank we were going to introduce a levy of 1.35 per cent of taxable income which we believed would give people some indication of what they were paying for health care. Because of the predictions that were made about a national health insurance system we believed it would give us a better chance to get the appropriate legislation through the Parliament.
For the benefit of those who have made such predictions so often in this chamber and some who have even made them during this debate, I repeat the predictions that were made about what would happen if we introduced a national health insurance scheme. The first was that people would flood to doctors and hospitals, apparently because the entire Australian community were hypochondriacs who needed some pecuniary barrier to stop them flooding the medical services. I repeat: This just did not happen. Secondly, we were told that the universal health insurance scheme would lead to a breakdown in doctor-patient relationships. We never heard an exact explanation of how this would happen. One used to suspect that doctors were like gypsies and would only be able to provide a decent service if their hands were crossed with silver. We were told that health costs would become catastrophic. This was always a false and incorrect argument because health costs are not just the costs incurred in paying the general practitioner or the hospital. They are not just the costs of the pills one buys at the chemist shop. They include the administrative costs involved in running the hospitals and the various voluntary health insurance agencies, the various costs of tests associated with medicine, and paramedical costs. A vast gamut of costs is involved. One of the big costs is always the administrative cost.
One of the beauties of the scheme introduced by Labor was its administrative simplicity and its simplicity for the citizens who needed health insurance. We presented a scheme which involved a levy. No matter how painful it is to honourable senators opposite, I must remind them that they opposed the levy and were successful in this chamber in having the levy thrown out. I remind them also that 2 senators who are still members of the Senate told members of the Senate then that if they ever wanted to do anything about Medibank they should not oppose the levy. One of them was Senator Steele Hall, then a Liberal Movement senator, and I was the other. I believe that it was during that debate also that Senator Baume made the gaff that the doctors would co-operate with anyone except the Australian Labor Party. So the then Opposition, in its blind attack on anything that the Federal
Government of the day put up, opposed the introduction of the levy.
I was one who at that stage would have preferred a levy because I, like some others, felt and still feel that in some instances people are probably better off when they pay their taxes if they can have some concept of what those taxes are being spent on. I realise that this is difficult, but some European countries have separate items of tax for separate and specific purposes. I, like anyone else, realise that the 1.35 per cent levy would not have paid for all the voluntary health insurance and that it really would not have demonstrated very well to people what they were paying for. However, I felt that there should be some concept of what the people were paying for. But when the then Opposition threw out the legislation to introduce a levy we accepted the fact that we would have to fund Medibank- the national health insurance scheme- from Consolidated Revenue. There was nothing wrong with that. In fact, it was fairer than the levy we proposed and is certainly fairer than the levy the present Government proposes. As we have said repeatedly, we believe the provision of an adequate standard of public health care to all citizens is a reasonable issue for government to be involved in.
We have a progressive tax system which more or less involves the payment of tax based on the ability to pay. We all know there are difficulties with this system, that people can get around the system and that the system needs changing; but it is the best system we could have and it is about the best system on which to base any expenditure on social security benefits. When voluntary health insurance was paid out of Consolidated Revenue, people were contributing roughly on the basis of” their ability to pay. In fact, the system worked very well. The administrative costs of Medibank were as predicted. The utilisation of Medibank in the first year was as predicted, something that I think was nearly a miracle. In fact, the administrative costs were very much less than predicted. The people who ran our national health insurance scheme- our Medibank- ran it very efficiently and were congratulated by Ministers from both the present Government and the previous Government on their ability, conscientiousness and effectiveness.
The people accepted Medibank. They accepted the simple administrative setup whereby they were covered by Medibank for standard medical and hospital care and if they wanted to take out private insurance they could make that choice and take out that insurance with one of the private insurance funds. I am sure that honourable senators from both sides of this chamber have been asked over and over again since 20 May: ‘Why on earth change it?’ The answer we have received from every speaker from the Government side in this place over the last 2 days is: ‘We did it to cut costs’. No one, including the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle), can explain how the changes will cut costs. No honourable senator has attempted to explain how Medibank Mark II, Mark III, Mark IV, Mark V or whatever- we have lost count of the number- will cut the cost of health care. Nobody can explain how a simple administrative system which was funded out of Consolidated Revenue and gave people a choice of just Medibank or Medibank plus private or intermediate hospital cover would not be less expensive than the proposed system whereby people have to make numerous choices, paymasters have to know from whom to take the levy and from whom not to take it, the Taxation Office has to know who is paying the levy and who is not, and the Health Insurance Commission has to know who is paying the levy and who is not. Under this scheme people will join private funds, have their operations and get out of hospital and the health funds will have to catch up with those who opt in and opt out of schemes.
We think that this is a very strange way to go about providing a national health scheme. We would have thought that if they wanted to abolish Medibank they could have gone about it in a much more efficient and easier way, that they could have chucked the whole thing out. But they were stuck with the promise of the present Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), who said: ‘We will retain Medibank; Medibank has become part of the system’. Plenty of people in both the Liberal Party and the National Country Party oppose what the Prime Minister said.
– They were honest.
– They were not honest, Senator Brown; they are suddenly honest now. The honourable member for Griffith in the other place, Mr Donald Cameron, said: ‘I always opposed Medibank. I still oppose it. As far as I am concerned, the whole thing can be thrown out. I do not want anything to do with it, and never did.’ He was not saying that between 1 1 November and 13 December last. Senator Shiel has always said that. Senator Sheil has said it since the day he came into the Senate. He does not even believe in voluntary health insurance. He certainly does not agree with peer review in the medical profession. He does not agree with surgical audits in hospitals. In fact, he does not agree with taxation. He has told us that he is just a Workers Party man who believes that the only function of the Federal Government is foreign affairs and the maintenance of law and orderbut his idea of law and order. He ran for cover before the last election so that he would not be asked his views on this aspect.
Senator Townley said that Medibank Private, the Government’s own proposal, is a socialist measure and that the Prime Minister and the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) ought to be ashamed of themselves for joining Medibank Private because it is a socialist measure. Poor Senator Townley waits for hours at Melbourne airport because Ansett Airlines of Australia has no flight available for 4 hours although 2 TransAustralia Airlines flights leave for his destination before the next Ansett flight. He does so because he will not travel on a socialist airline. Behaviour of that type demonstrates that he wears ideological blinkers; it also demonstrates an ideological blindness.
The result of the Government’s changes, as I have said, is that everybody in the community is confused. Not the least among those confused are the editorials of most newspapers which have invented names such as ‘Medimess’ and Medimuddle ‘ to describe the new scheme. Senator Townley told us that the reason for the confusion in the community is the evil Opposition confusing everyone with false propaganda. But there has been great confusion. Let me clear up one point of confusion which I am sure will arise in this debate. I might as well deal with it now because I am the first speaker on the resumption of this debate.
When the Government’s legislation was debated in May and June of this year, the Opposition opposed the levy. The reason that we stated for opposing the levy was that we found it unnecessary. We did not see the necessity for a change in a system that had worked well and that was funded fairly in the community. Having said that a levy was unnecessary, we asserted that if a levy was imposed there was no necessity for it to be at a level of 2.5 per cent. We explained then that when in government we had tried to introduce a levy. We had tried hard and we had failed. We had been happy with the result of the failure. Therefore, we saw no reason at all to seek again to introduce a levy. We saw no reason for a change in a good system.
We were attacked for being inconsistent by the Government which did not bear in mind its inconsistency for, when in Opposition, opposing the levy we had previously proposed. When the Government’s legislation was introduced in
May-June of this year and after it had been passed by both Houses, we suddenly found that those things that we said were wrong with the legislation, as well as the confusion that we suggested would arise with its passage and the sorts of difficulties which we claimed would result, were proved to be true. The Government started to amend its scheme. We have had Medibank II, Medibank III and Medibank IV.
A great public controversy arose. The Australian Council of Trade Unions, led by its President, Mr Hawke, suggested a 1.6 per cent levy. Some of the newspapers suggested a 1.3 per cent levy; others suggested no levy at all. The Australian Labor Party consistently opposed a levy. That confusion in the minds of newspapers, trade unionists, businessmen and all manner of people in the community was a result of the Government’s haste to dismantle Medibank and to move a few million dollars from its Budget to the private sector.
Part of the Government’s haste resulted from its desire to look after that part of the community that it felt supported it the best. The Melbourne Age of 29 July 1976 probably summed up the real motives behind the Government’s action better than any other newspaper when it said:
The Government has given private doctors and private hospitals- as distinct from salaried or sessionary paid doctors in public hospitals- a guaranteed market of the more affluent half of the population.
I am surprised that the Age was not attacked because the medical profession must not be criticised. I have been told by members of the Government: ‘You must not criticise the medical profession’. A news item at lunchtime today referred to doctor bashing. The only doctor bashing that has gone on in this debate in the last 2 days has been, I believe, carried out by me, Senator Georges and perhaps a couple of other Opposition senators who have pointed out that any over-utilisation of our health system relating to operations, excessive prescribing or excessive pathology tests is a result of the actions of doctors who control those services. We must point out that the majority of doctors do not do these things. But some do and they cost the taxpayers of this country a lot of money. They cost the Government a lot of money. They tend to muck up the system.
– There are black sheep in every family.
– I am making this point. But we have been criticised for doctor bashing. Of course it is perfectly all right for members of the Government one after the other, day after day, to get up here and kick every trade unionist in this country. It was perfectly all right for a Minister yesterday to rise and to slander and slam a distinguished historian of this country. It is perfectly all right for that sort of thing to go on- but we must not criticise the doctors! I repeat that those of us who have criticised doctors have criticised them in what we believe to be a constructive manner. We have pointed out that there is too much of a tendency in this country for the medical profession, of which I am a member and to which I am proud to belong, to blame every fault on the patient. Senator Walters may laugh. Senator Walters is a great defender of the medical profession.
– And rightly so.
-So she should be. I do not indulge in criticism in the Senate of the Mercedes that Senator Walters ‘s husband drives or any of the activities which go on around the place. The medical profession must accept criticism when criticism is due. As I said yesterday, the medical profession, despite what Senator Sheil has said, must take a greater responsibility for disciplining its own members.
The Melbourne Age, a number of other newspapers, the Opposition and other people who have looked at the situation believe that the prime motive of the Government in introducing a levy and making the changes that it has made to the Medibank scheme, many of which we believe to be unnecessary, is to cause many people- 50 per cent, 60 per cent, or even 70 per cent, I think Senator Walters believes it will be- out of the public health insurance scheme. What will be the result if the Government achieves its desire? As I have pointed out, first of all it will create confusion in the minds of the Australian people. It has already done that. Secondly, Medibank will become an administratively difficult scheme to handle by adding administrative processes all over the place. The result will be that the Medibank computers and the Medibank administrative set-up under the Health Insurance Commission will be underutilised. As a result of the Government’s action, the number of people who will pay more for their health insurance will increase. But probably the worst result of all flowing from the Government’s action- and I base my claim on the Government’s figures produced after 20 May and the figures produced as a result of combining the effects of this action on tax indexation, the family allowance scheme and adding the Medibank levy- will be that the vast majority of wage earners who earn from $110 a week to $ 1 90 a week in this country will be out of pocket.
The Government will cause them to lose anything from $1.50 to $3 a week from their pay packets. It has misled because it has told them with one voice that they will gain by tax indexation but with another voice it has said that they will gain from the new family allowance scheme. But the Government is not telling them and did not tell them that the combined effect of the loss of the children ‘s rebate, which we accept along with the family allowances scheme, plus the Medibank levy in fact will put them out of pocket. They will be out of pocket by only a small amount each week but it will be a fair amount in a year. This is happening at a time when the Government is telling us all to spend, spend, spend.
The Medibank levy is a tax. It does represent an increase in taxation. To deny, as I have heard denied in this debate, that the levy is anything other than an increase in taxation is utter nonsense. This comes from a government which promised to cut taxation. This comes, as Senator Harradine pointed out earlier, from a government which has said: ‘Shortly we will reduce taxes’. By how much is the Government going to reduce taxes? Is it going to reduce taxes sufficiently to make up for the increase in taxes which is the result of the Medibank levy.
The imposition of this tax is causing great confusion. That confusion continues despite the efforts of the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) to abate it and despite his efforts to explain that there is no such confusion. The first confusion that arose certainly escaped me. I know it escaped most members of the Government when it came along. I refer to the confusion that arose in the minds of the pensioners in this country. The pensioners were worried about how much they would have to pay because the last Medibank booklet produced said that pensioners may have to pay the levy even if they have a pensioner health benefit card. Mrs Irene Ellis, secretary of the pensioners’ association, and Mr Wilson, its president, came here and asked what was going on. I said: ‘According to the scales in this booklet you will have to pay the levy’. They went and saw Mr Lynch and he said: ‘I am sure that is not right’. Mr Lynch rang the Minister for Health, Mr Hunt, and Mr Hunt said: ‘I am sorry. It is right’. Only 4 weeks ago the Government made a decision, one with which we of the Opposition agree, after all that time following the decision in May to introduce the scheme, to exempt the pensioner health benefit card holders.
– They did decide to do it.
-I think it is fine. I agree with the decision. But we were told that this scheme had been well thought out. Senator Walters had been telling the people in Hobart that this scheme was the greatest thing since sliced bread. Yet the Government suddenly realised that it had forgotten about the pensioners.
– Are you objecting to consultation?
– I am not objecting but this was not consultation. Mrs Irene Ellis, secretary of the pensioners’ association, had to tell the Treasurer of Australia and the Minister for Health what was going on. These were the people who knew what was going on. These were the people, advised by the men who allegedly drew up this proposal, the Medibank Review Committee, who know what was going on. These were the people who told the people of Australia: ‘We know how to fix things in this country and we know what is wrong.’ Unfortunately the people of Australia are learning what is going on in this country. So that was one problem that we had. Then Senator Donald Cameron came into the Senate and asked the Minister for Social Security what was going on. He asked whether the pensioners were going to have to pay the Medibank levy even though they held a pension medical card. The Minister said: No, they will not, not if they have a pensioner health card.’ Then the Minister said: ‘And neither will some other low income groups.’ So we said: ‘What low income groups?’ We have been saying that since. This legislation is to take effect on I October and we still do not know what low income groups are going to be exempted.
– What rot. You do.
– We do not know. Perhaps Senator Walters can inform us. We know that there are to be regulations under this legislation. If Senator Baume can inform us about this I would welcome his doing so. We do not know what low income earners the Minister was talking about who will be exempt. The Minister said provision would be made for this in the legislation. The only provision in the legislation is for regulations to exempt people from the levy- for instance, pensioners holding a pensioner health card and other non-specified, unknown, low income earners. Who are they to be, droughtstricken farmers?
– Who are they going to be and what are the levels to be? That is what we have been asking.
– Why do you not read the explanatory memorandum?
– I invite the honourable senator to look at the explanatory memorandum and tell us where this is set out in it because we do not know. Like Senator Walters, I am not a constitutional lawyer. I wonder, however, whether we should be remitting taxation by regulation. I hope that the regulations that come out will go before the Regulations and Ordinances Committee or someone who knows what they are all about. I do not know. We have seen lawyers suggest that it is not quite right to remit taxation from a group of people here or there all over the country without legislation.
– You could always move to disallow the regulations, could you not?
– That statement is typical of an answer from the representative in this chamber of the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott) in relation to this sort of thing. Why does the Government not include it? We give notice that we intend to move an amendment to put in the legislation a provision that pensioners who hold a pensioner health card should be exempt form the levy. But, Senator Walters, surprise, surprise, it ain’t in there.
– Do you disagree with that?
– No. The amendment is to the effect that this should be in the legislation.
– Well, why are you critical because we have come to this decision?
-I am critical of the methods that the Government uses to do this. I want to know who else is exempt apart from the pensioner health card carriers. I am not referring to the group on the little graph. We know about the people with over $2,600 and over $4,200. We want to know about the extra groups.
– Have you also forgotten the repatriation people?
- Senator Walters is again demonstrating her extraordinary ignorance of the legislation when she starts to bring in repatriation pensioners because the Minister has spoken about others and later she will tell us what others.
– You said you did not know about others except the pensioners.
- Senator Walters is indulging in debating points that she learnt in high school many years ago. Probably it was not in a high school.
– You are quite right; it was not.
– I am sure it was not. Not with an accent like that. These are just a couple of areas where there is great difficulty but there are other areas of the legislation which I think should be of concern to all of us. Under the original health scheme and under the present health scheme one could change freely from one health fund to another. One could change from the Medical Benefits Fund to the Hospitals Contribution Fund. If one were paid up with MBF and then transferred to HCF one was immediately covered. According to our reading of this legislation people cannot do that. In fact the 2-month waiting period will apply if people cross from one fund to another. We hope that that is not so but if it is we believe it should be changed because the result would be that people are locked into the fund with which they start, be it Medibank Private, MBF, HCF or any other fund like that, and there will be a financial penalty if they change from one fund to another. We view this matter with some concern because it has been suggested not only by members of the Opposition, not only by people involved with the National Health Insurance Commission but by Mr Cade, who normally -
– I have never heard of him.
– I am not surprised that Senator Baume has not heard of him. Perhaps he contacts only members of the Opposition when he is annoyed. Anyway, my friend Mr Cade has suggested that some private funds may have set their premiums artificially low by using their reserves. Mr Cade actually criticised some funds for using their reserves to cut premiums. If people are lured into joining these funds because of the artificially low premiums now and later the premiums go above those charged by MBF or Medibank Private and the people want to change over, it is wrong, I believe, for no provision to be made to get rid of this apparent financial penalty for changing funds. We genuinely believe that if the Government wants the private health insurance funds to compete with each other and wants people to have a choice, they should have a choice other than the first choice of the fund which they join.
– Is that not the case?
– I am asking for clarification of that point, because we feel that it would be wrong as a result of this legislation for people to get locked into one fund, be it Medibank Private or any other fund.
– Does not Medibank Private really set the standard? If it sets good entry requirements it virtually sets the standard for everyone, does it not?
– Yes. I will take it the other way. Medibank Private fees may go up very steeply for some reason. People may want to get out of it and into HCF or one of the other valuntary funds. I believe there should be a provision by which they can do so without incurring a 2 months penalty, without having to pay into 2 funds for 2 months.
– Otherwise there is not the competition about which the Government is talking.
– It is not always interested in competition. I am trying to be fair about this matter. I am perfectly willing to accept that I may be wrong. We tried to get an explanation of this in the other place, but we could not. The Government has had great difficulties since it introduced this legislation. We believe that there are more difficulties. We believe that more difficulties will appear along the line. I do not want to go into this matter in great detail. There was the controversy which arose and which was reported in the Sydney Morning Herald about what happens when both husband and wife are working, the husband has the full levy taken out, and the wife has the levy taken out also. Who is exempt and who is not? It became so confusing that no-one understood it. The Treasurer decided that we would sort out the matter. I merely recommend to members that they look at the story in the Sydney Morning Herald of 18 September, at the editorial in that paper on the same day and at the Treasurer’s letter. I do not believe it is worth incorporating the whole lot in Hansard. I do not believe it is worth reading the whole lot. I think the editor’s reply to the Treasurer’s letter is typical of how a lot of people feel about the matter. The Treasurer wrote a long letter which everyone to whom I have spoken finds difficulty in understanding. I suggest that the Sydney Morning Herald is certainly not a pro-Labor paper. It certainly has not been as hard as some of the papers have been on the Government’s Medibank changes. The editor’s reply to the Treasurer’s letter which was published on 22 September states:
The Treasurer is being either deliberately disingenuous or remarkably obtuse. The Herald’s point is that if a man does not pay the health insurance levy his wife is denied her right to free Medibank insurance, because, as Mr Lynch admits, the rule is that, for exemption from levy to be available to anyone with a family, the family must be covered by private insurance.’ A woman, eligible as a taxpayer for free Medibank cover, is denied it because she is married. The husband is penalised for not paying the levy. Is this the ‘free choice’ Mr Lynch ‘s Government says is available to everybody?
Mr Lynch has not been able to clarify that difficulty since then. He has not been able to clarify it to the satisfaction of anybody on this side. Other speakers on this side will bring out further areas of confusion. They will question the reasons for this action. They will express the concern that is being expressed everywhere in the community. Nobody will be able to dispute the words of Mr Peter Samuel in the Bulletin who started an article by stating that the new Medibank is merely a small technical adjustment to the present scheme. The Bulletin then spent 3 weeks and about 90 pages explaining the simple technical adjustment and how people could make their choice.
I do not wish to prolong this debate unduly. Last year I hoped we had finished this long series of health insurance debates. Apparently Senator Baume and I, for as long as we are senators, will be debating the same subject in this place. The Opposition affirms that the Medibank scheme should be funded as it has been funded since its inception, by the good grace of Liberal and Country Parties, from Consolidated Revenue. Therefore, I move:
– I second the amendment.
-The Senate is debating the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill (No. 2) and the Health Insurance Levy Bill (No. 2) and the amendment which has been moved to that Bill to preserve the status quo. It was interesting to listen to Senator Grimes. I did so with considerable pleasure. Since we have changed sides in this chamber he proceeds me in debate rather than follows me. It was interesting to hear him arguing so forcefully for the course which his Party now advocates. I am reminded that it is people such, as Senator Grimes who state with some pride that they have helped put their Party in the position in which it is today. Earlier today Senator Brown emphasised that the issue is an ideological one. Perhaps he was right. He stated that he had always been against the levy. Senator Grimes stated that he had been in favour of a health insurance levy. We are led to believe that the kind of levy which ‘ we are seeking to introduce was endorsed, at least in principle, by Mr Hawke in the last few months. He proposed a levy, although he argued about the quantum of it. Today we are hearing a shallow argument from the Australian Labor Party in an attempt to say to people: ‘We do not want you to have to pay, and we will use any argument to oppose that’.
We on this side believe that Churchill’s words are correct Socialism as practised by members of the Opposition and as preached by members of the Opposition is ‘the philosophy of failure, the creed of ignorance and the gospel of envy’. In this debate in the last couple of days all those features have been brought out; because the Labor Party scheme was a failure to the nation. The arguments of honourable senators opposite have not displayed a deep or penetrating knowledge. They have done their best to denigrate those who provide health care and those who provide insurance against the cost of health care.
The 2 Bills seek to impose a levy upon income, to amend the levy arrangements previously announced, to make them simpler, to set the ceilings for the levy and to identify the exemptions from the levy, either total exemptions or partial exemptions. This debate really complements those which took place earlier this year when the issue of a’ health insurance levy was debated and resolved in the Senate. The Government, as it promised, after 20 May has taken the opportunity of consulting those who will be involved in a health insurance levy. We have consulted with those who will have to pay the levy. Senator Grimes has drawn attention to the fact that the Combined Pensioners Association is one of the bodies with which we have consulted. We have consulted with the Australian Council of Trade Unions and the trade union movement. We have consulted with the health funds which have to administer the levy.
– Have you consulted with the Housewives Association?
– We have consulted with community groups through parliamentarians and we have consulted with the government departments which are responsible for the collection of the levy. The scheme, as it emerges now, is fairer and will operate better. That is what this new legislation does; it improves and simplifies the levy arrangements.
The new scheme also enables me to exercise my choice to leave Medibank and to join one of the private funds. I have chosen to join one of the friendly society funds, namely, the Grand United Order of Oddfellows, because I believe that many of us on this side of the Parliament need to show that we believe in the operation of the free market system by supporting free enterprise groups such as the Grand United Order of Oddfellows which are trying to offer, through the services of the friendly societies -
– They are odd fellows, all right -
- Senator O’Byrne may sneer, if he wishes to, at anything that is not state run. Senator O’Byrne last week called an eminent Australian a Liberal spiv. By his behaviour here he does not dignify the office which he once held in the Senate. I am happy to get out of Medibank, and it is these Bills which enable me to do so.
I remind the Senate that health costs are considerable and that each Australian will see his or her family doctor on an average of about 40 times between birth and adulthood. I remind the Senate, because we have been mighty short on facts in the last couple of days, that well over 90 per cent of all individual services rendered in this country are rendered at the level of primary care. In a few moments, when I come back to identify costs, honourable senators will find that probably only half the costs of health care are attributable to services rendered at the level of primary care. It is the cheapest part of our health care systems, service for service. Half our costs in Australia are related to hospital services.
Honourable senators who wish to attack the medical profession should recognise the very considerable contribution to the load on costs in this country made by hospitals. That does not apply only to this country, as many honourable senators would be aware. In August this yearabout 3 weeks ago- the United States Department of Health, Education and Welfare published a document entitled Forward Planning for Health, Fiscal Years 1978 to 1982. In it the Department set out to identify the reasons why health care is becoming more expensive. At page 30 of the article we find the statement that in the past decade daily hospital costs in the United States went from $US41 to SUS136. It parallels the experience in this country, where the bed cost in a Sydney teaching hospital is now more than $100 per patient per day. In the specialist wings of some of the hospitals, such as the cardiothoracic units, that cost can be of the order of $300 or $400 per person per day. This is the area in which costs are rising most rapidly. The United States investigators have identified the American experience further, as follows:
During fiscal year 1976, while the increase in the Consumer Price Index for all other items was S.7 per cent, the increases in medical care, physician services, and hospital services were 9.3 per cent, 1 1.6 per cent, and 12.2 per cent, respectively.
The United States has a very considerable problem in determining how it is going to contain the rising hospital costs in that country, and we share that problem. It is not enough for any honourable senator to try to analyse the cost structure of health care in Australia and very conveniently to forget the considerable contribution to expenses from the public hospital sector and the private hospital sector.
If honourable senators opposite wish to attack the kind of medical system under which we operate, if they wish to allege that the rise in costs is due to our fee for service system, at least they should recognise that there is no perfect method of paying for health services or private medical services. There are 3 generally accepted methods of payment- a fee for service system, a sessional payment or salaried service system, and a capitation or prepayment system. Each of them has advantages to the community and each of them has disadvantages. Even in Great Britain, where every effort has been made to prevent the private practice of medicine, more than 5 million people have thought it worth while to insure themselves privately and to pay for their medical care. As I say, each of the systems has disadvantages and each has advantages. I would not like to have any scheme under which we sought to establish one of those systems as the only method of payment.
I remind the Senate that the health centres program to which Senator Grimes referred was an initiative of the McMahon Liberal Government. It was our Government that commissioned Llewellyn-Da vies Kinhill Pty Ltd to bring in a report. It was our Government that commenced the construction of health centres, just as it was a Liberal government in New South Wales that built the health centre at Mount Druitt. If the Australian Labor Party picked up that program and carried it on, we applaud it; but let honourable senators opposite not pretend that it was their vision or their initiative. We started it in part of our search for a pluralistic solution to the problems of health care. The discussion today is about the new Medibank financing arrangements. We have heard a lot of comment from Senator Grimes about what various newspapers have said. Obviously he did not read the Sydney Daily Telegraph- not of 2 months ago and not of 5 weeks ago, but of 2 days ago- of 2 1 September. It had this to say:
A carefully orchestrated campaign during and after the latest Federal election has harped on cruel cutbacks to social services the Fraser Government allegedly planned.
Neither Prime Minister Mr Fraser nor any of his ministers has done or said anything to suggest that they were bent on pulling down our social services structure.
There have been changes to Medibank.
But the system certainly has not been destroyed and the changes have introduced competition into the medical benefits ‘industry ‘ which can only be for the public good.
That is from a newspaper in my own city which over recent years has not made a practice of supporting our side. I am appalled by the repeated allegations that the private health insurance funds are inefficient; that they are unduly expensive; and that their cost structure does not compare with that of Medibank.
It is worth reminding Senator Brown who impressed me with the vehemence of his outburst against the private funds that he was making a false comparison. When one is being logical it is customary to compare like with like. We know the management costs of Medibank and of the private funds. We know that they are almost the same. We can only make a comparison, if we wish, between the management costs of Medibank as a percentage of the money paid out and the management costs of the private funds as a percentage of the money paid out. That is the only fair comparison.
Honourable senators may not be aware that that is the comparison which the Australian Labor Party does not make. It may interest honourable senators to know that the management costs for Medibank as they appear in Appropriation Bill (No. 1), division 327, subdivision 1, are $58,747,000. That is how much money has been allowed for the Health Insurance Commission. One might ask: Against that $5 8m how much does it cost to administer the private health funds? That information is available from a document which was tabled in the Senate about a week ago. The document is the ‘Report on the Operations of the Registered Medical and Hospital Funds’. It shows all the management expenses for the last full year before Medibank. If we add up all the management expenses from all the funds the figure comes to $64m. So there we have it.
This year Medibank is asking for $58m. The funds, 2 years ago, used $64m. If we add a component for inflation we will be making a comparison between $58m and, maybe, $70m. One fund is asking for $58m and many funds, between them, are spending $70m or so. To say in a comparison that the management expenses of Medibank are one-third of those of the private funds is to be misleading and dishonest. It is not so. It is time that that untruth was placed to rest.
One fund which is likely to hold half the population is asking for $57m and the other funds which provide an alternative at competitive rates will spend on their management expenses not far above $64m.
We are dealing with the health insurance levy legislation which sets out to impose a levy of 2.5 per cent on taxable incomes. The amount received this year will be less than in a full year’s operation. The Bill sets out the ceilings of the levy, the exemptions and the many combinations.
It is said that when a matter is described in politics as a matter of principle that is usually because it involves money. Of course, honourable senators opposite have probably called this a matter of great principle because a lot of money is involved. It is worth looking at what this money is and what the results of the levy will be. Before I do that I cannot help remarking on the very cursory argument put by Senator Grimes in favour of his party’s assertion that Medibank should be funded out of general taxation revenue. Senator Grimes went to some pains to tell us that his personal belief was that a levy was the appropriate way to fund health insurance. He said that today. He let us know the sympathy he had for a levy. But the levy we are talking about is the Labor Party levy which honourable senators opposite supported so enthusiastically 2 years ago. It is the levy which, in principle, Mr Hawke espoused a few weeks ago. It seems that only the parliamentary Labor Party does not like the levy now, having supported it so enthusiastically for more than 2 years.
I remember that before Medibank became a reality we opposed in globo the Medibank program and the Medibank apparatus. At that time we opposed the levy because it was part of the apparatus and of the program. Senator Steele Hall quite correctly drew to our attention the fact that if we were unsuccessful in preventing the introduction of Medibank we might regret that there was no levy. Of course, Senator Steele Hall was correct. But let us be clear on this matter. Since we introduced the idea of a modified Medibank and the Medibank levy we have had Mr Hawke and the Australian Council of Trade Unions putting proposals to our Government which supported the levy, though they have argued with the level. One wonders who speaks for the Labor movement in Australia today. Is it this miserable rump of an Opposition or is it the trade union movement? Is it the de facto leader of the Labor movement, Mr Hawke, or the discredited man in the other place who scarcely raises his head above the trenches, the man whose response to out Budget was described so well by the Australian Financial Review as: Labor’s backward grand vision’? Is it the man who is so obsessed by his own failure that he cannot give any future or forward direction to his party? In fact, for most Australians Mr Hawke provides a more rational and responsible leader.
Although Mr Hawke proposes a different levy level, he is in favour of a levy. However, Mr Hawke ‘s levy would not operate quite as justly as ours. Mr Hawke wanted the levy to apply to all income levels and to all wage earners. The effect of this would have been that every 2-income family in Australia would have paid the full levy no matter what total effect that had on the family earnings. Our Government has seen fit to limit the levy’s upper limit to protect 2-income families. Mr Hawke would have had them paying to the sky with no remittance for a family rate. Every 2-income family in Australia should ponder the fact that had Mr Hawke had his way their levy would have been higher. With inflation it would have gone higher still on an automatic basis.
We can ask why a levy is necessary, why we need a levy to help pay for the cost of health care in this country? The answer is: For the same reason Senator Grimes so ably advanced 2 years ago. We want some involvement by the consumers of health care so that they will appreciate the cost of providing health care. We do not ask that they provide all the cost. Let us. be quite clear. Health care costs for medical and hospital services in this country are quite astronomical. Many countries have tried to provide for these costs out of general revenue but they have found the burden intolerable.
I remind the Senate that in New Zealand they had a scheme under which originally, most of the costs of consultations was provided out of general revenue. Now New Zealand has a scheme where only a minority part of the medical fees is provided because the Government could not afford to carry on. In Canada, where the Government funded a Medibank-style system for medical costs, the Government has found the costs intolerable and has given notice that it intends to withdraw.
– Medibank was based on that.
– Medibank was based on the Canadian system, as Senator Messner so correctly advises me. We now know that in Canada it would not work and that the country would have faced bankruptcy had it continued with the system. In Great Britain, where the hospital services were funded out of revenue in the same way as they are in this country, the costs have become too great for the country to bear comfortably. I return to the United States document Forward Plan for Health, issued last month by the United States Departments of Health, Education and Welfare. Talking about the United States experience, the following statement appears:
It has by now become obvious that the only significant constraint on today ‘s health care delivery system has nothing to do with technology, logistics, or resources: it is economic. If we were willing and able to put an unlimited amount of funds at the disposal of a national health insurance system, we could meet virtually every conceivable need and demand for health services.
But that is only if they put a limitless amount of money at the disposal of the system. The Americans go on to say:
It now appears that our economy is unable to afford such increases over a prolonged period, and unless costs are contained we will face severe restrictions in health care delivery and /or other public services- restrictions our nation should not tolerate. Unfortunately, this situation is already occurring.
The Americans go on to point out:
During calendar year 1975, 20 States, because of rising costs coupled with budgetary restrictions, were forced to make cutbacks in their Medicaid programs, reducing, restricting or eliminating coverage, reimbursement and /or eligibility.
There we have it. In which countries with systems akin to ours have we seen a system funded out of general revenue able to operate? It is not in Canada, not in the United States, not in Great Britain and not in New Zealand, because the calls on the public purse are unlimited.
All that we want to do is involve people to a small extent, as the Labor Party so eloquently argued in the past and as Mr Hawke still proposes, in sharing some of the costs of their health care. The total cost of medical and hospital services in this country for the current financial year is estimated to be $3,300m while the rest of the appropriation for the Department of Health is of the order of $3, 100m. This means that all the expenditure on health services other than the costs of medical and hospital benefits will be * $3, 100m. So we are looking at the financing of an amount greater than this simply for our hospital and medical services.
Let us be quite clear. The levy will return only $1 of every $9 spent. The levy will raise less than $400m. The Commonwealth will continue to pay the lion’s share. In fact it will pay more than $ 1, 100m this year and in so doing will cover the costs of those who are in need or those who are poor. The States will share through the hospital cost sharing system to the extent of $840m and those of us who decide to insure privately will contribute $985m. The levy payers will pay less than $400m or less than $ 1 of every $9 spent. However, they will have some involvement in understanding just how painful it is for the national economy to bear the burden of hospital and medical costs and their continuous and endless escalation. Seventy per cent of Australians have indicated that they wish to carry on with private insurance. The percentage may vary after 1 October.
It is my concern that people should have a choice, and through the levy arrangements and through the arrangements made for alternative means for paying for health care we now have the choice.
Part of this legislation provides for exemptions from the levy. I am reminded that Aristotle said that injustice arises when equals are treated unequally and also when unequals are treated equally, and it would be quite unthinkable for a Liberal Government to impose on those in need the requirement to pay the levy. They are not equal in terms of economic capacity to many others in society and they should not have to bear the same levy load.
Our arrangements have ensured that those in need, the poorer members of our society, will be spared. Let us be quite clear that the very poor will pay nothing and will be covered. They will have all the benefits and all the entitlements to Medibank that they have now. Those who are poor will pay either nothing or very little. They will have a large entitlement to subsidy. It is the higher income earners who will pay most and any argument which alleges that the rich will pay less than the poor is untrue. The rich will pay more, the poor will pay less, in line with the principles of our progressive tax system. We will carry on with our program to spare those in need from the requirement to pay levies and imposts of this kind.
The ceiling will help those Australians who have more than one income in the family. As you know, Mr President, it is often the families who are battlers who have two people working and who will be most appreciative of the levy ceiling which will ensure that from the combined income no more than $300 will have to be paid by way of health insurance levy if they wish to stay with Medibank. Our arrangements have ensured that no Australian has to leave Medibank, that no Australian will be harmed by the levy. Our arrangements have ensured that social justice will continue to be done.
We are asked continually by the Labor Party why we do not leave Medibank alone because it was a social program. It was nothing of the kind. In the Fabian lectures which Mr Whitlam gave before he was Prime Minister in 1972, under the heading ‘Labor in Power- What is the Difference’ he had this to say about Medibank:
The major act of nationalisation in a traditional sense, to be undertaken by a Labor Government in the next term, will be through the establishment of a single health fund, administered by a health insurance commission, with contributions made according to each taxpayer’s means and treatment accorded to each patient ‘s needs.
So Mr Whitlam set down before he came into office that Medibank was primarily his Government’s first socialist program. This is why the Labor Party is so sensitive about it. It is not concerned just with questions of social justice. It does not want its socialist monument interfered with. What the Labor Party does not realise is that there is nothing magical about socialist programs and nothing magical about nationalisation.
I am reminded that Mr Whitlam himself, in that same series of lectures, gave us the answer when he said:
Few modern socialists would now maintain that nationalisation is the sole, or most effective, method of achieving democratic socialist objectives.
He went on to say:
For the community, it has proved little more than state capitalism, and for employees, a substitution of one remote employer by another equally remote, and one not always or necessarily more responsive to their claims or aspirations.
I see Medibank as basically a form of state capitalismanother Post Office. I accept Mr Whitlam ‘s criticism that it is nothing more than state capitalism as remote and as unresponsive to people’s needs as any other monopolistic enterprise.
The health insurance levy will help each of us to identify the fact that health care is expensive, and as that levy rises, if it rises, we will be aware that the cost of health care is rising. The exemptions from the levy will ensure that those who are poorer or in need will be spared the cost of the levy. The various ceiling or exemption provisions will allow people to limit their costs; and they will allow me- and people like me- to exercise my choice to be free of Medibank, to be free of a socialist experiment and to return to support the free enterprise system of health insurance in which I believe.
– It is not my intention to delay the proceedings of the Senate for very long, because most of the arguments have been put forward by my colleagues on this side of the Senate. Firstly, I want to correct what I regard as a misstatement by Senator Baume who was supported, by way of interjection, by Senator Walters. Senator Baume made a statement to the effect that when the Labor Government proposed the Medibank levy of 1.35 per cent of taxable income in December 1974 there was no ceiling.
– There was a ceiling.
-The honourable senator said that there was no ceiling and that the levy went on and on. Senator Walters interjected and said that there was no provision in the Labor Party’s legislation at that time for a ceiling such as we have now of $150 for a single person and $300 for a family. I want to quote from page 3278 of the Senate Hansard of 1 1 December 1 974. Senator Wriedt, the then Minister for Agriculture, when speaking in the second reading debate on the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill 1974 [No. 2], stated:
In that event, it is intended that the rate applied to 1975-76 taxable incomes will be a proportionate part of the annual rate of 1.35 per cent, determined on a time basis. The levy of 1.35 per cent of taxable income will not apply to all taxpayers. At the upper end of the income scale, and on the assumption that the levy will apply for the whole of 1975-76, the maximum amount of levy payable by anyone will be $150.
So, we have in that speech a distinct rebuttal of what Senator Baume and Senator Walters said in trying to mislead the Senate in respect of the Labor Party’s intention on the levy that was proposed in 1974.
It was very interesting to listen to what Senator Baume had to say today. Obviously, judging by his remarks, he is obsessed with the private funds. He stated categorically that he would get out of Medibank, that he is pleased to do so and that he has joined some very obscure private fund of which not many of us on this side of the Senate have even heard. Senator Baume ‘s contribution to this debate today is in complete contrast with what he said during previous debates on this subject in the Senate, particularly during the debate in December 1974 when the Labor Government for the last time proposed a levy which was rejected overwhelmingly by the then Opposition. Now, as Senator Baume sees, Medibank is so popular with the people of Australia that the present Government does not dare interfere with it or try to dismantle it. He stated here today that his reason for opposing the Medibank levy in 1974 was so that the Labor Party’s national health scheme would fail and would be destroyed. What an attitude from an ex-doctor!
– He is still a doctor. What is ex’ about him?
-He may still be -
– What is the ‘ex’?
– ‘Ex-practising’, he meant. You should not be practising if you are in this job.
-He is an expractising doctor.
– One man, one job.
-The honourable senator would not be the only one on his side of the chamber who, in addition to receiving his parliamentary salary, acts in a private capacity in his profession. Senator Baume expressed the same sentiments as appear in the annual report of the Australian Medical Association. Under a bold blue heading ‘Medibank’, the report states:
The Association’s hard fought campaign against Medibank was still being actively pursued at the beginning of the year under review.
The report went on to state that the Association had advised all of its members not to bulk bill any of their patients, not even age pensioners. The Association is advocating that its members make their pensioner patients pay the full scheduled fee. Most of the doctors in New South Wales, as we are aware, are charging well above the scheduled fee. So, the Australian Medical Association is advocating that the members of the medical profession in Australia drag every cent they can not only from all their ordinary patients but also from their pensioner patients.
Senator Grimes today referred to a speech made in the other place by the honourable member for Griffith (Mr Donald Cameron) at the third reading stage of the Health Insurance Bill (No. 2). The honourable member is recorded at page 1101 of the House of Representatives Hansard of 15 September 1976 as having said:
I regret very much that we even have such a thing called Medibank in this country. It was thrust upon us by the previous Minister for Social Security, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden). I recall what happened very clearly. It does not matter what you call it, Medibank is a curse. I say this after great thought.
A point of order was taken, the honourable member was called to order, and the Deputy Chairman upheld the point of order. The honourable member continued his remarks by saying:
It is regrettable that we are in a situation in which we had to promise to keep the scheme going. The Liberal Party is a party of honour. We will keep the scheme going. But so far as I am concerned, I do not care what name is applied to Medibank; anything proposed in relation to Medibank by the ALP must be bad.
Incidentally, the name of the honourable member for Griffith is Mr Donald Cameron, but he is no relation of mine, for which I am very pleased. I believe that those remarks by the honourable member for Griffith are indicative of the sentiments of most honourable senators opposite. The only difference is that the honourable member for Griffith stated outright what he thought about Medibank whereas others on the Government side are pretending now that they want Medibank to survive.
Senator Grimes also mentioned the confusion, worry and anxiety that has been caused by the meddling of this Government with Medibank. It is a catastrophe and a disaster that the Government of the day should be worrying the people about a health care scheme. I believe that health care is far too serious a matter to be used as a political football, as this Government is now doing. Prior to Medibank coming into operation on 1 July 1975 the medical profession, the private insurance companies, the Press and the then Opposition denigrated and condemned the scheme. Doctors in their consulting rooms told pensioners that under Labor’s socialised medical scheme after 1 July they would have no right to come to see their own doctor because their doctor would be chosen by the socialist Labor Government. Within 15 months of the introduction of Medibank 95 per cent of the people welcomed Medibank and wanted to keep it, but they do not want the changes that have been forced upon them by the present Government.
Senator Baume seems to have changed his attitude towards a levy. He was violently opposed to the introduction of a 1.35 per cent levy in 1974, which would have had the same ceiling as that of the levy now proposed by this Government, that is, $150 for each taxpayer. Today he supports a levy which will cost more than double the levy that we sought to introduce in 1974. The proposed levy of 2.5 per cent of taxable income will cost a taxpayer on average weekly earnings more than double what it would have cost him under Labor’s scheme in 1974. For example, the annual income of a male employee on average weekly earnings of $180,30 would be about $9,300. Under the present taxation scales the 2.5 per cent levy will be based on practically the whole income. The only deductions that will be allowable before the tax levy applies will be contributions to a trade union movement, some gifts to charitable organisations and some interest that might be paid on home loans. So actually a wage earner today receiving average weekly male earnings would be paying the 2.5 per cent levy on $9,300 a year. This would mean that his total levy would amount to $232.50 a year.
In 1974 under the previous taxation schedules taxpayers could deduct amounts for a dependent wife, dependent children, medical costs, council and water rates, superannuation, education and a lot of other expenses from their taxable income before the imposition of the levy. As I said, a wage earner earning average male weekly earnings of $ 1 80.30 will pay under the proposed levy $232.50 a year, whereas that same wage earner in 1974 under Labor’s proposed 1.35 per cent levy would have paid only approximately $120 a year. I repeat that under the Government’s proposed 2.5 per cent levy a taxpayer on average weekly earnings will pay more than double the amount he would have paid under Labor’s proposals in 1974.
I want also to support the views of Senator Brown. I share his concern that the Government is endeavouring by subtle means to destroy Medibank. I am very concerned because many people, particularly in South Australia, have contacted me and are very worried about what is going to happen. Is it any wonder that they are worried when the Government put out a pamphlet at a cost of $ 1-50,000 to.the taxpayers which was out of date a month after its distribution because the Government decided that it was going to introduce Medibank Private? The Commonwealth Department of Health put out another booklet, quite a number of copies of which mysteriously arrived at the Commonwealth Parliament Offices in Adelaide for distribution. After looking at the first couple of pages, particularly page 4, it was obvious that the information in this booklet was completely misleading and inaccurate. That was one of the reasons why I decided to participate in this debate on the proposed Medibank levy. Questions asked over the past two or three weeks by honourable senators from this side of the chamber have not been answered. I do not know whether the Minister for Social Security (Senator Guilfoyle) has referred the questions that were directed to her to the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) or whether Senator Cotton has referred the questions that were directed to him to the Treasurer (Mr Lynch). Whether they have or not, no replies have been given to any of the questions that have been asked regarding the proposed Medibank levy.
– That was incorrect, was it not?
-Yes, the booklet entitled ‘How to Choose the Health Insurance Cover That’s Right For You . . .’ that was put out by the Commonwealth Department of Health and is dated August 1976 is incorrect. Page 4 of the booklet contains 3 headings: ‘A Pensioner’, ‘A Low Income Earner’ and A Defence Force Member or a Repatriation Beneficiary’. The booklet states:
If you’re a pensioner who receives only your pension, you will not have to pay any levy for Standard Medibank benefits. This will include many people who are entitled to pensioner health benefits.
However, if you receive any extra money you may have to pay the levy.
The booklet continues:
If you are in any doubt about your position, you should seek advice from a Taxation Office, but generally speaking, if you pay any income tax you will also have to pay the levy.
That last statement is completely false. We know now as a result of information from the Taxation Office- we could not get the information from Ministers in the Senate- that a pensioner will pay income tax at a much lower level of income before that pensioner pays the Medibank levy. The amount is approximately $800 a year. The information in this booklet is completely false. That inaccuracy has not been remedied by Government Ministers nor has the booklet been corrected. As a consequence of the mistakes in the booklet, I have thrown into the wastepaper basket the balance of the booklets provided to my office.
Is it any wonder that we cannot get answers to simple questions in the Senate. Actually, we knew the answers but we were testing the Ministers to see whether they knew them. Is it any wonder that officers of the Department of Social Security, the Taxation Office and Medibank are inundated with inquiries to the extent that telephone exchanges have been overloaded and jammed. People are seeking answers to ordinary, simple questions to which any honourable senator on this side could respond. Apparently on the Government side the answers are not known. It is for this reason that the Australian people are completely confused and bewildered as to whether they must pay the levy, how much they must pay and other details associated with the proposal. One would have thought, after the Government had realised the mistakes that were made in this pamphlet, that it would make some effort to issue a correction so that people could be advised how they stood in relation to the Medibank levy. That was not the case. People have been left in ignorance to flounder around seeking in the best way that they can to obtain the information from the Department of Social Security, the Taxation Office or Medibank.
By way of interjection, Senator Tehan suggested that Opposition senators should read the explanatory memorandum. I accepted his invitation. I read it again as I thought there might be something in it that was a little more enlightening than the answers that we are used to receiving from Ministers. One section of the proposal is not even explained in the memorandum. I refer to the lone parent. The memorandum does state that a lone parent will pay the common levy of 2.5 per cent up to a maximum of $300, which is the same is a family unit will pay. However, there is a difference. The lone parent is exempted from the Medibank levy if his or her taxable income is less than $3,790 a year; but the exemption from the levy for the family unit is a taxable income of under $4,299 a year.
The lone parent may be a supporting mother, a deserted wife or a wife who has deserted her husband and who does not qualify for a widow’s pension but does qualify for a supporting mother’s benefit. The lone parent could be a wage earner who is not a recipient of any social welfare payments. If a husband and wife with a combined income up to $4,299 are to be exempted from paying the levy, surely a single parent should be able to earn up to that level of exemption when supporting either dependent children under 16 years of age or dependent students under 25 years of age. I would like explained to me at a later stage by what reasoning the Government makes this distinction and discriminates against a lone parent.
I share the concern expressed by Senator Brown that Medibank will be changed further. The. Government has already made drastic changes to Medibank in favour of the private health funds. We know that all Government senators support the private health funds. I doubt that any Government senator at present in the chamber or any Government senator who elsewhere has not continued to contribute to a private health fund since Medibank came into operation on 1 July of last year. I am pleased that some Government senators have admitted by way of interjection that they are contributors to the private funds.
I take it that some of those contributions from Government senators were responsible for the huge profit of $ 15m which one private fund was able to amass in the last 12 months. As there are more than 100 private funds in existence in
Australia, what enormous reserves of capital they have accrued, even if each makes only half that profit, by misleading the Australian people in 1975 into believing that Medibank would fail and that they must maintain their membership of private funds as doctors would not treat patients unless they were in the private funds. The Australian people were deceived by the present Government, when it was in Opposition, which was supported by the Australian Medical Association and the private funds.
The reason why the Australian people were told it was in their best interests to remain in the private funds is obvious now. This was proposed so that the private funds could accumulate huge reserves of capital. The private funds knew in advance that the then Opposition, when elected to government, would introduce a levy and would create Medibank Private and allow it to compete partly with the private funds. I say ‘partly’ because Senator Baume in his contribution boasted how competition is such a great thing. Competition is all right if it is fair. But when the Government introduced the Medibank Private scheme it announced weeks and weeks in advance of statements from the private funds what contributions to Medibank Private would be. This gave the private funds the decided advantage of being able to undercut those contribution levels. Further, I understand that Medibank Private will not cover the gap between the 85 per cent of medical fees which Medibank or private funds will refund and the total fees doctors will charge; the private funds have the privilege of covering that 15 per cent gap which Medibank will not cover. The private funds received an advantage as they were able to wait for the Government to announce what the Medibank tables and charges would be and then were able to undercut Medibank by using the huge reserves that they had accumulated in the last 12 months.
In the few minutes left to me I want to refer briefly to what I think may happen in the future. If the Government is correct in its expectation that 60 per cent of people will opt out of Medibank, leaving in Medibank pensioners, low income earners and others who usually represent a fairly high health risk, it will then proudly say that it told everyone that Medibank was a failure. It will then dismantle Medibank and leave health care to the private funds. Then we will be back to what we had in the way of health care before 1 July 1975. In Australia at that time one million people out of a population of 13.5 million had absolutely no health insurance. Those people were migrants, low income earners or people with a number of children. In addition, before July 1975 pensioners were regarded only as second rate citizens and did not receive the same benefits in respect of health care as contributors to private funds received. Nor did they have the same health care provisions as people covered by the supplementary medical scheme that gave to private funds a registration of low income earners. Therefore we of the Opposition are very concerned to see that the Government is not allowed to get away with the proposals that it is putting forward. Unless we keep the people of Australia well advised about what they are getting into they could well be caught and in the future they could well have no option, no choice of health scheme other than that offered by the private funds.
We know the tactics adopted by the private funds in the past. Every 3 or 4 months they decided to increase their rates. In one year alone private funds increased their rates at least 4 times. My advice to any people in South Australia seeking information has been to get out of the private funds and into Medibank because Medibank has the best to offer. Out of all the health care schemes the Medibank standard scheme provides at least 85 per cent of the medical fees charged by a medical practitioner with, I understand, a maximum of $5, and it also provides the best hospital care available in Australia. No hospitals in Australia can compete with the standard of ward accommodation offered by the public hospitals. New hospitals have been built in South Australia but I defy anybody from the other side, particularly Liberal senators, to name any private hospital in South Australia that can provide the standard of hospital care that is provided in public hospitals in that State.
The tactics and devices are obvious. The propaganda which has appeared in the Press, aimed at trying to persuade people to join the private funds, is false. The cheapest health care available today is the standard Medibank care which can be obtained for a maximum, I think, of $2.90 for a single taxpayer and $5.80 for a family unit. No better hospital care is available in Australia than that provided by the public hospitals and the doctors attached to them. If a person is injured in a road accident, or at home or at his place of employment he is not taken to a private hospital; he is admitted to a public hospital and it is there that the best care is available.
Sitting suspended from 6 to 8 p.m.
– I seek leave to continue my remarks later.
Leave granted; debate adjourned.
– I ask for leave to table a statement.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
– Pursuant to subsection 12D(5) of the Remuneration Tribunals Act 1973 I present a copy of the Academic Salaries Tribunal 1976 review, containing one determination and 3 Reports. The Government does not intend to move for disapproval.
– I seek leave to make a brief statement in respect of the report.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-The Opposition will not oppose the course suggested by the Governmentthat is, not disallowing this finding- but I believe that one or two matters ought to be dealt with, if only briefly. As the Leader of the Government in the Senate (Senator Withers) appreciates, the general tenor of this finding has been widely known among members of the academic community for some time. Consequently they have had an opportunity to advise not only the Minister for Education, Senator Carrick, rather than Senator Withers, but also members of the Opposition of the problems that they see in the report. It is naturally a major step for the Government or the Opposition to reject a Tribunal finding of this nature. Notwithstanding, I believe it ought to be pointed out that some of the factors which arise from the report appear to give some concern. I understand that the Government was requested by the appropriate bodies, in particular the Federation of Staff Associations of Australian Colleges of Advanced Education, to refer the report back to the Academic Salaries Tribunal for further consideration.
We will not move for disallowance, but I ask the Government to give further consideration over the ensuing months to some of the arguments which have been placed before it. I am assuming that the information with which we have been provided is soundly based. I have not read the report. It appears that the general problem arises from a downgrading of the staff of colleges of advanced education when compared with the staff of universities. It is in this area that the report appears to draw some rather contentious conclusions which many members of the academic world obviously do not accept. We rely upon the Tribunal’s appraisal of the evidence placed before it. One point which I believe is significant is that the Government envisages what could be described as a general swing away from universities to institutions which train people in vocational skills. I the new determination means that academic people in the CAEs will feel disadvantaged and if it becomes accepted in the professions in the academic world that they are disadvantaged, obviously the CAEs will tend to be in a more difficult position in finding the type of staff which they would be seeking because they would be in competition with the universities.
In looking at the proposed salary scales which have been researched, there appears, I am sure to many members of the Parliament, to be a position in which lecturers, particularly in colleges of advanced education, who are presently on a scale which would enable them to reach the top of the scale in a comparatively short number of steps- I think 4 steps are involved to reach the top of the scale- will now find themselves 7 rungs from the top of the new scale. If this interpretation is correct, it would appear that the real value of their salaries has declined. I think it would be fair to say that it certainly has not increased. There is a distinct chance that it has declined.
Several other objections have been raised. It is claimed that the Tribunal has not taken into proper account the longer working hours which lecturers at CAEs have compared with lecturers at universities. I do not wish to canvass all the arguments put forward by the institutions concerned. I believe there is sufficient substance in them for the Government to give further consideration to this report, not to the point at which we should disallow it. It is obvious from a report in a fairly influential newspaper today that the Cabinet was divided on this issue. Whether that is correct, we must concede- I am sure Senator Withers would concede- today is the fifteenth and last day on which this report could be tabled. Obviously something has delayed its tabling. I think there have been quite legitimate differences of opinion in the Government, because there are arguments in favour of the suggestions which have been put by the academic staff associations. I restate my original suggestions to the Government. It should not leave this matter completely as is. I am not sure when the Tribunal will be required to consider the salaries again. In the meantime I believe it would be proper and fair for the responsible Minister to give further consideration to this report. However, the Opposition will not move for the disallowance of the Tribunal ‘s findings.
Senator WITHERS (Western AustraliaLeader of the Government in the Senate)- I ask for leave to say something quite uncontroversial in reply.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
-I do this as a matter of courtesy to my friend, if not colleague, the Leader of the Opposition (Senator Wriedt). I note his comments. I thank him for them. I assure him that the Government will give full consideration to his remarks.
– Prior to the suspension to the sitting I was referring to the health care options available to consumers. I think it is only fair that I quote one or two of them. Firstly there is the standard Medibank cover. A 2.S per cent levy of taxable income is payable. This levy applies up to a total yearly income of $12,000. An ordinary wage earner pays the 2.5 per cent levy on his salary. The Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser), on his parliament salary only, is paying a levy of less than 0.5 per cent. I suppose if the profits made from his property were added to his parliamentary salary he would be paying a lot less than 0.5 per cent by way of a Medibank levy.
I think it was Senator Messner who said that it was the efficiency of the private funds that enabled them to undercut Medibank Intermediate and Medibank Private rates. Of course, that statement cannot be backed up by facts. It is quite easy to make statements in this place when one does not have to prove them. For the sake of the record, I want to cite figures showing that the opposite applies. For example, the administration costs of Medibank accounted for only 4 per cent of the total value of claims processed, compared with 14 per cent for private health funds. A private fund has a staff of 900 to process 10 500 claims a day, whereas Medibank, with a staff of 960, paid out 50 000 claims a day. If honourable senators opposite can read into that statement that the private funds are more efficient than Medibank, then I have misquoted the figures. There is no evidence at all that the private funds in Australia are more efficient than Medibank. In fact the opposite is the case.
Medibank has proved its efficiency. The administrative costs of Medibank for the first 12 months were less than the amount appropriated for them.
Before the suspension of the sitting I was referring to the profits for the last 12 months of Victoria’s largest health insurance fund, the Hospital Benefits Association. In its annual report released yesterday the chairman of the fund, Mr Skewes, stated that the fund had made a record profit of $ 15m for the year. It was pleasing to note from page 1 1 of the Melbourne Sun that the number of contributors to the fund fell by 166 286 during the year. We on this side of the chamber hope that there will be a further drop in the number of contributors to that fund in the next financial year. In referring to the options available to people in Australia, I said prior to the suspension of the sitting that Medibank Standard cover is the most economical and provides the best standard of health cover in Australia. I completely refute the suggestion in the Melbourne Age yesterday. Under the big bold black headline ‘ Boycott Medi, doctors urged ‘, it said:
Private health insurance funds have called on doctors to tell patients to leave Medibank and take out private insurance.
The obvious reason why the newspapers are supporting the private funds and why the doctors are urging contributors to get out of Medibank and to rejoin the funds is so that in future doctors in practice will be able to hide their profits. We know that over the years doctors have hidden their profits. Whilst Medibank has been in operation, in various States there have been instances of doctors rotting the scheme and making up to $ 1 50,000 a year by devious means that are available to them. In my State of South Australia, when a case was being heard before the court the doctor was successful in preventing his name from being published.
I believe that the Medibank Standard fund is the ideal fund for the average Australian worker. In the past the people of Australia have been misled into believing that it was necessary to obtain some extra hospital cover. Most men to whom I speak are quite satisfied with standard ward care in a public hospital. The only exceptions are members of the Government Parties, who do not like the idea of sharing a public ward with an ordinary wage earner, and executives and members of such organisations as the chambers of manufactures, who like to get into a private room and discuss amongst themselves and with their friends how they can further exploit the workers whom they employ. From my observation- this is where I think the consumers ought to have an option- most housewives prefer either an intermediate ward in a public hospital or a shared or private room in a private hospital. I would not deny those people that option; but, as Senator Grimes correctly pointed out earlier, if they want this luxury care in a private room in a private hospital, with extra staff to look after them, flowers provided twice a day and all the luxury care that goes with a private room in a private hospital, they should have to pay the maximum amount for that luxury.
– They do.
-They are not doing it, because they are using the surpluses of their funds, which were taken from the contributors during the last 12 months, to provide this luxury care in private rooms in private hospitals. We know that the private funds will not be able to compete with Medibank for many more months. It will not be long before the private funds are coming to the Government and asking for permission to increase their contributions for the intermediate coverage or the private room coverage in their top tables, and seeking an increase in contributions as they did prior to Medibank coming into operation in July last year. So, it is only a temporary arrangement. They are trying to fool the contributors to the funds into believing that it is necesesary to take out private hospital coverage. No one on the Government side has explained the value in taking out extra hospital coverage with the private funds. I support the amendment so ably moved by Senator Grimes this afternoon.
– I rise to support these 2 Bills. So many red herrings have been drawn across the trail and so many heresies have been spoken by honourable senators opposite in relation to the measures before us that I think I should bring the debate back to what it is all about. We are debating cognately 2 Bills which give effect to the imposition of the levy to assist in the financing of Medibank, as announced in the Budget Speech. That is what this debate is all about- the levy. But, as I say, the Opposition has attempted to put difficulties where there are none and has said once again something that has been repeated consistently since these measures were first mentioned in the House last May. It suggested that our Government was destroying and dismantling Medibank. That is not so. I shall refer briefly to the remarks Senator Colston made yesterday, reported at page 835 of Hansard. He stated:
After another passage he went on to state:
During the course of my comments I will show that it is not nonsense and that in fact Medibank as we know it has been destroyed, not improved.
The plain fact is that there has been no attempt by this Government to dismantle Medibank. On the contrary, it has been strengthened as a permanent feature in the strategy of providing an overall comprehensive health service for all people in the nation. That is true. The only real change is that it now becomes a contributory scheme. The effect of this legislation will be to incorporate the levy into the taxation system of the country. That is a matter of convenience and it will save on costs. The taxpayers of Australia will be able to pay their levy when they pay their tax. That is an eminently sensible and satisfactory way of dealing with the situation.
Honourable senators on the Opposition side should not be heard to complain because they were the first to suggest a contributory scheme when this legislation was first proposed. Now they are saying that they do not want the levy. The next thing I say is of great importance in the context of responsible finance for which this Government stands. We have a sense of responsibility to the people of Australia. We will not be a party to the squandermania which went on over the past 3 years. We are going in for prudent housekeeping. I wish Senator Grimes was here because he made the point that we were increasing taxation. But all we are doing is preserving a balance between the different portfolios in government. It is quite obvious to any person of reasonable intelligence that if we continue with a non-contributory scheme the money has to come from somewhere. We are not going to print it on the printing presses in paper money.
– You rejected our 1.35 per cent levy, senator.
– I am speaking. I do not wish to be put off my beat by interjection from the honourable senator. If he listens I will explain the situation to him. I was saying that the Opposition cannot have it both ways. Our Government is to be congratulated on a wonderful achievement in the fields of education and social welfare. We have increased the grant in the total vote.
– What a lot of nonsense.
– If the honourable senator looks at the Budget papers he will see that. If honourable senators opposite do not want a contributory scheme for Medibank we will have to cut the vote for education and social welfare. Honourable senators cannot have it both ways.
That is what they are trying to do. That is why the people of Australia rejected the Australian Labor Party last December. Senator Ryan implied that everyone will pay under the scheme. On page 862 of Hansard o f last night in a debate on other Bills she stated:
The overall effect of the new Medibank arrangements is that everybody will pay more for Health insurance than he paid in the past- by way of the Medibank levy, by way of premium or by way of private insurance. It is true that free health cover is not being provided under these new arrangements.
I propose to devote a little time to this topic because Senator Grimes had things to say about the pensioners. I propose clearly to state the position in relation to the pensioners of Australia. Much has been said, clearly and unequivocally, in the last few days and earlier about them. The truth is that there will be a significant number of Australian citizens who will make no contribution to the levy at all. The scheme preserves the right of pensioners who are entitled to pensioner health benefits, repatriation beneficiaries and of various other categories as detailed in the legislation.
I hope Senator Cameron listens to this because it was one of the matters he mentioned. A significant number of citizens whose income falls below the amount of levy payable will also be exempt. They will not be required to pay the levy. I think somebody on the Opposition side made a point that people would be paying income tax, not a levy. I cannot see anything wrong with that. Honourable senators opposite would probably complain if we reduced the amount for everyone to the taxable minimum. But this Bill does not do that. The effect of this legislation is that no levy will be payable by a person who has a taxable income of $2,604 or less, or by a person entitled to the sole parent rebate- Senator Cameron asked about this matter and this information is found on page 2 of the explanatory memorandum- of $350 who has a taxable income of $3,790 or less or by a person entitled to a $530 rebate for a spouse who has a taxable income of $4,299 or less. Therefore, the truth is that in addition to those people who will not pay because of too little income which amounts I have just quoted- I do not want to repeat them- there will be the aged pensioners entitled to pensioner fringe benefits as well as repatriation beneficiaries and service personnel. These people will very rightly continue to receive the very special consideration which has long been extended to them in the field of health care. It is quite incorrect to assert that Medibank has been destroyed and that everybody will have to pay under this legislation.
Before I pass on to other matters I refer to a Press statement of the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) which surely must explain the situation to Senator Grimes who seems to have great difficulty in understanding this legislation. I shall read from the Press statement because it sets out very clearly the position in relation to pensioners. I may be labouring the point about pensioners but our Government cares about them. I think we have proved that with the family allowances and other social welfare legislation which we have introduced. The Press statement, dated 24 August this year, reads as follows:
The Minister for Health, Mr Ralph Hunt, confirmed today that all pensioners entitled to pensioner health benefit cards will be exempt from the Medibank levy.
I ask my friends opposite to listen to this part of the statement. It reads:
This means that more than three-quarters of the 1 097 000 aged pensioners in Australia will not pay the levy.
So 750 000 pensioners in Australia will not be paying any levy. Quite properly, the people who will be paying it will be the people who are not subject to means test; that is those who are 70 years and over. Some of the very wealthy in the community who are receiving pensions should have to pay the levy. I will quote the figures so that there will be no misunderstanding. I think some honourable senator said that we do not know what the ceiling is for pensioners. The information is in this statement. The Minister goes on to say:
Taking into account the pension increases in the Budget, the overall income including pension which may be received from November-
Pensions are being updated in November. Honourable senators opposite probably have caught up with that- by age pensioners without paying the levy will be-
The Minister then gives the weekly income figures. For means tested age pensions, in the case of a single pensioner $70 and in the case of married pensioners, husband and wife, $1 18.50. For pensions without means test the weekly figure in the case of a single pensioner is $76.50 and in the case of a married pensioner $130. I complete quoting what the Minister said for the sake of rounding off the statement:
In the case of married couples where one member is eligible for pensioner health benefits and the other is not eligible, the levy will be payable at half rates. This is the same provision as applies for repatriation beneficiaries and defence personnel under the new Medibank arrangements.
That statement by the Minister is quite clear, unequivocal, concise and will be understood by pensioners.
I turn now to a significant amendment made by this legislation. Private insurance funds will not now be required to issue to their contributors an end of year certificate of insurance. A simpler and less expensive system will be introduced by this legislation and people who have opted for private insurance now will make a claim to that effect on their annual tax returns. This will save considerable paper work for the private funds, for the contributor using the private funds and probably also for the Commissioner of Taxation. The legislation, of course, very properly provides for heavy penalties- I think it is double the amount of levy avoided- for taxpayers who claim to be privately insured when in fact they are not. This is consistent with the revenue laws of the country. I think it is fair to say that the Commissioner of Taxation and his office will find the scheme much simpler and more easily administered than was at first thought. We can now say that this new scheme has received general acceptance by the community. When we look back to the phoney one-day Medibank national strike, which all the statistics show was not supported by the great majority of Australian unionists but was foisted on them by the trade union leadership, it is apparent that there has been a strengthening of public opinion in favour of this legislation.
Honourable senators will recall that during the parliamentary recess the de facto leader of the Parliamentary Labor Party, Bob Hawke, took over the reins and made all the statements. He entered into a public controversy with the Government over what he thought the trade unions would do or would not do, what his scheme was and what our scheme was. I make just one comment about that. It is a rather unusual attitude for people who espouse the cause of the workers to propose a double imposition. That is exactly what was proposed by the Australian Council of Trade Unions in the case of a working husband and wife. Every 2-income family under the Hawke scheme would have paid more. Every family in which the husband and wife both work would have been worse off than under our scheme which, of course, has a ceiling of $300. The explanatory memorandum with the Bill sets out the position clearly:
A husband and wife who each have a taxable income are to be separately assessed for levy on their own taxable income but are to be entitled to share in the one family ceiling of $300.
It is quite simple. We take the husband ‘s income and, if it is under $ 1 2,000, add to it enough of the wife’s income to make it up to that figure, and the rest of their joint income is exempt. There is no problem at all. Yet under the Labor Party or Hawke scheme with no ceiling, taxpayers would have to pay a flat rate and husband and wife would each have to pay.
– It is a lower levy than proposed in your scheme, and you know it.
– I am not talking about the amount of levy, Senator. Your proposal had no ceiling. It is recognised by the people that the Hawke scheme was a deliberate and clumsy attempt to redistribute the wealth of the people, which is what most of the socialist legislation seeks to do.
– What is wrong with that?
– The scheme which we propose, and I will come to it in a moment if Senator Mulvihill will give me time, will mean a saving of $2,000m in expenditure. That is the sort of saving which the people have been looking for since the defeat of the Labor Government last year. They had 3 years with a Labor Government which thought that it had a bottomless purse and could spend and spend as though there was no limit to the amount of money available.
I do not want to delay the Senate too long tonight, so in winding up I would like to quote a reply from the Minister for Health to a question asked in the other place today. I think his summation of the situation is worth repeating, and this brings me back to my opening theme- what this legislation is all about. To say that there will not be cover for this person or for that person is utter tripe. The Minister said:
Universal insurance will remain after 1 October so that every person in Australia will be covered by one means or another for medical and hospital care.
That is a clear, concise, unequivocal statement which tells every Australian where he or she stands.
The Minister this morning said that the Government had made a decision to modify Medibank because of the very high increase in health costs in this country. He anticipated that costs this year would be of the order of$5,400m. He said:
Quite clearly the health costs in this country have to be paid for by the community by one means or another-
It has been said on both sides of the House that there is no such thing as a free feed; someone has to pay in the long run. I come now to the estimated figures for this year and I want to underline these remarks in concluding my speech. Under our proposals the estimated hospital and medical benefit costs in Australia total $3, 320m. If my arithmetic is correct- and I do not say that it always is- that shows a saving to the people of $2,080m, a fairly substantial sum of money which logically will be available to the Government to spend wisely, as it has been doing in other urgent areas of government expenditure. Let me give the breakdown so that honourable senators can see how the Minister arrived at the figures: The Consolidated Revenue will provide $1,1 20m; the States will meet about $840m by contributing towards hospital costs; the people who we anticipate will insure privately will contribute through their premiums about $985m; and the levy payers will contribute about $375m. The total amount is $3,320m.
I commend the legislation to the Senate. I congratulate the Minister and the Government on the way in which they have handled what has been a difficult proposal concerning every Australian. I suppose that there is no more important area of responsiblity in government that health services. A scheme such as this, which does nothing at all to reduce the service to the people of Australia- in fact, it could be argued that it enhances it- but saves government more than $2, 000m, has my full support.
– This evening we have witnessed a classical defence mechanism of projection from previous speakers. Senator Baume in his address said that the Australian Labor Party’s scheme had been a failure. I contend that the Australian Labor Party’s scheme of Medibank that was operating when the present Government came into power was a profound success. If any failure has been made of the scheme, it has been made because of the legislation that is before us at the moment. Senator Baume mentioned that this Government had consulted with community groups. I will come to that point shortly. Let me just mention that during this Budget session- this is the fifth sitting week- 24 petitions on Medibank have been presented to the Senate. Those 24 petitions have carried 2,775 signatories and have asked that Medibank be retained or improved. I wonder whether those people had been consulted. I wonder whether those petitions were accepted.
I contend that Senator Baume did nothing to show what was wrong with the Labor Party’s Medibank scheme. It is interesting to note that Senator Baume quoted a remark once made by Sir Winston Churchill. A person whom I had never met before came to me during the suspension of the sitting for dinner and said that he also had been thinking about Churchill with regard to Medibank. He said that he was thinking about Churchill ‘s statement which went something like this: ‘Never before in the field of human conflict has so much been done for so many by so few’. He said that, with all respect to Churchill, in regard to Medibank 1976 he had been thinking along these lines: ‘Never before in the field of human social welfare has so much muddle been created for so many by so few bureaucrats and the Government’. This is what has happened.
This was not just a chance remark made by one person. The Melbourne Age of last Friday had an editorial which was headed: ‘The daunting Medi-muddle’. Let me quote some parts of the editorial. It stated:
One of the ostensible objectives of the Federal Government’s changes to the national health insurance scheme was to offer greater freedom of choice. Now as October 1- the day of decision- approaches, most people are finding that in a multitude of choices there lies complexity and confusion. Medibank offices, private funds, chemists and even doctors have been swamped with anxious inquiries from people who cannot understand what they have to do or want advice on what is best for them.
The editorial pointed out all of the conflicting choices with which the public was confronted. It then stated:
True, consumers constantly face a bewildering variety of choices. But here, a range of options has been imposed on them by the Government and there is no escape, for no one is allowed to opt out of health insurance altogether.
So much for freedom of choice. Senator Tehan, the previous speaker in this debate, exhibited similar projection when he said that the Opposition had attempted to put difficulties where there are none. What the Opposition had and what it put into play when it was in government was a simple effective system. What the current Government is doing is putting difficulties where there were none previously. I thank the previous speaker for quoting some of my remarks about the demise of Medibank, because I still contend that Medibank is being dismantled by this Government.
My main purpose in speaking tonight is twofold: Firstly, I intend to outline how the public has been duped over this levy; and, secondly, I intend to make a plea to honourable senators from Queensland- I note that there are none in the chamber at the moment- to support the Opposition in its amendment. I will develop an argument as to why I think they should support the Opposition. Firstly, I would like to go over some of the background that is pertinent to this levy. When Mr Fraser was conducting his election campaign last year he said, as we all well know now: ‘We will maintain Medibank’. As I said previously, most people thought that this meant that Medibank would remain in that form for some time in the future. We believed that if there were to be any changes there would be public debate. We did not believe that there would be debate, as there is now, only days before the legislation is to come into effect. Such debate is almost pointless. We did riot believe that Medibank would be changed, because Mr Fraser had given an undertaking when, during the course of the election campaign, he said that Medibank: . . will be continued as it was introduced until we can assess properly its virtues and whatever faults might be revealed as a result of experience. Then public statements would be made about that and everyone would have an opportunity to express their views in relation to it.
What opportunity has this Parliament had really to express its views? Every time a piece of legislation has been brought before this Parliament it has been assumed that that legislation will go through because the Government has had the numbers. There has been no real public debate.
The Government instituted a Medibank Review Committee to examine the operations of Medibank. I believe that the Committee made some recommendations; but we have not seen the recommendations. The Parliament itself has not seen the recommendations or the report. So, we do not know whether what was introduced was as a result of the report of the Medibank Review Committee. No opportunity has been given for real public debate on these proposals- a situation that is so much different from the public debate that we had on the Australian Labor Party proposals before we even came into power in 1972. Our proposals were debated at length at that time. When we came to power the proposals were debated again for quite a long time before the legislation was introduced. So what happened?
On 20 May this year we were faced with the statement that changes would be made to Medibank and a levy would be introduced. I want to confine my remarks mainly to the levy tonight because that is what these Bills deal with. On 20 May it was announced that people had one of three choices. They could pay a levy of 2Vt per cent on their taxable income; they could opt out if they wished and could join private hospital and medical insurance funds; or they could opt for something of a hybrid scheme in which they paid a Medibank levy and, in addition, paid an extra premium to private health funds for hospital cover only. We were told that there was this great freedom of choice. Many of my constitutents have said to me: ‘There is no real freedom of choice’. I believe them because if there were real freedom of choice there would be 3 choicesMedibank, private funds and the choice to opt out altogether. Let us not overburden the freedom of choice argument. When the 3 possible schemes were announced we were presented with a 6-page pamphlet which outlined the scheme. This did not stay current for very long because on 22 July a change was made to it- a welcome change too. Honourable senators will recall that the original pamphlet, in part, stated that if a person’s taxable income was $12,000 a year or over he must advise his paymaster or any Medibank office or he will be charged Vh per cent of his taxable income, however large. Of course, that was a defect in the scheme. On 22 July this defect was rectified and a ceiling of $300 a year was announced. Of course, that immediately put the original pamphlet out of date. Actually, the pamphlet was out of date earlier than that because on 8 June- shortly after the Senate rose for the recess- a decision was made to allow Medibank to offer private insurance- Medibank Private. Even a couple of weeks after we rose for the recess the pamphlet was already out of date. These are the historical facts of the levy with which we have been faced. It is interesting to note that the imposition of this levy- which is nothing other than a tax- makes a real mockery of indexation. Senator Donald Cameron pointed this out earlier and I think Senator Grimes may also have pointed it out. The fact that we have tax indexation and now have a levy on top of it means that many people in the community, particularly the middle income earners, are marginally worse off as far as tax goes. The levy is nothing other than a tax. It seems that the Government’s philosophy is to give with one hand and take with the other. The Government has taken very much the same action with family allowances. If one examines the Budget Papers in relation to family allowances it is clear that about $700m extra will be spent on family allowances this year but, on the other hand, about $700m will be saved because dependent children will no longer be allowable as a tax deduction.
It is interesting to note the change that has come over honourable senators opposite in regard to the levy. The Labor Government originally proposed a 1.35 per cent levy for Medibank. When the legislation for the introduction of that levy came before this Senate it was blocked. I am one person on this side of the chamber who is thankful that it was blocked. It allowed Medibank to be financed by what I consider to be the most socially acceptable systemthrough the general taxation system. But now, after having blocked that legislation some time ago this Government is not introducing a 1.35 per cent levy as originally proposed by the Labor Government but is introducing a 2Vi per cent levy. Not only the levy but also the proposals that go with it have brought about untold confusion. One has to look only in the newspapers of the day to read the stories about: ‘What shall we do in this case and what shall we do in another case?’.
Senator Grimes, in opening the debate on these Bills, remarked tonight about a letter that the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) had written to one of the newspapers. The newspaper editor finally had to say that he was still confused. I am sure the people also are still confused. I wish to mention something about the attitude that honourable senators from Queensland should take with regard to this Bill. I invite them to support the Opposition by adding to the motion: , but the Senate is of the opinion that Medibank should be funded out of general revenue.
In doing so, I should like to quote from Hansard some of the comments made not only by honourable senators from Queensland but also by members of the House of Representatives who come from Queensland. The statements indicate that these people are not happy about paying a levy in Queensland because of the historical nature of the free hospital system in that State. I should like to quote the remarks of the honourable member for Lilley, Mr Kevin Cairns, and his approach to the prospect of this levy before the Labor Government come into power in 1 972. On 27 September 1972, when speaking to the Appropriation Bill (No. 1 ) 1 972 he said:
There is one further matter to which I want to refer, namely, the hospital system. I want to refer to it particularly in relation to the position in my own State of Queensland. The remarkable feature is that the honourable member for Oxley, who portrays himself as the shadow Minister for Health, means to destroy 25 years of a Queensland public hospital system by imposing on Australia and Australians a new compulsory health tax . . .
Mr Cairns implied, as he went on, that this was not satisfactory for Queensland because of the fact that for many years Queensland had had a hospital system which was free to the people. Some days later, on 17 October 1972, when speaking in the debate on the States Grants (Special Assistance) Bill 1972, Mr Kevin Cairns said: . . The proposition which the Labor Party makes in respect of this social service is to tax the people of Queensland by the introduction of a new compulsory health tax which will enable them only to have their own free hospitals. The proposition will give the people nothing. It is a tax which will be imposed on each citizen working in that State and will escalate at the rate of 1 2 per cent a person a year.
In other words, Mr Cairns was not going to have anything to do with the levy. This was not the attitude only of members of the House of Representatives. I should like to quote the words of 2 honourable senators from Queensland who are currently members of this chamber about the levy and how it would affect the people of Queensland. During the debate on the Health Insurance Bill on 17 July 1974, Senator Sheil said:
If ever there was a bunch of senators -
I like his language- which had a clear mandate to vote against the Bills it is the senators from Queensland.
– Do you think there will be a revolt by some of them?
– I certainly hope so. I am looking forward to the honourable senators from Queensland showing the people they represent that they really mean business in this chamber. In that same debate Senator Sheil went on to say:
There are several precedents for senators voting for their States irrespective of the party line.
He must have been replying to remarks made by Senator Keeffe at the time because he went on to say:
If Senator Keeffe would read ‘Australian Senate Practice’ by our inimitable Clerk of the Senate, Mr Odgers, he would see that there are precedents for senators voting to protect their States.
Let us see whether Senator Sheil will vote to protect his State tonight and assist us with our amendment to this legislation. Let me continue to quote what Senator Sheil said at the Joint Sitting on 7 August 1974 when the Health Insurance Commission Bill was being debated. He said:
I hope that with the health Bills all Queensland senators will vote together, as they have been clearly instructed to do, and reject them.
Senator Sheil replied:
By the people of Queensland.
Let me not stop with Senator Sheil. Let me speak of another colleague from Queensland who is sitting on the Government benches. Senator Wood has expressed the thought that he is not happy with the Medibank levy as it will apply to Queensland. In 2 June this year, when speaking on the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill, he said:
I am deeply concerned with the Health Insurance Levy Assessment Bill and the Health Insurance Levy Bill because they could mean the abandonment of something which has operated in Queensland for many years; namely, the free hospital scheme.
Later, in conclusion, he said:
I am very concerned about the Bill which imposes the Medibank levy. I will not be in favour of it unless we get some indication that the free scheme in Queensland can continue.
This evening I ask that before we vote on this amendment the Queensland senators consider the system that they know well in Queensland, consider what this legislation will mean to the Queensland people and to their free hospital system, and consider whether they should show that they do not support this levy on the people they represent. The Queensland senators can do that by voting in favour of our amendment, which states that the Senate is of the opinion that Medibank should be funded out of general revenue.
I believe that in the end people will reject the prospect of a Medibank levy. I am sure that many people in the community still do not understand the full implications of what the levy means to them. Many people will be shocked when they receive their first weekly or fortnightly pay in October and find that it is considerably lower because a levy has been taken from it. When that happens people will reject the levy completely. The Australian Labor Party is committed to a Medibank system which does not impose a levy but is funded out of general taxation. We will discontinue the levy after the next election.
– My remarks will be very brief because I know that the Minister who is in charge of this Bill, the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton), is a Minister of few words. That is what I like about him. He is a man who says ‘yes’ or ‘no’. When he says ‘yes’ he means yes and when he says ‘no’ he means no. I am going to pose 2 questions in my submission to the Senate tonight. What Senator Colston has said is very true. When the levy hits the workers in October they will get a very deep shock indeed because there is a great deal of confusion amongst the wage and salary earners.
It was all very well for the Government to say that the Medibank levy was part of a package deal. Sure it was part of a package deal- a threepoint package deal. The first point was tax indexation, the second was the improvements in the family allowances, and the third was the introduction of a Medibank levy. If the Medibank levy is part of a package deal, why did the Government not introduce the lot on the same date? I suggested in my previous submission to the Senate that the Government should withdraw this legislation because of the confusion that exists and should allow the Prime
Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser) to work out his new deal so far as taxation is concerned. Only in the last couple of days he has said that the Government is going to have another look at taxation. Why does the Government not leave this Medibank levy until that particular measure is brought into the Parliament and is able to be discussed? As it is, confusion is going to reign supreme. The ordinary rank and file worker is going to see the Medibank levy as a cut in wages.
The 2 questions to which I referred at the outset bear upon the limit or ceiling on the amount of levy payable and the right of the citizens of Australia to a true freedom of choice to change over from one system to another without a waiting period. In my first question, to which I hope the Minister will be able to answer ‘ yes ‘ or ‘ no ‘, I refer to the explanatory memorandum supplied with the Bill, which states in the introductory note:
There is to be a limit (or ‘ceiling’) on the amount of levy payable so that it will not exceed $150 ($1 12.50 in 1976-77) for a person without dependants. Where a husband and wife are each a taxpayer the amount of levy payable by the couple is not to exceed $300 ($225 in 1976-77).
I want to know whether the Government has a mandate to suggest that a ceiling of $300, which is more than 33 per cent above the sum of $225, will be the ultimate ceiling in view of the fact that it will be in office until 1978. Does the Government mean that between July 1977 and the time of the general election in 1978 inflation is going to increase by 33 per cent? If it does not mean that, it should cut out the $300 ceiling and leave it as $225 for a husband and wife and $1 12.50 for a single person as a gesture to the people.
Secondly, I have no hangups about Medibank, whether it be general Medibank or Medibank Private. I have been a member of a private health fund, as I suppose most honourable senators have been, for years- in fact, for 20 years. I think the workers in this private health fund have done a very good job. I remember signing them up 1 5 years ago into a union. They are workers. They are entitled to a crust. They work hard. They do their job efficiently. I have no hangup on the question of Medibank. I have not made up my mind whether I will go into Medibank Private or maintain my contributions to a private health fund.
I ask Senator Cotton, who is the Minister in charge of the Bill, in his reply to this debate to give a guarantee to the Senate and to the Australian community that people who retain their membership in a private health fund will enjoy real freedom of choice enabling them to transfer to Medibank Private or to opt for the levy system if the charges of the private health funds rise above those of Medibank. Conversely, I ask the Minister to guarantee that those who choose to sign up now with Medibank Private will have the right of freedom of choice, about which Government members so freely express themselves, as to whether they will change from Medibank Private to a private health fund if the price of Medibank skyrockets.
Those are the two matters to which I wish to refer. I am sorry that I did not advise the Whips that I would speak. I had not intended to speak. I hope that the Minister in charge of the Bill in his down to earth practical manner which I, for one, appreciate, will answer those 2 questions.
– in reply- Mr Acting Deputy President, first of all, the amendment is opposed, rejected, not agreed to and not thought much of. Senator Colston made some comments about the fact that after the next election the Labor Party will throw all these proposals out again. There is no problem. The Labor Party will not be in after the next election; it will still be out. That fixes that aspect. Senator Grimes made several comments and Senator Harradine has asked a number of questions. I will do my best in a state of almost total ignorance about this matter to reply to the various points that have been raised. After all, there has been a long debate on this and the associated measures. The subject matter has been most thoroughly canvassed. I have heard some of the debate, not all. I believe that the subject has been most thoroughly done over. Senator Grimes and Senator Harradine asked whether a person who transfers from one fund to another fund will have to undergo a 2-month waiting period. After November 1976 there will be a 2-month waiting period to join a fund. Transfers between basic tables of different funds will be without a waiting period imposed by the receiving fund. Senator Harradine asked for a guarantee about transfer. People are able to transfer between funds without waiting periods. People also can give up fund membership and go into standard Medibank without any waiting time. Senator Harradine was concerned as to why the family allowanceindexationlevy package was not introduced on the one day. Indexation was brought in on 1 July, the earliest practicable date. The improved system of family allowance started from 1 July to benefit people with families. The levy will commence on 1 October, largely because of the time needed to commence administrative procedures, particularly those of the private funds which had to gear up to offer the new basic tables. I hope that that information will be satisfactory to my colleagues.
Senator Donald Cameron said that the explanatory memorandum did not explain why the exemption level for tax and the levy for sole parents was set at a taxable income of $3790 while the income for a married person with a dependent spouse was $4299. The matter is mentioned at the bottom of page 2 and at the top of page 7 of the explanatory memorandum. A provision of the health insurance legislation not being amended by these Bills provides for concessional rebates of tax that are not fully absorbed by a person’s income tax liability to be allowed against the levy. The maximum tax rebate allowable for a sole parent for 1976-77 is the general concessional rebate of $6 10 and the sole parent rebate of $350, making a total rebate of $960 which equals the tax plus the levy on a taxable income of $3790. The maximum tax rebates allowable for a married person with a dependent spouse for 1976-77 is the general concessional rebate of $610 and the spouse rebate of $500, a total of $1 1 10, which equals the tax plus levy on a taxable income of $4299.
Various comments were made about funding Medibank out of general revenue. I believe one or two brief facts here may be useful. At the time of the May measures the 1975-76 cost of Medibank was put at $ 1400m. If nothing whatsoever were done, this would have cost $2000m this year. The Medibank program, as I think all honourable senators recognise, was quite open ended. Virtually the whole responsibility for financing basic hospital and medical care was placed on State and Federal governments. This was not only for those in the community needing assistance but also for those who could afford to pay for themselves. Before the May changes, there were few incentives to economy in use of the health services by users of those services or by the medical profession. Universal coverage was retained and low income earners protected. So, people who wish to receive Medibank benefits will pay 2.5 per cent of taxable income subject to ceilings and those who want to choose private insurance will pay their contributions at the exemption levy. Those who pay the levy have their hospital and medical costs subsidised from revenue.
I suppose that the real answer to this situation other than the broad details which I have mentioned is the concept that people have that the revenue of the nation is a bottomless pit from which we can draw forever and ever and ever, putting nothing into it. Logic in this situation is that where one is dealing with tables of revenue and tables of expenditure one does far better to try to get to a situation of some equality and some responsibility. The Government is a strong believer in responsibility in Australian societyfirst for itself and second for others.
That the words proposed to be added (Senator Grimes’ amendment) be added.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the negative.
– The question now is: That the Bill be now read a second time’. Those who are of that opinion say ‘Aye ‘.
Government senators- Aye.
– Those who are against say ‘No’.
Opposition senators- No.
– 1 think the ‘ ayes ‘ have it.
– No. Divide.
-Is a division required?
– No, we have made our protest.
– Under the Standing Orders 2 honourable senators must call for a division before one is held. Only one honourable senator is calling for a division.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 3- by leave- taken together.
-I beg the indulgence of the Committee to speak on these 3 clauses, in view of an answer that the Minister for Industry and Commerce, Senator Cotton, gave. Both Senator Harradine and I are concerned that people may be locked into a fund and not be able to change from that fund to another fund without waiting for 2 months and without paying a penalty. Firstly, I am absolutely certain that in 3 Commonwealth department staff letters it is said that normally people must stay in their respective funds, but if they wish to change to another fund they will have to pay into both funds or pay the levy and the contribution to the new fund during that 2 months waiting period. Secondly, it is a fact that under this scheme and under the old scheme it is the practice, by agreement between the voluntary health funds, that free transfer between funds exists. I believe it to be a fact that nowhere in this legislation is there anything to compel the voluntary health funds to continue that. Also, there is no provision to prevent the voluntary health funds from saying that they will not eccept transfers to or from Medibank Private or that they will not make an arrangement with Medibank Private for such transfers.
Already we have the situation that some firms are refusing to allow Medibank Private premiums to be taken out of salaries, whereas they will allow this to be done for the Hospitals Contribution Fund, the Medical Benefits Fund, the St Luke ‘s fund, or any other fund. I think it is very important in order to guarantee the competition that people on the Government side think is so important, that by legislation, instruction, or however it can be done, the Government make absolutely sure that the private health funds do not try to lock people into individual funds, into the private funds as distinct from Medibank Private. They may well do so, in view of some of the things they have done in the past. I think this is a very important point. I do not think that verbal guarantees from the Government are good enough in this situation. I do not believe that the Government can speak for all the voluntary funds in this regard, although I hope it can. I hope that it brings pressure to bear on the voluntary funds so that they play the game in this regard.
-I would like to support what Senator Grimes has said. This matter is of very great importance. Consider, for example, the large number of people who rely on their contributions to a health fund to cover them for hospital services. Really I am talking about families now. Families with parents of child-bearing age will not be game to transfer from one fund to another. True freedom of choice will not be available to them unless this matter is cleared up. If I understood the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) correctly, there will be a waiting period of 2 months. If a condition for which a person has to enter hospital arises within those 2 months, the costs of the resultant hospitalisation will not be payable from the fund. In other words, if conception occurs within those 2 months the person going to hospital will find that she will have to pick up the tab.
I support what was said by Senator Grimes and I appeal to the Minister to clear up this matter. I said before that he is a man of a few words, and that is something attractive in this chamber. I have never known him to say something that he did not mean or that he would not carry out. I appeal to the Minister, through you, Mr Chairman, to give some guarantee to the Committee and to the people of Australia that there will be true freedom of choice for the citizens of Australia to change from one fund to another, thus promoting the true competition between funds which is the desire of the Government.
– I think I ought to reply very briefly on behalf of my 2 ministerial colleagues in the other place. I am not the Minister for Health. He is not a member of the Senate. I am the Minister representing the Treasurer. He is not a member of the Senate. Therefore I cannot give guarantees on behalf of a colleague for whom I speak in absentia. I have these comments from the appropriate officers: Senator Grimes and Senator Harradine asked whether a person who transferred from one fund to another would have a 2 months waiting period. The answer I have is that after November 1976 there will be a 2-month waiting period to join a fund. Transfers between basic tables of different funds will be without a waiting period imposed by the receiving fund. No doubt the Minister for Health will have some power to make regulations as to the behaviour of funds and as to what he has done. All I can undertake to do for my colleagues Senator Grimes and Senator Harradine is to see that their observations are directed by me by letter to the appropriate Minister, with a request for information as to whether their concern is justified. If it is justified, what does the Minister propose to do to overcome that problem? I cannot take it further than that. If it were my Department I could perhaps do more.
– I thank the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) for the guarantee that he will contact his colleague. I merely comment that the deliberation in the Committee stage has almost reached the 3 minutes to midnight stage. I understand that time is a famous time used by various members of the Senate. We have no guarantee from the Minister. We have staff bulletins from Government departments stating that certain things will happen if people wish to change funds. We have no legislative guarantee that they will not be disadvantaged. We cannot get even a guarantee that the Minister for Health will use his regulatory powers. My comment is that this is an extraordinary situation. We have already had a hell of a lot of changes to this legislation. We have no guarantee that people cannot preserve their rights. I thank the Minister, but I think it is an extraordinary circumstance.
– I think I might process the matter a little further. If Senator Grimes would provide me with the various departmental letters that he has I would appreciate it. I would like to have them because they would add to the dossier.
– I realise the importance which the Government places on the passage of this legislation tonight. My suggestion is not a criticism of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton). We accept and understand the position in which he is placed. It is 9.30 p.m. The Government requires another Bill to be passed this evening. Is it possible for consideration of this Bill to be adjourned for half an hour so that some communication could be made with the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) to seek some assurances from him? That is no reflection on or criticism of the Minister for Industry and Commerce. If that information could be given to the Committee this evening a lot of people would be much happier in their own minds.
– I express some concern at the remarks made by the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) in his reply to Senator Grimes. The Minister said that he wished that Senator Grimes would produce some of the departmental documents in his possession as they would add to the dossier. I think that is a grave reflection on our shadow Minister. I do not think Senator Cotton should have replied in that manner. I was listening to the debate in my office a short while ago. I was very disturbed that Senator Cotton should be so brief in his answers. In my opinion, they were not answers. He just brushed aside the whole Bill as though it was of no consequence to the thousands of people in this country whom it will affect.
– I support the viewpoint advanced by Senator Brown. I refer to the serious matters raised in the Senate over recent weeks to Senator Guilfoyle who represents the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt). I have been one, so has Senator Donald Cameron, who has pointed out to Senator Guilfoyle the sort of concern which is expressed by most citizens about the complications in the new scheme. It seems to me that it is very important that that confusion be dispelled. If we did what Senator Brown proposed and adjourned the consideration of the matter in the Committee for half an hour, we could go on with the next business. In the meantime Senator Cotton, who is the responsible Minister, could seek some information. I know he is the Minister in charge of this Bill, but Senator Guilfoyle is the Minister representing the Minister for Health. Perhaps she could come back into the chamber and give a studied opinion as to whether the Minister for Health views the matter in a more positive light than that which has been put to us. It seems very important to me that people who will have to make options in regard to what they should do and in regard to the sorts of benefits they will need in future should be well advised on all the complications which are involved.
I am one of the senators who very recently has been consulting the 3 bodies concerned. Senator Donald Cameron, who is not here at present, and I have been in conversation in South Australia with the Department of Social Security, the Taxation Office and Medibank. We found that on many matters none of the officers could tell us exactly what options apply to various categories of people who want to know their entitlements. I think that ordinary citizens should be entitled to the advantage of being able to transfer from one scheme to the other. I know as a result of talking to workshop people in
Adelaide last Friday that many people are staying with their present health fund when, in my opinion, it might be better for them to transfer to Medibank. For that reason I think there ought to be some indication by the Government that it accepts as a principle the right of transferability. There may be legal complications or implications, but if the people had that right it certainly could be a principle which we could carry over into the future. Let me summarise. It seems to me that this place is just as important as the other place. I think the Minister in charge should indicate the views of the principal Minister. I would accept Senator Cotton’s statement in that regard. If there is any doubt about the matter, consideration of the Bill could be adjourned for half an hour while we deal with the other Bill. Then we could consider what the Minister concerned thinks about the position.
– I wish to clear up a misunderstanding which I think Senator McLaren probably has. Because of my mumbling he probably did not understand what I said. I did not refer to a ministeral document. I referred to a departmental staff newsletter which, I understand, is not confidential. That was the paper to which Senator Cotton was referring. It was not a ministerial document or anything like that. I think Senator Brown’s request is a reasonable one. I do not think it would take very long for a guarantee to come from the Treasurer (Mr Lynch) that he would take certain action to guarantee that this point would be cleared up. It is an important point. It is an important point to members on this side. It should be an important point to members on the other side who give us so many lectures about freedom of choice and about competition between funds.
We understand that Medibank Private has been set up in free competition with the private health funds. In the past they have not always played the game. Every government since John Gorton was Prime Minister has had difficulty with them. I think that the people of this country need some guarantee that the Minister for Health will, by regulation or by legislation, prevent the private health funds from taking advantage of any loophole in the legislation or in the regulations, thus locking people in the funds. I think the request is reasonable. I should not have thought that the ascertaining of the information would take very long. Therefore I support the request.
-I seek the indulgence of the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) and the advice of the Chair as to whether it is appropriate for me to move that the Chairman report progress and ask for leave to sit again this evening?
– There is no need for that. I have listened to the various observations and I must say that I do not require lectures from Senator McLaren. I appreciated what Senator Grimes said to me and I endeavoured to help him. I will try to get what useful information I can for him. We are trying to help honourable senators opposite with their problems regarding interpretation. The difficulty was that the adviser from the Department of Health was not present because we were dealing with taxation Bills. He has now returned. He may be able to provide some information that will satisfy honourable senators and thereby avoid delay both tonight and later. The way this legislation is proceeding, it seems that it may have to come back when we return after the week’s recess, and that may not be a good idea.
Generally, the first 3 Bills dealt with the principles of the scheme and I would have thought that it would have been possible to clear up these matters at the time when the 3 principal Bills were being debated. The Bills presently being debated are associated tax levy Bills which are really not the basically important Bills in this issue. I feel that the Opposition has a genuine concern and unease. If possible, I would prefer to have the matter tidied up tonight and, if it cannot be tidied up tonight, held over until such time as answers can be given which satisfy the Senate. That is my genuine wish and it is my intent either in stage A tonight or in stage B later.
The general position as it has been given to me by the adviser from the Department of Health is that there are 2 ways in which the operations of the funds are controlled. The first is by legislation and the second by rules. Registered organisations are only registered provided the rules of the organisation are acceptable to the Minister. Of course, I am not the Minister, nor is Senator Guilfoyle. We would leave it to the Minister to require the funds to accept inter-fund transfers without waiting period. As I said earlier, honourable senators have my word that I will take up with the Minister for Health (Mr Hunt) the matter of requiring the funds to accept transfers without the waiting period. I shall be pleased to have from Senator Grimes the extra information which he undertook to provide for me. If further elucidation is needed, honourable senators may ask for it.
-I am pleased that the Minister for Industry and Commerce (Senator Cotton) supports the Opposition’s position, Senator Harradine ‘s position and, I am sure, the position of everyone on the other side of the chamber. I assume that the Minister is saying that he will support in every way the recommendation that the Minister use his regulatory powers to ensure that the health funds do not abuse the situation.
– I have spoken to the adviser and he tells me that my interpretation of what was said is correct. Therefore it should be able to be done.
-(Senator DrakeBrockman) Senator Brown asked me a question. The answer is that he is able to do so if he desires to do so.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Clauses agreed to.
-I have an amendment to clause 4, which reads in part:
Section 25 1 v of the Principal Act is amended-
by inserting in sub-sections ( 1 ), (2) and (3), after the word ‘Pan’ (wherever occurring), the words “and of any Act imposing leevy “;
by omitting from paragraph (a) of sub-section (1) the words ‘or a Medibank contributor’; and
Over the last few weeks we have had some discussion on this point. As I said before, the confusion first arose when it was discovered that there was nothing in the legislation but there was a statement in the booklet produced on Medibank which suggested that pensioners who hold pensioner health benefit cards would have to pay the levy. They were concerned, the Combined Pensions Association was concerned, the Opposition was concerned, Mr Lynch was concerned when he discovered it, Mr Hunt was concerned when Mr Lynch passed it on to him, and the Government then announced that it would exclude all pensioner health benefit card holders from paying the levy. We welcome the decision. We support the decision.
We then had the situation which arose because Senator Guilfoyle, in reply to a question in the House, suggested that other low income earners under the present legislation would be likely to be excluded from. paying this levy. We assume that the way in which they would be excluded would be by declaring them prescribed persons under the legislation. We agree that pensioner health benefit card holders should be excluded from the levy. We agree that members of the defence forces and relatives or otherwise associated members of the defence forces should be excluded from the levy. We agree that persons entitled under any of the repatriation Acts to free medical treatment in respect of every incapacity, disease or disabling condition should be excluded from the levy. We do not see why the members of the defence forces, and the repatriation pensioners should be specifically excluded from the levy in the legislation and pensioners who hold pensioner health benefit cards should have to be excluded under the regulations in the legislation. We believe that the pensioners are in the same case as the other two groups. In fact it should be written into the legislation that they should be excluded from the levy. That is the reason for the amendment.
We would also like to know who are the other low income earners who will be excluded from the levy. If a single pensioner receiving $70 and holding a pensioner health benefit card should be excluded from the levy we believe that a single person who is not holding a pensioner health benefit card or who is not even a pensioner has a pretty fair case, on the basis of economic need, for being excluded from the levy. Perhaps it is new migrants and those people who live in extreme poverty because of drought or other condition who should be excluded from the levy. We think that there should be some reasonable, constant needs priority for the exclusion. We think that the best and simplest way to do it would be to increase the lower limits of the levy to prevent those people with low incomes from paying it. But at least we ask that the Government write into the legislation the pensioners who hold their pensioner health benefits cards in the way in which the other groups are to be written in. This amendment would do that. We would also like some clarification on who are the other low income groups that the Government intends to exclude from the levy, we assume, by declaring them prescribed persons.
-Very briefly I want to refer to something which is germane to the matter that has been raised by my colleague Senator Grimes. It exercises my mind in the way in which I read the main features of the health insurance levy in the explanatory memorandum which has been circulated with the Bills. I am concerned about 2 references on page 4 of the memorandum as follows:
The next explanation is:
I have had some experience with the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances and my view is that the Act should provide clear indications, to the extent that it is humanly possible, of the persons who should be entitled to relief from the levy. I say that for this reason: At least the matter will receive the scrutiny of Parliament in the sense that it is a piece of legislation rather than being subordinate in the sense that it is contained in regulations. I think the Government will be wise to reconsider this matter in the light of that situation.
– The Government cannot accept the amendment, although it understands the general thrust of what is intended. We have proposed an exemption from the levy for pensioners entitled to pensioner health benefits. That was stated in the second reading speech. We will take action as a government to exempt those pensioners. The issue now concerns technicalities, not matters of great substance. As was said in the second reading speech, the Government will use the regulation making power which is contained in the Bill to exempt pensioners covered by the pensioners health benefits scheme. The amendment moved by the Opposition does not define in sufficiently clear legal terms the people who are to be exempt from the levy. However, this legislation requires revision in the light of the intention to apply only an income test to determine liability for pensioner health benefits. When that has been done the Government will be in a position to draft the exempting provisions.
On a more general plane, I point out that when the present Opposition introduced the health levy legislation into the Parliament it did not give direct exemption for pensioners. That legislation contained a power to make regulations conferring exemption from that levy. The then Treasurer in his second reading speech indicated that his Government was giving special attention to pensioners who had an entitlement to free medical treatment under the pensioner medical scheme. As a government we are committed to giving pensioners, covered by the pensioner health benefits scheme, the levy exemption which has been announced. I assure honourable senators that this exemption will be made law as soon as technicalities permit. Therefore, as I mentioned when I began my speech, the amendment cannot be accepted. It is not possible to say what other groups will be excluded from the levy. That is something we will need to look at later on. Until that process is complete one cannot say how much further the regulations will go than exempting pensioners who have pensioner cards.
Senator Brown expressed concern that the Act did not clearly indicate who would be exempt from the levy. That may be desirable. I mention once again the levy legislation introduced by the present Opposition. It had similar regulation making power. I am afraid that we cannot help more at this stage until we get some more experience. This is as I read the situation, picking it up as I go along. At the same time I shall see to it that what has been said here will be passed to the responsible Minister.
-The only comment I make is this: When it is proposed by regulation to give immunity from a tax levy we are treading on ground where we should be most careful. It is not the function of regulation, that is the Executive Council by regulation, to give exemption to particular classes from a general impost. I am concerned to think that the same draftsmen who drafted for the previous Government are having sway today. We have to get to the stage where policies have to be made in relation to particular groups. If groups are to be given advantage it is for the Parliament to say so, not for subordinate legislation. We have the Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances which absolutely eschews the idea of giving special benefits or imposing special discriminatory disadvantages on particular classes or individuals.
Senator Wright and I have a lot of differences in this place. It is pleasing for once to hear the honourable senator agreeing with the words which I believe I used in my speech on the second reading debate. I do not think it is any excuse at all to say that when we were in government we had a similar sort of regulation making clause in our legislation. I do not believe that this is the sort of legislation where we need to have a regulation to give somebody outside the Parliament the right to exclude any group it likes. I shall give an example of a ridiculous extreme which may never exist. We could have a government which desires to win a seat in the country or in the city. .
It could latch on to some specific item like a drought in one area or an industrial breakdown in another area in order to exclude vast numbers of people from an impost in that area. It could do that by regulation. Surely the criterion for whether or not people are excluded from the levy is need. It should not be difficult to draw up strict criteria of need and to write it into this legislation. Then there would be no need for this regulation.
I have heard it said that it may be of dubious validity to exclude people from a tax or an impost by regulation. I do not know. I am not a constitutional lawyer. In general I believe that it is wrong to put in regulations like this. We have vast numbers of regulations. None of us in this Parliament can keep up with them. Often, none of us know what is happening when regulations are made. This consideration should come into the matter. The Senate Standing Committee on Regulations and Ordinances has to meet once, or twice, or three times a week to try to keep up with the regulations. I am not sure that all members can guarantee that they can keep up. This sort of thing which involves large amounts of money, taxation and exemption from taxation can surely be written into the legislation.
That the words proposed to be inserted (Senator Grimes’ amendment) be inserted.
The Committee divided. (The Chairman- Senator T. C. Drake-Brockman)
Question so resolved in the negative.
Clause agreed to.
Remainder of Bill- by leave- taken as a whole, and agreed to.
Bill reported without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Cotton) read a third time.
Consideration resumed from 22 September, on motion by Senator Guilfoyle:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time, and passed through its remaining stages without requests or debate.
Bill returned from the House of Representatives without amendment.
Debate resumed from 21 September, on motion by Senator Durack:
That the Bill be now read a second time.
-The Opposition opposes parts of this legislation. The main and most objectionable feature, from the point of view of the Opposition, is that clause which deals with the imposition of court fees in matrimonial matters. The Minister for Repatriation (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech indicated that the suggested fee was $60 and that the regulations would be amended- the power to amend the regulations is in the Bill- to provide the power to impose such a fee. We oppose this proposal because it is the thin end of the wedge. We felt that it was the consensus amount the majority of the members of the Senate when the family law legislation was passed that fees should not be imposed; that the whole question of costs should be put on the basis that each party should bear his or her own costs; and that it was desirable to remove as much as possible from the family law legislation any friction which might arise at the time of the dissolution of a marriage from the imposition of fees or the payment of costs or arguments about those matters between the parties.
– It is difficult to believe that you can entertain such nonsense.
-The honourable senator probably finds a lot of things difficult to believe. The purpose of the fee, as described in the Minister’s second reading speech is to provide funds for legal aid. I make the point in passing that we think that this is a wrong way to raise revenue for legal aid purposes. What the Minister has indicated in his second reading speech is that it is proposed, in a sense, to apply the revenue recouped from the fees imposed for divorces to the expense of providing legal aid. One might say that if the rate of divorce goes down it is possible that the fee will go up so that the same amount can be recouped and applied to the payment of a proportion of the Commonwealth’s legal aid bill. If the rate of divorce goes up, one might ask, will the fees go down?
We think that what is proposed in the legislation is a bad principle. It carries with it all sorts of elements which we consider undesirable. I do not need to go into them; I only ask those 2 rhetorical questions. The reason for the Minister imposing the fees is given quite baldly as that there have always been fees for divorce and so it is nothing new. We do not find that, in the context of the family law legislation, a very persuasive reason. In the context of any change in legislation, the fact that a thing has always been done does not necessarily make it right for it to continue to be done.
The other provisions of the Bill facilitate the enforcement of court orders. That has been a very real problem in the family law jurisdiction in a number of States. We do not oppose those provisions. In fact, we applaud them. There is also a provision giving the Commonwealth power to delegate the right of intervention of the Attorney-General to the Attorney-General of a particular State where there is a State family court established. I do not want to go over this ground again. We have always taken the view that the least messy way to handle family law legislation is for the Commonwealth to ask the States to refer powers in matters associated with divorce such as the custody, maintenance and ancillary matters of those kinds to the Commonwealth. In that way there would be a uniform divorce law throughout the Commonwealth. There would not be problems that conceivably could arise by the creation of State family courts, different decisions about the meaning of the Act and even the principles of the Act given in various State courts and consequent confusion. So we just make those comments about the Bill. We oppose the provision relating to the imposition of fees. Otherwise we are content with the comments I have made.
-This is the second Bill this year which seeks to amend the Family Law Act. Senator Button has made a case against some parts of the Bill. I do not think that he made a very good case, but he put forward some arguments against the provisions in regard to costs. That is not to say that this legislation, which of course is non-party legislation and which in my opinion in all its basic principles is a non-party measure, should not be considered. It must be considered, as must its amendments, in that style. Any important provisions or any amendment which went against the principles of the Act would be something that members of this chamber would certainly be entitled to consider and not agree with if they saw fit to do so.
Senator Button bases his argument particularly against court fees on the view that this is the thin end of the wedge. I do not accept this for one moment. I recognise that what will have to follow this Act is a regulation to impose, as we are told by the Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), a fee of $60. I think that can be said to be somewhat equivalent to fees that did apply in earlier times. If in fact another regulation came along proposing greatly increased fees I for one would find very great difficulty in accepting or supporting such a proposition. It would be a matter, of course, which we in this chamber would be entided to consider.
We see that in fact a fee of $60 is proposed. So far as the imposition of the fee is concerned I probably more than any other person would have some reservations about the reintroduction of fees in this jurisdiction. One problem which I hope will at least be overcome when the amendment is passed is the probability that only one fee will apply and therefore there will be the risk that a considerable amount of machinery will be required for audit and other accounting services. I am assured that this is not expected to be very great but I think it should be watched carefully.
Suggestions have been made to the AttorneyGeneral that this fee should be imposed in some way by stamp and that it should not be something requiring the setting up of some financial organisation in the family courts at considerable expense. I hope that those suggestions will be taken very carefully into consideration. I certainly have some reservations about the expression of the court fee in the second reading speech. I thought that Senator Button would have at least come to this point because the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech said:
The Government decided to impose this fee in order to provide funds which will contribute to meeting the rising cost of legal aid.
I do not regard that as a sound reason. I do not regard it as desirable and just that people who are instituting proceedings should be expected to bear the cost of someone else ‘s legal aid. If in this community there is a need- and there is a needfor a great deal of legal aid, whether it is $ 10m a year or $ 100m a year, to help people who otherwise are not able to get to a court the community has an obligation to provide this aid. Take the case of Mrs Smith who applies for a divorce and is able to pay a fee which under this legislation is not to be paid by some people who are in need or who are legal aid customers. If she is able to afford the fee, in my view she is under no obligation to pay the legal aid of Mrs Jones who is a legal aid customer and who is not able to pay the fee. There is no reason why one citizen in this situation, because he or she is instituting divorce proceedings, should be obliged to pay for the legal aid of some other people.
– Someone has to pay it.
– I have said that, senator. I have said that the community must pay for legal aid. You and I must do that. The people in this community who believe in justice and equality before the law have an obligation to pay our share of it. But the woman or man who is instituting a divorce case is under no extra obligation to provide for the legal aid of the community. I would have thought that Senator Button would have come to that principle and would have been critical.
– I did but much less articulately than you, senator. But I did touch on it.
-That is true, senator. But the trouble is that I am afraid there are other reasons -
– It does not work in other areas, senator.
– Of course there are fees in some areas and no fees in others. As we know, there is no regularity about this question through the various courts of the land. But as I say, the reason given for the size of the fee is to pay for legal aid. I do not regard that as a sound reason advanced in the second reading speech. The Minister went on to say in his second reading speech:
It is normal to pay a fee for being married, sometimes in excess of $30.
I do not know whether that is an argument. That amount for being divorced is twice as much. I do not know whether that justifies the differential between the two. The Minister then stated some words which I think are important. He said:
Having in mind the facilities provided by the Family Court, a fee of $60 is not regarded as excessive.
There I think must surely be the reason why this fee is imposed. It is a fee that is imposed under the Budget. The Government has made a decision that certain extra moneys need to be collected. I may not like the particular fee. I may not like various impositions. But it is a judgment by the Government as to where moneys are to come from. I would suggest that there is reason when one takes into account that the cost of maintaining this court with all of the new facilities is something like $ 1 lm a year. In view of this there is a reason for saying that those facilities may have to be paid for by those who have the ability to do so. For that reason and because it is a Budget Bill I would find this charge acceptable and one which one would support in this particular case.
I would like to say that the other reforms that are in this Bill are, of course, desirable. These reforms are set out in the second reading speech. They are designed to pick up problems which have arisen and where changes have been found to be necessary. I think that they cover two or three of the problems quite efficiently. In general it is necessary to have the family court operating in the best possible way, as I think this Bill provides. It is necessary that we should also remember that a great deal of difficulty has been caused as a result of a recent High Court decision. There is the problem that one can no longer say that custody can entirely be dealt with in the Family Court. There is a split between the Family Court and the State courts. This situation surely cannot be left in its present situation. I hope that the negotiations which the Attorney-General is having with the States will lead to a very sensible and broad view.
Senator Button, of course, hopes that the States can give the reference of power to the Commonwealth. But it might be years before that happens. It is much more likely that some of the States will decide that there ought to be State courts operating with a full jurisdiction and that they therefore should be able to deal with children whether they be legitimate or illegitimate, deal in cases involving property, whether that property is involved in the marriage or not, and deal with rights to maintenance by illegitimate children so that children are not distinguished in their dealings with the courts. Despite all the facilities which are being provided by the Family Court I believe that there is a need for more courts and for more judges to go out into the country and provide services closer to home. These things will take money. The courts will cost money. The Government has determined that there ought to be a fee of $60. 1 hope it will be applied logically towards the costs of the courts and not in any way ascribed to legal aid. With that reservation, I support the Bill.
-I rise to question the basis on which this legislation is introduced into the Senate. It appears that the Government suggests that from 1 October there is to be a fee of $60 payable on the filing of each application for divorce. It goes on to say that this is an attempt to offset the high costs that are borne by the community in respect of family law proceedings. The second reading speech states that in this year’s Budget a total of $9.5m has been provided for payment to private professions for legal aid and the approximately 80 per cent of this figure will represent payments for family law legal aid.
If the Government’s principle is that the user pays, either the fee that is now suggested is too low or the basis on which the fee is to be levied is wrong. Either the community pays through taxation on the basis of capacity to pay or the people who utilise the family law proceedings for divorce have to pay on the basis of their capacity to pay. Let us take, for example, a person on $30,000 a year. What is $60 to him? To the person who is on the weighted average minimum weekly wage, $60 is a great deal. Why does not the Government allow the court to assess the fee according to the circumstances of the applicant? Statistics prove that the richer you are the more divorces you have. Why then does not the Government- with its usual policy of the user pays- introduce that into this legislation?
– It is there.
– It is not there.
– It is.
– You are saying that it is $60 for everybody?
– But legal aid customers do not pay.
– No, legal aid customers will not pay but a person on the weighted average minimum weekly wage does not qualify for legal aid. He is not within the means test. The Government ought to have a good look at the operation of the Family Law Act to see how much of the tab the taxpayers of this country are picking up for those who wish to indulge themselves in respect of this matter.
– Indulge themselves in respect of this matter. I remind the Senate of the statistics I mentioned which prove that the richer you are the more divorces you have. All right, let the rich people pay for the divorces. The Government should not set a standard fee of $60 across the board. The amount of $60 means nothing to a person on $30,000 a year, who is more likely to have a divorce than a person who is on the weighted average minimum weekly award.
– in reply- I am pleased that the Senate is supporting all the provisions of this Bill except for the one which enables fees to be levied by regulation in the Family Courts. I noted the arguments which have been advanced against that proposition by Senator Button on behalf of the Opposition. I noted also the arguments of Senator Harradine that a graduated scale of fees should apply with the overall result that there would be a higher return from such fees. The position is that the Family Courts this year will cost $1 lm. I should like to point out to the Senate- particularly in view of the remarks of Senator Harradine- that neither this Government nor any other government has operated the user pay principle in a strict sense to the running of courts and the administration of justice. However, it has always been a tradition that some contribution should be made by litigants before courts to the costs of running them.
I think it is fair to extend that principle to have regard to the ever-growing cost of legal aid. I think it is quite proper that the increased cost of legal aid- particularly the increased amount in this year’s Budget for legal aid- should be taken into account when dealing with this question of the imposition of a fee for the Family Court. I really cannot understand the argument that because a fee is imposed it is the thin end of the wedge or the beginning of a great escalation of fees. The Government has indicated that this is a fair fee, having regard to the fees that were imposed in the past. There is no suggestion that the fee will rise, except presumably in the course of time. Most fees seem to rise, as indeed most incomes rise. There is no reason to say in an argument that this is the thin end of the wedge and fees will be skyrocketing as a result of this provision.
The only other matter to which I think I should refer is the suggestion as to how the Government should cope with some of the problems which have been presented by the recent decision of the High Court which has reduced the jurisdiction of the Family Court in certain significant matters. It is the Government’s hope that the States which, unlike Western Australia, have not set up their own State Family Courts will be prepared to do so. We are impressed with the way in which the Family Court of Western Australia is operating. It was a court that was in contemplation by the Senate Standing Committee on Constitutional and Legal Affairs which made recommendations on Family Courts to this Senate which ultimately were incorporated in the Family Law Bill. The Government believes that that is the preferable way of overcoming these legal and constitutional problems.
I think that the question of referral of powers is not likely to succeed. The States, if they refer powers, can take them away. Generally speaking, we believe as a government that it would be far better and far more consistent- with our notions of federalism- if the States were to set up their own Family Courts on the overall terms laid down in the Family Law Act. I am pleased that this Bill has the support of the Senate except in one respect. I know that it is an important respect. If a vote is necessary, I hope that the Senate will support that clause also.
Question resolved in the affirmative.
Bill read a second time.
Clauses 1 to 6- by leave- taken together, and agreed to.
Clause 7 (Regulations).
-As I indicated in the second reading debate, the Opposition opposes this clause. It does so because it empowers the making of regulations which would impose a fee of $60. We do not believe in fees being charged in the Family Court.
The CHAIRMAN (Senator DrakeBrockman) Order! In conformity with the sessional order relating to the adjournment of the Senate, I formally put the question:
That the Chairman do now leave the chair and report to the Senate.
Question resolved in the negative.
-We oppose the clause also because of the reason which has been given for the imposition of the fee, that is, that it will produce revenue amounting to $2.8m to help the Government to finance legal aid. To obtain the $2.8m, 48 000 divorce petitions will be needed in a year. It should be the object of the Government, indeed of all of us, to reduce the number of those petitions. If that is done, the revenue which will be gleaned from this operation will be reduced. The Opposition rejects the tying of the fee concept in the Family Court to the financing of legal aid for the reasons given by the Minister for Repatriation (Senator Durack) in his second reading speech. We oppose this clause.
– I suppose we do not want to keep on playing ping pong as to whether we should oppose or support a particular clause. We have covered this matter in debate. I should simply like to reiterate that we are not tying fees to the provision of legal aid. If we were these fees would be far in excess of this amount because, as has been pointed out, the provision of legal aid this year is a growing burden on the Budget. In fact, 80 per cent of the provision for legal aid is being spent on family law matters. So if there were any question of tying fees we would be imposing a far greater fee indeed. That is not what the Government is doing. A user-pay principle is not being suggested by the Government. It is simply another reason advanced for the need to receive some contribution from those people who are litigating in the Family Court.
Clause agreed to.
Title agreed to.
Bill report without amendment; report adopted.
Bill (on motion by Senator Durack) read a third time.
Article by Professor Manning
Motion (by Senator Durack) proposed:
That the Senate do now adjourn.
– I rise at this time to express my outrage and the outrage of my colleagues at the disgraceful abuse yesterday in this chamber of the machinery of question time to mount a shameful and totally unjustifiable attack on a person who is not only one of Australia’s leading scholars but also the world authority on Australian history. I refer to Professor Manning Clark. For the sake of the record and the enlightment of those honourable senators who seem to be in a state of total ignorance about who Professor Manning Clark is, I should like to draw the attention of the Senate to some biographical facts relating to Professor Manning Clark.
He was educated at Melbourne Grammar School, at Trinity College, at the University of Melbourne and at Balliol College, Oxford. He taught at Geelong Grammar School and was a lecturer in political science at the University of Melbourne, a lecturer in history at the University of Melbourne, and since 1 949 Professor of Australian History in the School of General Studies at the Australian National University. He is the author of a number of distinguished publications in the field of Australian history, including the series Documents in Australian History and the History of Australia in several volumes, both of which are basic reference works in that field. As well as this, he has been awarded other signs of distinction. He was awarded the Moomba Book Award in 1969, the Henry Lawson Arts Award in 1969 and the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal in 1970.
Just yesterday there was a Press release to the effect that he had been invited by the Australian Broadcasting Commission to give the Boyer lecturesanother sign of academic distinction and distinction in the culture of this society. He is in very good company. Other Boyer lecturers have included Justice Roma Mitchell, Professor Sir Keith Hancock, Dr H. C. Coombs and Sir Macfarlane Burnett. As well as this, he was one of the first people to be awarded the Companion of the Order of Australia, in the company of Patrick White, Joan Sutherland and Dr H. C. Coombs.
I am a post-graduate of the Australian National University and I can assure the Senate from my own experience that there is no member of the community of the Australian National University who has been held in higher esteem, for both his personal and his academic qualities, than Professor Manning Clark. He is held in high esteem equally by his students as by his academic peers. Yesterday’s attack by Senator Sim, concealed in a series of impertinent questions to the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick), debased this Senate in a way that I as a newcomer to the Senate would not have believed possible until I heard it. In doing so Senator Sim revealed a total ignorance of the history of Australia and of the scholars of that history. His questions contained a number of grossly untruthful assertions and a number of particularly ugly inferences.
– Sim despises Manchester Jews, too, you know.
– Yes. He used a word like bigoted’, which is surely the ultimate insult to a historian. He accused Professor Manning Clark of being a fascist. The word ‘fascist’, as some honourable senators may know, acquired its meaning from the historical events that took place in Italy in the 1930s and 1940s. There is no meaningful way in which the term ‘fascist’ could be applied to Professor Manning Clark, yet it was so applied yesterday by Senator Sim in his question to the Minister for Education. Senator Sim then proceeded with a series of questions which contained an assault on the integrity of Professor Manning Clark as a scholar and as a supervisor of students. He suggested by inference that Professor Manning Clark was not fit to be in a position where he made appointments to university staff or to supervise post-graduate theses because of his bigoted and, as Senator Sim said, fascist attitudes.
His final and most impertinent and insulting question contained the image of Professor Manning Clark marauding around the campus finding pencils to break and pieces of paper to tear up in order to prevent students from writing views other than his own. He concluded with some reference to something he called a ‘leftist Gulag Archipelago’. Not only has Senator Sim debased the procedures of this Senate; he has also debased the English language in his evocation of such a phrase. He used an old and crude technique of stringing together a number of words with bad associations as though by stringing them together he was saying something. All he was doing was appealing to the most reactionary and prejudiced elements in this community by using that phrase ‘leftist fascist Gulag Archipelago’, to which presumably some persons were to be banned by Professor Manning Clark. There was a time when such crude and low attacks on intellectuals and academics by politicians were not so unusual. The McCarthy era in the United States of America in the 1950s springs to mind. Indeed, we had a parallel dark period in our own history at that time. I had thought that that period had gone and that we had grown out of the stage where politicians found it necessary to abuse intellectuals in those terms for daring to disagree with them; but Senator Sim’s question yesterday was a reminder that the spirit of McCarthy lives on and that the low values of that time are not dead.
Let me proceed now to the reply made to that question by the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick). I must say that I found the Minister’s reply even more outrageous than the question. I found it entirely improper that a person who is not only a Minister in this Government but also the Minister for Education should treat such an improper question so improperly. Instead of dismissing the question as he should have, he proceeded to join in the attack on Professor Manning Clark. Senator Carrick is the Minister for Education and one would imagine that, as such, he would have some familiarity with the institutions of education and therefore he would not be entirely unfamiliar with the work of Professor Manning Clark and the status that he holds in the academic community in Australia.
I was reminded, as the Minister spoke, that he attended the Australian National University quite recently in order to make the Address of Honour to Sir John Crawford who was being invested as Chancellor of that University and in order to confer degrees on graduates of that University. At that time, as I recall, the Minister spoke very highly of the Australian National University. At that time he did not give any indication that he considered that one of the foremost figures of the Australian National University, one of its greatest figures, was in fact a bigoted Communist propagandist. No, at that time he spoke as if the ANU were an institution worthy of admiration and worthy indeed of a great deal of Government support.
– But Professor Manning Clark is only one man.
– Professor Manning Clark is only one man. He is one of the most distinguished persons at that University. There are a couple of others who compare with him in distinction. Professor Alec Hope, for example, is one. When the Minister proceeded to answer this highly insulting and improper question, what did we find? In his answer to the question, the Minister proceeded to give a highly distorted paraphrase of Professor Manning Clark’s article. He proceeded to attribute to Professor Manning Clark views which Professor Manning Clark has never expressed. Altogether, he succeeded in creating an entirely incorrect and misleading impression of what Professor Manning Clark has said in the article to which reference was being made.
I might add that, in doing so, the Minister displayed himself as a person with surprising ignorance of Australian history. The Minister for Education asserted:
The aberration of history is the socialist Labor Party.
The absurdity of such a statement is self-evident. Whatever one wants to say about the socialist Labor Party and its place in Australian history, one can hardly call that Party an aberration. However one wants to criticise the socialist Labor
Party, one cannot but admit that it has been a constant feature of Australian political history.
What else does the Minister accuse Professor Manning Clark of? We hnd that he accuses Professor Manning Clark of having appeared in public at a public forum with people whom the Minister characterises as communists and socialists. What sort of an accusation is that? How does that justify the abuse contained in the question and answer? I would be surprised if there were any member of the Government Parties who has not shared a platform at some time or other with a socialist or a communist. I myself have shared a platform with a member of the Liberal Party, and even with a member of the Workers Party; but I would be horrified if people were to assume from the fact that I shared a platform with a member of the Liberal Party that I shared the views of that member of the Liberal Party.
I proceed now to the question which I think this chamber should consider: Why is it that 2 members of the Government Parties, one of them a Minister- indeed, the Minister for Educationshould stoop to this crude, low and unsubstantiated attack on a person who has such a central and creditable position in Australian history and Australian culture? The answer is quite clear to me. In stooping to this attack, the Government has demonstrated that it will not tolerate from anybody at all any divergence from the Government’s interpretation of the events of last November. The question asked by Senator Sim and the reply given by the Minister for Education embody the very things of which they were so unjustly accusing Professor Manning Clark. They embody bigotry, prejudice and intolerance.
I suggest to the Senate that Professor Manning Clark as an historian is entitled to his view and to his interpretation of the constitutional and historical significance of the events of last November. But, more than that, I suggest to the Senate that Professor Manning Clark is entitled to express his interpretation of the events of last November, to express them in a public forum and to express them in an article in an academic journal, without having such expression become the subject of abuse by members of Parliament who pervert the machinery of question time to abuse him for his exercise of his democratic right as a citizen and his exercise of his judgment as a scholar.
– The matter raised by Senator Ryan arises out of a question which was asked of me yesterday by Senator Sim and which related to an article published in the journal Meanjin. So that the Senate and the people of Australia may judge whether the interpretation of the article is right, I seek leave to have the text of the article incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The document read as follows-
Two days after the dismissal of the Whitlam Government by the Governor-General I decided to drive past Parliament House searching as usual for what my children affectionately call ‘Dad’s historical atmosphere’, and sometimes less affectionately ‘Dad’s excursions down memory lane’. This time two things caught my eye. One was the proclamation pinned on to the door of Parliament House proclaiming that the Governor-General had dissolved Parliament. The other was a booth on the lawns opposite Parliament House in which a man was selling souvenirs and post-cards. I wondered then whether the first portended the end not just of a particular parliament, but the end quite soon of parliamentary government, by which I mean the responsibility of the government to the group with a majority in the House of Representatives, the people’s house, and the responsibility of the House of Representatives to the people. I considered, too, whether the appearance of that small shop perhaps meant the return of the ‘money changers’ to our temple of politics- whether an age of the accountants and the book-keepers was going to have a final brief, stormy period in our history before the angry young men of the Left swept them all into the dust-bin of our history.
These were gloomy thoughts. But a few weeks later on 13 December, when I happened to be in Derby in England, a town where the meanness of the English governing class sank to an all-time low, as D. H. Lawrence was fond of pointing out, a fruity noncommittal English voice confirmed my worst fears. The Australian electors, bombarded for months by stories of the incompetence, the bungling, the corruption, the jobbery &c, &c, &c, of the Whitlam Government had put back into government in our country a group of men who had the moral values of a troop of Boy Scouts, and the economic and social values which were rapidly disappearing off the face of the earth except in countries such as South Africa, New Zealand, Rhodesia, and possibly Spain. During the ensuing painful days I read, part in anger, part in agreement, editorials in the serious English, French and German papers which told their readers that ‘the ocker’, or the ‘Ugly Australian’ was still in charge ‘down under’- that the ‘ocker’ had destroyed the man who like Prometheus, had been trying to teach Australians that they could steal fire from heaven, that they were capable of better things.
The one great consolation in this dme of shame for our country, in this period when we threatened once again to pledge ourselves to the past and to defend the old order of society, when a Prime Minister should glory in an idea of resurrecting the past rather than leading us into the future, was to know that other people were also shocked, bewildered, and even frightened about our prospects. They were fearful, that is, that we, too, like the other reactionary countries in South-East Asia and elsewhere, were about to be wiped off the face of the earth, that the peoples of the world, carried away as they were and are by a hope of better things for mankind, would not let us survive- that we always had been intruders here, and now, like the South Africans and the Rhodesians, and possibly much later, the white New Zealanders, we would either be eliminated and disappear off the face of the earth as though we had never been, or, mercifully, and with quite undeserved charity, be given a chance to return to the place whence we came, that precious gaveyard of the contemporary world, the United Kingdom and Western Europe.
The pity of it was that there were people in our society with ideas on what should be done.One was Charles Birch, who has been Challis Professor of Biology in the University of Sydney since 1960. In 1 975, that year in which the moneychangers and accountants- the men with a passion for interest rates seemingly as dionysiacal as the passion of some men for ‘other things’- were to have their terrible day of triumph, a man dressed in the clothes of a bygone age, dismissed one of the greatest prime ministers this country has ever had, and then had the colossal effrontery later to tell the Australian people that history would vindicate his action. It was in that year that Charles Birch published his brilliant book on what mankind in general, and Australians in particular, had to do quite quickly if human life was to survive on this planet.
There was nothing startling or novel in what he had to say. The great distinction of the author, indeed his great gift, was that he combined within himself the mind of the scientist, the soul of the poet, ‘and the gift of prophecy- by which I mean that power to see into the heart of what is wrong in any generation, and denounce that great evil with true moral passion. It was and is a magnificent book- a tract for the times, and a human appeal to all of us to ‘gird our loins’. Birch has both common sense and a perception of the mystery at the heart of things. His book is all about how what we have generally understood by the term civilisation can survive.
The interesting thing, reading it down here on the far south coast of New South Wales where that other secular humanist, James Cook, first saw ‘smook’ in our country, and knew that the country was inhabited, is that no leader of either the Liberal or the National Country Party ever made one remark over the years during which Professor Birch was collecting his material to warrant inclusion in the book. The Labor Leaders, as Professor Birch points out, did have ideas. Gough Whitlam and Tom Uren appointed Mr Justice Hope to collect material and write a report on the ‘National Estate ‘. That document stands as a monument of what must be done. It is now threatened with becoming a museum piece, or one of those documents historians of future generations will point to as examples of what might have been done if Labor had been given a chance to preserve Old Australia, and marry it, as it were, to the Australia of 1 975.
But Labor was not given that chance- and hence Donald Home’s magnificent denunciation of the ‘men in black’, men with the hearts of walnuts, who were quite determined to use every card in the pack to stop Gough Whitlam and his government helping Australia get to 1975 before the progressive and hopeful part of the world took the next step forward. Gough Whitlam himself has called Home’s book the greatest philippic ever written in this country. Perhaps you can gauge the measure of its achievement, and the very high level of its performance, by the zeal with which the ‘heart dimmers’ and ‘head shrinkers’ have attempted either to belittle or to misrepresent what he has had to say.
It is a book about many things. It is a brilliant analysis of Kerr’s possible reasons and motives for dismissing Whitlam. Donald Home does not doubt for one moment that the Australian Constitution confers on the Governor-General the power to dismiss a Ministry or a Minister. The Constitution does not mention the circumstances under which the Governor-General should exercise that power; that is to say the Constitution lays down no guide lines. Donald Home also points out that the Australian Constitution is based on an uneasy, clumsy union of two principles of governmentthe federal principle, and the responsible government principle.
As every student of our constitutional history knows, after somewhat tedious debates the Founding Fathers seemed to decide that wherever the federal principle collided with the responsible government principle, then the responsible government principle must take precedence. That was what Whitlam was arguing all through those agonising days in October and November after the ‘men in black’, and their much-bedizened women, went into their huddle at the Lakeside Hotel and answered, for themselves, Lenin ‘s great question for any seekers of power ‘What’s To Be Done?’ I remember sitting on a sofa in the lobby at the Lakeside Hotel that Sunday afternoon, and sensing, my God, they are going to do it, they are going to use the powers (ill-defined as Donald Home so rightly insists) to get rid of Gough Whitlam. But how will they do it? I did not guess then, nor did any of those with whom I discussed the question, guess that the Liberals only had to follow the advice of the old evangelical hymn: ‘Ask the Governor-General to help you, comfort, strengthen and keep you. He is willing to aid you. He will carry you through ‘.
It is just because the Governor-General used his constitutional powers- those powers most people thought belonged to the days of yesteryear- to serve the interests of the Liberals rather than Labor that the men of good-will, men who may have been bothered by all those errors human frailty and folly had caused Whitlam and Co. to fall prey to, were filled with a righteous indignation. Similarly, it was the Governor-General’s complete failure to let Whitlam, Hayden, Enderby and McClelland know the way in which his mind was moving which led to the charge of treachery against him. Those familiar with the human heart know that the memory of treachery lives on longer than any other human injury or evil.
Some cling to the hope that when passions die down history will be kinder to the Governor-General than his present attackers. Some even say that it is cowardly to criticise his action. So perhaps one should add that the history of mankind is written by the victors. As it seems now quite certain that 1973 was an aberration, a temporary halt to the people’s march to victory, the Governor-General and his beneficiaries can expect little mercy from the historians of the people. It may be that in one hundred years’ time some research worker in the early days of the ‘People’s Government’ will come across Kerr’s letter to Whitlam of 11 November 1973 and see that there was a teeny-weeny case for Kerr. But, if one may judge from what happens to historians in the People’s democracies of today, that historian would not be given the paper on which to write his defence, let alone the opportunity to publish it. The people’s historians judge their opponents harshly. So there is no hope for the Governor-General from them: maybe God will judge him and all of us less harshly, but, according to Nietzsche, God is dead.
What is clear is that those historians of the future will find in Birch and Home men of genuine moral passion. Their works will live on as testimony that we are not all ‘bastards’, not all ‘ockers’ who were out for a ‘quick quid’, and not all driven by some mad hatred against intellectuals and dole bludgers- all those people Whitlam tried to help. Now we will see what terrible things are in store for the creatures when God seems to have forgotten. Now for a while the world here will belong again to the men of brawn, the men with the terrible delusion that they are the only ones who work. So if the boy from Balmain had really wanted to impress the historians of the future, he might have been wiser to read, mark, learn and inwardly digest the moral of Great Expectations. The Joe Gargerys of his younger days would have proved that they, rather than Sir Garfield Barwick, are the children of light.
– Secondly, so that we may establish facts, let me say that Senator Ryan said that I attacked Professor Manning Clark. I said 2 things of Professor Manning Clark. If they are attacks, that is the construction that Senator Ryan puts on them. I said that Professor Manning Clark is a supporter of and an apologist for the Labor Party. Is that an attack?
– That is quite wrong.
-I shall demonstrate that it is not, in a moment or two. I also said that he attended a Sydney Town Hall meeting on Monday last and that in fact he shared a platform in support of Mr Whitlam on which communists and socialists spoke. They are 2 facts. Let me repeat what I said. As recorded in Hansard of yesterday’s date, I said:
It is fair to say that Professor Manning Clark has a reputation of expertise in Australian history. It is quite clear from that article and from his presence in recent days at the Sydney Town Hall alongside the whole of the socialist and communist left that what he is at this moment is a political partisan and apologist for the Labor Party, for Gough Whitlam and for the lost cause and the distorted cause of Gough Whitlam.
We will ask history to judge whether these phrases and these statements out of the article are those of an objective intellectual or are those of a biased person, I, first of all, read this from the article:
The Australian electors, bombarded for months by stories of the incompetence, the bungling, the corruption, the jobbery, etc, etc., etc., of the Whitlam Government, had put back into government in our country a group of men who had the moral values of a troop of Boy Scouts -
I wonder whether the Labor Party regards that as a statement of an intellectual, or would the Australian people regard it as morally insulting to boy scouts? But it seems to be all right. This is a fascinating situation and the man is not in any way biased! He said this: a man dressed in the clothes of a bygone age, dismissed one of the greatest prime ministers this country has ever had . . .
Now listen to this piece of objectivity; just listen carefully to it, because it is the whole basis of Senator Ryan’s statement tonight. He said:
It is just because the Governor-General used his constitutional powers- those powers most people thought belonged to the days of yesteryear- to serve the interests of the Liberals rather than Labor that the men of good-will, men who may have been bothered by all those errors human frailty and folly had caused Whitlam and Co. to fall prey to, were filled with a righteous indignation.
What did he say was the test? He said that the error of Sir John Kerr was- watch the words used by this giant of intellectual objectivity- that he served ‘the interests of the Liberals rather than Labor’. This is the defence tonight. Need I go on and remind Opposition senators of what else was said? Further on he said:
As it seems now quite certain that 1975 was an aberration, a temporary halt in the people ‘s march to victory -
I repeat: ‘The people’s march to victory’. That is good clean stuff- the Governor-General and his beneficiaries can expect little mercy from the historians of the people.
Note the phraseology. He continues:
It may be that in one hundred years’ time some research worker in the early days of the ‘People’s Government’ will come across Kerr’s letter to Whitlam of 1 1 November 1975, and see that there was a teeny-weeny case for Kerr. But, if one may judge from what happens to historians in the People’s democracies today, that historian would not be given the paper on which to write his defence, let alone the opportunity to publish it. The people’s historians judge their opponents harshly. So there is no hope for the GovernorGeneral from them . . .
So it goes on. Senator Ryan alleges that this is the writing of an objective intellectual. It was alleged that the attack I made was two-fold, that I said that he was a partisan and a supporter and apologist for the Labor Party. Does anyone say that his entire article does not reek with partisanship? In fact, it represents a narcissus complex in this situation for the Labor Party. Does anybody say that what I said was not a statement of truth when I said that he went to a meeting and shared a platform in defence of Mr Whitlam and against Sir John Kerr? They are the only 2 points that I am alleged to have made and they are supposed to be attacks.
I have acknowledged that the professor is recognised as an expert in Australian history. I responded to a question asked by Senator Sim and I have put the article into Hansard for the people of Australia to judge. It must be judged as turgid emotionalism or partisan support for the Labor Party. In no other way can that article be judged. It is said that because a person is a specialist in some particular field he cannot be criticised for some other statement or action or for some other abberation. This is selective nonsense on the part of the Labor Party.
I was also told that I suggested that the socialist Labor Party is an abberation of history. I repeat what I said: In the whole of the 75 years of federation the Labor Party has occupied government in the Commonwealth Parliament for only 20 years, and that the non-Labor parties have occupied government for 55 years. I said that that is the proof of history. I was not speaking of the kind of history of the so-called people’s governments and people’s historians about which the professor talked. That is the truth. What I said was that the socialist left, the socialist Labor
Party, is the aberration of history and not the Liberal Party.
Mr President, I draw to the attention of the Senate the document which I have had incorporated in Hansard. I invite the people of Australia to examine it line by line. I invite the people of Australia to examine my only 2 statements- that Professor Manning Clark has shown himself as a partisan of the Labor Party and that he took part in a meeting with the communist left and the socialist left in support of Mr Whitlam against Sir John Kerr. On that basis the evidence of fact is apparent. The evidence is in that article and it is in the Press. It has nothing whatever to do with whether a man happens to be particularly distinguished in a particular field. I acknowledged that fact and I now acknowledge it again. There is no defence for the Labor Party to say that because someone is a specialist and highly qualified in a particular field he must be immune from valid criticism in other fields. This is the corruption of democracy. I use those words again. It is the Labor Party and its selective attempt to judge history that corrupts democracy.
– I listened with a great deal of interest tonight to the Minister for Education (Senator Carrick). It is frightening in this democracy of Australia, or so-called democracy of Australia, that a Minister of the Crown can use the privileges of this Parliament to smear and vilify a very great Australian.
– Your party raised it.
-The honourable senator says that my party raised it. I remind the honourable senator that a question was asked yesterday by Senator Sim of Western Australia. He asked his question without notice and the Minister for Education responded. Tonight, because my colleague Senator Ryan dared to raise the matter in the debate on the motion for the adjournment of this House we are accused of having raised the matter in the Australian Parliament. Having heard the Minister’s reply this evening I believe that the Minister adopts the attitude that anyone who is opposed to the attitude of this Government is against the interests of Australia. That is exactly what Government supporters are saying this evening about Professor Manning Clark.
– Did we attack Sir Henry Bland?
-My friend Senator Archer asks me whether they attacked Professor Manning Clark.
– I said Sir Henry Bland.
– I am not worried about Sir Henry Bland. What did the commissioners of the Australian Broadcasting Commission do with him? We are talking about Professor Manning Clark, a very well-known and qualified academic in this country. He is the person who recommended the institution of the Chair of Australian Literature at Harvard University, a recommendation that was accepted by the present Government, a chair that was bestowed by the Australian Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). That is the person who was the subject of the vilification of the Minister for Education yesterday and tonight.
– You raised it.
-My friend Senator Knight can rise later on. He will have the chance to have his say. If I were an academic I would be concerned at the attitude adopted by the Minister for Education tonight, because in the Australian Parliament he has expressed the view that if anyone dares to state a view different from the views expressed by the Australian Government he is to be considered anti-Australian or anti-democratic.
– That is nonsense.
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Knight can have his say later. Professor Manning Clark wrote this article in a journal called Meanjin. That journal is subsidised by the Australian Government. Let the Government deny that its cost of production is subsidised by the Australian Government. Because a very prominent Australian dares to express a point of view diametrically opposed to the Government’s point of view, the Government says that Professor Manning Clark is anti-Australian. Let me remind honourable senators opposite that at least 48 per cent of the Australian community violently disagree with this Government. The Government says that Professor Manning Clark and that 48 per cent of the Australian community are antiAustralian. Honourable senators opposite rubbish and denigrate young kids who cannot get jobs, who are opposed to the attitude adopted by the Governor-General and who are opposed to the attitude of the previous Opposition in deferring consideration of the Supply Bills. That Opposition did not reject but deferred consideration of the Supply Bills. Honourable senators opposite wonder why young Australians are violently opposed to the system that they have created by their maladministration.
– Ha, ha!
Senator DOUGLAS McCLELLANDSenator Walters laughs. I will tell her my position. I have an 1 8-year-old son. He is an honest, decent Australian. He has young Australian mates. They come into our house. They talk about these things.
– Whom are you defending?
– I am defending the right of Australians to express their opinion, whether or not they are opposed to this Government. If the Government laughs off as a communist or a socialist every person who is opposed to it, it has another think coming. I ask the Government, in the interests of this country, really to think about the situation that it created by its actions last November.
On 1 1 July the Prime Minister addressed the nation on radio and on television. My colleague Senator Wriedt was the Acting Leader of the Opposition at that time. He applied for equaltime to express our views. As a result of his application being acceded to by the Government he was given so-called equal time by the media of this country. I wrote to the Minister for Post and Telecommunications (Mr Eric Robinson) asking for information concerning televised addresses by the Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, and the Acting Leader of the Opposition in the Senate at the time, Senator the Honourable Ken Wriedt, on 1 1 July 1976. The Minister for Post and Telecommunications made available to me details that had been provided for him by the Australian Broadcasting Control Board. I seek leave to have the table which was provided incorporated in Hansard.
-Is leave granted? There being no objection, leave is granted.
The table read as follows:
-That table will show that the time given to the Prime Minister of Australia was out of all proportion to the time given to the Leader of the Opposition. The case that has been put by Senator Carrick this evening is on all fours -
Honourable senators interjecting-
– Order ! It is necessary for the senator who has the call to have a reasonable opportunity to speak. Other senators will have an opportunity to speak later on.
– I thank you for your protection, Mr President. What I am saying is that the case put forward by the Prime Minister on the evening of 1 1 July was out of all proportion to the case put forward by the Acting Leader of the Opposition on that evening so far as time was concerned and so far as audience was concerned. Those factors, coupled with the statement that was made by the Minister for Education this evening and the vilification of honourable and decent Australians, are placing a heavy weight upon the younger generation of Australians. Honourable senators opposite call them communists’. They call them ‘socialists’. Call them what they will, they are young Australians who want a fair, honourable and decent go. They are young Australians who are concerned. They and their mates -
- Mr President, I rise to order. Nobody on this side of the chamber would refer to young Australians as communists. The senator’s remarks are quite untrue and unwarranted. I ask the honourable senator to withdraw that statement.
– There is no substance in the point of order. Senator Douglas McClelland will continue.
– If this Government hides under the cloak of stating that everyone who protests against it is a communist or a socialist, honourable senators opposite will be completely hoodwinking themselves. I suggest that they look at their own sins of omission and commission. The sooner they do that the better this Australia will be.
– I was shocked by the attack that has been made on Senator Carrick not only by Senator Ryan but also by Senator Douglas McClelland of whom I would have thought better. I have read the article written by Professor Manning Clark and I am shocked by what he has said. I should like to place on record what I find offensive in what he has done.
– It will take all night if you are referring to what Senator Douglas McClelland said.
– It will not take very long, senator. Senator Ryan made clear that Professor Manning Clark is a man of impeccable academic background, presumably a man of standards and a man who works against the historical background of his craft and who is a living representative of all that history has thought to have taught us. He is the embodiment of the standards of the historians which means that he will write history without fear and will advocate that it continue to be so written. In his article in Meanjin, we find this man’s prediction, this professor’s prediction, that history will be distorted and that he does not mind that one little bit. What is said by Professor Manning Clark in the article referred to -
– At what page?
– For the benefit of Senator Georges who is a slow reader and who needs assistance, it is page 2 1 8. At page 2 1 8 it will be seen that Professor Manning Clark says:
So perhaps one should add that the history of mankind is written by the victors. As it seems now quite certain that 1973 was an aberration, a temporary halt in the people’s march to victory, the Government-General and his beneficiaries can expect little mercy from the historians of the people. It may be that in one hundred years’ dme some research worker in the early days of the ‘ People ‘s Government ‘ will come across Kerr’s letter to Whitlam of 1 1 November 197S and see that there was a teeny-weeny case for Kerr. But, if one may judge from what happens to historians in the People’s democracies of today, that historian would not be given the paper on which to write his defence, let alone the opportunity to publish it.
He concluded by saying:
The people’s historians judge their opponents harshly. So there is no hope for the Governor-General from them.
What he says is that he does not care what the truth is. He does not care that some injustice will emerge. He sees a situation where a distorted history will be written. I am offended that a man of his eminence should write this and should accept it without protest. I am surprised that someone with the academic background of Senator Ryan should come in here and not understand that that is the thing that we find offensive. It is not a question of who publishes Meanjin; there is no objection to anyone writing an article. Nor should there be any objection to those who find it offensive getting up and criticising it. What we are criticising is not that the professor has written an article, not that he has not supported us, but it is my view that, in anticipating and encouraging a distorted view of history, Professor Manning Clark has debased his craft, and in so doing he deserves the condemnation that he received yesterday.
– I rise to support the remarks made by my colleague, Senator Ryan. I believe that she is to be complimented for taking the initiative to raise this matter. I think that any decent minded person in the Senate yesterday would have been appalled by the remarks that were made by Senator Carrick in respect of Professor Manning Clark.
– If you are on that side of the Senate.
-I hope that during the course of the debate this loud mouthed Senator Knight will get up and say his piece instead of doing it by interjection; that is, if he has the gumption to get up and say it.
– I rise to order, Mr President. Is that sort of language acceptable from anybody in this chamber?
– Order! It is of vital importance to maintain the ability to have debate in this place without undue interjection or the throwing around of epithets. I ask Senator Wriedt to continue and I would appreciate it if in a moment like this words were chosen carefully so as not to give offence but so as to express the point of view desired to be imparted to the whole Senate. I call Senator Wriedt.
-Thank you, Mr President.
– On the point of order, I regard the statement which Senator Wriedt made as a personal affront and I ask that he withdraw it.
– One must always -
– Is it parliamentary language?
– The honourable senator has stated that he regards it as personally offensive.
– I do indeed.
– In those circumstances, Senator Wriedt, I ask your consideration of withdrawal of that remark.
- Mr President, if you require me to withdraw it of course I will do so because, without any equivocation, I have great respect of the way in which you have conducted yourself in the Senate over the years and the way in which you set an example to others. Perhaps in the fullness of time some of your colleagues will come to realise that this place can be tough if they want to provoke people. As someone said the other day, if the place is too hot then get out. Coming back to the remarks of Senator Carrick -
– I rise to a point of order. I am sorry for having to do so, Mr President. I do not think that it should be necessary for me to have to do so in this chamber. A man of some experience, as I assume ought to be the case with respect to Senator Wriedt, ought not to make those sorts of comments in this chamber.
THE PRESIDENT-Order! Senator Wriedt has expressed his acceptance of my ruling that the word is offensive and has withdrawn it. I ask Senator Wriedt to continue his remarks.
-Thank you, Mr President. I am sure, as I said earlier, that everybody in the Senate was appalled by the attack yesterday upon Professor Manning Clark by Senator Carrick. Mr President, I recall to your mind a comment that I made in the last session of this Parliament. I am deadly serious in what I am about to say. In moments of some anger in this place it is only natural to have strong debate. Perhaps the expressions used then are stronger than you would properly permit. But it is not to that to which I wish to refer. During the course of a debate last session I drew to your attention the manner in which every time Senator Carrick was involved either in a debate on legislation or the answering of a question the proceedings degenerated into a vilification not only of the Opposition but also of the Parliament itself. At that time I asked you, with respect, whether you would, in conjunction with the Leader of the Government Parties, perhaps exercise your good offices to ensure that the degeneration of this Parliament would not be advanced by the almost maniacal, if I am permitted to use that word -
-. . . emphasis on the part of Senator Carrick in debates in this chamber.
THE PRESIDENT-Order! Have you withdrawn the word ‘ maniacal ‘, Senator Wriedt?
– I rise to a point of order, Mr President. I do not seek your protection. I would like to see the measure of Senator Wriedt. Here we have a man- I make this point of order to you- who got up and began talking about distortion and attacks. I invite you not to give me any protection and to let Senator Wriedt go on with his extravaganza. His own words will kill him. I seek no protection whatsoever.
-Mr President, I did not intend to use that word again tonight. I was advising the Senate of what I had said to you in the last session. I used the word then. I am only repeating what I said then. I am not repeating the use of the word tonight. I do not want to provoke the Senate.
-Order! One cannot read that which may have been the subject of nonacceptance and, by doing that, say: ‘I am not saying it now’. If this place is to function properly honourable senators have to observe certain standards of epithet, description and so on. I do not think it is at all desirable to allow intrusion of the use of words that it would be better not to use. It is not helpful to the functioning of a good Parliament. I call Senator Wriedt.
-Thank you, Mr President. I will certainly observe the intent of your ruling. I did make reference to this matter earlier this year. Once again we have seen every opportunity being taken this session to vilify in an unwarranted manner everything pertaining to the Opposition or persons outside this Parliament who support the Opposition’s views. I am astonished that Senator Carrick should come into this chamber and talk about the turgid emotionalism of the Opposition when only yesterday we saw one of the worst examples of emotional misbehaviour in this Parliament that I have ever witnessed and I think that most of us have ever witnessed. Senator Carrick has been saying things which I think that later on he perhaps regrets saying. I believe that if the truth be known he regrets the things he said about Professor Manning Clark yesterday. He accused Professor Manning Clark of corruption. That is recorded in Hansard. He did not read that extract. He read the section that it suited him to read but did not go on to read the section in which he said that it was a matter of corruption. Only yesterday Senator Colston asked a good humoured question about literacy and numeracy. Even that question had to be turned into a vilification of the Opposition. It could not be taken in the spirit in which it was asked. Senator Ryan justifiably raised this matter tonight in defence of the person concerned, Professor Manning Clark. I suggest that the reason why this situation has happened and will continue to happen is that Senator Carrick, as a Minister of the Crown, does not set an example of some restraint in the manner in which he conducts himself. He is helping to drag this place down. He is creating the very confrontations of the sort that we see here tonight. That is the essence of what this matter is all about.
I am sure that Senator Knight will rise in great and strong defence of Senator Carrick during the course of this debate. Unless we are prepared to act with some reasonable restraint then obviously the Senate will become a rabble house; it will be nothing more than that. This is the whole thrust of what has been generated by the remarks and attacks of Senator Carrick. I suggest that if he had a proper approach to the Parliament and to his own responsibility as a Minister he would be up on his feet apologising and withdrawing the remarks which he made yesterday about Professor Manning Clark.
-! compliment Senator Ryan who has made a restrained, dignified and quite worthy defence of one of Australia’s finest academics and historians, Professor Manning Clark. Professor Manning Clark has come through his career in this country with a great deal of credit and dignity to his profession. His attitude towards history has been one of sound judgment. He has reached the stage of his life where, with great maturity, he is able to make very sound judgments.
– A historian should record, not judge.
– Professor Clark is entided to make his own personal evaluations of history in its formative stages. It is almost 12 months since the event of history to which he has referred. I was present at a seminar in Melbourne with some very learned legal people who had an alternative point of view to that of the present Attorney-General (Mr Ellicott), Professor Carrick, and a few other people including the Prime Minister (Mr Malcolm Fraser). The view that was sold to the people of Australia in the events leading up to and including 1 1 November, and leading up to 13 December, are not as widely accepted as those people, as a result of their gigantic confidence trick, would have us believe.
– What about the gigantic vote?
– We only have to look at what is happening in the United States, at the Lockheed scandal, Watergate and the Central Intelligence Agency. Honourable senators opposite must be babes in the wood, almost misguided missiles, to think that the same thing does not happen here. The events of 11 November were dominated by other things Uke the Strait of Malacca, Timor, the Indian Ocean, uranium, iron ore and the great sell-out which has been going on. Those events dominated 1 1 November. But let me get back to the matter under debate. The take-over is on. I refer to the stooges and spivs whom Senator Baume takes to heart, and one of the jobs for the boys on the Australian Broadcasting Commission. This whole pattern of events has been carefully brought about as a result of 1 1 November.
– You have lost your lolly.
-No, I have not lost my lolly, boy. I tell you what, you have had a lolly in your mouth because you have been a sucker for years- a perpetual sucker. It is a pity Senator Sim is not here tonight because Senator Sim is a great Jew lover- Senator Baume might take this on board; Senator Sim is a great Jew lover -
– You are a racist.
Senator O’BYRNE Senator Sim is a racist.
- Mr President, I rise on a point of order. I find offensive the words used by Senator O ‘Byrne, specifically the words that Senator Sim is a great Jew lover and the subsequent words. I find them extremely offensive.
– I wish to speak to the point of order, Mr President. Senator O ‘Byrne mentioned my name as he said these words, no doubt in his own ineffable way drawing attention to the fact that I happen to be of the Jewish faith. I find the words uttered by Senator O ‘Byrne typically offensive.
- Mr President -
– Order! I have heard the point of order. I have heard comment on it.
– I would like to speak to the point of order, if I may. Mr President, I think you anticipate what Senator O ‘Byrne -
– He is a racist.
– Order! Senator Georges, will you please resume your seat. I have heard the matter. It has been said to me by Senator Baume that the words are most offensive to him. Senator O ‘Byrne, will you withdraw the words that Senator Sim is a Jew lover. That is offensive by innuendo to the honourable senator. Senator O’ Byrne, you will end this matter by withdrawing the words because they are offensive to the honourable senator.
- Mr President, in deference to you I withdraw whatever offence there is in saying that Senator Sim is a Jew lover because I was about to go on to say that Senator Sim is a racist and a Jew hater.
- Mr President, Senator O ‘Byrne further said of my friend and colleague Senator Sim that he was a racist. I find these words offensive as well.
– If the honourable senator wants me to withdraw whatever it is that is offensive to him I will continue with my speech and point out that Senator Sim has gone on record -
- Mr President, with respect, I do not believe Senator O’Byrne has withdrawn the remarks.
– You have to put down the words in writing if you want me to withdraw. If you do that I will withdraw them.
- Senator O’Byrne, I indicated to you that your expression was an expression of deep offence to the honourable senator and you said that you withdrew. I took it as a withdrawal from you. Is that right?
- Mr President, I said that in deference to you, I withdraw the remark that Senator Sim is a Jew lover. Is that right? Is that what you wanted me to withdraw?
– And the subsequent remarks. They are all withdrawn. Thank you, Senator O ‘Byrne. You may continue.
- Mr President, I rise to order. The record will show that Senator O’Byrne said that he was about to say of Senator Sim that he was a Jew hater and a racist. I find that offensive. I ask, through you, that he withdraw those remarks.
- Mr President, I think most honourable senators would agree that when an honourable senator is asked to withdraw a statement it is the practice and custom in the Senate for that withdrawal to be made through the President by reason of deference to the President, respect for the President or the fact that the President has requested him to do so. I believe that it is fair and reasonable to interpret Senator O ‘Byrne’s withdrawal through. you as being in accordance with the normal practice of the Senate over a long time. It has been done on many occasions. I do not believe that it is customary for the President to expect an honourable senator to expand upon bis withdrawal or for any other honourable senator to expect him to do so. I believe that Senator O’Byrne ‘s intention was clear and I suggest with respect that you, Mr President, interpreted it that way when you accepted the withdrawal. I suggest that you should rule accordingly, exactly as you did only two or three minutes ago.
– If there be doubt, in a situation such as that which now exists, as to whether an honourable senator is satisfied with the withdrawal, the withdrawal should be made complete by being made to the honourable senator who has been offended. On those grounds I insist that the withdrawal be made.
- Mr President, I raise a further point of order -
-Order! There will be no further debate on the matter.
– It is not dealing with the altercation.
– Order ! There will be no further debate on the matter.
– I am not certain whether I have withdrawn. I withdrew the words that I was asked to withdraw.
– Would you withdraw direct to the honourable senator? That will meet the situation completely.
– I am already on record as having said that I withdraw the remark that I think Senator Sim is a Jew lover. Does that satisfy Senator Baume? The point I was going to make was that Senator Sim is notorious in this chamber for having said that this country was being run by a group of Manchester Jews who had been in Hong Kong making certain trade arrangements -
-Order! A point of order was raised and a withdrawal was made in the way in which I sought it. That matter is closed. However, a further point of order was raised by Senator Harradine in regard to the expressions used in relation to Senator Sim, namely, that he is a Jew hater and a racist. As Senator Harradine takes exception to those words, they must be withdrawn.
– If Senator Harradine takes exception to those words, although he was not here at the time- I myself was very offended when I heard the words- I withdraw them, if Senator Harradine insists.
– Now continue.
- Mr President, I raise a further point of order. In view of your ruling, I point out that there was a loud interjection by Senator Lajovic which probably had not been recorded by Hansard because it was not answered. However, it will be on the tape. He loudly accused Senator Justin O’Byrne of being a racist. When one considers Senator Justin O ‘Byrne’s war record and the way he fought for years to release many prisoners in Europe, Senator Lajovic has done Senator Justin O’Byrne a disservice and I request that Senator Lajovic withdraw the remark in which he accused Senator Justin O’Byrne of being a racist.
- Senator Lajovic, did you use that expression in respect of the honourable senator?
– If I did so, Mr President, I withdraw it.
-Just for the record, I would like to interpolate here that for many years I was a very strong supporter of the Jewish council to combat fascism and anti-semitism. I supported the cause of the Jewish people consistently during their struggle in Europe. I met many of them and saw the injustices and the indignities that were perpetrated on the Jewish people. I am a very deeply anti-fascist person, because I know the menace and the horror of fascism. I know fascists when I see them. I can smell them, and I know how many fascists were in the refugee camps in Europe. I know how Arthur Calwell in his compassionate way said: ‘Let us forget about fascism. Let us forget when they are in those camps in Europe. Let us bring them to Australia and give them an opportunity for the future. ‘ But I do not want to see that same thing rear its ugly horrible head again in this country. Senator McLaren said that I did something towards fighting this menace, and I will continue in this Senate to fight every time I see fascism raising its head. I think Senator Sim showed a sign of antisemitism when he referred to the Manchester Jews, and Senator Baume must admit that that was a most unparliamentary, objectionable, unpalatable, racist, reprehensible phrase.
– I rise on a point of order, Mr President. I object to the expression ‘racist’ which has been used against a colleague of mine who is not in this place to defend himself. I insist that the honourable senator withdraw that statement.
-Senator O ‘Byrne, you used the words ‘a racist expression’; you did not refer to a person.
– That is right, and I also referred to the expression ‘Manchester Jews’ as being an indication of some of the things contained in the subject matter under discussion to which I want to refer. Senator Sim asked the Minister for Education:
Has the Minister seen an article entitled ‘Are We a Nation of Bastards’ in a journal called Meanjin Quarterly by Professor Manning Clark? If so, did Professor Manning Clark assert that the Governor-General and his beneficiaries can expect little mercy from historians of the people; that we can judge what happens to historians in the people’s democracies of today; that historian would not be given the paper to write his defence, let alone the opportunity to publish it; and that the people ‘s historians judge their opponents harshly. In view of the bigoted and fascist views expressed by Professor Manning Clark -
That is a rather extreme view for Senator Sim to use against Professor Manning Clark- and the threat to historians of the future, I ask:
Now, this is it. This is what happened in Europe because they wanted. to undermine people of conscience, of character and of courage.
On what university appointments does Professor Manning Clark sit?
Ah! Let us use our power to undermine him and unseat him.
How frequently does he act as a higher degree examiner for history theses?
Ha! Let us see -
– The ugly head of fascism.
– That is right. Then:
Can a guarantee be given that Professor Manning Clark will not use his power to stop other historians from getting paper and to have their pencils broken so that they cannot write, then being sent to a leftist fascist Gulag Archipelago?
Ooh! This is the very objective person who wants to know whether this country is being run by a bunch of Manchester Jews. Senator Carrick- the doyen of the university students, who give him such an enthusiastic welcome when he goes along to see them on matters of education, this authority of the open-the-door-Richard of 1949 fame and the black coated bureaucrats whom he denigrated in 1949 when he was first earning to light in the Liberal Party and was able to embark on a campaign in this country that was almost equal to the campaign recently launched with great success- answered in this way: he will know also that it suggested that Professor Manning Clark said that perhaps history might find some justification and some support for what the GovernorGeneral did on 1 1 November.
Yes, history might find some justification, and the justification will be that the GovernorGeneral was placed in such a position on so many different levels that he had no escape. There was the Chief Justice of the High Court, there were the Premiers of the States and there was this chamber which had to go to ultimate lengths not only in the interpretation of the Constitution but also in the prostitution of the conventions of this place. All these forces had to be brought out. Then there was unlimited money available for a campaign that was without precedent in the history of this place. Use was made of the capacity of the stock exchange and the business people in Australia to sabotage the Labor Government to such an extent that the present Government is still suffering and feeling the repercussions of that undermining of the economy.
– By the Labor Government.
– No, by the business people themselves, and the business people of this country are now stewing in their own juice, as is the Liberal Party. That is why Senator Cotton cannot go to the unions. That is why wherever Senator Cotton goes, wherever Mr Ellicott goes, wherever the Prime Minister goes, wherever the Governor-General goes, the people of this country go: ‘Hiss, hiss, hiss’. That is what they deserve- the hiss of scorn.
– Watch out, Doug, you are getting dripped on.
– It is better than getting hissed on. Professor Cotton, Professor Carrick- I mean Professor Manning-
– I rise on a point of order. I do not want to be called a professor, Mr President.
– The honourable senator will not cotton on to that at all. Senator Carrick went on to quote what was said by Professor Manning Clark in the following terms:
But the emotionalism of history will not allow it to be written down. ‘
Senator Carrick went on to say:
Indeed, that may well be. It is fair to say that Professor Manning Clark has a reputation of expertise in Australian history.
That is quite true. He went on to say:
It is quite clear from that article and from his presence in recent days at the Sydney Town Hall alongside the whole of the socialist and Communist left that what he is at this moment is a political partisan and apologist for the Labor Party, for Gough Whitlam and for the lost cause and the distorted cause of Gough Whitlam. The simple situation is that for a person who purports to be a historian to put his name to a document which suggests -
Earlier, of course, Senator Carrick said that Professor Manning Clark had a reputation for expertise in Australian history-
Yes, the Governor-General might be found by history to be right but we will not allow it to be written ‘, is a corruption.
This is a judgment by Senator Carrick in which he denigrates a great man, a man who holds a position in the esteem of Australian academics and a man who, despite the attack by Senator Carrick, will still maintain that position. Senator Carrick went on to say:
The fact is that it may well be that Professor Manning Clark has said, in effect: ‘We learn from history but we learn nothing from history’. But the good sense of the ballot box during 75 years and on 13 December is the answer to Professor Manning Clark.
That is the point I started to make, namely, that the whole of the attack on Professor Manning Clark has been a mean, miserable and a very cowardly trick. It has been a very cowardly attack on a great man. I believe that the defence that has been put up on his behalf here tonight has carried on the best traditions of the Senate of defending a man who is not here to defend himself. Senator Sim should be here to defend himself. This attack was made on a man who was not here to defend himself- an attack made in a coward ‘s castle by a coward.
– Order! SenatorO’Byrne will withdraw the word ‘coward’. He cannot speak of an honourable senator in those terms.
– I withdraw that word. I say that it was a cowardly action and I hope that we do not hear any more attacks such as that on people of great eminence and of great distinction in this country. I commend the honourable senator for her defence of this very great man.
– I think that we have been here long enough. I move:
That the question be now put.
The Senate divided. (The President- Senator the Hon. Condor Laucke)
Question so resolved in the affirmative.
Original question resolved in the affirmative.
Senate adjourned at 11.53 p.m.
The following answers to questions were circulated:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Defence, upon notice:
Has the Minister’s attention been drawn to an article in the Courier-Mail dated 1 5 July 1 976, concerning an inquest held in the Brisbane Coroner’s Court following the collapse of a building on the Royal Australian Air Force Base at Amberley in October 1975. If so, can the Minister advise why volunteer labour was employed in demolishing the building concerned, and whether he is satisfied that adequate precautions were taken in the demolition.
– The Minister for Defence has provided the following answer tothe honourable senator’s question:
Yes, I have seen the article. The building was declared surplus to RAAF requirements in May 1975 and was sold by the (then) Department of Services and Property, the authority responsible for the disposal of Commonwealth property, to the Marist Brothers College, Ashgrove.
The conditions of sale provided that demolition and removal arrangements for the building were the sole responsibility of the purchaser who was required to indemnify the Commonwealth against all claims for damages arising out of the demolition and removal of the building. The building was to be removed within 30 days of the purchase price being paid but this was later extended to 60 days.
On 1 1 October 1975 the building collapsed while being demolished and as a result Mr W. P. Myers was killed and a number of others injured.
A spokesman for the Marist Brothers College is reported as saying at the time that the demolition was a parentsandfriends operation supervised by professional demolition men.
No RAAF personnel were present at the time the building collapsed, nor were they required to be.
asked the Minister representing the Treasurer, upon notice:
Has the Queensland Government formally requested the Australian Government to provide additional funds for capital works to relieve unemployment in that State as was foreshadowed by the Queensland Treasurer in the CourierMail dated 20 August 1976. If so, (a) when was the request received, (b) what assistance has been requested, and (c) when will a decision be taken with regard to the request.
– The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon notice.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
War Pensions Assessment Appeal Tribunals consist of a Chairman and two other members who are medical practitioners who have the necessary knowledge of the disability from which the appellant is suffering and are selected by the Chairman, from a panel approved by the Minister, in accordance with regulation 47 of the Repatriation Regulations. These medical members are paid on a sessional basis. The current rates are:
New South Wales and the Northern Territory- $22.40 per hour
Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia$20.80 per hour
Tasmania- $ 1 8.40 per hour
The Chairman is paid according to the determination made by the Remuneration Tribunal.
asked the Minister for Industry and Commerce, upon notice:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, upon notice:
– The Minister for Immigration and Ethnic Affairs has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
asked the Minister representing the Minister for Construction, upon notice:
– The Minister for Construction has provided the following answer to the honourable senator’s question:
The Snowy Mountains Engineering Corporation, which falls within my area of responsibility, does not employ journalists.
Department of Repatriation: Journalists (Question No. 1050)
asked the Minister for Repatriation, upon nonce:
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
asked the Minister for Education, upon notice:
Has the Minister received a submission from the Executive Member for Education and Law in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly concerning staff ceilings imposed on the Darwin Community College. If so, will the Minister indicate what levels of staffing the Government is considering and when these will take effect.
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
A submission concerning staff ceilings for the Darwin Community College has been received from the Executive Member for Education and Law in the Northern Territory Legislative Assembly.
The College ‘s staff ceiling for 30 June 1 977 is 230, which is an increase of 25 over its ceiling at 30 June 1976. 1 believe that this increase, while not fully meeting the College’s own assessment of its overall needs, will enable it to operate effectively in accordance with priorities worked out by the Principal in association with the College Council.
asked the Minister for Science the following question without notice on 16 September 1976:
Is it a fact that the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation Dairy Research Laboratory has just announced that it has developed a process known at UHT, that is ultra-high temperature, for preserving milk? Does this enable milk to be kept without refrigeration for up to 6 months? Further, in what way does this development differ from the UHT milk produced for at least the last 5 years by Bakers Milk in Tasmania?
– The answer to the honourable senator’s question is as follows:
The principle of flash heating milk- the so-called UHT or ultra-high temperature milk- is old and was first put into practice by a South African scientist about the tum of the century. In Australia, the CSIRO Dairy Research Laboratory has been involved in UHT milk research since 1967 when local manufacturers sought assistance to produce the long life milk for export markets.
Essentially the CSIRO research consisted of taking the already known technology and adapting it to Australian conditions, but some successful advances have been made in the technology by CSIRO in the area of improving flavour retentionone of the major disadvantages of the method as used earlier being that the milk acquired a cooked flavour.
The process consists of heating the milk to about 140°C for about three seconds followed by rapid cooling. When packaged in sterile containers, UHT milk will remain fresh for twenty weeks at 20°C and for about twelve months at 2°C.
An article describing the above process was made available in September 1976 to major city newspapers throughout Australia through the CSIRO News File which is a media guide to some of the stories available from within CSIRO each month. This article did not contain any statement about the process being ‘new’. However, in the Australian on 16 September 1976 an article appeared- apparently based on the news release by CSIRO- which did refer to the process as ‘new’. That statement has caused some embarrassment to the CSIRO Dairy Research Laboratory but is in fact incorrect.
The UHT process referred to in CSIRO’s article is identical to that used by Bakers Milk in Tasmania. In fact Bakers Milk was the main collaborator with CSIRO in the development of already existing technology to Australian conditions.
Cite as: Australia, Senate, Debates, 23 September 1976, viewed 22 October 2017, <http://historichansard.net/senate/1976/19760923_senate_30_s69/>.