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Tuesday, 23 September 1958

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) . - The Opposition will not oppose this bill, but will vote for the motion that it be read a second time. It is very natural that we should do so because the reform which it contains is one for which the Opposition has been agitating ever since the original national health legislation of this Government was brought down eight years ago.

Mr Hamilton - You have never been heard before.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) -The honorable member interjects that the Opposition has never been heard to raise this issue before. First of all, I can only direct his attention to the debate on the original bilL If he looks at it, he will see that at that time the Opposition, in opposing the injustices and hardships contained in that measure, particularly pointed to the injury which would be inflicted upon people suffering from preexisting ailments, chronic illnesses and so on.

Mr Wilson - The Opposition opposed the whole bill.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member is not quite right. We opposed many features of the bill, to which we are still completely opposed, and we suggested constructive improvements to the measure. One of those was that which, at this late hour, the Government has finally adopted. But in case the honorable member for Canning (Mr. Hamilton) is in any doubt on the subject, if he looks at the " Hansard " record again he will see the numerous occasions over the years on which Opposition speakers have debated amending health measures and time and again impressed upon the Government the need to remove the hardship which the existing health scheme imposes upon people in the categories I have mentioned.

Mr Duthie - We have been battling for this for eight years.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As the honorable member for Wilmot (Mr. Duthie) says, the Opposition has been battling for this amendment for eight years, and we are very glad at last to see some fruit for our efforts. Of course, it represents an eleventh hour repentance on the part of the Government. This scheme is designed to come into operation on 1st January next when this Government will no longer be in office. Instead, the party now in Opposition will then have the pleasure of implementing the health measures of the new Labour government which will be announced to the people of Australia by the Leader of the Opposition (Dr. Evatt) in his policy speech to be delivered in the Assembly Hall, Sydney, on 15th October this year. Mr. Speaker, as you know, because of the very serious mismanagement of the finances of the Commonwealth by the present Government, it may not be possible for the new government

Mr Joske - Is this supposed to be a humorous speech?

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The honorable member for Balaclava interjects that my remark is surely intended humorously. I need only to remind him that this Government has been in office for eight or nine years, that it inherited £890,000,000 of credit balances overseas, that during its term of office there have been seven or eight years of good seasons and high prices and only one year of recession, yet it has allowed the affairs of this country to fall into such a condition that it is budgeting, in the forthcoming year, for a deficit of more than £100,000,000. That is not very humorous to the people of Australia, although it may be humorous to the honorable member for Balaclava, who has sat behind this Government and given it his support in its mismanagement of the people's affairs. However, as I was saying, although it may not be possible for any succeeding administration to give immediate, full effect to farreaching measures on national health, the House may be assured that the proposals which will be brought down by the new Labour government will be fully in accord with the needs of the Australian people.

I agree with the statement of the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) that there is no " best " national health scheme, and that what is satisfactory for one country is not necessarily satisfactory for another. I agree also that the scheme which is suited for this country is one which gives utmost respect to the professional status of the medical men and to the individual needs of the people who require medical attention.

Mr Joske - That was not Labour's scheme.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - That is Labour's scheme, and that has always been the basis of this kind of legislation which the Labour government brings before this Parliament. The basis of the present bill has been explained by the Minister as being to provide Commonwealth asssistance to enable medical and hospital benefits to be paid to persons who cannot be insured at normal rates because of age, pre-existing ailments or chronic illness. With that object, as I have said, the Opposition is in agreement.

The bill provides that medical and hospital insurance organizations will be invited to establish special accounts for the payment of benefits to aged persons with pre-existing ailments and for the chronically ill. These accounts will be operated and maintained by the organizations themselves. but they will, be guaranteed by the Commonwealth. It appears that persons who Are 65 years of age and over will be automatically transferred under this legislation to the special account section, and that -although, from now on, the societies will continue to manage this account, these people will, indeed, be insured wholly with the Commonwealth of Australia and not with any private society. Their contributions will go into the special fund and their benefits will come out of it. To the extent that their benefits are not provided for by their own contributions, they will be provided direct from Commonwealth revenue. So, although the societies will remain, nominally, the managers of the scheme with relation to persons 65 years of age and over, in fact such persons from now on will be members of a truly national scheme, paying their contributions into a public fund and having their benefits paid entirely from public revenue.

That is a very important point in the Minister's legislation to which he, himself, did not direct particular attention, but I think it is an indication of the way in which national health plans will obviously trend in the future in this country for persons 65 years of age and over. Although the managerial capacity of the societies is retained, from now on, to all intents and purposes these persons are truly insured with the Commonwealth of Australia. They pay their contributions to the Commonwealth, in effect, and their benefits come from Commonwealth revenue direct.

With regard to those who are under 65 years of age something of the same position arises. The societies will have the option of retaining the accounts of persons under 65 years of age even though they are chronics or suffering from pre-existing ailments or have reached the stage when the maximum benefits payable under the society's rules have been paid to them. It will then rest with the society to decide whether it will continue to accept them and pay the benefit to them or to transfer them to the special account. Once persons under the age of 65 years in this category are transferred to the special account they will be in the same position as persons of 65 years and over. In other words, the society, in respect of these people, will be only the nominal insurer. The actual insurer will be the Commonwealth of Australia. Their contributions will be paid into a special account guaranteed by the Commonwealth of Australia and their benefits will come from -that special account out of moneys provided by the 'Commonwealth of Australia.

Although the Minister did not indicate this, it is a very big step forward along the path to a national health scheme, directly financed by the Commonwealth without the agency of private societies.

The Opposition, of course, has no objection whatever to the existence of private medical and hospital funds. Indeed, it thinks that they are very valuable institutions and it would encourage, so far as may be possible, every one in the community to belong to such funds. But the Opposition is strongly of the opinion that it is immoral and utterly wrong in principle to require a person to belong to a private society or a private association as a condition of obtaining a Commonwealth governmental -benefit. We regard it as being-

Mr Duthie - Scandalous!

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - As the honorable member for Wilmot says, we regard it as being scandalous.

Mr Anderson - Is he the oracle?

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - In contradistinction to the honorable member for Hume, every interjection that the . honorable member for Wilmot makes, to my mind, is helpful to the debate and to the Parliament. But we regard it as a bad departure from principle to require a person to belong to a private association as a condition of collecting a public benefit. Governmental pressure should never be placed upon a citizen to belong to a private association. The whole principle of freedom of association is involved.

Mr Forbes - As in trade unions.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thoroughly agree with the honorable member for Barker. Nothing in the philosophy of the Labour party is contrary to what he has said.

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