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Thursday, 27 October 1949


The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN - Order ! The honorable member may not pursue that line of argument. The clause before the committee relates to the payment of fees to doctors for medical services rendered by them.


Mr HARRISON - I do not want to read the whole of clause 3 because it is a lengthy one. Briefly proposed new section 6 provides that the regulations may make provision for the establishment, maintenance, conduct and operation of a scheme for the provision of sickness benefits or medical services by way of payments by the Commonwealth iti respect of professional services rendered by medical practitioners. It provides that a scheme established under the section may define the circumstances in which people shall, or shall not, be entitled to benefits or services under the scheme, and may provide for participation in the scheme by medical practitioners in respect of particular classes of the services. It also provides that the maximum fees to be charged by medical practitioners who participate in the scheme shall be fixed by, or assessed under, the regulations. Proposed new sub-section (3.) deals with the reduction of a maximum fee fixed by the regulations. Proposed new sub-section (4.) deals with arrangements between medical practitioners and societies or persons and provides that the Minister may make arrangements for the provision by the Commonwealth of sickness benefits or medical services in lieu of the benefits or Services provided for under those arrangements. The provisions of proposed new sub-sections (5.) and (6.) widen the scope of the legislation still further. Surely the wording of the clause gives me sufficient scope to deal with the matters which I have endeavoured to bring before the committee. This amending legislation contains nothing which alters the objectionable features of the principal act. Indeed, the clause which the committee is now discussing highlights the very features of the principal act to which we so strenuously objected and, in particular, it provides that medical services all be provided by way of regulation. The principle of government by regulation, which is the principle that is adopted in this bill, is a dangerous one, because it enables regulations to be made without recourse to or discussion by the Parliament. Honorable members have only to examine the bill quickly to see the extraordinarily extensive regulationmaking powers that are proposed to be conferred under the measure. The regulations that will be made under this measure may revolutionize our medical services in such a way as to prevent the Australian people from securing the medical benefits for which they are paying by means their social services contributions. The Government should ensure that the medical services that are available to the Australian people are the best possible, but I do not consider that the regulations that will be made under this measure will achieve that objective. It is indicative of the Government's desire to use this bill as election propaganda that it has been brought down in the dying hours of the Parliament, with polling day approximately only six weeks away. It would appear that the Government intends to rush the bill through the Parliament and immediately to gazette regulations 'so that it will be able to say to the people, on the election eve, " This is part of the record on which we stand ".

The regulations that will be made under the bill to fix the fees that shall be charged by medical practitioners for their professional services will strike at the very heart of the medical profession. The Government proposes to refund to patients 50 per cent, of those fees, but it also proposes to determine what fees shall be charged. Is it the intention of the Government that the fee that a newly-qualified doctor is allowed to charge for his services shall be the same as the fee that a surgeon of many years' experience is to be allowed to charge? Is it the intention of the Government to provide by regulations that the fee of a specialist shall be the same as the fee of a lad who has just left a medical school? If that is so, what incentive will there be for doctors to specialize in certain branches of surgery or medicine or to do post-graduate research ? The whole thing is ridiculous.

The Government's proposal to establish a nationalized medical service of this kind will do more to undermine the skill and proficiency of medical practitioners than any of its other actions. The proposal is wrong in principle, and I do not believe that the people will accept it. Despite the " blah " in which the Government will indulge during the election campaign, this scheme will be received with the same coldness as the " free bottle of medicine" scheme was received.







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