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Thursday, 29 November 1973
Page: 4142

Mr HAYDEN (Oxley) (Minister for Social Security) - I move:

That the Bill be now read a second time.

The Bill before the House provides for payments for medical benefits, hospital services and certain other specific services, and is the culmination of a great deal of investigation, planning and community debate concerning the most equitable and efficient means of providing health insurance coverage for all Australians. The Bill will enact principles for a health insurance program which were placed before the public at the last Federal election and for which the Government was given a clear mandate. They are principles which have had firm community support for several years and which have withstood, in recent months, a deliberate campaign of deceit and misrepresentation such as has seldom been seen in this country.

The legislation the Government is now proposing represents a sincere endeavour to build a new health benefits system in a way which will meet the expectations of the public for high quality health services to be readily accessible to all, which will expand rather than inhibit the opportunities for freedom of choice, which will promote efficiency in the delivery of health services and which will assist in the upgrading of hospital and community based health facilities. The principles of social equity, universal coverage and cost efficiency which form the Government's intention in this legislation are central to our whole philosophy of social progress. These principles have been, and will continue to be, pursued with great determination. This determination, however, has not been characterised by doctrinaire or rigid viewpoints which might exclude freedom of choice and flexibility. I submit that the course of the debate on our health insurance proposals, including our deliberately 'open government' approach to our policy planning, speaks for itself about our attitude of listening carefully to responsible criticism and seeking to achieve the best balance possible between the legitimate interests of patients, doctors and hospital managements.

Honourable members will remember that we published in April of this year the report of the Health Insurance Planning Committee which outlined a series of proposals on how a health insurance program could be introduced. When I tabled the report in this House I emphasised that its contents were proposals only and that we looked forward to widespread and valuable debate. After 6 months of debate throughout the community we published a White Paper setting out our intentions for this legislation. Objective critics throughout the country have noted that the White Paper demonstrates the Government's receptiveness to constructive criticism about the health insurance proposals. It is in that light and in that spirit that this legislation has been drafted. As far as I can ascertain, such an open government' exercise has not been undertaken before in Australia and I feel it is a significant innovation and, although it has not yet attracted such widespread attention as the health insurance proposals, I would call the attention of honourable members to the fact that I have also tabled in this House a discussion paper on the Australian Assistance Plan. This concept of placing our proposals for social innovations and improvements before the public for discussion before final policy details are expressed in legislation is one which I advocated as an Opposition spokesman and which, despite the advantages which can be taken by unscrupulous pressure group opponents, I believe to be both desirable and necessary.

Mr Viner - What pressure groups?

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