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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 848


Mr MACPHEE(2.00 a.m.) —I would like to draw the attention of the Committee to the employment implications of the introduction of Medicare through these provisions in particular. Currently 8,500 Australians are employed by private health insurance funds. Yet at a stroke 60 per cent of these jobs-5,000 jobs-will be lost when the Medicare take-over is effected in February next year. These 5,000 people will be dismissed. The offer of the Minister for Health to take on up to 3,000 of them in Medicare is meaningless. The real figure will be more likely to be 2,500 at best and, because of relocation problems and other requirements, few of those 2,500 will be able to take up those positions.

The Minister's own admission that there will be a net loss of at least 2,000 jobs is a sad reflection on the Government's priorities, particularly in view of the Government's own admission that its support of full wage indexation from 1 January this year will cause increased unemployment. What happened to the cry of 'jobs, jobs, jobs' at the National Economic Summit Conference that was held in this chamber in April this year? Voluntary health insurance funds have offered to carry out Medicare basic insurance cover under contract at favourable rates using existing equipment and staff. Such an arrangement would aim at preserving the 5,000 jobs now at risk and would enable one-stop shopping for health care.

Under an extraordinary proposal Medibank Private will not be allowed to sign up new customers for supplementary health care insurance after 31 January. Medibank Private will not be allowed to locate in the new Medicare offices. The Minister' s response was to let a contract for $14m worth of extra computer equipment to take over the jobs of those 5,000 employees currently working for the private health funds. There is no justification for the Minister's claim that the centralisation of Medicare's basic insurance business is an essential ingredient of the scheme. That is ideology, not efficiency. We do not expect this Government to keep its ceiling on new Medibank Private business. Private fund employees will be further threatened by Medibank's ability to poach supplementary insurance from the private funds. It is important to note that on 5 August, as justification for Medicare, the Minister said:

. . . it is an intrinsic part of the Prices and Incomes Accord between the Government and the ACTU.

In fact, the Government is sacrificing the employees of private health funds on the altar of what is now regarded as a discredited accord. This is indeed ironic because the accord itself, as implemented through the Budget, with its commitment to wage indexation, envisages an increase in unemployment this year. The Minister says that those who are displaced through Medicare should be handled compassionately. What is the use of that? What is the comfort of that? The compassion which the Government should be showing should be in the form of providing jobs. This the Government has consistently failed to do since it was elected in March this year. Indeed, it has created the grand total of 100 new jobs, seasonally adjusted, since it took office six months ago. It has only 499, 900 to go. The communique from the National Economic Summit Conference states:

The unions reaffirm their commitment that they will accept an offset in wage increases on account of the health insurance scheme.

What comfort will that be to the 5,000 Australians and their families who end up with no jobs and no incomes as a result of this scheme? In any event, the 2.6 per cent reduction in the consumer price index which the Government estimates will result from Medicare is well on the way to being won in the field by the building industry unions and others. Where do the private hospitals stand, aware that the Government has been stifling debate by keeping private hospitals in the dark as to how they will fit into the system? It is clear that such hospitals will be disrupted. What is the Minister's forecast about the effect of Medicare on their bed occupancy? In any event, this is an ideological approach to the problem and a great tragedy for the people who are unemployed.

Finally, honourable members should also consider that as if it was not enough for some people to be caused to be sacked, those who remain in jobs will have to recognise that although they have been told they will enjoy wage indexation in accordance with the accord, the Government is gleeful that, as a result of the introduction of Medicare, the March quarter of next year will have a negligible impact on the consumer price index. That is an easy quarter to index. However, the cost of health care will not have been reduced. Indeed, as the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) observed earlier, the items which have been regarded as health care costs and are currently reflected in the consumer price index will now be an important part of the tax burden. This provision, like the others which my colleagues have condemned, will worsen the situation of so many thousands of Australian families.