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Friday, 5 October 1984
Page: 1338

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Social Security)(3.20) —Senator Martin, in the course of her speech, suggested that 'what Senator Grimes does on occasions such as this is take another valium and away we go'. I remember once being asked to withdraw a similar statement when I suggested the same thing about a member of the Opposition. I can assure Senator Martin that I do not need to take a valium, especially after speeches such as hers and those which were heard in this place yesterday on pornographic videos and the flag. Now we have the socialist menace being reinstated again in this country. I point out that honourable senators on both sides of this chamber obviously feel the same way as I do about this, because they are staying away in droves. I am sure they will continue to stay away in droves. Quite frankly, I do not blame them.

What we are hearing are the cries of desperate members of the Opposition who have the strange feeling that an election is coming on. Everything they have tried until now has failed. The Leader of the Opposition (Mr Peacock) is rating about 25 per cent in the opinion polls; the Opposition is persistently rating way behind the Government; business confidence in the country is increasing; members of the business community are praising the actions of the Government. We seem to have criticism of the Government from only two sides. There are members of the far Left in this country, the Communist Party and the Socialist Party of Australia, who say that this Government is not socialist enough, that it is not doing the right thing, as a socialist government. Members of the far Right, who are represented by Senator Martin, are now saying that the Government is too socialist. I suppose what that means is that we must be just about right for a country with a mixed economy.

Why did Senator Martin propose this matter of public importance? Senator Martin has spent the last three days in this chamber complaining terribly that I will not bring on the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill. She said it was awful that Senator Grimes and the Government would not bring on the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill which is so vital to her and, I suppose, her electoral prospects.

Senator Crowley —We could have had it now.

Senator GRIMES —The Bill could have been before us this afternoon. We will have it before us on Monday. I am desperate to get the Bill on now because I cannot wait to hear what Senator Martin has to say. The Senate is due to adjourn at 4 or 4.30 this afternoon; yet Senator Martin went back 20 years and brought up a matter of public importance in these terms:

The deception being perpetrated on Australians by the Hawke Government's introduction of Socialism by stealth.

Apart from the rather quaint olde worlde wording of that matter of public importance which shows that some things in this country never change-Senator Martin and her ilk are examples of that-it is also I believe, an insult to the voters and the people of this country who in every poll, even in the private polls done by the Liberal and National parties, are demonstrating that they support this Government and will continue to support this Government and the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke). That may stick in the craw of people such as Senator Martin. We are not used to Senator Martin putting down nonsense in matters of public importance such as this. It was even more surprising when we heard the basis of her argument. I thought she was going to make a good speech on the dreads of socialism by stealth, creeping socialism, the Red menace, all the sorts of things we have had in the past. No, it was another matter of public importance on the assets test and on Medicare. We have had five matters of public importance on those subjects this year. I suppose the Opposition thought it could not bring the subject up twice in one week with the same wording; so it dreamt up this extraordinary wording.

Why has Senator Martin suddenly become a Red basher or a socialist basher? Why did she speak at all? When one looks through the Hansard record, one finds that she did not have much to say in the last couple of years, until the last few months. I suppose the real answer is that she is seeking to go to the other place. What electorate will she be representing? She will be representing all those charming people down on that beautiful part of Queensland, on the coast, with all their lovely assets and units. It is an electorate which she thinks she can fool because she thinks they will be swayed by this nonsense, by this fear of the Red menace, the socialist menace and socialism by stealth. I suppose the great pity is that we always enjoyed Senator Martin's speeches. I understand that she is to be replaced by former Senator Sheil. The wording of this matter of public importance is that of Senator Sheil, not Senator Martin, who usually makes much different speeches in this place.

Let us get on to the gist of what Senator Martin had to say and the way in which she supported the matter of public importance which she raised this afternoon. The first thing I can recall her saying was that this Government is introducing socialism by stealth, because what this Government is doing is interfering with the free choice of consumption and, in particular, the free choice of consumption in education and health. She did not go on to elaborate how we were reducing the free choice of consumption in education. That just flitted away. I suppose there is some difficulty in elaborating on that because of the increased expenditure in this area. I suppose there is some difficulty with that because the Government has guaranteed increases in expenditure to independent schools for the next four years, with a review and, after that review, for the next eight years.

So Senator Martin picked on health. She said that what had happened was that the Government had taken away the choice of people for their health care in this country by introducing Medicare, which is a universal health insurance scheme. That is an interesting area in which to bring up the matter of choice. I always think it is. People such as Senator Martin always advocate in this place what is wrong with our health scheme and with Medicare, the universal health insurance scheme which has been introduced into this country, as a similar scheme has been introduced into almost every other country in the Western world, with the exception of the United States of America. Even there a scheme has been introduced to cover large sections of the population, particularly the aged population, and even that has only been partly eroded by the extreme right wing Government of Ronald Reagan.

People such as Senator Martin say that we are taking away freedom of choice and that what should happen in the medical profession and the medical business is that medicine and health care should be provided under a system of a free market . The great god of the free market, Adam Smith, who is so worshipped by Senator Martin and her ilk opposite, had something to say about the free market a couple of hundred years ago. He said that that market was terribly important; if that market wants to remain free the consumer and the seller should have knowledge of what is happening in the market; knowledge of what they are buying and selling and, therefore, that market can remain free.

The problem with the marketing of medical services in this country or any other country is that we do not have that free market because the consumer, about whom Senator Martin claims she is so concerned, does not have that choice for several reasons. The first reason the consumer does not have that choice is that the consumer cannot pick whether he wants to buy the service because he cannot pick when he is going to be ill. Therefore, the first choice of whether to buy or not to buy is taken away. The second way in which the consumer's choice is taken away is that they do not have the knowledge. The consumer does not have the knowledge that the seller of the service, the doctor, the medical practitioner, has. Frequently the consumer is in the dark. Fortunate it is for the patient who has the same sort of knowledge as the medical practitioner who is involved in the case. So their choice is taken away once again. Throughout the Western world there has been a necessity for governments to interfere in the so-called process of the free market, so that the poor, the ignorant, the indigent can have access to adequate health care, so that people can have security in times of illness, so that the standard of basic health care provided for people does not depend on their wealth.

In times of medical developments and of great expansion in knowledge of health and, in particular, in techniques relating to health, there does come a time when the whole community must think about what procedures can continue to be performed and what procedures it can continue to afford. It was in this context that Dr Blewett said about by-pass surgery in particular-open-heart surgery-that the time may come when we will have to make a choice that unless techniques improve and costs come down we as a community may have to make a choice about how many operations can be performed, when they can be performed and the circumstances under which they should be performed.

That is not very satisfactory to Senator Martin. She claims that is taking away people's choice. What sort of choice is she talking about? In this country at the moment most people who need that sort of surgery can in fact get it either in private hospitals using their health insurance or in public hospitals using public hospital facilities. That does not apply in the United States of America. That does not apply under systems which Senator Martin is so concerned about, under which by and large only the wealthy can afford such procedures. Those people who are not wealthy either go broke or do not have that surgery. Those who are poor enter into a lottery-they will be treated if they happen to live in a city or State which provides the necessary facilities for public patients in public hospitals, and they are very limited. That is what Senator Martin wants to foist upon the patients of this country. She wants to foist on them a system which will say: 'If you have the dough you can have the procedure; if you do not you can go he'.

Senator Martin —That is the United Kingdom system that you are introducing.

Senator GRIMES —That is not the United Kingdom system; that is the United States system. Unfortunately it is the system that Senator Martin wants to foist onto the people of this country. We have said, and we have made no bones about it, that in this area we are interventionist. Of course we are interventionist. We are interventionist in the same way that John Gorton was going to be interventionist after the Nimmo Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance in this country completed its inquiry. We are interventionist in a more sensible way than the previous Government was, which in fact had six health insurance schemes in the seven years that it was in government.

Senator Crowley —That is a measure of intervention.

Senator GRIMES —That is real intervention. There was so much intervention in those years that the people of this country got fed up. Every time a health insurance Bill was introduced in this place I used to get up and say: 'See you again next year. This won't work, and you know it won't work'. It never did work . We are not saying that about Medicare and the Opposition is not saying that about Medicare, because it is working. It will work and it will continue to work , and it will preserve the freedom of choice.

Senator Peter Rae —It will work to put us back into government.

Senator GRIMES —The honourable senator and his colleagues will be out of government for so long that the same situation will apply here as applied in Canada-there would be a revolution if his Party tried to remove a fair and equitable system of that type.

Senator Martin is very selective in her talk about choice. She says it is perfectly legitimate for her, for me and for others-and I agree with her-to limit the number of medical trainees in this country, that it is perfectly legitimate to say to kids who may qualify at a high enough level: 'You can't do medicine because we can't afford it, and we are not going to pay for it'. Suddenly it is not legitimate for any government to say to people who want to be specialists and who are very much more expensive to train than are undergraduates: 'Look, we have more cardiac surgeons per head of population than anywhere else in the Western world. We have more renal surgeons than anywhere else in the Western world, we can't go on like this. We can't go on allowing the situation to develop in this way. Therefore we think we ought to cut down on the number of people we have in those speciality areas because we have a shortage in other areas'. Senator Martin says it is not legitimate to do that but it is perfectly legitimate to do the other thing. That is selective. Maybe she thinks there are a lot of retired specialists living in that new electorate of hers.

Senator Crowley —There probably are.

Senator GRIMES —There may well be. Maybe she has been to a few meetings of the Liberal Party in that electorate and maybe she is sniffing the air, but she is not sniffing the air of the whole electorate of this country. That is why she is sitting where she is and that is why she will stay sitting where she is.

The next aspect that Senator Martin brought up to demonstrate that this Government was introducing creeping socialism, socialism by stealth, the red menace or whatever else she wanted to call it, was the fact that we wanted to change the tax laws on lump sum superannuation and introduce an assets test. She has taken up Senator Messner's cue. She says that that means that the Government will do all sorts of terrible things later on-it will introduce wealth taxes, capital gains taxes, probate and gift duties.

Senator Martin —Will you?

Senator GRIMES —While listening to Senator Martin I just happened to be reading today's National Times. What do we find in the National Times? We find a book review by Geoffrey Briot entitled: 'Liberals Face the Future: Essays on Australian Liberalism'. It is about Liberals and the essays are written by Liberals. Let us see what a Liberal who wrote one of these essays has to say and what questions he raises. This is the Liberal Party, not the Labor Party.

Senator Martin —Who is it?

Senator GRIMES —His name is Ian Macphee. I think he is a front bencher in Senator Martin's Party. He says:

How long can Australia be the only OECD country without a consumption tax, probate tax, probate duty and a capital gains tax?

He proceeds in his essay to point out that that is a very strange situation and that we are unique among the member countries of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. What is more he points out that other countries of the OECD performed much better economically than ours did in the last seven years, but in the last year, under the socialist Government that Senator Martin is worried about, we performed a lot better than those countries. That is what sticks in Senator Martin's craw. For all the years her Party was in Government Australia was down at the bottom of the OECD ladder. Now that we are in government we suddenly have a higher growth rate than the rest of the OECD countries. Our inflation rate has decreased by a greater amount than has that of other OECD countries and our unemployment rate is decreasing in the same way. That is what sticks in Senator Martin's craw, and she does not like it. That is why she has to get up and make vague speeches like the one she made here today about creeping socialism.

Senator Martin went on about the assets test. She said that we wanted to take away people's assets and we were taking away people's choice. She referred to the tax on superannuation and said that we were doing terrible and cruel things to people. We are unique in the OECD, in the Western world, in the way we treat superannuation lump sums. The tragedy is that in all the debate on the introduction of a tax on superannuation in this country, all the debate about the tax concessions we give at the time premiums are paid and we give to the superannuation companies, and all the debate on the concessional treatment of lump sums, both sides of this House of Parliament said: 'We will do this and we will continue to do this because people will be able to have an income in their retirement and they will no longer be a burden on the social security system of this country'. What has happened is that they all get the full pension and full fringe benefits and defeat the basic purpose that this Parliament set out to achieve. So this Government said: 'If that purpose is not being achieved we should do something about it'. We are doing something about it.

In the case of the assets test both sides of this Parliament, including Senator Martin, say that what we need is a needs-based social security system. Needs cannot be assessed on income alone. If needs are to be assessed through a means test we have to include assets. Assets have to be included in people's income because if we do not include them we create enormous inequities which mean that the retired railway man or public servant on a small weekly superannuation payment living in the back western suburbs of Sydney has his or her pension reduced and fringe benefits taken away while the person with large assets holdings in contrived schemes, living in the sorts of areas that Senator Martin wants to represent, gets the full pension and the full fringe benefits.

That is what this debate is about. That is why we are in fact wasting time this afternoon. That is why we are not debating the Australian Citizenship Amendment Bill that Senator Martin has been bleating about all week. That is why we will not debate it until next week. Because the people of this country see through the Opposition's charade, this Government will stay in power for a long time. That is why the Hawke Government that Senator Martin was so rude about in her speech will stay in government for a long time. That is why Senator Martin will languish on the Opposition benches in the lower House. Long may she do so. But I must say with all charity that in view of the alternative to come in from Queensland we will miss her.