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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 799

Mr WELLS(8.27) —The honourable member for North Sydney (Mr Spender), who has just been speaking to us about the Medicare legislation, exercised himself very greatly with gap insurance. The Opposition needs a lot of gap insurance, particularly for its credibility gap, not to mention its power vacuum or its intellectual void. But gap insurance is a non-issue as far as this Parliament is concerned. Recent determinations which have been made and incorporated into this legislation will provide insurance which is better than gap insurance.

If any chronically suffering patient incurs, in any year, more than $150 in medical costs above the Medicare rebate, that patient will, after having paid that $150, not be required to pay any more. From then on he will be refunded 100 per cent of the schedule fee. Gap insurance is no longer an issue. Neither is the sinister non-issue which the honourable member for North Sydney addressed himself to and exercised himself with greatly, namely, the alleged creeping tentacles of the Government taking control of medicine. He suggested that maybe a hernia would be given low priority if the Government were making determinations about the allocation of scarce medical resources and that this was a terrible, crying shame. The honourable member for North Sydney should know that, naturally, in any system of medical care there are priorities. The only question is who determines these priorities.

What lies behind the honourable member's remarks is the desire that the priorities be determined on the open market; in order that those who have the funds to pay for medical treatment should be able to get that medical treatment at will. In other words, what the honourable member for North Sydney believes is that health insurance, health protection, is not a right. According to the Opposition good health is not a right; it must be earned. This argument is as threadbare now as it was in 1974 when the same Opposition advanced it.

My concern is with my home State of Queensland and there is a vast number of reasons why this Medicare legislation is going to be of benefit to Queensland. First of all, the free hospital system in Queensland, which was introduced by the Hanlon Labor Government in 1946 and which has been collapsing under the Fraser Government, is going to be revived. Funding for the free hospital system in Queensland has been doubled by this Government. An extra $99m has been given for hospitals. The sum which was previously enjoyed, and I use that word with irony, was $93m granted by the Fraser Government in the last financial year. That was something close to half the previous funding because the Fraser Government had decided it would destroy the free hospital system. These special Commonwealth grants are now available to the Queensland Government. That does not mean that the Queensland Government has so far demonstrated the competence actually to spend the money. It does not mean that the Queensland Government has actually turned that money into jobs for nurses, although thousands of nurses in Queensland are out of work. It does mean that the money is there and some day the Johannes Bjelke-Petersen Government Ministers, in their tardy way, will get around to actually spending the money.

The second advantage which will be enjoyed by Queenslanders and which they did not previously enjoy, is that when Medicare is introduced they will have the opportunity to go to the doctor of their choice. Here I could wax metaphysical, for freedom of choice is something well beloved of the Opposition. However, this is a freedom which will be available to people who were previously in the income bracket which allowed them no choice but to go to the free hospital system. The Medicare scheme will save a lot of inconvenience for many people, particularly those in the outback who do not live near a hospital. It will also save a lot of trouble for pensioners, many of whom have to travel long distances to get to a hospital to get the free treatment which they require. They will be much better off. They will be able to go to the doctor of their choice, and provided the doctor direct bills, all they will have to do is walk into the doctor's surgery, show their card, receive their treatment, then walk out and forget all about it.

The third advantage that Queenslanders will experience as a result of the introduction of Medicare will be shorter queues in the public hospitals. Those who, for one reason or another, continue to use the free public hospital system in Queensland-a free public hospital system which I stress is being kept operating by funding from the Australian Government-will find the queues are much shorter. This is because many people will take advantage of the Medicare scheme and go to their local doctors and save themselves the difficulties previously incurred in going to hospitals.

The three advantages that I have mentioned are advantages which everybody in Queensland will enjoy, even if so far they have been using the benefits of the free hospital system, which, I repeat, was brought in by the Hanlon Labor Government in 1946. Those who took out private insurance will also benefit. The average family is on an income of somewhere between $300 and $400 a week. There are more average families in Petrie as a proportion of that elecorate than in any other electorate in Australia. The average family will benefit more than will any other group in the nation. On behalf of my constituents I would like to thank the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) for bringing this great benefit to my electorate. The family on $300 income a week will save $10.20, provided that family is paying the levy and opts for public hospital treatment. If that family decides to go for the levy plus private hospital treatment-which of course was not available under any previous scheme and will not be available under Medicare -it will save $5.20. A family with $400 a week income, if it pays the levy only will save $9.20. If it pays the levy and also pays for private hospital treatment it will save $4.20. Even those who are on a family income of $900 a week will save $4.20. I have to admit that one would break even if one earned $ 900 a week and one decided to lash out and purchase private hospital insurance. At the moment most Queenslanders are paying insurance premiums of 4 per cent of their average weekly earnings. Under Medicare the levy will be one per cent. Almost everybody in Queensland will be better off.

Mr White —Except the 30 per cent who will not be better off.

Mr WELLS —That 30 per cent is entirely fictitious, like most of the honourable member's delusions. Low income earners in Queensland will receive the greatest benefits of all. The 30 per cent about which the honourable member opposite was hallucinating was perhaps the one-third of Queensland families who will be exempt from the levy by virtue of the fact that their incomes are under $200 a week. The standard of living in Queensland of course is somewhat lower than elsewhere in Australia. People in the Australian Capital Territory, the Northern Territory, Western Australia and New South Wales are all ahead of people in Queensland. The average weekly income of people in Queensland and Victoria is much the same-$370-odd. This perhaps explains why a large proportion of people in Queensland will benefit by being exempt from the levy. Queenslanders as a whole will benefit from the levy. The levy will cost Queenslanders $146m.

Mr White —This is the national Parliament, you know; we are talking about Australians.

Mr WELLS —I am the member for Petrie. I represent the residents of that electorate. They happen to be Queenslanders, but it is an unfortunate fact that we are still hidebound by the system of State governments which are nothing more than a burden on the taxpayer. However, while that unfortunate fact exists, I nevertheless represent Queenslanders, labouring as they are under the totalitarian yoke of the Bjelke-Petersen Government. Queenslanders as a whole will benefit. They will be paying, in terms of the levy, $146m.

Mr Spender —He does not know he is a member of the national Parliament.

Mr WELLS —If the bovine roarings from the Opposition would die down, I could give honourable members opposite a little more arithmetic which will probably be a bit beyond them. The sum of $130m in extra reimbursements will flow to Queensland taxpayers as a result of the Medicare system. That is $130m more than they have been receiving under the present health system. Add to that $51m for the Queensland hospital system plus a $35m special grant and that puts Queenslanders $70m ahead on the Medicare deal. Contrary to the seldom argued but often articulated views of National Party members in Queensland and elsewhere, Queensland will not lose out on the Medicare system. It will be a very great benefit to the State to which I belong. It will be a very great benefit to the people whom I represent. Whether they are families, whether they are pensioners, whether they live in the country or whether they live in the city, one way or another these advantages which I have mentioned will accrue. Consequently, I applaud the introduction of Medicare. I applaud it as an improvement on the present health system in the State to which I belong, and I call on all honourable members opposite to support this Bill.