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Wednesday, 24 September 1958


Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Monaro) [5.51. - No answer has been given to the charge that the Department of Health, in contempt of the Parliament, circulated all the provisions of this bill now being discussed by the committee to societies registered under the National Health Act as decisions, long before this bill came into the Parliament at all. That charge is based on the communication sent out from the Department of Health on 7th August in which every provision of this bill was set out in detail and apparently communicated to the societies concerned as representing decisions made by the Government of the country. So far as I can see, no reference was made in that communication by the Department of Health to the fact that these matters were dependent on the will of Parliament, and that these decisions would come into effect only if the Parliament approved the legislation.

It has frequently - and I think quite wrongly - been stated that some public servants regard themselves as the real government of Australia. I think it would not be astonishing if 'heads of departments working under Ministers as vacillating and weak as those who constitute the present Administration, did feel that they, in fact, had to be and were the real government of Australia. But when attention is directed in the Parliament to the fact that a public department has completely anticipated the will of Parliament and has communicated to outside bodies proposals yet to be approved by the Parliament, and communicated them to those outside bodies as decisions which, from 1st January next, will be enforced, I suggest that, if the Government is prepared to allow a matter such as that to go unanswered, and is not prepared to make a proper explanation to the Parliament of how that extraordinary procedure came to be followed, then the Minister for Health (Dr. Donald Cameron) is not conscious of the dignity of his own position or of the duties and responsibilities appertaining to it. I regret that at an earlier stage in these proceedings when the charge was first made, the Minister chose to ignore it, but I trust that he will now deal with it during the committee stage of the bill.

There are two other matters to which 1 wish to refer. The first is the provision in the bill that where a society has accepted a sufferer from chronic illness as eligible for benefits in that society, it will not be able to transfer him to the special fund. It seems that the effect of that will be to do injury to those societies which have acted generously with their contributors and to place in an advantageous position those societies which have acted meanly with their contributors because apparently, where a society has rejected the claim of a chronic sufferer, it will be able to transfer that member to the special fund and be rid of any further liability to him. But where a society has acted generously and has accepted that chronic sufferer for benefit, then it will not be allowed to transfer him to the special fund. That seems to me to create an invidious position as between societies, and I would like the Minister to examine it and see whether some amendment is not required.

The other matter to which I wish to refer, and on which I propose to move an amendment, is the provision in clause 15 that, on reaching the age of 65, a contributor will automatically be transferred to the special fund. There will be no need even to inform the contributor that he has been transferred to the special fund, but from the time he is transferred to the special fund, he will be ineligible to contribute for or to receive benefit greater than the rate of benefit payable in respect of public ward treatment. I know the reason why the Minister has put that provision in the bill, but it appears to create a very substantial injustice indeed in that it deprives a man aged 65 and over of his right as a citizen to contribute for whatever rate of benefit he chooses.

Therefore, I propose for the acceptance of the committee, an amendment which will preserve to the man of 65 years the right himself to choose whether he will be transferred to the special fund or whether he will go on as an ordinary contributor to the fund, therefore, of course, depriving himself of the benefits which would come to him by membership of the special fund. The amendment I propose is to clause 15, and accordingly I move -

In clause IS, at end of proposed section 82b, add the following sub-section: - " (5.) Notwithstanding anything contained in the preceding provisions of this section, the contributions of a contributor who has attained the age of sixty-five years shall not be credited to the special account if he otherwise elects.".

I hope that amendment will be acceptable to the Minister. Tt interferes in no way with the principles governing the legislation he has brought before the committee. It does, however, preserve for the individual citizen a right he ought to possess. A man may be 63 years of age. He may have chosen for years to pay a contribution at the higher rate so as to attract benefit at the higher rate to enable him, if illness besets him, to have a private room and private ward treatment. If he wishes to continue in that way, and if he wishes not to go into the special fund, why should he be forced into it against his will? That is not the voluntary insurance to which the Minister has made such a proud claim in this debate. It deprives the ordinary citizen of rights that he should possess. The proposition is perfectly simple. It simply gives a man of 65 the same right as any other to go on as an ordinary contributor to the fund or to go into the special fund if he so chooses and reap the benefits, but not to shut him out from the opportunity of insuring for benefit at the highest rate which any society is paying, and not to shut him out from the right in case of illness to have private ward treatment if the benefit from his society or his own financial position permit him to enjoy it.







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