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Wednesday, 29 April 1987
Page: 1998

Senator WALTERS(4.00) —Once again the Opposition is bringing to the attention of the Government, as a matter of public importance, the appalling state of the Government's health care system. Senator Crowley told us today that she failed to understand why we believe that Australian families are facing hardship because of the health care system introduced by this Government. I draw to her attention the result of a survey conducted by the Australian Bureau of Statistics in March last year but published only in November last year, just five months ago, which indicated that 46 per cent of couples with children and on a family income of less than $126 a week have taken out private health cover. The mind boggles. How can families, couples with dependent children, on less than $126 a week afford to take out private hospital cover? Why would they struggle to do so? Why were these people so concerned about the present system which was meant to be so fair?

We all remember hearing so much about this wonderful system when it was introduced. Remember the letter we all got from the Prime Minister (Mr Hawke) saying: `Congratulations. You are now a member of Medicare'? Why would 46 per cent-nearly half-of families in Australia on incomes lower than $126 a week take out private health cover?

Senator Coates —How many people were in that sample?

Senator WALTERS —This survey was not done by me. It was done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics. I sincerely hope that Senator Coates is not querying that body which his Government supports so thoroughly. Why were these families so concerned? What an indictment of a government's policy! Surely the Government has never had a clearer message that it is hurting the families of Australia than that survey. What has the Government done about it? We have had complete silence. Senator Crowley told us today that the Government is developing plans or programs, along with the States, to overcome the problem of long waiting lists. We do not know what the programs are and we do not know what the Commonwealth input is; but we are told that the Government, which has now been in office for four years, is going to conduct programs. I can tell honourable senators why these people have opted for private health cover. They have done so because they cannot get themselves, their wives or their children into the public hospital system.

In Victoria, which is the only State which keeps regular figures on hospital waiting lists, there has been an increase in hospital waiting lists. In January 1986, 27,900 people were on waiting lists in Victoria alone. In November that figure had gone up to 28,500. It is now 34,308. As I said, Victoria is the only State which keeps figures on its waiting lists. I wonder what the New South Wales figures are. The New South Wales Labor Government will not keep the statistics. It refuses to do so. We are told that the only thing the Federal Government is doing about the situation is getting together with State Ministers for Health and thinking about programs. This is after four years of the Hawke Government, and the figures have been getting worse.

What was the Government's promise to us on the introduction of Medicare? We certainly had promises from Dr Blewett. We all remember them. He said that middle and low income families would receive the greatest benefit from Medicare. But they cannot get into the hospitals, so how do they receive the benefit? Dr Blewett said:

Under the Hawke Government, Medicare will continue to provide essential medical and hospital cover for every Australian through the fair and affordable one per cent levy.

Senator Michael Baume —That is if you can get into a hospital.

Senator WALTERS —One cannot get into a hospital. The levy has gone up. The ceiling has been abolished. So much for the promises of this Government. We all remember the wonderful Medicare advertisements. How much did they cost the Australian taxpayer? One such advertisement was headed: `Why Medicare is good for the system'. How can Medicare be good for the system when one cannot get into the public hospitals? We all remember the lovely letter the Prime Minister sent to us all, saying that the Medicare system would lower our inflation rate by reducing the cost of living of most Australians. What has occurred? The cost of living has gone through the roof. The letter said:

Two out of three families will be paying less for the cover that they now enjoy.

Or so the Prime Minister told us. We are all aware that 46 per cent of very low income earners are now being forced to insure privately to be able to get into the hospital system. Why has the Government done this horrific thing to the health care system? It has done it because of pure ideology and nothing else. Government members claim that they are socialists. They have proved that they are socialists. They are attempting to socialise medicine through the back door. Dr Blewett has said: `It is my hope that the absence of gap insurance will promote direct billing and place market limits on overcharging'. He was hoping that all the doctors would bulk bill and that all the people would use Medicare only, so driving the private hospitals out and making sure that the doctors, once they were all bulk billing and being paid by the Government, were socialised. We all remember Dr Deeble whom Dr Blewett appointed. We all remember Dr Deeble and Dr Scotton and Gough Whit- lam's old system. Dr Deeble was the architect of that disaster. Dr Deeble said:

Putting private hospitals into three classes-

we remember the three categories of hospitals-

is a very first step towards putting private hospitals into the public system. This is a very big step, but it is a long-term aim.

That comes from the architect of the scheme. Putting private hospitals into the public system is what Medicare is all about. That is the ideology of the socialists opposite.

Let us get on to the bulk billing philosophy. I would like to quote someone who the Government certainly believes is one of the most expert people in the health area, Professor Penington. He has been appointed by this Government to many positions, and perhaps the most notable is his position on the task force looking into the acquired immune deficiency syndrome. He took on those appointments only on condition that he would be able to express his own views and that he would not be governed by government interference in his private thoughts. He called for the scrapping of universal bulk billing for medical services, a central provision of Medicare. Professor Penington said: `You have got to get rid of universal bulk billing for everyone'. He agrees with us where we have pleaded with this Government that the only way it can contain health costs is to have bulk billing for pensioners and the disadvantaged groups, such as the low income earners. The Government cannot have universal bulk billing and say to the entrepreneurial doctors-and we have a few now in New South Wales, and one in particular-`Bulk bill and you can do as many services as you like', because that is what that doctor is doing. Professor Penington, who is the Government's chief adviser, is pointing this out and saying: `If you do not contain the costs, the whole thing will be a crisis' He said: `Revamp Medicare to curb costs'. Those are the sorts of headlines, and his first position is: Scrap universal bulk billing.

When this was brought to the attention of the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett)-remember that Professor Penington is the Government's chief adviser-a spokesman for Dr Blewett said that the Government would want to examine Professor Penington's statement closely before making comment. Of course there has been no comment at all from Dr Blewett. So what has happened since the Government took over the health care system? What has happened to Medicare since it was introduced? We have had nurses on strike, doctors resigning, beds closing in public hospitals and waiting lists, and now we have the costs going out the window. We all remember this sort of statement: `Medicare-a dream that for some has become a nightmare'. That is the sort of statement we have heard. What happened to health costs last year? They went up by 26 per cent while our inflation rate was 9.8 per cent. Dr Blewett's comment was: `We got it a little bit wrong'. I read again what Professor David Penington said:

Health care faces a future of conflict crisis and collapse, and the national health bill will grow by $1 billion in the next five to 10 years if nothing is done to change it'

I have not got time to quote everything that that gentleman says. I wish I had as perhaps then the people of Australia would understand how very severe the position is. If we do not do something about it those 46 per cent of families on that very low income will be joined by the remainder of families. I have no idea how those people are affording that private insurance, but because they put the health of their families and children at such a high priority, they are prepared to struggle and no doubt do without other essential items to be able to cover their health insurance costs.

If the Government will not listen to the Opposition about the need to cut out bulk billing, if the Government will not listen to Professor Penington that it should cut this out, how in the heck can it expect not only the people on those low incomes, but the rest of Australians to be able to afford to pay the levy that this Government is incurring on this as well as on those families' private insurance?

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator MacGibbon) —Order! The honourable senator's time has expired.