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Thursday, 7 May 1970


Mr KIRWAN (Forrest) - Mr Speaker,the advantages that are to be brought into effect by the introduction of the National Health Bill 1970 are accepted by the Opposition. We applaud the Government even despite its late arrival at the understanding that these things are essential. We are pleased to see that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) obviously has been converted to the view that his outworn and outdated scheme needs overhauling and replacing. I remember hearing the Minister some years ago argue that the National Health Act did not need any alteration and that it was the best in the world. To back up his argument, he said that this could be proved because between 85% and 90% of the people eligible to be members of medical and hospital benefit schemes were members of those schemes.

As one who is aware of the plight of people on low incomes, I know that many of these people belong to health schemes because they dare not remain outside them. These people belong to hospital benefit schemes not because they cannot afford the payments, not because they agree with their purpose but because they fear the cost of hospitalisation, medical care and so on without the protection of the private health funds. These people are not members of the funds of their own choice. They are not members because they agree with the scheme. They are members because they dare not run the risk of becoming ill and having no coverage.

The Government's health scheme has been proved by the Committee of Inquiry into Health Insurance, commonly known as the Nimmo Committee, to be run down, ramshackle and in need of complete replace- ment. The Government, before the last House of Representatives election, introduced a Bill to amend the National Health Act. From the Act, the Government took 1 small section. From that 1 section, the Government took a small part and introduced legislation based on that part. This was done to give the impression that the Government was acting quickly on the report of the Nimmo Committee. But the Minister for Health himself has said in this session that to take 1 section of the National Health Act and to introduce legislation amending that section would be completely irresponsible. He said that the recommendations of the Nimmo Committee had to be taken as a whole or not at all. The fact that the Minister took 1 part of the Act and introduced legislation to amend one third of that part in the last Parliament shows, from his own argument, that he had been irresponsible. The spaciousness of his argument for the maintenance of the old scheme has been shown also.

I think that the Government's introduction of the idea of the subsidised medical scheme is to be commended. I believe that the people who will benefit from its introduction have been greatly in need of just this service for as long as this health legislation has operated. However, this Bill does not cover sufficient people. Because of the cost of living and the strains upon those on low incomes, the qualification governing those who are eligible to benefit under the scheme should have been set at a higher level. Its operation should have more of a tapering effect. Also, the scheme should take into consideration the number of children in family units. The legislation sets a family unit as being at least 2 persons and no consideration has been allowed for the large family even though the expenses incurred by large families are quite considerable. Also, the legislation does not pay attention to a sufficient degree to the needs of pensioners. The plight of pensioners and the sort of things that can happen to pensioners have come to my notice recently. I was informed by the Collie division of the miner's union in Western Australia that some of its members are single pensioners, widowers and widows, who are in just as tight a financial situation as are family units where there are 2 persons who can benefit under this scheme. Yet, these single pensioners receive no allowance and no consideration is shown to them regarding the expenses which they incur through illness.

I think that the scheme should have been made to operate with respect to people living in very poor circumstances and who rely for their existence on very small incomes even though these people may be single persons. 1 wish to illustrate a situation that arises. Persons who are on these restricted incomes - that is, persons who rely upon pensions - find that when an increase is granted in their pension rate they do not receive the benefit of that increase. This illustration does not apply directly to this measure but it shows the way in which the incomes of these people are restricted and eroded. When a person receiving a pension or in receipt of a payment from a superannuation or some other pension scheme is granted an increase in pension, different instrumentalities come in and take a share of that increase so that in fact some of these pensioners are worse off after they have been granted an increase than they were before that increase was made.

The miners of Collie have their own superannuation fund. Recently, that fund gave an increase of $1.50 per week to its members. This adjustment was made because of the rise in the cost of living since the previous adjustment. The Housing Commission of Western Australia, when it discovered this increase, raised by 80c per week its rent charge. I take as an illustration the case of a man and wife who are members of this fund. They were required to meet this increase in rent. As well, this man was receiving a 10% repatriation pension. Following the increase, the Repatriation Department reduced his repatriation pension by 34c per week. The Department of Social Services reduced the pension received by his wife by 50c per week. This man had received $1.50 per week extra to help him meet the increased cost of living, but $1.64 per week was taken from him. So, he was worse off. Allowance is not made in this legislation for this sort of thing and for these people to qualify for the benefits of this National Health Bill.

I believe that a need exists to bring within the scope of this health scheme persons who are single and who are at the level which has been laid down by the Government with respect to its subsidised medical scheme. I believe that the allowance ought to be given also to other persons included in the family unit. Further assistance must be given to people with large families. Preventative measures must be taken to see that people in circumstances of poverty, in lower income brackets or in areas where people are grouped together on low income have available to them measures to help prevent them becoming ill. More consideration should be given to these people in legislation introduced in this Parliament relating to health and social services.

Lastly, I wish to make a plea for chiropractors, phsyiotherapists and people of this kind who at present are not recognised under this legislation. I ask that some measure or means of recognition be granted to those who are qualified in these fields. Bona fide chiropractors and physiotherapists should gain recognition. People who cannot receive the assistance that they require from medical practitioners and who may be directed by medical practitioners to these people for services should have the charges that are incurred met by some provision introduced by Commonwealth legislation. They should benefit under the medical and hospital benefits scheme. I commend the Government for coming - though reluctantly and belatedly - to the point where today we have this legislation before us. 1 look forward to the time when, after the next Federal election, the Australian Labor Party will be able to introduce the scheme which it has made known to the people during the last election campaign and in the last few years and which it is its intention to introduce.







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