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Thursday, 27 October 1949

Mr HOLLOWAY (Melbourne PortsMinister for Labour and National Service) . - The right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) and the honorable member for Wentworth (Mr. Harrison) have not dealt with the clause that the committee is now considering. Indeed, they have no desire to do so. They have taken advantage of this opportunity to attack the national health service lock, stock and barrel.

However, it is here to stay. It is well known that honorable gentlemen opposite are opposed to a national health service. It is also well known that the majority of the members of the British Medical Association are also opposed to it, but there are some medical practitioners who are ready to participate voluntarily in this scheme which envisages that 50 per cent, of the fee charged by a medical practitioner for his professional services shall be paid by the Government in order that patients may be relieved of at least half the cost of medical treatment. That is the basis of this measure. The . proposed new section 6 will not alter materially the principles that have already been agreed to. One reason for its introduction is that it will widen the scope of ' the existing section in such a way as will give the Minister for Health and the officials of the Department of Health greater opportunities to consult with members of the medical profession and with organizations such as friendly societies. Another- reason is that fear has been expressed that when the medical profession and Commonwealth departmental officers have reached agreement regarding the fees that may be charged for certain kinds of medical treatment, the scale of fees might be changed by the Commonwealth without notice having been given to the medical profession of the change. The new section is designed to ensure that the agreed scale of fees shall not be altered without three months' notice of alteration being given. The clause has no other purposes. It does not alter the existing system other than to make the original provision more flexible. Authority is given to the department to conduct consultations with friendly societies and other organizations with a view to bringing them into the scheme if they so desire by agreement. The department is also given power to have consultations with medical practitioners, and provision is made for three months' notice to be given if any suggestion is made for altering the fees.

The right honorable member for Cowper has been most unfair. He made a charge against the Minister for Health (Senator McKenna), who cannot defend himself in this chamber. The right honorable gentleman said that the Minister had made a terrible attack upon a medical practitioner.

Sir Earle Page - So he did.

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