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Thursday, 13 October 1955

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) | ILS J. - 'ihe circumstances of the decision to whittle down the entitlement of pensioners to medical services appear to constitute one of the sorriest chapters in the whole history of federal government. For some time past there has been evidence of a growing lack of direction in the Cabinet, a sense of indecision, and a paralysis of activity, that is very evident in the barren nature of the legislative programme which it is submitting to the Parliament in this sessional period. It has become increasingly evident in the reversals of decisions which have recently constituted the major factor in Cabinet operation, but the decision in this respect is so extraordinary in the circumstances in which it has been made, and in the merits of what is now being done, that it would be regarded, I think, as almost incredible unless it came from a government with the record which this Government has had in recent months. We have been accustomed indeed to continual reversals by this Government of decisions which it had made in former times. But here is a complete reversal of a decision which the Government proudly announced only one year ago. Last year, the Government announced that 90,000 additional pensioners would come within the scope of its muchvaunted free medical service. The Government took the utmost credit for that situation. It proclaimed it as a bold step forward. If it was a bold step forward twelve months ago, the reversal of the decision to-day is surely a shameful step backwards.

Mr Osborne - The decision has not been reversed.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honorable member for Evans (Mr. Osborne) would be wise to hold his tongue for a little while. If he does not understand, I will explain it to him in simple terms which I hope he will comprehend. First, this constitutes the reversal of a decision which the Government announced with great pride as recently as twelve months ago. I have heard, and every other member of the House has heard, the honorable member for Evans say, " What matter is not so much the money value of the pension paid by this Government, as the value of the free medical services which are available even to a pensioner who has a pension of only a few shillings". Under this decision, that free medical entitlement is to be taken away from every future pensioner who is entitled to only a few shillings as a pension.

In what circumstances has this decision been made? This decision has been made in. surrender to an ultimatum issued to the Government by the British Medical Association.

Sir Earle Page - Nonsense !

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The right honorable gentleman says, " Nonsense ! " I refer to his own statement, issued at 5 p.m. on the 7th October. It is a very long statement, covering two pages, in which he announces the change that is to be made by the Government. In the whole of the statement, there is not one word to express the Government's view about the necessity for such a change. Throughout the statement, the right honorable gentleman says, " The B.M.A. has told us this. The B.M.A.'s view is that. The B.M.A. says this, and the B.M.A. says that ".

Sir Earle Page - No.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I hope that the right honorable gentleman will speak later.

Sir Earle Page - I will.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - If the Minister intends to speak later, I hope that he will reserve his strength until then.

Sir Earle Page - I shall not say another word.

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