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Wednesday, 13 May 1981
Page: 2310

Mr HODGES(4.6) —This is the second week in a row that the Opposition's spokesman on health (Dr Blewett) has raised a matter of public importance which relates to health. This, coupled with questions that have been asked, has, quite frankly, allowed for an almost ad nauseam debate. One wonders just what impression he is making. It is my view he is making no impression at all. As a matter of fact, it is my view that the present Opposition is sick and needs medical attention and, indeed, hospitalisation. It is the Australian Press at the moment which plays the role of the opposition to this Government. It is about time that this Opposition got off its backside and started to do something about providing a reasonable Opposition to this Government. It is the Press, not the Opposition, that is the real opposition to this Government.

The honourable member for Lilley (Mrs Darling) spoke about the ordinary people of this nation. I remind her that I also represent ordinary people in my electorate, as, indeed, do all honourable members of this House. She talks in terms of providing everything free. I emphasise that 'free' is in inverted commas. Nothing is free in this nation; everything has to be paid for. She has spoken about the poor people, the pensioners and the disadvantaged. I would like her to come with me on some occasions to let her see how those people attend bingo games, use the Totalisator Agency Board and go to hotels.

Mr John Brown —Turn it up; you don't believe that.

Mr HODGES —The honourable member for Parramatta can come with me to my electorate and I will go with him to his. It amazes me that honourable members on the other side of the House claim that these people do not have any money to provide the priority items in life such as clothing, food and health but they do have enough money for other matters. It is true. There are many such people in my electorate. All honourable members have them in their electorates. I am concerned about those people. But I am also concerned to see that there is some self-help involved in their lives.

The honourable member for Bonython mentioned the Government's non-negotiable position at the Commonwealth-State Health Ministers conference which was held last Friday. He indicated that proposals discussed at that conference were changed this week. This is utter nonsense. The Minister for Health (Mr MacKellar) has not, in any way, departed from the basic policy that was announced by the Government in this House two weeks ago. Of course the States are unhappy. I have never known the States, since Federation, to be happy with any decision made by a government in relation to funding. Let us consider the $16m that has been given to Queensland. Queensland does have a special position. At the present time, in Queensland, 20 per cent of the total number of beds in hospitals are paid beds. Under the formula of the present health arrangements, that figure would be increased to 50 per cent. If this occurred in the first year of the new funding arrangements, it would create certain difficulties for that State. That is an unrealistic position that had to be rectified; hence, of course, the extra assistance that has been given to Queensland.

Let us have a look at the wording of the matter of public importance which we are now debating. It states:

The detrimental impact on State and personal finances--

The Government, this financial year, will collect about $34.5 billion. Whether this is collected by way of personal income tax, or by way of indirect taxes such as excise, sales or company tax, it is the duty of this Government to ensure that those collected dollars are spent efficiently. It is not the Government's money; it is the people's money. The money does not belong to Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser. The money does not belong to Mr Howard. The money belongs to the people. (Quorum formed). It is obvious that the Opposition does not like what it hears and therefore it is taking up some of my time. The States, under Fraser federalism, have the capacity to raise their own funds. They can impose their own taxes and their own charges if they want to. We have seen over the years a certain erosion of that capacity to raise funds. It is my view that if they want more money for hospitals they have the capacity to raise that money and spend it on those hospitals or set their own priorities.

The Labor Opposition stands for bigger government and bigger taxation. In actual fact it is saying that it wants this Government to increase taxes so that there will be more money in the tax pool to pay out to the States for whatever purpose. It is my view and the view of this Government that, as far as possible, the earnings of individuals should be left to those individuals to spend and that, as far as possible, governments should keep their hands out of the pockets of individuals. This is contrary to the statement made by the honourable member for Bonython when he talked about the detrimental impact on personal finances. Indeed, the situation is to the contrary. In actual fact the Government's policy is beneficial to the individual.

The Labor Party supports open-ended arrangements. We saw so many of them in the three years of the Whitlam Government. We have seen repeated statements from the honourable member for Bonython and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Hayden)-they are well documented-that they want to see a return to Medibank. The honourable member for Bonython nods approval. That sort of statement should be promulgated as widely and as strongly as possible throughout the nation because the people have not forgotten the three years between 1972 and 1975 when this policy was in operation. That policy was disastrous then and it will be disastrous if Labor ever comes to power and institutes it.

The cost incurred by governments on behalf of the people in the health field and in other fields must be identifiable. People must be responsible for their own affairs. All accounts, whether they be hospital accounts, accounts for diagnostic services or whatever, should show clearly what costs are involved. Indeed, even if the accounts are not actually paid by the individual because that individual falls into the disadvantaged category-he may be a pensioner or whatever-the costs ought to be set out clearly so that the individual has some idea of what those costs are. Indeed, those persons within our institutions who order these services also ought to be aware of the nature of the costs.

We have seen the general thrust of the health policies that the Commonwealth introduced a few weeks ago supported by most of the States. Queensland, Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia support the general thrust of the policy. They are unhappy with the quantity of money they have received but they support the actual policy involved. The assessment of the hospital payments that has been the subject of some debate over the last three or four days has been made on the data supplied by the States themselves. It has not been based on Commonwealth figures; it has been based on information that has been provided by the States. Of course, as the Minister for Health has stated in the House on more than one occasion, the Commonwealth Grants Commission will look at the situation in relation to the relativities between States and assess whether any State ought to be better treated in the future.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) —Order! The honourable member's time has expired.