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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3213

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - I again raise a protest on behalf of the Opposition at the way in which I, as Opposition spokesman on health and social security, and all honourable members on this side of the Parliament are being forced to debate a document which is one of the most important documents that has been tabled in this Parliament in many years. I refer to the White Paper entitled 'The Australian Health Insurance Program' - a 71-page document written in first class English, with no waffle and well edited. The only opportunity that members on this side have of debating it is in a 10-minute speech on the estimates. That, I believe, borders on a parliamentary scandal. This White Paper, as has been said by the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) and the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), contains virtually what will be in the Bills to be presented in two or three weeks time. I would have thought that the purpose of laying a White Paper on the table is to allow interested organisations to comment on it, to put their views forward through the elected members on both sides of the Parliament so that the Minister and his advisers can consider constructive criticisms when drafting the legislation. I regard the tabling of this White Paper as a farce. What concerns me about it is that it does little to allay the fears of those on the Opposition side of the chamber about the Government's proposed health scheme. Of course there is some sugar coating in it here and there. There are a few extra dollars for private hospitals and so on, but the fundamental thrust of the Australian Labor Party's health scheme remains in its naked form.

Let me comment on one or two things. We had an argument this morning about whether 87 per cent of Australian people were covered by health insurance or whether 92 per cent were covered. That argument at this time is relatively unimportant, although the difference between the 2 percentages represents some hundreds of thousands of people. No matter what the figure is, for the sake of argument let us take the Opposition's figure and assume that 90 to 92 per cent of Australians are already covered voluntarily by health insurance by going into an insurance fund at their own option. The Government says: This is no good. We will disregard the wishes of 90 per cent of the population and we will force those people to pay insurance into a Government health fund through the taxation mechanism'. If the Government had argued that universal health cover is desirable and that the 8 per cent to 10 per cent who at present are not covered by health insurance should be covered in some way and had set about devising some means of getting that 8 per cent to 10 per cent into the scheme, that would have had my total support. But instead of looking at the 8 to 10 per cent, the Government is looking at the ones who have already, opted voluntarily for insurance and will add to their tax.

Mr Bryant - We had to.

Mr CHIPP - I did not get that intelligent interjection.

Mr Bryant - It is not voluntary. You have to be in it.

Mr CHIPP - That is probably the most ridiculous interjection I have ever suffered the misfortune to hear in this House. I think the honourable gentleman would be better served if he stuck, to the Australian Capital Territory or whatever he is administering at the moment. There is a further implication of this compulsion. If a person is paying additional tax and that entitles him, allegedly free of means test, to go into a public hospital, human nature being what it is, there will be an enormously increased demand on the services of the public hospitals in this country, which are already overtaxed and at top utilisation.

Mr Morris - Nonsense.

Mr CHIPP - The honourable pugilistic gentleman interjects and says: 'Nonsense'.

Mr Innes - Why do you not pick the right fellow? It was not I who interjected.

Mr CHIPP - Maybe he would be better served in the pursuit he followed last week than in commenting on a health scheme. The figures as accepted by Drs Deeble and Scotton are that there are now 3.5 beds per 1,000 people in the Melbourne metropolitan area. A concession is made by the Government's advisers that on the implementation of its scheme there will need to be an additional 800 to 900 beds for public or standard ward patients. I ask .the Minister where the additional beds will be coming from in the initial stages. Is my information incorrect that an additional 800 to 900 public ward beds will be required in metropolitan Melbourne? If it is incorrect, let him say so. If it is correct, where will he get those beds? There is only one place he can get the beds and that is from the private hospital sector

He will destroy a system which has served this nation fantastically well for years. I can see the deal. The great private hospitals of Melbourne - the Mercy, the Saint Vincent's, the Freemasons and so on - will have this proposition put to them: 'We will give you X dollars. We will give you some incentive provided you give us half your beds for standard ward care'. That will be the carrot held out in front of them. A private hospital then will have half its beds public and half private. What happens to that private hospital then? It will lose all its character. Does the Minister intend to spend taxpayers' funds in equipping that private hospital with the extraordinarily sophisticated equipment that a public hospital must" have? If he is to do that, that is a waste of resources. If he does not do that, the standard of beds in private hospitals will be such as to cater only for people not requiring emergency treatment. Private hospitals will deteriorate into nursing homes and their whole character and the dedication of the people serving in them will be destroyed.

I have touched on 2 subjects that arise from a 71 -page report and already 7 minutes out pf my 10 minutes have gone. The Minister states in the report that the Government scheme will be cheaper for three out of four families and seven out of 10 people. This is a half truth. If he is talking about the 1.35 per cent tax his figures may be correct. I have not checked them, but he can rest assured that I am having them checked. But what about the amount coming out of the Consolidated Revenue Fund, which originally under the Deeble-Scotton scheme was to be $1.25 for every $1 contributed by the public? I understand that the ratio is now to be $1.50 to $1. The contribution from the Consolidated Revenue Fund is increasing all the time. This is a hidden cost on every taxpayer. Who will pay it?

The Labor Party says that it is for the underdog, the underprivileged. This scheme will work against the very people it is supposed to champion - the people on a low wage, who now can be admitted to one of the great public hospitals of this country - the Royal Melbourne, the Alfred and so on - without being subject to a means test and can be treated for emergency illnesses. Now they will have to compete with everybody else in the community who is wealthier than they and who normally would not be admitted to a public hospital. How does this help the working man? How does it help the person on the lower income?

He said that admission to public hospitals will be free of a means test. The whole of the White Paper is riddled with means tests. The very contribution is a means test.

There is so much more I want to say. I conclude, though, with one statement in the White Paper that secrecy will be guaranteed in the data bank of the health insurance cards. I respect the Minister's undertaking that he will not divulge the personal information on those cards about a person's medical history. Let me read to him something from Rydge's journal of September 1973. I would be fascinated to receive his denial of this statement. The article says:

The large scale IBM computers of the Department of Health in Canberra were churning through prescription data being sent down land lines, when their .printer stopped and began to list out airline reservations.

Meanwhile, at TAA's headquarters in Melbourne, TAA's Univac computers faltered from their daily task of processing airline reservations, unable to handle some chemists' prescriptions just arrived over the line from Brisbane.

That makes a farce of what the Minister had to say about complete secrecy. I am not alleging that- the Minister will divulge these things. As a Liberal, I am concerned about this personal information being on record.

The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN (Mr Martin) - Order! The honourable member's time has expired.

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