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Wednesday, 12 December 1973
Page: 2762

Senator TOWNLEY (Tasmania) -We are of course discussing the Bill to introduce an Australian health insurance program. It is a very important piece of legislation of some 130 clauses. It has been introduced late in a busy session but it is a piece of legislation that deserves full consideration and discussion and one about which I should like to make several observations. First of all I will say what I feel will happen to the private hospitals under the scheme. Secondly, I will look at where the money will come from and thirdly I should like to say what I feel should be done.

I refer firstly to private hospitals. Many of the points about private hospitals have been already discussed by previous speakers and I shall try to be brief because other honourable senators wish to speak. It is my firm belief that the introduction of this scheme will see the end of the charitable, religious, community and privately owned hospitals. With the introduction of the scheme we will see the gradual destruction of the benevolent and philanthropic instincts of the thousands of people who work to keep private hospitals operating. Once the drive, initiative and enthusiasm of these people is destroyed it will be very difficult to restart. Once the Government interferes it will be nigh on imposible ever again to build up the organisations which we now have. Once we have bureaucratic control of our health scheme we will, in the not too distant future, have complete nationalisation of the scheme. Not many members of the public will be able to afford the 1.35 per cent levy and the additional health insurance that will be required if they, as many do now, want to go to a private hospital. One feature of this scheme that I dislike a great deal is that it will destroy our private hospital system for no real benefit. In fact it will cost us some hundreds of millions of dollars to build public hospitals to replace the private hospital system.

Let us come to the cost of the scheme. The levy is to start at 1.35 per cent, which is to be nondeductible. I say the levy will start at 1.35 per cent because I do not trust this Government or the next to keep the levy at 1.35 per cent. I heard on the grapevine- and we all know how accurate grapevines can be around this place- that the extra tax that was originally thought to be required to finance the scheme was about 5 per cent. That is what our university experts came and told the Government. That is what Deeble and company suggested. But the Government knew that would not wash with the public so it told these gentlemen to go away and fix their figures. They did that and came back and the Government was still not satisfied. The gentlemen were told to go away again. Eventually the levy of 1.35 per cent was seemingly plucked out of the air as one the public just might swallow.

At the moment we have a scheme which covers all but 10 per cent of the public and yet all of us will have to be taxed. Man and wife will be taxed, if both of them work, to finance a scheme that I feel could well get out of control. To me it appears as if this Government is a bit tax crazy and I think the people of Australia have just about had it. They want the Government to reappraise its free spending attitudes. One of the major complaints that I hear time and time again as I travel around Tasmania- which I have been doing a lot of lately- from the ordinary man in the street is that the Government is overspending. The Government is allowing taxation to creep up and up like a consuming cancer, which has already eaten the drive and enthusiasm out of many of our best workers. As I said with regard to those who help keep the private hospitals going, once a person's enthusiasm is killed, once it is burnt out, it is extremely hard to rekindle.

I think the Government can take it from me that the people of Tasmania anyway are fed up with some of the extravagances of this Government. Perhaps the Government should learn from recent occurrences in Denmark, where a party which advocates a general reduction of taxation has become very powerful almost overnight. Perhaps we in Australia should aim at the same sort of thing and hold the Public Service at its present level. The taxation moneys that we would save if this were done could then be returned to the people to whom they rightly belongthe people that have contributed the taxation to the Government. There is no such thing as Government money. It is the people's money and if ever there is any money over they should get it back rather than see it thrown around in ways that I would call almost dishonest, as we have seen lately.

Whenever I see extra Government spending I ask: Where will the money come from? Even the Prime Minister, Mr Whitlam, cannot yet pull money out of a hat. He is not that clever. Anyway it is rabbits which come out of a magician's hat and surely there are enough of them around here already. The taxpayer is becoming a sucker for this blood sucking Government. The vultures will stick their claws in a little deeper every chance they get. This health scheme is attempting to get the taxation claws into us even deeper. I am scared that once the Government gets a grip it will go gradually deeper and deeper. Certainly the 1.35 per cent will not last. It will be like payroll tax. I think that payroll tax was levied at the rate of 2.5 per cent one or two years ago, and now it is 4 per cent or 4.5 per cent. This is what I expect will happen with the health scheme. Once we have a huge government department, I doubt that the position in Australia will be any different from that in many other countries, such as Great Britain and Canada and some of the European countries, where common sense has forced the governments to reconsider their health schemes. Taxation and economics are not well understood by our Prime Minister. That is really an understatementhe really has not a clue about them. He is also out of touch with what the people want, regarding health matters.

We have seen the results of the referendum which was held last week. A great number of people in Tasmania said: 'Not on your life' to Canberra. They are sick of Government spending, Government interference and our high rates of taxation. I will not be a part of any scheme that allows the setting up of a bureaucratic department to run a health scheme that will make the people more sick of all these things. If a referendum had been held on the health scheme, I estimate that the result for the Government would have been even worse than that achieved in last Saturday's referendum. I estimate that the people of Australia want gradual change and not radical alteration. That brings me to the third reason why I will oppose this Bill and support the amendment. There is not much wrong with the present health scheme; it has evolved gradually. The people of Australia want gradual improvement in the present scheme rather than this first giant step towards nationalisation.

What Australia needs, I believe, is an independent inquiry to examine all aspects of both schemes, to pick out the good bits and to recommend the most economical ways to overcome our present areas of difficulty. I feel that would be infinitely better and cheaper than, as one of my colleagues said recently, starting a money munching white elephant that we cannot afford to feed. I oppose the Bill and support the amendment.

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