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Wednesday, 10 June 1970

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - Now that the squall has passed, I would like to revert to the situation which prevailed earlier. I did say that the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) was deceitful. J withdraw that statement, and I do so unreservedly.I should prefer to say that There has been a misunderstanding between us. Perhaps I could put this straight. I was advised that the procedure would be that the Minister would speak, then I would speak, that this would fulfil the requirement under our Standing Orders, and that the matter would be referred to the Senate. Accordingly my colleagues on the Health Committee, all of whom want to speak on this matter, are not prepared to do so. Their lack of preparation is aggravated by the fact that I am the only person on this side of the House who has been given a copy of the Minister's statement. I received it probably less than half an hour before he spoke. No great problem would seem to be involved in having this statement circulated among honourable members. Had I known that the procedure was not as I imaginedI would not have given leave to the Minister to make the statement. The statement contains reference to schedule A and schedule B. The Minister's justification for making the statement is the foreshadowing of action that he has in mind in relation to amendments under schedule B. In fact he has told us nothing except that certain things may be vaguely accepted in some sort of amended, diluted or modified form. We are no better informed as a result. What the Minister had to say could have been as effectively said as it was when he spoke at the Committee stage. I would not have spoken as lengthily asI did.I did not quite apprehend what the Minister was alluding to when he interjected on several occasions while I was replying to his statement.

I move:

That progress be reported.

I do that so that the Minister's statement can be circulated and we can have an informed discussion on this matter. The Minister will be aware that in the Committee stage of the Bill various honourable members who were members of the Health Committee moved different amendments. This was to save time. They all had an interest in the matter and had worked quite hard to develop the amendments which were presented in this House. I am moving that progress be reported so that we can adjourn the discussion until the statement is circulated and honourable members on this side of the House can discuss the matter.

Dr Forbes - Can this motion be debated?

The CHAIRMAN - No. It is similar to the motion that the question be now put.

Dr Forbes - I do not make the arrangements for the House.I cannot agree to progress being reported, in the absence of some arrangement being made. I thought that the procedure was fully understood. The honourable member for Oxley spoke on this matter as though he was speaking during the Committee stage. I am prevented from doing that. I do not think that the statement I made earlier to the House makes any difference to the situation.

Mr HAYDEN - In the circumstances I ask for leave to withdraw my motion until the Leader of the House can be consulted on the matter.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr Lucock - There being no objection, leave is granted.

Mr HAYDEN - I shall reply to the Minister on the matters he has discussed. I regret that earlierI discussed them extensively, through a misunderstanding. I shall deal first with requests Nos1 and 7 which relate to ophthalmic and optometrical services. The Minister said in the course of his statement that he regarded the present situation, where no benefits are available for the public, as equitable between the two professions. I question the principle that the Minister is enunciating here. I raised this question earlier in the course of my discussion: Whom are we serving in the community? Are we going to continue to serve the vested or established pressure groups in the society - whether they be labour or capital, city or rural interests, optometrists or ophthalmologists or any other group which is established, organised and able to articulate effectively in presenting its case and in influencing decision making? Or do we accept as a fundamental principle that we are here to serve individuals; that basically, the purpose in our life is to create a consumer society where we try to increase the degree of satisfaction available to the consumer and the degree of happiness we can give him by improving the quality of life? This question goes beyond the material benefits which we can provide for him. I believe our mission in life is to seek to serve people. Unfortunately, the established groups in society are altogether too successful in pressing home their views. I regret this because they are mostly minority groups compared to the great mass of consumers. They may be patients with bad eyes, bad feet or bad hearts or they may be people buying goods and services in some other category of the economy.

There would be no problem for the Government to be equitable in its treatment of the 2 professions and of the consumer, or the patient, by providing the benefits for the ophthalmologists and also for the optometrists. The Minister's estimated cost of doing this was$2m, which is an extremely small amount of money when one considers that the Government's Budget allocations amount to about $7,000m a year and that the total amount of wealth created in the community stands at about $27,000m. We can afford this sort of cost. The Bill is referred to as a National Health Bill but it ignores all the ancillary services such as para-medical services, including optometry, and medical services such as ophthalmology, and tries to perpetuate some sort of myth in the community. In relation to oral surgery it seems as though the Minister has a particularly suspicious mind towards some professional people. If I understand him correctly, he stated that the only way in which the Government felt it could be certain that the treatment provided was of a quasi-surgical nature was for it to be done in the operating theatre of a hospital. That was why the Government would not agree to the Opposition's amendment that oral surgery treatment should be available in the surgery of an oral surgeon as well as in the operating theatre of a haspital. We do not believe that people are going to have operations on their mouths unnecessarily and that the benefits are going to be exploited and abused. We have trust in the professional people in our society.

I put the proposition again to the Government that it ought to be moving in a gradual way to try to expand the coverage of the health services into ophthalmic, optometrical and dental treatment. As the strength of the economy gathers, as it does because of natural growth factors and so on, it will be possible for more and more of these services to be absorbed by the economy and by this scheme. The National Health Bill will develop towards something that can really be said to provide for a national health service. As the Bill stands at present such a thing could not be said. I shall not go over the same grounds to which I referred earlier in relation to the bed subsidy.

I conclude on the low income subsidy. I have not been completely convinced by the Minister's argument, although he may have a point. I would like to read his comments. There was a fair bit of hubbub in some parts of the chamber at the time he was speaking. If a person earning $49 a week or less is in receipt of some of these other means we have been talking about and he wanted to have them excluded for income assessment purposes it may be that under the Opposition's amendment he would receive the benefit of the low income subsidy, but if these other means are not excluded such a person may be just over the limit. I would appreciate an opportunity to have a look at the Minister's comments. I would wish to do so not because I will be speaking on this aspect, but because some of my colleagues will be.

Progress reported.

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