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Wednesday, 13 May 1942

Mr ANTHONY (Richmond) .- The purpose of this clause is to ensure that that portion of the pension which formerly was paid to a hospital shall in future be retained by the pensioner. I question, the wisdom of this alteration. Hospitals throughout Australia are experiencing considerable difficulty in obtaining the necessary finance to provide the services that are needed for the care of the sick members of the community. When the Commonwealth Government creates financial difficulties for State institutions, it. assumes a very grave responsibility. It is one thing to be seemingly generous to the pensioner-, it is another thing to deprive the pensioner of the possible benefits of an efficient hospital system. It is necessary for all individuals that the hospitals of this country shall be well and efficiently run. They cannot be, unless they have the necessary finance. The Government, instead of benefiting the pensioner, will do him, in the long run, a very grave disservice. Nobody needs a hospital more than does the old-age pensioner at times. I have been chairman of a hospital board, and know something about the circumstances of persons who are obliged to enter a public hospital for medical treatment. Fortunately, the people's conception of a public hospital has changed with the passage of the years. No longer is it regarded as the last asylum for those who have not the means to enter a private institution. It is now considered a worthy place, at which any person may receive medical treatment. But hospitals have to be maintained; and at present the responsibility for their maintenance rests not upon the federal Minister for Social Services and Health (Mr. Holloway), but upon the State Government and the community in which they are established. In my experience, the wells of charity have almost dried up in respect of voluntary contributions to public hospitals, which now are maintained almost entirely by the fees of those who enter them and the subsidies paid to them by the States. If, as the result of this legislation, the payments which hospitals receive are to be reduced, either they must cease to operate or the States must, make up the difference. Will iiic States make up the loss on this account, which I estimate will be very large? The Minister has not been able to say what the sum is likely to be, but I apprehend that it will be substantial. It will bare to be made up from some source. I very much doubt whether State Governments will provide the additional assistance; and I am not certain that they are financially able to do so. If the payments to hospitals be reduced the result will be a lowering of their efficiency and a lessening of the services that they render. Would that be a kindness or a service to the old-age pensioner? lt is all very well for the Government to be apparently generous in this matter to the pensioner, but its generosity is at the expense of the State Governments and of the local authorities. In the last analysis, it is at the expense of the services which the pensioner would otherwise receive. Which is more important to the pensioner when he is sick - good and efficient service, or the few extra shillings which he may receive under this provision? I ask the Minister to allow the act to remain unaltered. I hope that he will bo able to give an assurance to that effect because otherwise I, and other honorable members on this side of the House, cannot support the clause.

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