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Tuesday, 15 December 1992
Page: 5050

Senator WALTERS (8.30 p.m.) —I know that Senator Patterson said a little while ago that this is driven by ideology. It is nothing else at all but that. The whole thing revolves around the principle, with which we have so much of a problem, that eligible persons must be given the choice to receive public hospital services free of charge as public patients. Senator Patterson's amendment says that the State must promote and recognise the Medicare principles and commitments—not give effect to but promote. We do that because we know that over 78,000 people are on waiting lists in those States that do put forward their waiting lists. Queensland does not. Queensland did not know what its waiting list was. It has not even bothered to find out or to record its waiting list. Tonight Senator Herron gave us some fine examples. People in Queensland cannot even get an orthopaedic appointment in outpatients for something like 14 weeks, far less have an operation.

Senator Patterson —It is like 18 months.

Senator WALTERS —Whatever the time was. People cannot get an appointment to be seen, yet the Queensland representatives told the Senate Standing Committee on Community Affairs that a waiting list is not kept. They were thinking of doing it and they were going to start it soon, but they did not know when the figures would be available. They said they had a jolly good public health system, but they do not even know how many people at any one time are waiting to use that health system.  We have now this stupidity written into the principles that eligible persons must be given the choice to receive public hospital services free of charge as public patients. The only thing that is left out is when they must be given a choice—when they need it or when it suits the Government's financial situation to give it to them? The Minister says that that is all covered in proposed section 26(3)(b). Then he scuppers his own principles and commitments by saying that if the States cannot adopt the principles and commitments they must make reasonable efforts. What on earth does he think Senator Patterson's amendment is if it is not that? The Minister might answer me later on what he classes as `make reasonable efforts', because I do not know what that means. What sort of reasonable efforts should a State make to be able to carry out the principle that everyone who is eligible ought to be able to have access? Proposed section 26(8) says:

. . . neither the obligation to enact that legislation, nor the State legislation so enacted, operates to create in any person legal rights . . .

The Bill contains all this lovely hyperbole and highfalutin stuff. It says that eligible persons must be given the choice to receive public hospital services free of charge as public patients. Then the Government covers itself by saying further down in the Bill, `But of course you have no legal rights. Don't get carried away enough to think we mean it, because if the States can't give it to you, then all we require them to do is to make some sort of reasonable effort'—whatever `reasonable' happens to be. Then it says, `If you still can't get it when they make the reasonable effort, don't get carried away and think we really mean it, because you've got no legal rights anyway. We don't give you a legal right to have access to the money you pay in your Medicare levy. We're not going to make the States give you eligible persons access. If they can't, we'll just say, "You make reasonable efforts and we'll pass that as being OK"'. The problem is that this Bill, along with the Government's whole health policy, is ideology-driven.

  Can the Minister explain to me why in Queensland, New South Wales, Victoria, our own State of Tasmania, South Australia, Western Australia and the two Territories someone on a very high income can go into hospital and take a bed that a pensioner who is desperately wanting to have a hip replacement should have access to? As the Minister knows, I have had a hip replacement. I was not prepared to join the waiting lists and, because I have never trusted the Government's health system, and because I can afford it, I chose not to bludge on the system but to bear my own responsibilities and pay for private health care so that I would not end up taking a bed from someone who is not as fortunate as I and who could not afford to go into a private hospital and have his or her hip replaced.

  Why does the Minister not believe that is the correct action for any Australian to take? Why is it that he does not believe that those who can afford it should take out private hospital cover so that they can have their elective surgery done in a private hospital and give beds to those people whom we on this side are very concerned about and whom those on the Government side profess to be concerned about? I do not understand the Government's ideology at all—and I am not sure that Government members do.

  We on this side of the chamber believe that people who cannot afford to privately insure ought to be able to have access to a bed when they need it. The only way the Government will be able to afford to do that is to encourage those who can afford to take out private hospital cover to do so. We need the beds in the public hospitals. There are 78,000 people, not including those in Queensland, trying to get into those hospitals who cannot do so.

  The Minister has read in the Sydney Morning Herald about the cardiac surgeons who have said that 44 people have died waiting for bypass operations because they could not get in. Why will the Minister not encourage all those who are well off enough to be able to take out private health cover to do so and to go into private hospitals and have their cardiac surgery done there? Some of the very good private hospitals do cardiac surgery very regularly. That would leave beds in the public hospitals so that pensioners and the less well off could have their cardiac surgery done in time so that they would not die on the waiting lists because of the Government's ideology. I would be grateful if the Minister could explain that to me.