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Thursday, 30 April 1987
Page: 2264

Mr SNOW(12.38) —Mr Deputy Speaker, I compliment you on the way in which you have allowed the debate to range on a fairly broad basis, and I hope that you will permit me to respond to my friend the honourable member for Petrie (Mr Hodges) in relation to some of the remarks that he made. I refer particularly to the matter of pharmaceutical benefits. I do concede that a number of items that were useful for people have been taken off the scheme. It is certainly questionable whether we should take people off a mild pain relieving medication when perhaps the only alternative drug available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme is a stronger preparation. We should encourage people to take milder preparations. However, I remind the honourable member for Petrie that the cost involved is fairly low. One particular pain reliever, for instance, can be bought over the counter in a small quantity for about $2. On the other hand, if it is obtained on the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, by the time the doctor and the pharmacists have been paid by the Government, it ends up costing the taxpayer some $16-and that is exorbitant.

In relation to the Government's consideration of items available under the pharmaceutical benefits scheme, when it is labouring under the fact that some $6 billion less is coming into the country from our exports-and this means less revenue collected from taxes-we need to consider how our limited financial resources ought to be spent. For instance, if we have, say, $30 billion, we must consider the matter of taking some items off the list and putting some more important items on. I remind the honourable member for Petrie that, when those items were taken off the national health list, over the two or three months other items were put on which were often worth in the range of $30 to $40. These were items used for the treatment of cancer, heart complaints and other major circulatory problems, and items used internally for gastrointestinal, including ulceration problems. These were items which could truly be said to be more life-saving and more important. I appreciate the point that the honourable member for Petrie made about the need for people to take mild medication but, under the circumstances, I certainly appreciate the stand that the Government took.

The honourable member for Petrie also mentioned the possible lack of availability of nursing home beds when the Government encourages institutions and others to tend towards providing for the frail aged through the hostel system. I had a lot to do with the frail aged hostel system some 10 or 12 years ago when in Queanbeyan I encouraged a local group, the Smith Family, to apply for beds for a frail aged hostel. I do not think the Smith Family in Queanbeyan has ever regretted doing that. It now has a complex of units, hostel accommodation and nursing home accommodation in Queanbeyan which gives people a wide range of alternatives. I felt that the honourable member for Franklin (Mr Goodluck) made some very important points about people needing to have alternatives.

I say to the honourable member for Petrie that we ought to encourage people to stay out of nursing homes as long as possible. Where possible, we ought to encourage people to take advantage of the home and community care services in their own homes. We ought to increase those services, and the Government is doing that. Where staying at home is not possible we should encourage people to stay in units where they are together and perhaps in close proximity to a hostel or a nursing home. Where that is not possible we should encourage people to stay in a hostel where, because these people are frail, minimum medical treatment and other services are available but where people are encouraged to do their own thing as far as possible. Where that is not possible, certainly people ought to be able to go into nursing homes. But let us not move them in too quickly because that has been done. People are turned into human vegetables by being placed in nursing homes far too early-long before they need to be. I believe that the present system of staying in one's own home as long as possible, then moving perhaps to units, to hostel accommodation and then to a nursing home-but being able to move out again-is a far better system. I compliment the previous Minister for Community Services, former Senator Don Grimes, and the present Minister for Community Services (Mr Hurford) on the way in which they have established such a system.

The honourable member for Petrie, along with other Opposition speakers, also criticised the Government on the delay of, I think, six weeks in allowing cost of living adjustments to pensions. I remind him that his own side would go much further than that. Even the wets in his team would freeze pensions, but of course they are low in numbers. A secret Liberal document has come out which indicates that a Liberal government would cut pensions, not merely freeze them.

Mr Langmore —Shame.

Mr SNOW —As my colleague the honourable member for Fraser knows and has just indicated, this is a shameful document which honourable members opposite are afraid to release to the Australian people until we are much closer to an election. We also, of course, have the southern National Party of Australia members, who are wisely staying silent. Their motto is `Don't talk about it; just do it when you get into office'. As you know, Mr Deputy Speaker, we also have the Queensland Nationals, one of whom has said: `Make them squeal like stuck pigs'. So honourable members opposite would freeze, cut and `make them squeal'. So I say to my colleague from Petrie: Our six-week delay is nothing in comparison to what honourable members opposite would do, and what they did do under Howard Budgets in 1978 and 1979, when they froze pensions, not for six weeks, but for a full year-a six-month delay.

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER (Mr Millar) — Order! It being 12.45 p.m., the debate is interrupted in accordance with sessional order 106a. The debate may be resumed at a later hour. The honourable member for Eden-Monaro will have leave to continue his remarks when the debate is resumed.