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Thursday, 11 October 1973
Page: 1936

Ms McLEAY (Boothby) - Before 1 refer to the matters about which I am concerned in this grievance debate I should like to make passing comment on the answers given by the Minister for Defence (Mr Barnard) a few moments ago in response to questions asked by the honourable member for Barker (Dr Forbes) and to say how much I personally deplore the run down in Service activities, particularly in relation to the Royal Australian Air Force and the Royal Australian Navy. I make the point that if the Government want to help the world gliding championships - members of the Opposition would approve - surely this should be done through the Department of Civil Aviation, as was done when the previous Government was in power, and not by draining funds away from the Royal Australian Air Force. I heard only this morning that things are in such a serious state in the Navy that in a recent exercise off the Queensland coast the naval vessels involved could use only one screw because the Navy does not have enough money to buy sufficient fuel to enable the running of both engines. The position seems to me to be absolutely deplorable. I trust that the Minister for Defence will have a look at the matter. The time will come when we will have nothing to defend anything with. We will have nothing even to attack locusts.

I wish to refer now to the Government's proposed national health plan and also the plans of my Party. In particular I wish- to refer to the increasing amount which we hear not only from the Government side but also from journalists who support the Labor Party cause. I believe things have been said which are totally untrue. It has been said that my Party has no positive policies. I wish to compare the Government's proposed health scheme with our own plans in order to indicate positive and non-positive policies. Our scheme, I believe, is infinitely better than the Government's scheme will ever be. It is a voluntary scheme and I admit it can be improved. I wish to refer to part of the National Health Act which indicates particular areas where, if my Party had been permitted to stay in government, it would have been able to improve its own scheme. No scheme is perfect; our scheme is nearly perfect. If we can take care of the areas where there has been some disability our own scheme will be perfect. Part of the National Health Act deals with the 3 areas where perhaps our scheme could have been improved. The areas involved are low income earning families, people receiving unemployment, sickness and special benefits and migrants. I do not think it is generally known in the community that those people can be encouraged to take part in voluntary plans such as the one in which the Government will pay the premiums. I admit that to that extent we were neglectful. We did not receive enough information about the areas where there was need and the ways in which improvements could be made.

The big advantage of our scheme and the philosophy of it is that the healthy pay for the sick. It is a voluntary scheme and in spite of what the Minister says more than 96 per cent of the people in this country receive under our existing scheme satisfactory medical and hospital services. The Minister has said time and time again that a million people have no protection. Where are those million people? The figures I have indicate that 83.2 per cent of the Australian community is in voluntary health funds. More than 9 per cent is in the pensioner medical service; 3 per cent is in repatriation services and the defence forces provide medical care for nearly 1 per cent. Those figures indicate that 96.4 per cent of the community is currently receiving the best hospital and medical treatment in the world. The big problem today is that the Minister for Social Security has succeeded in getting public debate about the health scheme into the area of doctors' fees. I say that the proposed scheme has nothing to do with doctors' fees. I admit that when we were in government this was an area where we had not completely arrived at a satisfactory solution, but we were getting to that situation.

I see no reason to destroy a first class scheme and replace it with a doctrinaire socialist policy. Let us look at the deficiencies of the scheme. The Minister continues to denigrate the medical profession and to engage it in public debate. I think we should be drawing attention to where the real deficiencies will exist in the Government scheme if it is ever introduced. I refer to the cost of going to hospital and of paying the premiums. I have some figures which indicate the cost to persons who are unfortunate enough to go to hospital under the Government scheme which is proposed to be introduced on 1 July next year. I suggest it will be quite impossible for the scheme to function from that date. The figures for South Australia, which is the State that I know best, indicate that approximately 70 per cent of persons who go to hospital go to private hospitals. I think that percentage varies from State to State. It could be even higher in Victoria. In South Australia the cost of a bed in a public hospital such as the Royal Adelaide Hospital, the Queen Elizabeth Hospital or hospitals in Mount Gambier or other country areas is $20 a day. Therefore a bed in a public hospital costs $140 a week. Under the Labor Party compulsory tax finance scheme the maximum Government contribution will be $13 a day, which is $91 a week. 1 wonder whether the Australians realise that when this so-called free scheme comes in it will cost a person who enters a public ward in, say, the Royal Adelaide Hospital $49 a week over and above what it will cost to join the scheme. A share room in such a hospital will cost $84 a week over and above what it will cost to join the scheme. Patients will not have any choice. It is a compulsory scheme. A private room in a public hospital will cost $119 over and above the fee to join the scheme. I think this is of some concern particularly to women who will enter hospital to be confined. Two things will happen, quite apart from having a baby. First, the women will have no choice of doctor. The only choice they will have will be whether they enter a public hospital or a private hospital. A private room in a public hospital will cost them $119 a week. A private room in a private hospital will cost $189 a week. Those fees will be paid by the patient direct to the hospital after receiving the Government subsidy. On top of that cost is the cost of joining the scheme. I repeat that it will be compulsory to join the scheme. Nobody will have any choice. A single person on a salary of $100 a week on present plans will be paying $28.60 a year to join a fund. In return nearly all of the costs of hospitalisation will be refunded.

Under the Government's scheme a single person earning $100 a week will pay $62.52 a year for the privilege of so-called free medicine. On top of that he will be facing some of the cost of hospitalisation. It is very bad news for a single person. He will pay more than double what he pays now in contributions and he will pay a great deal more to go to hospital. The same position will apply to working wives. There are thousands of 2-children families in the community in which both parents are working. At present they pay $61.88 a year. Under the free Government scheme they will pay $96.20 a year.

Mr James - What is their income?

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