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Wednesday, 14 September 1983
Page: 826

Mr CUNNINGHAM(11.34) —Although such an important piece of legislation is before the Committee, I for one do not feel that it is the duty of every member of Parliament to spend a lot of time on his or her feet tonight. If that were the case we would be here until 8 o'clock tomorrow morning. However, the honourable member for Mallee (Mr Fisher) has listed all the bush nursing hospitals in Victoria and has sought to make a case against members of the Australian Labor Party to the effect that they are not doing anything on their behalf. Let me put a few facts before the Committee. I do not intend to speak for the Minister for Health because I am sure he is well aware of what is going on and is quite capable of summing up at the end of this stage of the debate. Let us take a few of the points made by the honourable member for Mallee. The Victorian Bush Nursing Association sought to contact the Government first on 7 June 1983. In case anyone thinks we are not interested, I have here the complete file of what is going on.

Mr McGauran —What have you done?

Mr CUNNINGHAM —If honourable members will just wait I will be able to tell you and the Minister for Health (Dr Blewett) will be able to explain just what is going on. The Bush Nursing Association is unique in Australia. it exists only in Victoria. Here we are dealing with a national Medicare scheme which is designed to assist all Australians. The scheme is designed to assist those people whom the previous Government ignored for seven years when it had the opportunity to do something about its promise to maintain Medibank. Let me take just a few moments to explain to the Committee just what the situation has been. My first contact with the Victorian Bush Nursing Association in regard to any problems in relation to this issue was on my initiative, last Wednesday, when I contacted the Executive Director of the Association and asked him what was the situation.

Mr McGauran —It was a bit late.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —My contact with the four hospitals in my area has indicated clearly that they were not aware that there were any problems at that stage. They were still quite content. If honourable members opposite would just listen for a while, they might learn something. Let me just explain it to them. Seven members on the Government side have bush nursing hospitals in their electorates. Not one of those seven members was privileged by the Executive Director of the Victorian Bush Nursing Association of any contact whatever. Not one piece of correspondence did we receive.

Mr Porter —You should have contacted them.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Let us just put it into perspective. We on our side then made approaches to the Bush Nursing Association-

Mr McGauran —Last Wednesday?

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Last Wednesday after it had issued a Press release which was the first information we had that it was concerned with any problems with the Medicare situation. The Bush Nursing Association did not make any great moves towards the Government. In fact, even since the announcement by the Medicare organisation, bush nursing hospitals in our electorates have not been racing to us giving us information that they thought the problems that honourable members opposite are telling us about were there. The honourable members of the Opposition side are trying to tell us that we have ignored the bush nursing hospitals in Victoria.

Mr McGauran —You are telling us.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —What I am telling honourable members is that we have had contact with local hospitals. They have been well aware of the situation with Medicare-

Mr Shipton —That you are wiping them out.

Mr CUNNINGHAM —We have no intention of wiping them out. In fact their submission to the Minister clearly indicates that they are in support of Medicare, which is not what the honourable member for Mallee had to say. They are very keen to see that they co-operate with Medicare. They are not in a situation of animosity to the Government. Those hospitals realise that seven years ago when Medibank was first instituted they were on a good wicket and that local country hospitals have never received a better deal.

The hospitals also believe that the promise made by the former Prime Minister that he would maintain Medibank was something that would be adhered to when he went to the election. They are very keen to see that this Government reinstitutes the philosphy of the Medicare situation. These 38 hospitals have always had difficulty dealing with their local people simply because the private hospital system dealt only with a small group of people who could afford to pay the insurance. The committees of the bush nursing hospitals always had pangs of conscience that there were people in their community that they could not serve, that there were people within the community who, for seven years, the Liberal Government ignored. I have had discussions with the Minister in the last week which I have relayed back to the bush nursing hospital in my area, and they are absolutely rapt in the situation.

Opposition members interjecting-

Mr CUNNINGHAM —Honourable members will find out when they talk to people in the bush nursing hospitals what the situation is. They will have a system, under the categorised system, which will suit their hospitals. In the future, they can look forward to discussions in which maybe the bush nursing hospitals system in Victoria will be able to provide a service to all of the people in their districts, all of those who contribute to their raffles, and all those dedicated people who work hard to raise money for those hospitals. They will not have to turn them away in the future simply because they do not have the money to pay private health insurance premiums. Medicare will subsidise private health insurance until the situation develops where negotiations can take place and where the views of the people in those areas, in which they want to have a shared ward, will be heard and that will be possible. We look forward to that day. The Opposition's policies over the last seven years did nothing for bush nursing hospitals. Opposition members know that. This legislation is the first step towards improving hospital care for all Australians, which is something that they never considered.