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Wednesday, 13 May 1970

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) - The Minister for Health spent much of his time tonight looking at his reflections. He ought to be dubbed the looking glass Minister because he scarcely proceeds beyond this point. It is quite reasonable for the Opposition to propose that there ought to be at least a 2-yearly review. L stress to the Minister that the honourable member for Hughes (Mr Les Johnson) said 'at least a 2-yearly review', and there is no reason at all why the review should not be more often than that if it is required. But 1 want to pick up a point which the Minister made and in which he seemed to invest great value. He made a comparison between the consumer price index movements and the expenditure on the pensioner medical service.

Dr Forbes - 1 also mentioned average weekly earnings.

Mr HAYDEN - Quite clearly the comparison is fallacious because in that period there have been alterations to the means test and more people have been brought within the ambit of the age pension and within the area which benefits through the pensioner medical service. There is no valid reason for this comparison to be made.

Firstly, let me reiterate the point made by the honourable member for Hughes. It is quite unfair for doctors to be asked to place themselves in a position where no regular determination is made and where legislation does not guarantee the amount of remuneration they receive from the subsidy - that is what it is - for the pensioner medical service. This matter has not been raised in the proposed amendment but it seems highly desirable that there should be some arbitrating body which could act in the event of a dispute between the Government and the medical practitioners as to the amount of remuneration to be provided.

The Minister will remember that on the last occasion an adjustment was made to the remuneration there was a fairly serious eruption amongst the medical fraternity. Doctors felt that they were being discriminated against. I must say that some members of the medical fraternity were a little extravagant in their assertions. One spoke about a pensioner who had driven to his surgery in the latest American model limousine and had asked for vaccinations fairly quickly because he was going on a world trip. On the other hand I have a deal of sympathy with medical practitioners so far as this aspect is concerned. From what they tell me there is a fair burden cast on them and there ought to be a regular determination of this matter. Some avenue of arbitration should be available to them. The Government should not be Caesar so far as this aspect is concerned.

There is one other point I would like to raise with the Minister for Health. He spoke about the advantages gained by pensioners through an arrangement with the States which enabled pensioners to obtain specialist treatment. I am often placed at a disadvantage because of what happens in my own State of Queensland. The range of services available in the non-paying public hospitals in that State are so different and the services are readily available. A State parliamentarian from Western Australia has told me that he has had cases of a pensioner going to a hospital for public ward treatment and being unable to obtain accommodation in a public ward. The treatment required was of a fairly serious nature and was fairly urgent. The pensioner accordingly accepted treatment in another ward, presumably a private ward, and thereupon lost any entitlement to the Commonwealth bed subsidy as a pensioner. Such a situation is a serious one for a pensioner. Where the evidence clearly establishes that it was not the fault of the pensioner patient that he or she accepted private ward treatment, the full subsidy ought to be available.

But then again, does this not raise a query about the adequacy of hospital facilities in Australia? There are 5 medical practitioners in the Australian Labor Party sitting on this side of the House as distinct from a total absence of medical practitioners from the Government Parties opposite. The Minister, in reply to questions which those medical practitioners put to him, said that Australia had the best hospital services in the world, or amongst the best at the very least. He then set about roundly condemning the hospital services in the United Kingdom. By some tenuous sort of argument he tried to identify the Australian

Labor Party proposals with the health policy in the United Kingdom. He set out on quite a fallacious exercise. He set up a straw man and then set about kicking the stuffing out of it.

The Australian Labor Party has no association with the United Kingdom health system. I am referring the Minister - and I ask the Committee to keep in mind what I said earlier because the 2 matters are related - to the problem of those pensioners who have to pay for private ward treatment in Slates other than Queensland. 1 am putting to the Minister that last year, in answer to a question on notice, he indicated that on a population ratio basis there were more hospital beds available for the population in the United Kingdom than there were in Australia. Here again, quite clearly, is evidence of the wrong-headedness of his approach in condemning the United Kingdom health services. Incidentally, 1 have never heard of a patient condemning that service but that is another matter. Secondly, his reply to that question on notice seems to be an indication that, in spite of all the failings he asserts are in the United Kingdom health service, it is still superior in providing hospital beds for the public.

In any event the United Kingdom health service is able to obtain 78% of public support at national opinion polls whereas the latest opinion poll shows only 38% of public support for this Government's health policy. I am certain that that figure will remain static at best. More likely it will drop even further when the public discovers after today that the promise of the Prime Minister (Mr Gorton) at the last election that the common fee proposed by the Government would he adhered to by the medical fraternity, that the general public need not fear that they would have to pay more than the set scale of excess charge established by the Government, is rubbish. The Minister tonight completely dispelled any illusion that the public might have had. In spite of the tremendous expensiveness of the proposals now before us - expense which was 69% understated by the Prime Minister and the Minister during the last election campaign - the public in fact will be saddled with the quite significant cost problems which have been the blight of the system in the past.

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