Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard   

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 13 October 1983
Page: 1743

Mr HOLDING (Minister for Aboriginal Affairs)(3.39) —I will not delay the Committee, but there are a number of matters that I should take up. Throughout the debate members of the Opposition have expressed their concern at what was described by one of their number as being the total confusion and worry that has allegedly been caused to elderly citizens as a result of the proposed assets test. The honourable member for Gippsland (Mr McGaurin) indicated that in his view-he was supported by some of his colleagues-there should have been prior consultation by members of the Government, presumably the Treasurer (Mr Keating) or the Minister for Social Security (Senator Grimes), before any announcement was made in respect of this assets test.

I think a number of points can be made. The first point is this: the honourable member for Gippsland is a relatively new member. I do not know how in respect of preparing what is essentially a statement of principle which is relevant to the Budget, the Treasurer or a senior Minister could involve himself in in-principle discussions prior to the presentation of the Budget without being subjected to accusations that he had made available information which was relevant to the formulation of the Budget. It is an extraordinary aspect of this debate that much of the time was taken up by honourable members not so much in dealing with the actual Estimates but in expressing concern in respect of the assets test. I think it is true that at various levels all honourable members have had representations and all honourable members are in the process of making representations to the Minister and to the Government on this issue.

This is the important aspect, and it is the aspect which, for somewhat cynical and calculated political reasons, members of the Opposition have chosen to ignore; that is, it is not possible as yet for me or for any honourable member to go into the final details of the assets test. The Minister for Social Security, having outlined the basic approach of the Government and the basic principles that are involved, has fully and publicly conceded that certain stituations will be anomalous. He has indicated that in respect of those matters there will be full and open discussions with individual pensioners through their local members and with pensioner organisatons. That process is going on now. Neither I nor any other member of the Government, or any other honourable member for that matter, can say what the final outcome of those discussions in regard to the resolution of those anomalies will be. That is the position.

If members of the Opposition were genuinely worried about the concern that many elderly pensioners have they would say to the pensioners of our community and to those who are concerned: 'This matter is not finally resolved. Ongoing discussions are taking place and the Government and the Minister have indicated that they wish to produce a just result for all pensioners. In accordance with the concern that the Government has expressed and has been prepared to face, by assets testing those people who do not need pensions, who have considerable assets and who can live without pensions, there will be more funds available to meet the needs of many of those pensioners who are living below the poverty line . In pursuing those discussions full regard will be had not merely to the views of pensioner organisations but also to the views of honourable members.

I ask the Committee to contrast that factual situation with the kind of hysterical utterances made today by the honourable member for Denison (Mr Hodgman) and supported by the honourable member for Gippsland but put more moderately by the honourable member for Cook (Mr Dobie) because he is a more sensible gentleman. In this situation if there is anything that I deplore, and which any honourable member should deplore, it is the calculated and cynical exercise engaged in by the honourable member for Denison and some of his colleagues. They used the most exaggerated, false and pernicious arguments which , by their very nature, are calculated and designed to promote fear and anguish in the heart and mind of any pensioner who happens to be listening. Having performed that very cynical act, honourable members then said that of course it is terrible that the Government has produced all this anxiety and fear.

Members of the Opposition are like the arsonist who goes willy-nilly through a country town and lights fires. When the country fire brigade arrives and finds itself confronted with fires buring all around the place and perhaps cannot deal with them as adequately as they might, the arsonist sits back and says: 'Look at that. I think we ought to condemn the country fire brigade for its incapacity to deal with this fire'. That is exactly the kind of despicable political position that certain members of the Opposition have been prepared to adopt in order to promote fear and concern in the desperate hope that in that fear and concern pensioners may turn to them and they might be able to curry some kind of political favour and win a vote or two. To exploit old people in that way deserves the fullest condemnation of the Parliament and it will ultimately receive the condemnation of the electorate. I have no doubt about that.

There are a number of other points I should like to deal with very quickly. The honourable member for Gippsland suggested that the operation of Medicare would force the closure of bush nursing hospitals. I think he should recognise the fact that bush nursing hospitals are part of the total public and private hospital system of Victoria. Bush nursing hospitals are private hospitals within that framework, and always have been. Private hospital insurance is required to obtain accommodation in bush nursing hospitals. Basic private and supplementary hospital insurance will continue to be available under Medicare. Private insurance will be available at a greatly reduced cost than under the current arrangements. When this is considered along with the very generous income contributions before the one per cent levy is payable it can be seen that bush nursing hospitals should continue. I hope, having some regard for the work that they do, that they continue to have a very substantial role to play as part of the total health care system provided by the Government of Victoria. The Government has consulted very widely in developing its arrangements for private hospitals. If the honourable member for Gippsland considers those matters in that light he will have much less concern about this matter.

The honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Carlton) took the Government to task on what he regarded as pharmaceutical pricing. Some points ought to go on the record on behalf of my colleague the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett). Despite the Government's decision to seek an early rationalisation of the differences in pharmaceutical prices, at the request of the industry it delayed the introduction for some months. That is hardly ignoring the viewpoint of the industry. In that intervening period there was regular consultation with the pharmaceutical industry. Despite the opportunity to propose alternative strategies the industry failed to do so.

The withdrawal of certain milk substitutes from the pharmaceutical benefits list is a specific issue created by the manufacturer seeking to force a very large price increase. While I have no doubt of the genuineness and concern of the honourable member for Mackellar at the difficulties that that creates for those families that require this form of pharmaceutical aid-I think all honourable gentlemen would share that concern-and while we can all be sympathetic to the small number of families with children for whom this product is essential, if the Government were to give in in this instance other manufacturers could be expected to seek similar rises for other pharmaceutical products at an estimated cost of $200m. The honourable member for Mackellar, as a former Minister for Health, said that he had been aware of the supposed problems of manufacture for three years. If he was aware of them for three years and he was the Minister for Health, how come he did not solve them?

Mr Spender —He was not there for three years.

Mr HOLDING —He was certainly there for longer than the present Minister for Health who has been taken to task. The present Minister for Health has been the Minister since March. He has had the enormous responsibility of getting the Medicare package off the ground and negotiating these and other matters with the pharmaceutical industry. I believe that to take him to task in this situation is , again, a fairly cynical political exercise. Of course there is concern. No one is more concerned than the Minister for Health. I hope that this matter will be resolved but it cannot be resolved by allowing multinational pharmaceutical companies to hold the Government and the revenues of the country to ransom. I think we should be entitled to receive the support of the Opposition on that very basic principle.

Mr McGauran —That is an ideological statement. It is not a practical one.

Mr HOLDING —It is also a factual one. I realise that the honourable gentleman, coming from his somewhat closeted background where he has never had to worry whether there was money to pay for medical care, can reject the kind of proposition I put to him as some kind of ideological position, but it is not an ideological position; it is a factual one. We are facing an economic situation of some difficulty. Simply to concede, as the honourable gentleman would have us do, to the proposition of every multinational drug company would cost the revenue enormously. There has to be a balance in this matter and I say to the honourable gentleman and other honourable members opposite, including the honourable member for Mackellar, that this is the sort of issue on which the Opposition does not win any points for itself by taking the Government to task in this way. If ever there was an area in which there ought to be some consensus this is certainly it. The burdens in the Instant case, whatever decision is made -I honestly do not believe that a different Minister would have made a decision any different from that made by the Minister for Health-have to be of continuing concern, and continuing approaches must be made towards the resolution of the problems of those individual families which, through no fault of their own, will be caught in this situation. The Government, would be aided, in dealing with some of the drug companies, if it could speak not merely with the voice and the authority of the Government but also with the voice and the authority of the Parliament.

I will touch on matters that were taken up by the honourable member for Bendigo (Mr Brumby). The honourable gentleman expressed concern-very proper concern in my view-about people who have encephalitis. His concern for the services available for the hard of hearing are noted. I certainly undertake to pass them on to the Minister for Health. I am informed that staff relief will be provided in this area in 1983-84. It is hoped that this will assist the situation. Certainly the very serious concerns expressed by the honourable member will be brought to the attention of the Minister, and I believe they will be responded to in a sympathetic manner.

Proposed expenditures agreed to.

Attorney-General's Department

Proposed expenditure, $208,671,000.