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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Dr FORBES (Barker) (Minister for Health) - This amendment is directed to the new section 76A contained in clause 27. The section provides for the Minister to table each year before each House of Parliament a report of the Director-General on the operations of registered organisations. The new sub-section (2.) lists 7 heads of information that are to be included in the report of the Director-General. The list is not exhaustive and paragraph (h) enables the Minister to require additional information to be included. So it is contemplated that if it appears desirable in the light of experience the Minister will require additional information. In considering this amendment - and I think it is important to put the matter in perspective - it is relevant to keep in mind the various types of organisations that are registered under the National Health Act. Numerically the main group of organisations are those registered under State law as friendly societies. A second important group includes the larger organisations registered under State law as guaranee companies. Other State law exists, such as legislation applicable to co-operative societies, charities and benefit associations, which applies to organisations which are not friendly societies or guarantee companies. <

It follows that the majority of organisations and certainly all the larger ones, are to a greater or lesser extent subjected to dual control; that is, by both the Commonwealth under the National Health Act and a particular State or States under appropriate State legislation. I feel that the legal provisions relating to all of those organisations are adequate for their general control and the protection of contributors. At the same time it is realised that the Commonwealth's interest is a vital one and it is for this reason that the Bill provides additional measures directed to organisations' activities. From what I have said it is also apparent that the amendment would probably not have application to all organisations but only to the larger funds which are guarantee companies under State law. For instance, the information sought in the amendment would not appear to be relevant in respect of friendly societies whose financial transactions, reserve investments, etc., are closely supervised under the powers conferred by State friendly societies Acts.

Dr Gun - But it is quite relevant.

Dr FORBES - Let me finish. At this point of time the Government would prefer not to commit itself to the additional information that is to be included in the report to be tabled in Parliament. Some of the information sought in the proposed amendment could be relevant to an examination of an individual organisation's affairs but until the Government has had an opportunity to consider the overall effects of including such information in the report as is sought by the amendment, I would prefer to have the Bill not made more specific at this stage. On those grounds, although not rejecting the objective sought by the amendment, the Government cannot accept the amendment.

Mir DALY (Grayndler) [3.1]- lt would be wrong of me to speak to this amendment without joining the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun) and other members of the Opposition in expressing our complete dissatisfaction with the time allotted for the discussion of this legislation. We have less than 80 minutes in which to discuss clauses 22 to 41. which deal with medical funds and their ramifications. [Quorum formed.] lt is to be regretted that the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan), who drew attention to the state of the Committee, did not point out that although the Government has seen fit to declare this measure an urgent one and to apply a time limit on its discussion, very few members of the Liberal Party have been present in the chamber today. I express my contempt for the Government's attitude in limiting to 80 minutes discussion on this important aspect of the legislation. 1 rise mainly to expose the methods adopted by the Government in dealing with the medical benefits funds. The Government is party to the covering up of things that should be brought to the light of day. The vague explanation given by the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) for the Government's refusal to accept the amendment is in keeping with the Bill generally, which is quite vague. The purpose of the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston is to afford some protection to the public against the ramifications and activities of the health benefits organisations. We on this side of the chamber want to do away with the secrecy and maladministration associated with some of these organisations. Far from supporting us, the Minister apparently endorses what the funds are doing. For example, nobody knows how directors are elected to the funds. The Minister has told us that he will not divulge the kind of additional information that he will require from the funds when they table their reports but the fact is that he will not ask for additional information.

Our amendment seeks to make it mandatory that certain information be supplied. Why should people not know the. names of shareholders in the funds and the extent of their shareholdings? Why should people not know how reserves have been spent or invested? Why should they not have details of the direct or indirect interest of fund directors in organisations in which fund reserves have been invested? Why should people not have other information which the Parliament may from time to time require? Why should people not know why Huxley, who is serving 20 years for embezzling S5.5m, was a director of the Hospital Contribution Fund of New South Wales? Will the Minister tell us whether he condones the appointment of a man like Huxley to the HCF by Mr Turner, Director of the HCF, simply, I understand, because Huxley nominated Mr Turner for membership of the Art Gallery Society of New South Wales? Why should all this information not be written into the legislation for all to see?

Looking at the list of directors of the Hospital Contribution Fund, I find that some are known to me and a number are reputable people, but some have evidently been selected for no other reason than that they are friends of Mr Turner and have been able to nominate him for membership of some organisations. The list of directors is studded with the names of dozens of doctors. Funds such as these are operated to protect the doctors from bad debts rather than to protect the public against high doctors' fees. T invite the Minister to study the lists of directors of these funds, which include the names of people such as Huxley. I invite him to study the names of the numerous doctors on those lists and to tell the Parliament why we are not entitled to know how these people are elected. People who, over a period of time, contribute millions of dollars, have no say in the election of directors. They do not know who is eligible for election or why people are elected. Nobody knows how much these directors are paid.

A couple of years ago we had the situation of the Hospital Contribution Fund paying for large advertisements in newspapers to argue its case in opposition to the action proposed at that time by the New South Wales Minister for Health. Those advertisements were paid for by contributors' funds at a time when contribution rates were being increased. I would not like to see contributions' funds used to attack the Minister in this place simply because he was not doing something with which the funds agreed. By refusing to write into the legislation the proposal which the honourable member for Kingston has put forward the Minister is leaving himself open to the type of treatment that has been meted out by the funds to other Ministers for Health.

Why should. the public not know why contributors' funds have been spent on the purchase of private aircraft for the use of fund directors? Why should we not know what expenses are paid to directors and others who attend' conferences in Australia and other countries? Why should funds not be required to provide this information to the Parliament? When all is said and done, we are not dealing with chicken feed. The latest figures show that the funds have reserves of about $78m. Contributors' funds run into millions of dollars and they should be subject to the fullest measure of parliamentary supervision so that we may be sure that members of the public are not being exploited.

The Government believes in conscription. 1* conscripts men to fight; it conscripts people into the medical benefits funds. A person must contribute to a fund before he may obtain the Commonwealth benefit. Notwithstanding this, the Government seeks to deny contributors the knowledge they desire about those who run the funds. The health scheme is clouded in mystery. It is in a shambles. The Minister would have adopted a much fairer attitude if he had accepted the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston, which seeks not only the provision of information already required to be provided by the funds but also additional information. I do not think the public will be satisfied with the present set-up. These funds have had too much of a go with the public's money and the public has been getting too little from the funds. I subscribe to the Opposition's view that the whole system of funds should be examined with a view to creating one great national fund. If this were done the people would know where their money was going, administrative costs would be kept to a minimum and the activities of the directors and others associated with the fund would be clear for all to see.

It is true that in a later clause of the Bill there is provision for changes in the rules of registered organisations. Why does the Government not legislate so that at least some officers of the funds are elected by the vote of contributors? No other organisation in the country would tolerate this kind of treatment of its members, yet here, where millions of dollars of contributors' money are involved, all you do is register the rules of the organisation. In that way apparently you satisfy all and sundry. Why get half the information from them? Why not seek what we should have? Why not investigate the full ramifications in this Parliament instead of outside? This is not possible unless the amendment moved by the honourable member for Kingston is incorporated in the legislation. I will vote in this Parliament to protect people from the like of Huxley being appointed to hospital benefit funds at the whim of directors. We should subscribe to a pol icy of elective control of these organisations by contributor representatives and we should have all available information from them in the Parliament. I support the amendment. The Minister might well accept it instead of giving the shallow excuse that he had for not accepting it.

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