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Wednesday, 24 September 1958

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) .- The honorable member for EdenMonaro (Mr. Allan Fraser) has raised three points in the committee this afternoon, and I shall deal with them in the order in which he raised them. First, he accused officers of the Department of Health of having circulated what were represented as decisions prior to the introduction of the legislation. I did not reply to this charge when I spoke at the second reading stage because I really thought it was not a serious charge. Now, however, I will certainly explain the circumstances. This document, which is in no sense a decision and does not in any way represent itself to be a decision, was not circulated by the officers of the department but by me.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, I am not absolving the Minister at all.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It was circulated by me at a meeting which I had with the benefit organizations, and the circulation of it was perfectly correct and proper. I had a long and intricate discussion to conduct with the members of the benefit organizations, and it seemed to me the merest common sense that they should have before them, for the purposes of the discussion, a document setting out the Government's proposals. That is what the document is. The honorable gentleman need feel no alarm that the officers of my department are going outside the proper sphere of their activities, because nothing of the sort is the case.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - The document does not say that these are proposals. It says they are decisions.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - It does not say they are decisions, either. The honorable member can rest assured that what the document contained were proposals put forward for the purposes of discussion, and it was circulated by me and not by the officers of my department. I take full responsibility for it, and I am quite certain that any other Minister, when conducting long and intricate negotiations such as these were, would do exactly the same thing. I am also quite sure that Ministers of previous administrations have done the same thing. It is a matter of pure common sense.

There is one other thing I want to say, though, about the officers of the Department of Health. Suggestions have been made in the committee that the officers of that department have been, as it is termed, standing over some of the funds. Let me make it perfectly plain that that is not the attitude of the officers of my department. They exercise, as, of course, they are bound in the course of their duties to exercise, constant liaison with the funds, and, on some occasions, supervision of their financial activities. So they should, because those financial activities involve the handling and expenditure of large Government subsidies. But I am sure I can say, without any fear of contradiction, that representatives of all the benefit organizations in Australia have, from time to time, expressed to me their highest opinions of the value, the tact and the general good sense of, and the assistance afforded by, the officers of the Department of Health. I take this opportunity of saying how much this Government and the country owes to their handling of frequently very difficult situations.

I now wish to refer briefly to another matter raised in the committee by the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) concerning a special organization. This is connected also with the second point raised by the honorable member for Eden Monaro this afternoon, concerning organizations which already pay full benefits and which have no excluding rules. I think that was the second point raised by the honorable member.


Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - As I understand it, the point made by the honorable member was that there are some organizations which already pay full benefits without excluding rules, and that they feel themselves disadvantaged by not being able to pass their contributors, the chronics and like cases, into a special account and have them paid out of the special account.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Yes, that is part of it. .There are some societies which have accepted chronics and others which have shut them out.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - There are some such societies in Australia. One, of course, is the railway and tramway organization to which the honorable member for East Sydney (Mr. Ward) referred yesterday. Nearly all of these organizations have some special arrangements. Some are contract organizations; that is to say, they provide their medical services by contracting with a doctor. That is quite proper, of course, and there is no objection to it.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Except from the British Medical Association.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - No. there is no objection from the B.M.A., either. Some organizations have special rates of contribution; nearly all of them, have some special feature. However, the point I want to make is that really the amendments in this bill neither advantage nor disadvantage any organization, these or others. There are not a great number of these organizations, but they are not in any way disadvantaged by this legislation. This legislation is designed to procure an advantage for contributors, not for organizations. If an existing organization finds it is able to pay out of its ordinary fund for preexisting ailments, its contributors are not under a disadvantage, but the great bulk of the organizations and the big organizations^ - I remind the committee that in Australia over 6,000,000 people are insured in these organizations - have excluding rules. The amendments in the ball will in fact benefit contributors to those organizations which have excluding rules, but they do not simultaneously impose any disadvantage on the contributors of organizations which do not have excluding rules, because those organizations can still continue what they are doing. If the management committee felt that it would be better off if the organization revised its rules and so came under the amendments which are now being made to the National Health Act, it would be at perfect liberty to do so.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - Does the Minister mean that a society which has accepted a chronic sufferer and is paying him benefits can transfer him to a special account?

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - If it likes to set up a special account, it can do so. There is no objection. The society itself makes that decision.

Mr ALLAN FRASER (EDEN-MONARO, NEW SOUTH WALES) - I thought that was ruled out by the bill.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - No. Some organizations - very good ones - have already notified the Department of Health that they do not wish to come under these amendments. If they do not wish to do so, that is all right; it is entirely their own prerogative.

I turn now to the third matter raised by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro and referred to by the honorable member for Bonython (Mr. Makin). I admit that the honorable gentleman has a point here. In fact, it is a matter to which the Government has given considerable thought. I have not been quite satisfied that all that was possible was being done in this regard and so, while I cannot accept the honorable gentleman's amendment - I shall explain in a few moments why the Government is not willing to accept it - I intend to move an amendment myself. The effect of this amendment will be to secure to contributors substantially the advantages that the honorable members for Eden-Monaro and Bonython have pointed out that they should have. As I understand it, the purpose of the honorable gentleman's amendment was to secure to the special account contributor, who may in fact have been paying at a higher rate before he was put into the special account, not only adequate benefits compared with other members of the organization but indeed benefits commensurate with the contributions that he has paid. I agree that this is desirable and, as I say, this is a matter that the Government has considered. I come now to my amendment.

The CHAIRMAN (Mr. AdermannThe Minister may indicate what his amendment is, but the committee cannot deal with it until the amendment moved by the honorable member for Eden-Monaro has been dealt with.

Dr DONALD CAMERON (OXLEY, QUEENSLAND) - I intend to move that paragraph (d) of proposed new section 82e be omitted. This paragraph reads -

(d)   a special account contributor is not permitted to insure for fund benefits in excess of such benefits as may be prescribed from time to time by regulations under this Act, being benefits not jess than standard rate benefit;

I consider that this is a better way to secure the objective of the honorable gentleman than his own amendment, for two reasons. The first is that an amendment which allowed individual contributors to make the decision would, I think, really disrupt the whole course of the bill. It would be extremely difficult for organizations if the management committee had not the right to decide whether it should set up a special account and, having set up a special account, who should be allowed in it. We might very well find that many organizations, rather than submit to that position, would refuse to take contributors over 65 years of age. As I pointed out, this bill is intended to help contributors at present at a disadvantage. While I agree with the principle referred to by the honorable gentleman, I think that he will probably agree with me that the method I proposed is the better method. It will be much easier for the organization and will secure the advantages much more firmly for the contributors.

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