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Thursday, 14 May 1970

Mr Les Johnson (HUGHES, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I join with my colleagues, in registering an emphatic protest about the guillotining of this legislation. After all the Bill covers 177 pages and is accompanied by a memorandum of 119 pages. This Committee is expected to deal with all this in less than 6 hours 20 minutes. At one stage of this debate, under the guillotine arrangements 13 clauses are to be dealt with in less than 1 hour. Honourable members have just observed the serious matters involved. My colleague the honourable member for Grayndler (Mr Daly) outlined a matter which requires the diligent attention of the Committee.

We are fortunate in having with us the honourable member for Kingston (Dr Gun), an eminent doctor, who is obsessed with public interest and who is intent on having inserted in the legislation provisions which will safeguard the interests of contributors. What is it that the honourable member for Kingston has proposed and which apparently the Minister for Health (Dr Forbes) is going to reject? It seems that it does not matter what virtue there is in amendments moved by honourable members from the Opposition side of the House. The Minister, like the Sphinx, is unmoved. He is not prepared to be accommodating in any way whatsoever even though the Opposition has taken the trouble to talk to representatives of the hospital and medical funds and to the medical profession. As a sequel to those long and protracted negotiations and hard application to the problem, the Opposition has presented carefully considered amendments. Apparently not one of them is to receive consideration.

I ask the Committee and those people who may be listening to this debate to look carefully at the amendment which this Government is now rejecting. The honourable member for Kingston has proposed that when the Director-General brings down his annual report about the operations of hospital and medical benefit funds he should include in it information about the names of al] shareholders in funds, the equity held by each of them in the funds and the names of the directors. Why is it that the Minister for Health and the Government which he represents want to withhold that information? We want to know the details of investments made by the funds. Where does their money go to? After all. the money belongs to the contributors.

The honourable member for Kingston also proposed that the Director-General require from the funds information which can be made available to the Parliament about the details of direct or indirect shareholding interests in other organisations which are held by directors, and also of organisations in which the funds' reserves have been invested. If the directors have shareholdings in organisations and the funds invest in them also then we want to know the details of those transactions. Why is it that the Minister wants to withhold this kind of information?

I refer the Committee to the warnings given by the Commonwealth Committee of Enquiry into Health Insurance, the expert committee appointed by the Government and headed by Mr Justice Nimmo, which analysed the investments of a representative group of organisations. At page 51 of the Nimmo Committee's report it is stated that these organisations had reserves of $52m. That is the kind of money we are dealing with. The Nimmo Committee analysed the manner in which that money was dispersed by way of investment. Of that sum 3.6% or $1.9m was invested in shares. Do not the public and the contributors have a right to know what companies are receiving the benefit of these investments? The Nimmo Committee reported that 10.9% or S5.8m was invested in debentures: 8.2% or S4.3m was invested in mortgages: and 1.4% or $740,000 was invested in miscellaneous investments. The average yield from all this was only 5%. Anybody would concede that that is a relatively low return today. Obviously they were not investing in Poseidon or any of the rip roaring stocks that have recently engaged attention in the lucrative market.

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