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Tuesday, 28 September 1971
Page: 1528

Mr KENNEDY (BENDIGO, VICTORIA) - I address my question to the Minister representing the Minister for Health. The Minister will recall that about a fortnight ago I asked him a question about the subsidised medical scheme for lower income earners which he was not able to answer. Is he now able to explain the almost total failure of this scheme as shown by figures indicating that only 7 per cent, or 13,000 out of the estimated 184,000 families eligible for assistance under this scheme, have been approved by the Department of Social Services and that about only half of this number have been registered with a benefits organisation? What steps has he in train to ensure that all people who are eligible for assistance do so benefit especially as roughly 84,000 families earning between $46.50 and $52.50 must be in the scheme for 2 months to benefit? Finally, as the means test at present victimises large families who need a larger income to be above the poverty line than the means test allows, will he broaden the means test to take account of differing incomes needed for differing family sizes?

Dr FORBES (BARKER, SOUTH AUSTRALIA) (Minister for Immigration) - The way in which the honourable gentleman made reference to the previous question he asked of me implied that I had the current responsibility for this matter. As he well knows, the Minister for Health is in another place. On that previous occasion I undertook to convey the context of his question to the Minister for Health and said that in due course the Minister for Health would provide him with the information direct. I am not aware of whether or not he has done so. However, I have had some interest in and some responsibility for this matter in the past and I have taken steps to check the situation as the honourable gentleman has described it. I have found out that the way in which the honourable gentleman has represented this matter, to imply that the low income or the subsidised health scheme has been a failure, has been completely misleading. In fact, although the scheme has not achieved everything one would have liked it to have achieved - for obvious reasons given the particular group to which it is directed - it has covered a very much larger proportion of low income earners in the Australian community than has been represented by the honourable member.

The reason for that is that the honourable gentleman has been selective in his figures. The figures provided to him about the number of people who had enrolled or who had received assistance under the scheme were in 3 categories: Firstly, low income earners; secondly, recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits; and thirdly, migrants within 2 months of arrival. The figures did show that under the category of low income families only 11,000 families were listed. He has blown up this figure to show that the scheme has been completely unsuccessful. In fact, the figures also show that 82,000 recipients of unemployment, sickness and special benefits were enrolled under the scheme up to 30th June 1971 and that 28,000 migrants became members of funds. As the honourable member should know, the fact is that a very large proportion of the recipients of unemployment and sickness benefits and, indeed, a proportion of migrants also, are in the low income category.

The information I have been given shows that the figure we should be looking at for an indication of the coverage of the scheme is not 11,000 low income families but in fact the 84,000 people who receive benefit which, as I think the honourable gentleman will agree, presents an entirely different picture. However, even in relation to this proportion of coverage my colleague has told me that he is not satisfied with coverage that has been achieved to date. He recently has taken steps to bring in a much simplified application form. He has taken steps to ensure that as well as the normal advertising and publicity that are undertaken in this matter, greater efforts are made by social workers, hospitals and people who have direct contact in this field. The main point I want to make is that the position taken by the honourable gentleman and picked up completely uncritically by all the Press around the country on the basis of what he says does not represent the true situation for the reasons I have given.

Mr Grassby - Mr Speaker, I raise a point of order in relation to 2 incidents which occurred at question time and seek your guidance.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is out of order if he wants to raise a point of order in such a context. He should have raised it at the time.

Mr Grassby - I deferred as a matter of courtesy.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! The honourable member is out of order. He will resume his seat.

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