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Thursday, 12 November 1959

The CHAIRMAN - No point of order is involved, because the word has not been applied to an individual.

Mr WIGHT - Mr. Chairman,the honorable member for Grayndler (Mr. Daly), who has just taken a point of order, is notorious for trying to waste the time of honorable members on this side of the chamber whenever they attack anything said by Opposition members. I see that the honorable member wants to continue interjecting. I suggest that he leaves the chamber and obtains a copy of Don Whitington's book in which he can read a description of his experience in the Australian Labour Party which indicates well and truly his complete lack of knowledge of the trade union movement and other fields in which the Labour Party is usuallyactive.

We are now dealing with the national health scheme, however, and, in particular, with clause 13, which is now before the committee. We know for a fact that this story that the 5s. fee is a sectional tax on the chemists, and that the chemists are to act as tax collectors, has been widely peddled by the Australian Labour Party. I believe that, unfortunately, Mr. Scott, the federal president of the Federated Pharmaceutical Service Guild of Australia, has allowed himself to be used as a tool by the Labour Party and has not completely informed the pharmacists of Australia of the terms of the negotiations between himself, as president of the guild, the executive of the guild, and the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron). I have had very close contact with about twenty chemists in my electorate, and have discussed this scheme with them. I have found that they had not been properly informed on it. I do not blame Mr. Nicholl, the president of the guild in Queensland, for this. I blame the federal president of the guild for a lack of public relations with chemists and for not having given them a fair and proper description of what is intended.

This 5s. charge is not a tax at all. The situation is that the Government is now increasing the range of drugs to be made available under the national health scheme. The range of drugs will be almost doubled. In fact, everything in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex is to be made available, not only to pensioners, but to all sections of the community, at a charge of only Ss. The chemists will make that charge. In other words, this Government is now subsidizing all the drugs that are listed in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex to the full extent of the cost, less Ss.

If that amounts to the imposition of a sectional tax, then the subsidies on tea and butter that were paid by the Labour Government must have been sectional taxes. Does anybody believe that, at any time, anybody in the Australian Labour Party had such a fertile mind as to suggest that, when tea was subsidized, the grocers were acting as tax collectors for the Government because they collected from the purchasers of tea the balance of the cost which was not paid by the Government? The situation here is exactly the same. The Government is now subsidizing all the drugs in the British Pharmacopoeia and its Codex. So this 5s. charge is not a tax at all. The honorable member for Wilmot and the honorable member for Eden-Monaro have tried, by describing it as a tax, knowing that their words were being broadcast, to persuade those who were listening that the pensioners are to be penalized.

I heard one Opposition member - I think it was the honorable member for EdenMonaro - mention the drug butazolidine Up to now, that drug has not been on the free list, but, following the passage of this bill, it will be included in the free list. Pensioners who need treatment with that drug at present have to pay the full cost, but from now on they will have to pay only 5s. for it. Only last week, I saw a prescription that cost somebody £18. It contained three individual items. Somebody had to pay out £18 in order to buy drugs for the relief of his suffering. When this bill is passed, the cost of a similar prescription to the patient will be, not £18, but 15s. - 5s. for each individual item. The balance- £17 5s. - will be paid by this Government by way of subsidy. So this bill will assist people in respect of the whole range of drugs.

Mr Buchanan - Will the honorable member pay the balance of £17 5s. if he is wrong in respect of such a prescription?

Mr WIGHT - Of course I will pay the balance if I am wrong. But I know exactly where I am right in this.

The suggestion that the chemists will be required to act as tax collectors is quite wrong. They will collect only 5s. for prescriptions for which, to-day, they are charging 10s., £1 or £2. So things will be made much easier for their customers. One chemist said to me recently, "We are in the position that we cannot possibly refuse to give medicine to sick people even if they cannot afford to pay for it". To-day, many chemists are carrying the cost of supplying drugs to people who cannot afford to pay for them. What the Government's present proposals mean is that, instead of the chemist being heavily out of pocket because he has to carry such people, he will lose only 5s. if he does not charge. However, if a chemist makes a practice of failing to collect the 5s. charge in order to take business from other chemists, he will be dealt with under the terms of the act. In other words, this is a bill of mercy. This clause gives great assistance to the chemists and to the chemists' customers. It means that the chemists' customers will be able to buy expensive drugs for 5s. instead of having to pay big sums for them.

It should be made quite clear that pensioners are divided into two sections. Those who have pensioner medical cards are not required to pay anything for the drugs that they obtain, but will continue to have an absolutely free service; drugs prescribed for them by a doctor will continue to be paid for by this Government. The only pensioners who will be required to pay anything are those who have an additional income, and who have not the benefit of the medical card which entitles them to the free pensioner service. But instead of having to pay big sums for expensive drugs, they will be able to obtain them for 5s. I have letters from pharmaceutical chemists in my electorate, and from pensioners to whom the scheme has been explained. They thank the Minister for the action that he has taken. This clause has the wholehearted support of pharmaceutical chemists, pensioners and the general public.

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