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Tuesday, 23 September 1958

Mr DALY (Grayndler) .- The honorable member for Fawkner (Mr. Howson) reminds me of one of those gentlemen who has had a tablet called equanil which provides a twilight feeling. It is not on the free list, but it appears to me that he may have purchased it, so sublime were his comments on a scheme that is full of faults and fails to meet the requirements of those to whom the honorable member referred a few moments ago, particularly of those in greatest need.

The honorable member dealt at great length with the medical scheme operating in Great Britain, and said that the cost this year is £730,000,000. He went on to deal with what he considered were a number of faults in the scheme. If it is so bad, it is a wonder that the tory administration which controls Great Britain to-day does not remove it from the social services programme. The reason it does not do so is that the people expect that the money spent on medicine, health and social services in time of peace will be at least commensurate with the money spent on destruction in time of war. Why should any one quibble about £730,000,000 in Great Britain's Budget? Why, even with our Budget we spent £6,000,000 a few days ago to send off a rocket! All over the world to-day, millions of pounds are being spent in seconds to prepare for the annihilation of mankind. Is it not reasonable, therefore, that humanity should expect that some contribution shall be made from national Budgets, no matter how extensive it may be, to provide for the welfare, not only of those who are aged, sick and infirm, but also of all sections of the community who require health and medical services and social justice in this modern age.

The honorable member, to my mind, needs to catch up with his homework. He is a long way out of date. The long stories that he told of what this Government is doing in social services completely omit the fact that had it not been for successive Labour governments, Federal and State, there would not have been a worthwhile social service in the community to-day. The honorable member spoke of the tuberculosis scheme which was introduced by a Labour government. The most vicious opponents of this scheme were members of the Liberal and the Australian Country parties. When free medicine was introduced by the Chifley Labour Government, members of the Australian Country party in this Parliament, who were at that time led by the tragic Treasurer, who later became the tragic Minister for Health, crossed the floor to vote against it. That does them little credit. The British Medical Association went on strike to defeat legislation designed to improve the lot of those who required free medical benefits. So honorable members opposite ought to be brought up to date on these matters in order that they will know the true position. I do not speak idly when I say that hardly one measure of social justice, one measure for medical reform and the provision of medical benefits to people in this country, has been "brought in over the years without the most bitter opposition from those who to-day espouse such measures because they know it is necessary for them to do so in order to get a few votes for themselves.

I challenge the Government to deny that the programme of health and social service benefits, put into practice by the Labour government much more widely than this Government ever thought of, was a good programme. If honorable members opposite think that Labour's programme in this field was no good, let them tell the electors at the forthcoming general election that they are prepared to sponsor the abandonment of the programme for medical research and health and medical benefits and other social service benefits instituted by the Labour government during its term of office.

Let us look at the way in which the Government's scheme for medical benefits operates. In order to obtain the Commonwealth benefit a person has to be a member of a medical benefits fund - a voluntary member, so-called. What do we find? It is a kind of shot-gun wedding. If a person does not belong to such a " voluntary " organization thatperson does not receive theCommonwealth benefit. In other words, by pressure of the most vicious kind, members of the community have been forced to join privately operated funds in order to receive from the Commonwealth benefits for which they are already paying taxes every day of the week. This is a monstrous approach to the question of the provision of medical benefits. But do not misinterpret me. Like the honorable member for Eden-Monaro,the Labour party is concerned with the work of the friendly societies. We realize their very great contribution to the Australian community and its welfare, and we do not wish to have word's put into our mouths which would wrongly indicate our approach to that question. We are not going tosit in this Parliament and unprotestingly hear honorable membersoppositeboast about their so-called " voluntary " scheme, when the fact is that the words used by the honorable member for Fawkner himself show that 40 per cent. of the people who should be receiving medical benefits as an entitlement are denied the Commonwealth benefit becausethey will not voluntarily join some fund orother.

On what grounds can honorable members opposite justify the forcing of people to join funds in order to be entitled to receive benefitsfor which they are already paying intaxes raised to finance the provision of social services and health benefits? Let the right honorable member who is to have the floor after me, who had something to do with theinitiation of theGovernment's merit's present scheme - the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page) - explain away and justify the denial of Commonwealth benefit to 40 per cent. of the electors. I say that itcannot be justified, because it is unjust. There can never be any justification for a policy under which taxes are taken from the people in order to finance social service and medical benefits, but under which some of these taxpayers are refused Commonwealth benefits for which they have paid, simply because they will notvoluntarily join some organization. I repeat that a peculiar kind of"volunteering" is involved in this. It is a real shot-gun wedding in every sense of theterm.You either"volunteer" to joina fund or you do not get the Commonwealth benefit. I should say that half of the 60 per cent. of electors who have joined funds, as mentioned by the honorable member for Fawkner, have been forced to join them because of the sheer desperation of their need for medical benefits, and the Government alone is responsible for so forcing them.

Now I refer to a statement made by the honorable member for Fawkner with which I shall deal later at greater length. He said that the interests of the people in the greatest need were the interests that this Government cared about. My heavens! It is a wonder that any honorable member on the Government side in this Parliament would even think of making such a statement seriously. Honorable members on the Liberal party benches in this Parliament are put there by the private banking monopoly in order to represent capital here. They are not put there in" order to improve the general economy. They are put there to represent wealth and power and the influence, exclusively, of people with untold wealth who cafe little for the poor, the aged, the sick and the infirm. The honorable member is pulling his own leg if he believes what was written for him by some unknown author for Use in this debate.

The pensioner medical service; as I shall show later, has been- sabotaged by the Government. Honorable members opposite have thrown the pensioners away. The Government has forced the pensioners to accept a means test in regard to the service, in spite of promises made by it as late as 1954. Its action is one of the most vicious and unjust actions ever instituted in this Parliament. It was instigated by the right honorable member for Cowper, and I shall be very pleased later to hear again his apology for that monstrous piece of legislation which forced a means test on the sick, needy, the aged and the infirm - an action of which any government ought to be ashamed.

The honorable member for Eden-Monaro said that Labour does not oppose, broadly,some of the improvements made in this bill. We believe, of course, that we should support any legislation which provides even a little relief for those in need although I, personally, find it difficult to see much good in any form of Liberal-Australian Country party legislation, particularly relating to social services, because I know that any benefits given in such legislation are given grudgingly and without any real intention of meeting the purpose that should be met by legislation of that kind. As the honorable member for Eden-Monaro said, for eight or nine years we on this side have been pressing for certain reforms in the social services scheme. Now, in the twilight of its term of office, the Government has seen fit to throw a sop to the electors by making reforms which it earlier refused to make, the only ground for its former refusal being that the reforms had the endorsement, support and sponsorship of the Labour party. The honorable member for Fawkner is now interjecting. He had a pretty good go earlier, and my reply to his speech should not stir him into interjecting. I have mentioned these things to show how wide the honorable member for Fawkner was df the mark.

There is one aspect of this bill that I wish to deal with. That is the question of hospital contributions and of contributions towards the patient's upkeep in the hospitals, which are covered in the measure. I do not think that we should ever let this Government forget that when the Labour party was in office it provided free hospitalization in public wards to every citizen of this Commonwealth, irrespective of means or income. That provision followed a recommendation by the Joint Committee on Social Security. The membership of this committee included Senator Walter Jackson Cooper- by no' means can he be termed a socialist-Senator Dorothy Tangney, Mr. Leslie Haylen, M.P., myself, the late Rupert Ryan, M.P., and the honorable Sir Frederick Stewart, who was then the honorable" member' for Parramatta - a well-known socialist! That committee investigated every hospital scheme in Australia and made a recommendation that free hospital treatment should be available in public wards to every person in the Commonwealth. Labour gave effect to that recommendation. But the Labour government's policy in that respect was destroyed by this Government which, immediately after it was elected, imposed on the community a policy under which free hospitalization in public wards ended. The recommendation of the joint committee was unanimous, and it is to the eternal discredit of this Government that it destroyed the scheme that provided free hospitalization for the people on a scale which was unequalled anywhere else in the world at that time.

There are those who say that the Labour government's free hospitalization scheme did not do all that was necessary. We worked out the scheme on what the average person was paying, and the States were satisfied with it. It operated very successfully. But this Government decided to make people pay for hospitalization in addition to the taxes that they had already paid to cover such services, and abandoned the scheme, which had the endorsement of all sides of the Parliament.

Now, I want to deal with a matter concerning something for which this Government must also take full responsibility and for which, I repeat, it ought to be ashamed. I refer to the Government's decision, announced on 7th October, 1955, to impose a means test on the pensioner medical service. As late as April, 1954, the Prime Minister (Mr. Menzies) stated in his policy speech -

Whatever rate of pension is drawn, they are also entitled to the benefit of the free medical and medicine service.

That was a solemn pledge and undertaking given to the Australian people in 1954 following a pledge that was given in similar strain in 1949. What happened? In October, 1955, when supporters of the Government were speaking during the Budget debate and saying that pensioners all over Australia received free medical benefits and that all were entitled to them, the right honorable member for Cowper (Sir Earle Page), who was Minister for Health, announced the application of the most monstrous means test to the pensioners that any Australian government has introduced. Supporters of the Government, silent as the grave, did not know what was happening because they had been praising the Government for introducing those benefits, but the wily old fox who controlled the Department of Health at that time decided to change his policy in mid-stream, as it were, because the British Medical Association stood over him. He surrendered to the B.M.A.

Mr Turner - I rise to order, Mr. Deputy Speaker. Is it in order for an honorable member to refer to another honorable member as a wily old fox?

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