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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Health) - The Government cannot accept the amendment. I do not think I have seen a more extraordinary amendment in the time I have been in this Parliament. I wonder whether the Opposition has fully considered the consequences of such an amendment becoming law in the unlikely event that the Opposition ever became the Government of this country. However, it is not on that basis that the Government raises objection to the amendment. Section 9, which the amendment is designed to amend, has a very wide application. It is not confined to medical and hospital benefits or to the other benefits provided under the National Health Act. The proposed amendment is directly specifically to sub-section (2.) of section 9, which reads:

The Minister may disseminate information relating to health or the prevention of disease. lt would appear that section 9 (2.) places beyond doubt the authority of the Minister to issue Press statements, make speeches, publish annual reports, issue books about medical and pharmaceutical benefits to doctors, pharmacists or registered organisations and generally to issue publicity material such as pamphlets to explain medical and hospital benefits, pharmaceutical benefits and the operation of the pensioner medical service. The sub-section has a very wide scope. The present medical benefits scheme has been in operation for 17 years and it is obvious that a special effort is needed to inform the public of the new concepts involved in the scheme to which this Bill will give effect. The proposed publicity about the new health benefits plan will not be of a political nature. It will follow the pattern of ordinary departmental publicity directed to ensuring that the general public is fully aware of the health benefits plan and what the individual needs to do in order to participate in the plan. In other words, the publicity will continue the tradition which, without exception, has not been departed from by my Department or, to my knowledge, any other department as far as the proprieties are concerned.

If the amendment were carried the Minister would probably be prevented from disseminating information of the kind proposed to be disseminated or he may be required to obtain the approval of other political parties before disseminating such information. This would impose a restriction of such severity on the activities of the Minister as to make it doubtful whether the normal activities of the Department could be carried on. Further, why should a restriction of this kind be proposed only for the National Health Act? If it is suitable for the National Health Act it could be argued that it is suitable for all legislation, because a great deal of legislation carries through it in basic principle the philosophical approach of the party which forms the government. So if the Opposition's proposal is appropriate to this Act it should be written into every other Act. Such a situation would, I suggest, place an impossible restriction on government administration and could not be tolerated. The Government opposes the amendment.

Proposed new clause negatived.

Sitting suspended from 5.57 to 8 p.m.

Clauses 7 to 18 - by leave - taken together.

Clause 8.

Section 13 of the Principal Act is amended - (a)......

(b)   by omitting from sub-section (I.) the definitions of "professional service" and "the Committee" and inserting in their stead the following definitions: - " 'medical service' means a service that is specified in an item in the First Schedule to this Act; professional service' means -

(a)   a medical service that is rendered by, or on behalf of, a medical practitioner; or

(b)   a prescribed medical service that is rendered in an operating theatre of an approved hospital by a legally qualified dentist or dental practitioner approved by the Director-General for the purposes of this definition;

Clause 9.

After section 13 of the Principal Act the following section is inserted - "13a......

Clause 14.

Section 18a of the Principal Act is repealed and the following section inserted in its stead: - "18a. Where a person becomes a contributor on or after the proclaimed date (not being a person who, immediately before he so becomes a contributor, was a contributor within the meaning of Part III. of the National Health Act 1953-1969 and had been such a contributor for a period of two months or more), Commonwealth benefit is not payable in respect of medical expenses incurred by the person during a period of two months commencing -

(a)   in the case of a person who, immediately before becoming a contributor, was a contributor within the meaning of PartIII. of the National Health Act 1953-1969- on the day on which that person became a contributor within the meaning of that Part; or

(b)   in any other case - on the day on which that person becomes a contributor, unless, under the rules of the registered medical benefits organization concerned, fund benefit is paid by the organization in respect of those medical expenses.".

Clause 15.

Section 19 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (2.) the definition of " professional service " and inserting in its stead the following definition: - " ' professional service ' does not include a medical service covered by item 631, 641, 651 or 661 inthe First Schedule to this Act or by any item in Part 7 or Part 8 of that Schedule;".

Clause 16.

Section 21 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting sub-sections (1.) and (2.) and inserting in their stead the following sub-sections: -

Clause 17.

Section 23 of the Principal Act is amended by omitting from sub-section (1.) all the words after the word "contributor" (second occurring).

MrHAYDEN (Oxley) [8.0]- Mr Chairman, we find ourselves in a position where we must move a group of amendments together.I do so formally because of the guillotine which has been applied by the Government.

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