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Tuesday, 1 May 1984
Page: 1434
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Senator Walsh —On 21 September 1983 (Hansard, page 855) Senator Reynolds asked me, as the Minister representing the Treasurer, the following question without notice:

Is the Minister representing the Treasurer aware that the expense of caption television decoding equipment is out of the economic reach of many deaf people? At present the commercial television networks are supporting the captioning venture but, if the deaf and hard of hearing are prevented from having access to this service for economic reasons, television stations could be in a position to use poor decoder sales as an excuse to withdraw from sponsorship of the sub- titling service. Therefore, can the Minister have investigated sales tax exemption on decoding equipment, which would help to alleviate the present situation? Furthermore, can the Minister undertake to investigate a complete review of sales tax on all technical aids used by handicapped persons in their homes?

The Treasurer has provided the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

In the deliberations preceding the 1983 Budget the Government saw the obvious benefits to the deaf of videotex equipment which enables speech and information to be reproduced in visual form on screens of television receivers or monitors designed for use with such equipment.

For this reason a new exemption item (123A) was inserted into the First Schedule of the Sales Tax (Exemptions and Classifications) Act for such equipment where it is for use and not for sale by a person certified by the Director-General of Health to be profoundly deaf or to be taken to be profoundly deaf.

Caption television decoding equipment is therefore currently exempt from sales tax where it is purchased for use by a person who has been certified by the Director-General of Health to have an appropriate hearing disability. Broadly, the exemption will embrace persons whose hearing is impaired to such an extent that they have a genuine difficulty in understanding television sound at volumes tolerable to people whose hearing is not impaired.

In addition to item 123A there are several items in the First Schedule to the abovementioned Act which provide exemption for a wide range of goods used by disabled persons. These exemption items include-

(i) item 42 which exempts surgical appliances such as artificial limbs, crutches, bath seats of a kind used by invalids, surgical boots, braces and irons and invalid wheel chairs including motorised invalid wheel chairs, invalid tricycles and spinal carriages;

(ii) item 42A which exempts battery-charges for use exclusively or principally in recharging batteries used in invalid wheel chairs;

(iii) item 42B which exempts medical or surgical appliances of a kind used exclusively or principally by persons suffering from sickness, disease or physical impairment for the purpose of alleviating or treating that sickness, disease or physical impairment or their effects, for example, artificial ears, hearing aids. et cetera;

(iv) item 42C which exempts goods to be used in the modification of a motor vehicle solely for the purpose of adapting it for driving by a person who is suffering from a physical impairment; and

(v) item 123 which exempts goods designed and manufactured expressly for use by persons suffering from sickness, disease or disablement being goods of a kind not ordinarily used by persons who are not suffering from sickness, disease or disablement, for example, braille machines, optacons, wheelchair transporters for carrying disabled persons up and down stairs, et cetera.

Item 123 is, in effect, a catch-all provision which provides exemption for all technical aids used by handicapped persons that the aids are designed and manufactured expressly for use by handicapped persons. Item 123, however, does not exempt general purpose goods such as typewriters, computers, sound recorders and dictation machines. Where such goods are purchased for use by handicapped persons they are taxable.

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Senator Walsh —On 21 October 1983 (Hansard, page 1945) Senator Watson asked me, as the Minister representing the Treasurer, the following question without notice:

Is he aware that required art materials for tertiary fine arts students can cost between $1,500 and $2,000 per year and that this expense causes great hardship for students on tertiary education assistance scheme allowances? Can consideration be given to exempting art supplies required by full time arts students from sales tax as occurs for essential equipment needed in other tertiary courses?

The Treasurer has supplied the following answer to the honourable senator's question:

The Commissioner of Taxation has advised that most art supplies are subject to sales tax at the rate of 20 per cent as are the majority of materials purchased by tertiary and other students for use in their studies. Equipment for use in tertiary courses other than fine arts is not specifically exempted from sales tax.

Goods for use and not for sale by non-profit schools and universities are conditionally exempt as are scientific instruments and scientific apparatus for use in universities and schools. Text books are exempt from sales tax.

An exemption for art supplies required by full time fine art students would entail significant administrative difficulties and the request for such an exemption is one that is appropriately considered in a Budget context. I have arranged that it be noted for such consideration.

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Senator Grimes —On 6 March 1984 (Hansard, page 447) Senator Walters asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice concerning the issue of receipts to patients who are claiming reimbursement from Medicare.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

The reasons for the decision not to return account documents have been outlined in answers to previous questions on this matter. Although the Health Insurance Commission had introduced a number of measures to compensate claimants for the surrender of their account documents, there was still some concern about the procedures where the patient was making a claim for cash benefits. It is not correct that the matter was reviewed as a result of complaints from Medicare staff.

The details of the procedures for cash claims were announced in the House of Representatives on 7 March and appeared in most major newspapers throughout the country. The procedure is that an assessment advice will be issued on request to patients seeking cash reimbursement. The procedure was implemented in all Medicare offices by the middle of March.

It is believed that these arrangements will remove any further difficulty that people may have in surrendering their account documents to Medicare. There may be some people in the community for whom these arrangements may still be unsatisfactory and in these circumstances provision has been made for the accounts to be returned.

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Senator Grimes —On 28 March 1984 (Hansard, page 789) Senator Teague asked me, as Minister representing the Minister for Health, a question without notice relating to the retention of account documents by Medicare.

The Minister for Health has provided the following information:

Regulations under Section 19 of the Health Insurance Act detail the information that must be shown on accounts to determine whether Medicare benefit is payable. The account documents play a formal part in the establishment of whether benefit is payable and few would dispute the necessity for their being surrendered to Medicare staff so that benefit can be assessed.

The signed Medicare claim form quite clearly is not sufficient for administrative and audit purposes. Medicare seeks to retain account documents in order to avoid the opportunities for account manipulation and fraud that have existed in the health insurance industry. Cases of fraudulent practices cannot be pursued without the documents that support the claim. In addition, the auditability of reimbursement to health funds where account documents have been returned was questioned by the Auditor-General in his report to Parliament in May 1983.

The Health Insurance Commission has taken a number of steps to provide claimants with information on benefits paid for tax purposes and this has now been extended by providing an assessment advice for cash payments where requested by the claimant. This form of advice was announced to Parliament on 7 March and the assessment advice forms became available, on request, in Medicare offices from about mid-March.

The Commission recognises that there may be persons in the community for whom these arrangements are unsatisfactory, and in these circumstances provision has been made for the accounts to be returned. Where this is done the benefit must be paid by cheque rather than cash so that the Commission can secure a record of claim documents before their return. Advice available to the Commission indicates that there is no legal impediment to the Commission retaining account documents.

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