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Wednesday, 6 May 1987
Page: 2420

Senator BROWNHILL(5.14) —Before debate on the report of the Senate Select Committee on Private Hospitals and Nursing Homes entitled `Private Hospitals in Australia: Their Conduct, Administration and Ownership' was adjourned last Wednesday, I was making the point that it was not appropriate for any government, Federal or State, to set standards or to require any more from a private hospital than it does of its public hospitals. I think that some of the reporting that we have seen in newspapers, and which I might mention further in a minute or two, has not brought out the points that Senator Walters and I made in our dissenting report.

Equally, I do not believe that this Government, indeed this Committee, has any right to dictate who is and who is not allowed to own a private hospital. That is why Senator Walters and I objected to that recommendation, and so also did Senator Haines. It seems extraordinary that no one in the media has chosen to mention the points that we made, preferring instead I think to highlight the majority recommendations, without making any comment about their lack of support from half of the Committee.

Socialised medicine in the countries which have introduced it has dramatically increased health care costs, and Australia is no exception. Socialised medicine addresses only the cure of the problem rather than the prevention of it in the first place. For example, over 100,000 people are now on hospital waiting lists for elective surgery. It is important to remember that the majority view for the recommendation about ownership by doctors was obtained only by a casting vote of the Chairman, and it cannot be considered an opinion that was widely supported either within or outside the Committee. Given that it would not get majority support from this Committee, I would think it highly unlikely that this Government would introduce legislation that would clearly be unpopular.

I do not believe this Committee's majority findings are an accurate assessment of the situation existing in the private health sector in Australia. Committee members appeared too often to be too preoccupied to an excessive degree with getting the medical profession. If honourable senators look at some of the headlines in the newspapers-for example, `Hospital report an ``attack on doctors'' ', and `Senate told doctors should not have shares in hospitals'-they will see that my assertion is not out of order. As I said, I think that some members of the Committee were a little too preoccupied with that part of the argument and with trying to have a go at the medical profession. This is indicated by the Committee's support for evidence from Professor Opit and Dr Morley. I think their evidence was in part wrong, and by their own admission they did not have statistical evidence to support some of their assertions.

As I have said, I am angry that the media has refused to acknowledge that the Committee was clearly in disagreement over many of the more important recommendations. The fact is that it was necessary for Senator Walters and me to issue a Press statement correcting the inaccurate coverage and Senator Michael Baume had to give notice of a motion, to highlight the appalling lack of professionalism that the media had shown on that report. Senator Walters spoke after Senator Giles last week, and I think she made it quite clear what the minority report says. I think it is rather sad to think that it was not reported quite like it should have been if the back pages of the report had been studied more closely. It seems that either some persons never got to that part of the report to note where the dissenting reports were, or they might have chosen to seek a headline that was going to get attention-for example: `Tax evasion linked to private hospitals'. That is not the case whatsoever. I do not think that headlines such as `Private hospitals link to tax cheats' are the right sort of reporting. If the report had been read properly, I do not think that would have been the case. An article headed `Senate told doctors should not have shares in hospitals' is not the way that Senator Walters and I made our remarks, or Senator Haines made her remarks, in the dissenting report. Senator Walters and I believe our objections to be well founded. Any objective assessment of the evidence should support our views.

I think that other senators are going to have a say on this subject as well. Since I spent quite a deal of time last Wednesday on this matter, I will now conclude my remarks. Just before I do, I make the point again that I hope the people in the community who have read some of the alarming reports in the paper get in touch with any of us in Parliament House so that they can get a copy of the report and read what the dissenting report actually had to say about the private hospitals.