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Tuesday, 23 September 1958

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - The honorable member should be able to make his speech without that help.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - On future occasions I may be able to do so, but for the present, I will be glad of any help that I can get. As I was saying, the Labour party, while believing in voluntary insurance and in encouraging citizens to belong to private societies, is utterly opposed to the indirect compulsion involved in the present Government scheme which withholds the Commonwealth benefit, for which the citizen has contributed by taxation, from him unless he first joins a private association. We have maintained our objection to that system ever since this legislation was introduced eight years ago and we ourselves will, of course, put an end to it as soon as our opportunity in government comes about.

The Minister for Health has explained that it will not be permissible for people who are covered by the special account to make a profit from their benefits. In other words, they will not be allowed to collect more in the way of benefit than is necessary to meet the medical or hospital charges with which they are faced. That seems a quite reasonable proposal, and we accept it. Obviously, the deficits in the special account will all have to be met by the Commonwealth, and the person covered by the special account will draw far more in benefits, normally, than he will provide in contributions.

There does not seem to be nearly so much reasonableness, however, in the further proposal that there must be a minimum waiting period of eight weeks from the time a new contributor joins an organization, before benefits will be payable either for hospital or medical treatment. That condition has applied all along, I understand, to hospital services, but it is a new condition in relation to Commonwealth medical benefits.

The reason given for it by the Minister is easy to understand. It is that it would be quite wrong and quite out of accord with insurance principles for people to be allowed to defer insurance until some health disability had struck them and then to insure merely for the sake of immediately collecting the benefit. But why should Commonwealth benefit be withheld from those people? Why should they have to insure at all in order to obtain that benefit? Why should the insurance principle be concerned with the collection of the Commonwealth benefit? Why does the Minister now find it necessary to withhold the Commonwealth medical benefit until a person has been a member of a society for at least eight weeks? Personally, I can see no valid reason for that.

I can understand the reasoning of the Minister that people should not be allowed to collect benefits from, a private society merely by waiting until an illness develops, then insuring themselves and allowing their insurance to lapse immediately the period of ill health is over, knowing that they can immediately insure again should another period of ill health come upon them. But the payment of Commonwealth benefit ought not to be subject, in any way, to the insurance principle, and I can see no reason for the step proposed by the Minister. It appears to me to be a retrograde step indeed.

I am also concerned at the statement of the Minister that the new benefits provided by this bill will not be payable to people accommodated in benevolent homes, convalescent homes, homes for aged persons, rest homes, and similar institutions. At present, the people in those institutions do receive benefits under the Commonwealth health scheme. The new proposal seems to me to be open to serious question, and I should like to hear from the Minister the reason for it.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - The proposal will not disturb those who are at present in receipt of benefits.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - But surely the class of people with which the Minister is dealing is the class which is most in need of help in the community. It consists of those suffering from chronic illnesses and those who, because of age or other reasons, are particularly in need of care and medical attention.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I do not want to interrupt you now, but there is a perfectly lucid explanation for this which I will give at the end of the debate.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - 1 will be glad to hear the Minister's explanation, but as he did not give it in his second-reading speech I have to deal with the point without the benefit of the further explanation. Therefore, I simply say that, on the face of it, it appears that the Minister is shutting out from the benefits of this legislation people in certain institutions who are, apparently, most in need of the kind of help that this legislation is designed to give.

As I have said, Mr. Deputy Speaker, the Opposition will vote for the second reading of the bill. It is in accordance with a proposal that we have put to the Government on many occasions during the last eight years. While the present form of national health scheme exists, we believe that this provision is very necessary indeed.

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