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Wednesday, 10 June 1970

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) - I agree with my colleague, the honourable member for Maribyrnong (Dr Cass), that the machinery of the Parliament proves to be deficient when we have to handle requests of the kind that are coming from the Senate. As I understand it - I may be wrong - we are faced with the position where we cannot examine each request upon its merits but are required to vote yea or nay against the Minister's decision as to which requests the Government accepts and which it rejects.

This, however, from my own point of view, has in this case one advantage, although as a general matter of parliamentary procedure I think it is defective and needs alteration. The advantage for me in this case is that I do not have to vote for or against refraction benefits for consultations with ophthalmologists without any assurance of similar benefits for the patients of optometrists.

I listened with great attention to the honourable member for Moore (Mr Maisey). If the notes from which he spoke so carefully had been prepared for him by a propapandist of the ophthalmologists, he could not have presented a better case for them or displayed a more narrow minded failure to recognise any merit whatever in the case for the optometrists. 1 have been in this Parliament for a good many years, and, 1 would not agree that it is desirable to appoint a separate select committee for each individual Bill of this kind that comes before the Parliament. To that extent I sympathise with the view put forward by the honourable member for McMillan (Mr Buchanan). Yet 1 believe that the procedures of this Parliament might well provide that before a Bill enters the Committee stage - I think we have an illustration of this need tonight - there should be an opportunity for those honourable members who are particularly interested in the measure to meet with the Minister and with the Departmental experts to examine it and then make a report to the Committee of the whole.

Mr Buchanan - 1 agree with you.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Thank you. As Chairman of the Labor Party's Health Committee long years ago 1 see around me tonight many colleagues, with whom I have always opposed the decision of the Government nol to provide a benefit for refraction because of a difference of opinion between the optometrist and the ophthalmologist.

Mr Maisey - That may be so.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes. So far so good, but now 1 part company with the honourable member. I could never agree that the remedy for this situation would be to provide benefits for refraction carried out by ophthalmologists and not benefits for refraction carried out by optometrists. Tn my view both these bodies of professional men are equally trained in the task of refraction. The honourable member shakes his head. Perhaps I have not stated it quite correctly. In my view, the optometrist is better trained than the ophthalmologist in the task of refraction. The ophthalmologist is a specialist in the recognition and treatment of eyes diseases. Here of course he is in a different and superior field to the optometrist. But it has to be recognised that the optometrist as part of his studies is also trained to notice the signs of what may possibly be eye conditions requiring medical treatment and either advise the patient to consent to see an eye specialist or be himself in touch with an ophthalmologist to arrange for him to have a look at that condition.

However, the point I rose to make was that while national health benefit should undoubtedly be provided for refraction, and while I believe the Government made a very serious mistake way back in 1952 in deciding that no benefit should be paid for refraction either to ophthalmologists or optometrists, 1 also believe that the only proper remedy is for an equal provision to be made for both groups of professional men in this respect. Therefore I am glad to have heard the Minister say tonight that there is to be a review of this and other ancillary services. I am prepared to support the requests that have come from the Senate in this respect because they would establish for the first time, if they were accepted, that benefits would be payable to the patients of both optometrists and ophthalmologists in respect of refraction. I am very concerned at the statement by the Minister, that even if the Senate's requests in this respect were effected there would still be financial discrimination against the patients of optometrists. This leads me to hope that in the review of the ancillary services that the Minister has promised to make he will bring to the Parliament a proposal which will grant equal financial benefits without discrimination as between the patients of ophthalmologists and optometrists in the matter of refraction. If this comes about it will be a very happy ending to what has been a long drawn out argument. As 1 look around I see many colleagues in the Labor Party who over the years have fought in this House for recognition of the claims of optometrists and to ensure that there is no discrimination between ophthalmologists and optometrists in the refraction task.

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