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Wednesday, 12 December 1973
Page: 2758

Senator McAULIFFE (Queensland) - Senator Littlewho has resumed his seat has charged this Government with deceit, misrepresentation, and telling lies. In no mean manner he has challenged this Government's credibility in its attitude towards this Health Insurance Bill. But let me recall what happened earlier this evening in this chamber when Senator Webster was speaking. He used his office allegedly to quote from a document which he said was written by a member of the British Medical Association. He used that document to defame in no uncertain manner the legislative measures which are before this Parliament When challenged to produce that document he refused to do so. He had no defence to support the opinions which he said were contained in that document. Yet Senator Little, who has charged this Government with deceit and misrepresentation and has challenged its credibility, was one of those who voted in favour of not requesting Senator Webster to table that document. I did not think I would live to see the day when among the elected representatives of the people, one of those charged with implementing democracy in this country, let alone a man in the highest office of the land, the Senate of this Parliament-

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Order! The honourable senator must not reflect on the vote of the Senate.

Senator McAULIFFE - Well with respect, I did not think I would live to see the day that a senator would not voluntarily table a document to support his argument. But of course this is in keeping with what has been happening for a long period of time. The national health of any country has never been dealt with in such a shameless, cavalier or callous manner as the national health of this country has been handled by the Opposition. I know that that is a serious charge to make. I have considered the statement and think that I am completely justified in making it.

These Bills stem from a belief on the part of the Government that the health of the people is the foundation upon which all their happiness and all their powers as a nation will be built. The handling of these Bills by the Opposition, its strategy, its campaign, its indulgence in deceit and misrepresentation regarding the Government's purposes in connection with them have been in my opinion, and I am aware of the seriousness of what I am going to say, the most shameful procedures in the history of the Parliament of this country. As far as the Government is concerned, these Bills mark the beginning of a period in which the resources of this nation can and will be directed to the prevention of disease, the promotion of positive health and the treatment and cure of disease and disability. It is in effect the source of a charter for a national health program for the future. I believe that this program and our policy on education are two of the most progressive and humanitarian legislative measures ever introduced into this Parliament. The Government is entering a field that has a long history of obstruction and frustration. This is known to us and is equally known to honourable senators opposite. In fact nothing or little has been done by Federal Parliaments so that medical services can be available to all the people and not just to those who are rich enough to be able to afford them. We know that this set of circumstances has existed for a long time.

The steps proposed to be undertaken under these Bills will form part of a national pattern of health as seen by the Government and will be directed towards the promotion of happy and healthy living for all in the community, not just those whose reach it is within because they have the money to be able to afford it. Enlightened thought throughout the world, representing all aspects of opinion, has stressed the importance and the need for governments to interest themselves directly in national health services. Even the medical profession is on record as saying that change in medicine itself has tended to increase the cost of medical treatment so that most people no longer can afford to be ill. There can be no doubt that with the advance of science and the increase in the degree of specialisation the cost of illness is beyond the purse of the average citizen. That is what these Bills propose to correct. The economic factor has been the most powerful argument in hastening the inevitability of a universal health insurance scheme. These Bills are designed to bring medical care within the range of those who at the moment cannot afford it.

Despite the conglomeration of figures cited tonight by a would-be accountant, Senator Little, the true essence of the Government case is that 3 out of every 4 people will be better off under this scheme. I will look with interest at the Hansard report tomorrow when I can carefully examine the figures given to this chamber tonight by Senator Little. Ringing clearly in my ears are the thoughts of a former Labor Premier of Queensland who said that economists should be on tap but never on top. I am sorry to say that in your case, Senator Little, you are completely influenced by outside economists.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Marriott)- Order! Please address the Chair.

Senator MCAULIFFE - Mr Acting Deputy President,these Bills are neither revolutionary in character nor before their time. I believe that they are long overdue. Possibly one of the reasons why they are long overdue is that no government, particularly no government in the last 23 years, has had the courage to attack the vast number of problems associated with the medical service. The history of the scheme goes a long way back. Fifty years ago Federal Government had no legislative right to introduce laws governing health. The only health matters over which they had any control were quarantine and infectious diseases. It was the prerogative of the medical profession to care for the people. That was the system 50 years ago. I do not need to remind the Senate that over the years governments have been compelled by sheer necessity and in the interests of the people to take over more and more of the medical work.

Let us examine the facts. This record will be available in Hansard for anyone to see. In 1936 the chaotic conditions of health services in Australia became so evident that the Government of the day, comprised of men who gave allegiance to the present Opposition parties- they were men with the self-same political persuasions of those who sit opposite- determined that there should be better co-operation throughout Australia in relation to public health. Therefore it established the National Health and Medical Research Council which consisted of representatives of the Royal College of Surgeons, the Royal College of Physicians, and officers of the Commonwealth and State Departments of Health. It was a very capable organisation. At the same time that this Council was formed and concern was being expressed by the Government,, there had been introduced in Great Britain a form of national control over medical services. The Australian Government invited experts from the United Kingdom to come to Australia to advise it on health matters. Those experts were brought here from Great Britain at great expense by the Government and history shows that they submitted very valuable reports.

However, Mr Acting Deputy President, history records also that the conservative Government of the day was so niggardly that when it eventually produced a Bill to cover these health services, the scheme it proposed to introduce aroused such resentment among the people that despite the fact that the Bill went through the Parliament, hostility from the public was so strong that the Acts were never proclaimed. That is the history of people in 1936 of the same political persuasion as honourable senators opposite. Yet we find that honourable senators opposite now have the audacity to try to tell a Labor Government what it should do regarding health matters for the people of Australia.

I come forward now to 1941 when the newly constituted National Health and Medical Research Council recognised the urgency of the need for a health service in Australia and gave a lead to the medical profession, to Parliament and to the people of Australia. It provided a scheme for discussion which it hoped would be taken up by the medical profession, the officers of the various Health Departments and the people. I want Opposition senators to listen carefully to this. The plan submitted by the Council for discussion provided for a salaried medical service. The Council was the brain child of the United Australian Party Government- the confederate of the Liberal-Country Party Opposition today.

Unfortunately, the scheme became the plaything of the medical profession. The doctors were suspicious of the Government's attitudes. They claimed that it would destroy the existing service. The plan was never used by the doctors, or by any part of the medical profession, as it was intended to be used. In short, it was never given a fair go. How reminiscent those words are of what we are hearing today. The same arguments which were used against the schemes advanced in the 1940s are being repeated almost verbatim in the 2 chambers of the Parliament today. Recently I had the pleasure of having lunch with a former member of the Curtin Ministry. We spoke about the national health scheme. He said: 'The very same things that I am hearing today were heard in opposition to our scheme in 1948. 1 suggest to senators today that if they thumb through the pages of Hansard for the period they will see recorded in speeches the same arguments which are being repeated by the Senator Littles and the Senator Websters today'.

In 1948 the National Health Service Bill was introduced into this chamber by the then Minister for Health, Senator McKenna. Although a lot of work and preparation had gone into that scheme and although it provided some sort of formula by which, the health services of this country could be improved, it suffered the same fate that the schemes before it suffered. It is interesting to read the Hansard account of speeches made at that time, because for months Senator McKenna, in his negotiations with the Australian Medical Association, was firmly convinced that due to his conciliatory manner and his diplomacy he was making headway with the profession, and the prospects of introducing a health scheme into this country appeared very bright until the time when the legislation was drafted and was about to be introduced into the Senate. To use the plain Australian vernacular, the medical profession dumped him. This scheme was pigeonholed, as all the other schemes before it were pigeonholed.

Shortly after, when the Menzies Government came into power, it introduced a scheme. Its philosophy was that the scheme should be on a contributory basis. It thought that if people had to pay something towards the scheme it would stop people abusing the scheme by running backwards and forwards to the doctors if they had a score thumb or a toothache. We know that this scheme has not been a success and that today the cost of medical treatment to people who are sick is beyond the average person. I will not ask the Senate to take my word for that statement this evening. My colleague Senator Mulvihill dealt very adquately with this phase of the scheme when he quoted from the Nimmo report. The Nimmo Committee was established by members who occupy the Opposition benches today. I think it was established in 1968. It proved quite conclusively that the health services were inadequate in that they were not available to all Australians.

I have the highest regard for the medical profession. My only complaint about its members is that they will not co-operate with this Government in its earnest endeavour to introduce a health scheme which will benefit and improve the lot of three out of four in the community. I would have liked to be able to associate them with the remarks of the British Medical Association. Sir Lionel Whitby, in an editorial in the Medical Journal' of 3 July 1948, on the eve of the introduction of the national health scheme in the United Kingdom, summed up the position very well. His statement then is applicable today, on the eve of the introduction of this Government's health scheme. Sir Lionel Whitby, the President of that august body, the British Medical Association, said:

The cost of ill health is a burden on the family, and the startling advances made by medicine in the past 25 years have steeply increased the cost There is, therefore, a logical case of spreading it over the whole of the community so that those that are fortunate to remain in good health may help those who temporarily fall out of the ranks.

They are the thoughts which I would have liked to be able to say were the expressions of the Australian Medical Association and an indication of the co-operation of its members with this Government in attempting something worthwhile and something, which no government has had the courage to attempt in the past 23 years. I believe that Sir Lionel Whitby's statement applies today, on the eve of the introduction of our national health scheme.

We have heard a lot tonight from Senator Webster and Senator Little. I think that I am drawing a fair conclusion from what they said. They said to beware of the Labor Government because it is our intention to nationalise the medical profession and associated services. They have put this campaign of fear to the community to endeavour to have Labor's measures defeated. It is true that in 1 946 the alterations to the Constitution gave authority to the Federal Parliament to make laws regarding health. The power enables the Government to proceed with the services set out in this Bill. There is no breach of the Constitution, there is nothing underhand or secretive about the Government's intentions. It is acting well within the framework of the Constitution and under the legislative powers available to it. It has had the courage, the foresight and the humanitarian outlook to introduce this Bill. As a member of this Government I say now- I am sure that this feeling is shared by my colleagues- this Government does not contemplate, nor does the Constitution permit, any nationalisation of doctors, dentists or members of allied professions or occupations. This is not our intention. It cannot be shown in any document that it is the opinion, the principle or the policy of the Austraiian Labor Party. All that the Government seeks, all that it sought in 1948 and 1943 when it endeavoured to introduce health measures into this Parliament and all that it is concerned about is the hope that it will get the co-operation of the medical profession to develop the national health of the people of Australia. I firmly believe that it is entitled to get that co-operation.

It is not the Labor Party that the medical profession has to fear. I have shown earlier that in 1936 the National Health and Medical Research Council, which was established by the United Australia Party Government, recommended a salaried medical service. The members of the Council included doctors and officers of the various Commonwealth and State Health Departments. On 1 July 1943 the 6th report of the Joint Committee on Social Security was tabled in the Parliament of this land. On tins Committee were 3 members whom even any of us in our wildest dreams would not class as radicals. They were so representative of the hoi polloi of the Opposition parties that if they were around today the present members of the Opposition parties would genuflect in front of them. I refer to Senator Sir Walter Jackson Cooper, the Honourable John Arthur Perkins and Rupert Sumner Ryan C.M.G., D.S.O. In the unanimous findings of this report of the Joint Committee on Social Security on 1 July 1943 these 3 men came strongly down on the side of a salaried medical service in this land and that health centres should be established at various areas in it.

Honourable senators opposite have thrown out the challenge that, through our socialist and doctrinaire policies, and all the other accusations that are made, the people of Australia and the medical profession have a lot to fear from the Australian Labor Party. Nowhere in the record of this Parliament is there anything that says that anyone on this side of the House has ever said that the Australian Labor Party will nationalise the medical profession or any of its associated professions. I feel that I have shown quite conclusively, and have quoted from the records of 1936, 1943 and 1948-not as Senator Webster did as a figment of his imagination earlier this afternoon- and the Nimmo report of 1968, that the health services of this country are unsatisfactory and that the Government, irrespective of its political persuasion, should be directing urgently its attention towards bringing about some national control of the health services in this land. Let the Opposition senators cease this charge that the senators on this side of the House want to socialise and nationalise everything. That attitude must be forgotten for all time. The Joint Committee on Social Security, 3 members of which represented the most conservative thinking in this Parliament- one would never have called them radicals- agreed that there should be a salaried medical profession in this land and that there should be a national health service introduced as urgently as possible. I submit that report to honourable senators opposite to read and think about before we reach the Committee stage of this Bill.

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