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Thursday, 19 February 1987
Page: 379

Mr IAN ROBINSON(4.07) —The Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) has failed lamentably to answer the criticism offered so justifiably by the honourable member for Barker (Mr Porter) this afternoon on this critical issue of the increase in health costs and the care of families in Australia under the present Medicare scheme. He has provided a catalogue of charges which deserve a positive answer by the Minister. We have heard this callous, dictatorial Minister clutching at his socialist health philosophy for the last 24 months, since he found very conclusively that the cost of the Medicare scheme was out of hand. In the last Budget he attempted to cover up. Since then he has offered nothing more or less than a flimsy and certainly badly based excuse for the out of hand situation in the health area.

Let us consider the catalogue put down by the honourable member for Barker. He referred to the queues that are getting longer, the cost increases, the impact on the family and the tremendous impact on the consumer price index of health care costs. Yet what did the Minister say? He repeated something he said earlier in Question Time today and that was that the Opposition should come up with a policy to solve the problems in the health area and particularly in the public hospital area. What is the Minister clutching at? He says that the Opposition should come up with a policy; yet he had the opportunity this afternoon to answer in respect of this crisis and he failed to do so. We have the policies all right, but those policies will be very dependent on interlocking with the whole approach to the crisis that we face with the total economy of this country. The honourable member for Barker understands that. He is not making foolish statements. He is stating very clearly what the problems are. The first step towards alleviating them is to free the people of this country from the imposition of the Medicare scheme as it is today. The answer is simple.

The number of people, particularly those with families, who have had to take out health insurance to feel the security that they need has increased dramatically. I understand that in excess of 47 per cent of people in the category of lower income earners have now taken out their own private health cover. The Minister has failed to acknowledge or to recognise that. He uses words such as: `The policy of the Opposition is merely to look after the rich of this country and to ignore the poor'. He is the one who is ignoring the poor of this country. He is the one who is leaving a noose around the neck of every one of those people who need public hospital treatment-those with young families, those who need to know that they have security in health and hospital treatment. That security is not there today. The costs are astronomical.

What of the pensioners of this country who are facing ever-increasing costs in respect of their medication. They are expressing great concern about it. The Minister ignores that. Then we move on to the whole spectrum of the availability of health care. We find that there is total disaster in the public hospital system as a consequence of Medicare. We find that there is a shortage not only of nurses but particularly of resident doctors. In the past three months the crisis in New South Wales in hospital after hospital has been evident. There have been closures of high risk surgical sections in the metropolitan areas and there has been a contraction in the availability of resident doctors in most of the public hospitals. Why? The answer is that there is now a shortage of resident doctors, of people coming into the system, because of the changes that have been made in the public hospital system as a consequence of Medicare. There has not been one word about that in the Minister's response to the honourable member for Barker this afternoon.

I move on to another very critical area. The honourable member for Barker expressed concern about the growing threat of acquired immune deficiency syndrome in this country, about the concern of the public and of those who are charged with the real responsibility of meeting this crisis. Those who are involved in this critical situation today in Australia understand the position in a very dramatic way, if we can take the statements that have been made by them. What did the Minister offer in this regard? He offered excuses for not giving the States sufficient financial assistance to carry out a real campaign against the AIDS crisis. When it got down to tintacks he said: `Oh, of course, there must be some responsibility for this at the State level'. Of course there must be, but the States need the wherewithal and a positive approach that is acceptable to the whole community, not just to some sections of it.

I put one question to the Minister: Why is it that we are not seeing initiated, under his jurisdiction, a campaign that, for example, incorporates blood testing in high risk areas? No, that would be too difficult politically. It would upset some friends in the area that is so important to him-that matter of the philosophy of his side of politics. We must not have compulsion; we must not have anything that requires people to face up to the real responsibility. Let me remind him about past Ministers for Health in this country. I go back even to Sir Earle Page and to a number of his successors. Once there was a Federal approach initiated in this very House to deal with the health problems of this country. Let us remember what was done about the tuberculosis campaign. It was not that long ago. We all had to face up to a chest X-ray. The notice arrived in the mail and we were screened to ascertain whether we needed something to be done about our health. There was an obligation on us. What are we doing about AIDS? We are not doing a damn thing in respect of the real responsibility and where it ought to be placed-on the individuals of this country, particularly those in the high risk area. We get the nonsense about issuing needles for those who might be in the unfortunate situation where they are addicted to drugs. So we give them free issues to lessen the risk of infection. What about some compulsory blood testing of people in those high risk areas? It should be carried out effectively in this country. The Government should take heed of what has been said by the honourable member for Barker about the need for a real policy on the part of the Government and real support for those who are fighting this scourge before it is too late for this country.

I come back to the fundamental of the financing of health care and all that goes with it-the hospital system and the requirements to enable families and particularly the very needy, to get a proper health care system. Today we have a mishmash, such a mess at both Federal and State levels that something has to be done about it. There is one answer and one answer only; A change in the philosophy of those responsible. The honourable member for Barker has put forward a case and a very sound and positive proposition it is: Start making changes now before it is too late. The Minister says: `But the Government's policy now is to introduce a new inquiry into the needs of health policy in this country'. What a joke! That is no proposition at all, the Government is taking no responsibility. We will have yet another inquiry. Yet the Minister has the hide to say that the Opposition has no policy. All he is doing is denying the fundamentals of what has been put forward by the Opposition and what has effectively been put forward by the honourable member for Barker. It is time that the community understood this. I am sure the reality is growing rapidly, day by day, and the Minister's tyrannical approach is certainly being denied by the majority of the electors of this country.

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