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Monday, 12 November 1973
Page: 3156

Mr LAMB (La Trobe) - I rise to speak in the debate on the estimates of the Department of Social Security in relation to the important matter of the Australian health insurance program. Although the proposals received the overwhelming support of the people at the last election the Opposition has allied itself with the extremist elements of the medical profession in an attempt to thwart this popular mandate. These elements, who prostitute the capitalist enterprise system to the detriment of the Australian people and tarnish the reputation of the majority of fine, reputable physicians, have managed to delay the introduction of a comprehensive universal medical insurance scheme since the first attempts by the Bruce-Page Government.

The honourable member for Boothby (Mr McLeay) has referred to the motion he moved in this House last week. His motion sought to head off the introduction of a vitally needed reform in Australia. He sought indefinitely to postpone the introduction of a universal health insurance scheme .that provided everyone with protection against health costs and that was financed by a 1.35 per cent levy which was based on an individual's capacity to pay. The Government's proposals, as outlined in the White Paper presented to Parliament toy the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden), have been endorsed by this popular mandate. Yet the honourable member, with patrician indifference, has sought to deny the popular will on the spurious and specious grounds outlined in his motion of last week. The Minister covered the honourable member's so called reasons for an inquiry during .the debate last week and convincingly demonstrated the falsity of his claims.

I would like to examine the reasons behind the honourable member's desire to perpetuate the present inefficient system and the actions he has .taken to further this aim. His desire must be so strong that it has moved him to take quite outrageous steps to support his point of view, as I will soon show. Firstly, in an earlier debate in this chamber, he claimed that if his Party had remained in government it would have improved its own scheme, which was in any case nearly perfect. His Party had 23 years in government to build and improve its scheme and it failed to do so. Any steps it took to change the scheme were taken grudgingly and meekly. It was ready to drop any plan at the hint of disapproval by the

Australian Medical Association. The only man to stand up to this medico-political pressure - the right honourable member for Higgins (Mr Gorton) - was quickly deposed when he attempted to reform the system.

The honourable member for Boothby has generously conceded that the present scheme could be improved to help the needy, provided of course they are prepared to accept the crumbs of charity, but constant attempts to do so by his Government through subsidised benefits failed because of .their complexity. Only 4 out of every 100 persons eligible for assistance actually receive it. So any patching up he intends will be doomed to failure if it merely perpetuates this complexity. That is no comfort or protection for the one million people - the census and statistics survey published in May 1973 confirmed that the figure was one million people - who are not covered against the costs of medical and hospital care.

It is when .the honourable member starts to do some sums to back up his prejudices that serious distortions and deliberate misrepresentations begin appearing. For example, in his speech in this chamber on 11 October he purported to show that it will cost a person $49 a week to enter a public ward of a public hospital. He obtained this figure by stating the costs of a public ward bed and subtracting a mythical $13 as the maximum Commonwealth contribution towards these costs. He has completely ignored the Government's intention that all Australians who choose to be treated as hospital patients in a public ward of a public hospital will receive treatment absolutely free. It is untrue to claim anything else. Yet he seems to be determined to perpetuate and extend this error outside of Parliament in a deliberate campaign to mislead the public. He has widely circulated throughout his electorate and South Australia a pamphlet that has already caused widespread concern among innocent Australians. These misrepresentations cannot be allowed to go unchecked. The pamphlet is riddled with inaccuracies. I will try to point out as many as I have time for.

Firstly, it says that women will not be able to choose their own doctor for confinements. The honourable member must know that that is untrue. The Green Paper, in paragraph 3.65, and the White Paper, in paragraph 4.22, state specifically that hospitals should appoint general practitioners to sessional staffs for midwifery only and patients should then be treated at no cost if they choose to be hospital patients. Secondly, the honourable member claims that patients will be able to choose only between a public or private hospital. That is again untrue. Patients will be able to choose the type of care they prefer in a public hospital irrespective of whether they want to pay extra for a semi-private or private room or want to be a private patient with their own doctor treating them for a fee. As the honourable member must know, patients still will be able to choose their own doctor for medical care. Patients will be admitted to hospital by their own doctor or specialist and not ordered to a particular institution, as he has falsely claimed. They will be referred to a specialist by their own doctor, the same as happens now - nothing else.

Again we have the big lie on free hospital treatment, but now it has become bigger. Perhaps the honourable member believes the old Geobbels dictum of the bigger the lie the more chance one has of getting people to believe what one says. He said that as well as the surcharge tax people will have to pay at least $119 a week for a public ward bed. Remember that it was $49 on 11 October. Tonight we heard that it would be $14 a day or $98 a week. He also added that it would cost $1 89 for a private room. The honourable member explained these figures, as I said earlier, by taking the cost of a hospital bed and subtracting what he thinks the common subsidy will be. What he has not said is that the subsidy is paid .to the hospital via the State hospital authorities. This, plus a further amount, will mean that 50 per cent of the public hospital running costs will now be paid by the Australian Government. In return for this generous financial boost for them the State hospitals will provide a free bed in a standard ward for any Australian who chooses this form of hospital treatment. All treatment and accommodation will be absolutely free. It is wicked - in fact, immoral - for the honourable member to try to persuade people otherwise. Who would have thought that he would stoop to deception in his attempts to stir up opposition to the Government's plans? Yet obviously this is what he has done.

The rest of the pamphlet is equally unpleasant and inaccurate. It boasts of the Government being forced to backtrack on private insurance and centralised hospital con trol. The honourable member and his unknow cohorts have, as far as he has been able to ascertain, made no submissions to the Minister for Social Security. The fact is that private hospital insurance was always allowed and it was decided also to allow private medical insurance as an example of the Government's desire to allow freedom of choice. Centralised hospital control is just a figment of the honourable member's imagination. The Green Paper and the White Paper both make it clear that hospital arrangements will be characterised by co-operation between the Australian Government and the State hospital authorities.

Then we had the inevitable cry for support, for money to publicise non-Labor views. In this respect at least the honourable member for Boothby has been honest in stating that it is really just another political trick on behalf of the Liberal Country League. As if it does not already have enough great and powerful financial friends to help it in its fight. The private health insurance funds, for so long a law unto their directors rather than their contributors, see the days of overseas trips and executive aeroplanes going and do not like it. They have been extremely generous in their use of their contributors' money to spread falsehoods about the Government's plans. They are fine bedfellows for the honourable member, as are the overseas owned drug companies which have yielded to the blandishments of the AMA and the General Practitioners Society to contribute to their fighting funds. The AMA and the General Practitioners Society are keen ,to fight a dirty campaign against our scheme and the Minister personally - probably against the better wishes of their silent majority of members.

In conclusion, I am disappointed by but not really surprised at the smear and fear campaign of the honourable member for Boothby. Some people believe that they have a monopoly on righteousness, virtue, the truth and, until we proved otherwise last December, even government and will use any weapon, however twisted, to prove their point. This shabby little pamphlet was designed to instil fear in people who are unable easily to find out the truth for themselves. The honourable member for Boothby has, by the use of false propaganda, indicated the lengths to which the Opposition will go to fight the proposed health scheme. His motion, which was defeated last week, was just the icing on the Opposition's poison campaign cake. Is this pamphlet what the Opposition is really about? If it is not, I challenge the Opposition's spokesman on health and social security and the Leader of the Opposition (Mr Snedden) to repudiate this document on behalf of the Liberal Party of Australia or be equally responsible for the lies it spreads.

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