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Tuesday, 13 November 1973
Page: 3183

Mr SHERRY (FRANKLIN, TASMANIA) - Is the Minister for Social Security aware of today's statement from a source not noted for its sympathy to the Government, that under Labor's health insurance program patients will enjoy the widest possible freedom of choice? Is he aware of statements from the same source that facts, as distinct from propaganda, do not bear out accusations that the program is a plan to socialise medicine? Is it a fact that these views are widely held in the community and that the majority of Australians are far more impressed by objective discussion on the merits of the program than by appeals to prejudice and fear?

Mr HAYDEN - I noted the editorial in today's 'Sydney Morning Herald', and it was encouraging. Of course, the 'Sydney Morning Herald' editorial represents a fairly objective assessment, and a fairly correct one, of the implications of the White Paper and the program of universal health insurance that the Government is about to introduce. Certainly it is not socialisation of medicine or hospital services. My good friend the honourable member for Hotham made that- point himself at a meeting of the Australian Dental Association. It is on record. He was sick and tired of the carping and the misrepresentation from the ranks of his own Opposition members. He stood for truth and accuracy. He stood for some rational discussion on the issues currently before the community.

I am glad that the 'Sydney Morning Herald' also raised the issue of freedom of choice. It has been made a key issue in the course of the misrepresentation conducted at great expense to the medical profession by the Australian Medical Association. Our program has always guaranteed freedom of choice of medical practitioner by patients - freedom of choice of the medical practitioner whom one wants to treat one in the surgery or by a home visit, in an intermediate or private ward in a public hospital or in a private hospital. Insofar as public wards in public hospitals are concerned, the restrictions that currently apply in this area have nothing to do with the Government. They are applied by State hospital authorities - in New South Wales and Victoria, by Liberal-Country Party administrations. Why does the Opposition in this House not make some protest about that sort of restriction and intrusion? What sort of freedom of choice is there for the patient at tb: present time?

Mr Turner - I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. The Minister is not answering the question, nor did the supposed questioner ask one. What we are doing is debating the Government's health scheme. This ought to be done in a debate on the White Paper. To do so in question time is an abuse of the practices of this House.

Mr SPEAKER -Order! There is no point of order involved. The Minister may answer the question in the way he wishes. I ask the Minister to make it as brief as possible.

Mr HAYDEN - Yes, I will do so. As the Prime Minister points out to me, members of this House will have every opportunity to debate this matter in the course of the debate on the estimates of the Department of Social Security. I am reminded that last night only 2 members of the Opposition attempted to say anything about it. One did not understand the scheme and the other misrepresented it. But let me discuss the point of freedom of choice. What sort of freedom of choice is there for the patient who goes into a doctor's surgery and sees a sign on the wall saying: 'Pay before medical service will be provided*. Why has there not been some scream of moral outrage on the part of members of the Opposition that this is not only widespread but the tendency is increasing? The worst feature of it is that it is most apparent in the areas of low and modest income affecting people least able to afford to have this sort of discrimination against them. The people living in the fringe suburbs of the big metropolises find it extremely difficult and most expensive to go to the central city areas where the large hospitals are situated. What is the answer of the Opposition in the current debate except to carp and misrepresent? What would the Opposition do to remedy its scheme?

Mr SPEAKER -Order! I ask the Minister to make his answer as brief as possible. A lot of people on both sides of the House are waiting to ask questions.

Mr HAYDEN - Let me make 2 quick points. The efforts of Opposition members to cover over the defects of the subsidised health insurance part of their program failed. Their latest proposal is to include those entitled to pensioner medical services in the general, private health insurance scheme. My Department has carried out some costing and that scheme would involve another $160m roughly. We will have some very fine costing soon. That is the sort of remedy the Opposition has. The Opposition has no responsibility, no sense of financial obligation in the community. It just wants to plug more taxpayers' money in to keep a totally discredited system limping along a bit longer.

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