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Wednesday, 27 September 1972
Page: 2030

Mr CROSS (Brisbane) - I follow the Minister for Housing (Mr Kevin Cairns) with some interest because he asked for a reply on the question of the Australian Labor Party health scheme and what it will mean to Queensland, which has had free hospitals since they were introduced in the days of the Labor government quite some time ago. He expresses concern and surprise at the fact that the shadow Minister for Health, the honourable member for Oxley (Mr Hayden), would bring forward a scheme of this kind because the honourable member for Lilley claims that it would adversely affect the free hospitals in Queensland set up by a Labor government. Of course free hospitals in Queensland pose a special problem for the Labor national health scheme in the short term only.

Perhaps if I could deal at some length with the history of free hospitals in Queensland it might help. Free outpatient treatment was introduced by the Cooper Government, a Labor Government, under a means test in 1945. Towards the end of that year, the war having come to an end, the Labor Government of the time negotiated with the States to pay not all of the costs of public bed treatment but so much of the cost as was borne by the patient so that free public beds might be established in hospitals in all States. All the States agreed, and the Commonwealth hospital benefit of 6s a day was paid. At a later time, before the Chifley Government went out of office, the benefit was raised to 8s a day. So under Labor we had free hospitals in every State in the Commonwealth. In 1952, after the Menzies Government had come into office, the Commonwealth decided that it would destroy free hospitalisation in Australia. There was a conflict between the State Labor Government of Queensland led by Senator Gair, as he is now, and Mr Moore, the Minister for Health and Home Affairs. The Labor Party in Queensland decided that it would nail its colours to the mast on the principle of free hospitals and continue them despite the fact that the Commonwealth would give no assistance to Queensland in carrying that special burden.

That was the position that applied until 1970. In all that period between 1952 and 1970 no increase in assistance was given to Queensland by the Commonwealth Government for its free beds, while every other level of assistance to beds in hospitals, such as pensioner beds, beds for people who were covered by their contributions to hospital benefits schemes and the like, were raised. It was on an initiative taken by Senator McClelland in the Senate, on the very day on which the Senate committee report on hospital costs was tabled, that the level of assistance to free beds in public hospitals in Queensland was raised from 80c, at which rate it had continued from the day of the Chifley Government, to the S2 a day which it is now. I pay credit to those members on the government side and members of the Democratic Labour Party who voted with the Australian Labor Party in the Senate to give Queensland at least the S2.

Let us look, in the very brief time remaining to me, at what this means to Queensland. First of all, it presents a transitory problem because within a year or two of Labor coming into office there will again be free beds in public hospitals throughout Australia.

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - What will you do with the health tax? Will you still impose it?

Mr CROSS - Of course. Hospitals in Queensland are free only in the sense that a person does not pay for them while he is sick. They are paid for by the taxpayers at other times. The last year for which I have figures is 1971-72, when Queensland spent $79m on its hospital system. It was reimbursed about SI 2m by the Commonwealth and S3. 25m came from the Golden Casket. There are still some people in Queensland who imagine that the Golden Casket makes a significant contribution to hospital costs. The difference between the $ 15.25m and $79m is carried by the Queensland taxpayer. That is how free hospitals in Queensland are financed at the moment. They are financed at the expense of education and other areas. It also receives finance in another way. The actual cost of an occupied hospital bed per day in Queensland in 1970, the latest year for which 1 have figures, was $15.70, which was $10 below the national average. So although Queenslanders have free hospitals, in terms of the amount of money spent on hospitalisation there, they have low cost hospitals as well.

In the city of Brisbane, from which the honourable member for Lilley and I both come, there has been no extension of free hospitalisation in all the years of CountryLiberal Party rule in Queensland. All the free public hospitals in the metropolitan area were built in the days of the previous Labor Government. Free hospitalisation in Queensland is now subject to a financial squeeze with expenditure going up by about $12m a year and Commonwealth assistance to hospitals going up by about $500,000 a year. That means that the Country-Liberal Party Government of Queensland has to find an additional $11. 5m every year. Under the Labor scheme, on the figures that have been given by my colleague the honourable member for Oxley, over $13 a day per occupied bed for public wards, intermediate wards and private wards would be payable. This would mean an additional $22m a year for Queensland public hospitals, given 1971 as the year on which the figures were worked out.

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - Are you aware of what the Grant Commission has been giving?

Mr CROSS - Yes, I am.

Mr Kevin Cairns (LILLEY, QUEENSLAND) - What effect would this have on the Grants Commission?

Mr CROSS - One can argue, of course, that it might have some effect, but not only Queensland will be paid this amount. The same rate will be paid for hospital beds throughout Australia. The same amount will be paid in all States, and it will cancel this effect. The honourable member for Lilley, with his knowledge of finance, should realise that very well. Let us take the position as it applies now. Fifty-five per cent of the people of Queensland belong to medical and hospital benefits funds. They contribute to a lesser degree than do people in the other States to private medical benefits funds. The Commonwealth makes a contribution towards the claims lodged on these funds. Because fewer people in Queensland belong to the private medical benefits or funds and because all Australians pay tax, under the present scheme the people of Queensland arc missing out at both ends. On the one hand they get nothing back from the tax they pay because they do not belong to the private medical benefits or hospitals benefits funds. On the other hand, because they do not get this return they subsidise the hospital benefits and medical benefits for people in every other State of the Commonwealth. At the same time Queensland carries the burden of a free hospital system that the people of Queensland want.

The Labor Party health scheme is a fair, equitable and efficient scheme. It cuts out the inefficiencies of the multiplicity of funds. No commissions will be paid to chemists and the like for the collection of contributions because the money will be collected by the Taxation Office. The same assistance will apply across the Commonwealth. I would be the first to agree that there will be a difficult transitional period because honourable members opposite are trying to pretend to the people of Queensland that there is nothing for them in the Labor health scheme. The truth is the contrary. Free hospitals are under threat because of the credit squeeze I have outlined in brief to the Parliament. The present Government offers no solution to that problem. The Labor Party will solve this problem not only in Queensland but also throughout Australia. The present free hospital system is a great comfort and protection to people in Queensland. It does not do them much good if they happen to go across the border into Tweed Heads or other parts of Australia where they are not covered. Under a Labor scheme all the people of Australia will enjoy free hospitals and free hospitals will continue in Queensland.

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