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Thursday, 6 December 1973
Page: 4432

Mr DEPUTY SPEAKER - Order! I do not think that I can ask the honourable member to alter his speech. Ii the honourable member for Hotham feels that he has been misrepresented he may make a personal explanation when the honourable member for Shortland has finished his speech. There is nothing the Chair can do about what has been said. We all object at some time to what other people say.

Mr MORRIS - 1 can only refer to the information provided in this report and I read it to the House directly from today's 'Courier-Mail' . I was saying that in 1969 and 1972 the Australian Labor Party had canvassed the principles of the health insurance program embodied in the 2 Bills now before this House and we received majority support from the electors - indeed a clear mandate to implement this scheme and the provisions it will give to the people. It is based on 2 major principles, firstly, complete health coverage for all persons - freedom from fear of illness for all Australians; secondly, Australians will share the cost of the scheme based on their capacity to pay. But those with vested interests opposite - the representatives of the privileged - seek to obstruct this Government in the enactment of this democratic legislation. But their actions as protectors of privilege and in perpetuation of privilege is completely in character. The people are witnessing outside this chamber the antics of the Opposition in another place, where it seeks to thwart Government legislation and give benefit to the wealthy privileged school at the expense of the poorer schools of this nation. So, as I said, that is completely in character with Opposition members' attitude and their actions in both Houses of protecting privilege.

These champions of the vested interests of the establishment have indulged in a continual recitation of blatant untruths and a long campaign of deception, of protection of privilege and of misrepresentation and fear, in defence of a patched up, propped up scheme that bears heaviest on those least able to pay and leaves over one million Australians without proper medical coverage. I was most interested to listen to the remarks of the former Minister for Repatriation, the honourable member for Indi (Mr Holten), who is not now in the chamber, when he criticised salaried medical staff. This is the man who was a Minister for Repatriation - a Department which in the main has salaried medical staff. The repatriation scheme has been in operation for almost SO years and I have yet to hear complaints from the Returned Services League throughout this land or complaints from my constituents about the quality of medical care provided by the repatriation system.

Sitting suspended Umm 6.15 to 3 p.m.

Mr MORRIS - We heard earlier in this debate what we can only regard as criticism of and inferences against salaried medical staffs. These were cast by the honourable member for Indi who was the Minister for Repatriation in the former Government. This Government has the greatest respect and regard for the quality of the services provided by the salaried staffs of our repatriation hospitals. It is unfair that salaried medical staff should be used by the Opposition and by its backers as a means of trying to attack the health scheme of this Government. We have heard no stories or complaints about an abuse of our repatriation services. We have not had any figures put before us or before the Australian people to demonstrate a sudden upsurge in the use of repatriation medical services because repatriation staff are salaried staff. It is unfortunate that, during such an important debate, not one member of the Liberal Party is present in the House this evening. This is most unfortunate because the Australian people have been led to believe that in the view of the Liberal Party this is a major piece of legislation. But not one member of the Liberal Party is present in the House (Quorum formed).

I am indebted to the forceful party in the Opposition the Australian Country Party - which deemed it to be its responsibility to draw attention to the state of the House. It is unfortunate that there are still only 2 members of the Liberal Party present for the discussion on this important piece of legislation. I compliment the members of the Australian Country Party who are present in the House this evening. I challenge the Opposition to declare itself in relation to the Australian repatriation service. Do members of the Opposition have confidence in the medical staff of the repatriation service or do they regard them as providing a second rate service to ex-servicemen? Certainly the Returned Soldiers League organisations have not complained about the usage of the repatriation services. If members of the Opposition, and those of the Liberal Party in particular, feel that the standard of the repatriation service is less than desirable they ought to speak out and say so.

We have heard much talk in this debate about freedom of choice. What freedom of choice do we have now? If a person needs a specialist, what choice does he have now? He has none. We know that. A patient must pay his fee before he can get in to see a general practitioner. He cannot always get in to see the practitioner he wishes to see; he takes the one who is on duty. That practitioner will refer the patient to a specialist, when a specialist's services are required, whom he thinks is the best. He does not give the patient a series of names of specialists to see. The patient cannot make his own selection. The general practitioner makes the selection for him.

I mention next this wonderful quality of doctor-patient relationship. I quote briefly from a letter that I received recently from a lady who attended a doctor. She said:

When I recently needed medical attention I rang his surgery and was told by a recorded message to call the telephone exchange. The telephone exchange had no suggestions as to how to contact -Dr X.

I have subsequently been told by a friend that Dr X has left Canberra.

The letter continues:

Surely a brief, roneoed sheet to patients stating that he was going away wouldn't have hurt too much. This would have given his patients some time to look around for another doctor before being placed in the position of needing one.

Secondly, there has been a lot of comment on privacy and patient records. Dr X has, in his possession, or has put somewhere three years of my medical records - is it too much to ask that he let me know where they are or what he has done with them?

That is the quality of the special doctor-patient relationship which exists at present.

As to the criticism of the White Paper on the universal health insurance program, let us examine what that august journal the 'Can- berra Times' said in its editorial of 9 November. It states:

The scheme, as modified in the White Paper, does guarantee freedom of private practice to the medical profession (though it seeks to devise in co-operation with the Australian medical profession a formula that would guarantee observance of scheduled fees by doctors) and it leaves the patient full freedom to be treated by the doctor of his choice even in the public wards of hospitals. The White Paper gives- encouraging assurances that the confidentiality of records will be protected; the danger that the privacy of patients will suffer will be no greater under the universal scheme than it is under the present scheme of records kept by private insurance organisations.

What does the Melbourne 'Age', another august journal of our nation, have to say on the White Paper? Its editorial on the 'Hayden syndrome' states:

There is no doubt about it: this is a case of acute medico paranoia, otherwise known as the Hayden syndrome. All the symptoms are present - fear verging on hysteria, a tendency to babble irrationally and the breakout of a rash of noisome advertising. We are talking about the Australian Medical Association, for so long an august body accustomed to accepting with dignity the respect of the public. In particular, we are talking about the AMA's reaction to the Government's proposed health scheme.

That is the conclusive proof of Hayden's syndrome: say 'proposed health scheme' to the AMA and back comes a Pavlovian shout of 'nationalised medicine'. It is an absurd claim and the AMA's campaign to sow fear in the minds of the public is an exercise in distortion, if not straight-out dishonesty. If by nationalised medicine' the AMA means that the Government will force doctors to join a salaried service then it is mistaken. Doctors will be free to practice privately as at present, and they will continue to charge fee for service, as at present. If it means that the Government will interfere with the patientdoctor relationship (or what remains of it in these days of group practice and locums and answering services) then it is mistaken again.

Let us put aside the fanciful claims made by the Australian Medical Association and the General Practitioners Association about the so-called freedom of choice to select a doctor that supposedly exists today and let us look at the facts.

In the Newcastle area if a person is ill and is able to go along to the general practitioner's surgery or the group practice surgery to seek medical attention, this is what happens: If the doctor the patient wishes to see - that is the doctor of his choice - happens to be on duty invariably that person is told that an immediate appointment is out of the question. He is asked to come back later that day or later in the week or that he can go to the casualty section of one of the public hospitals. If the doctor the person wishes to see is off duty or out on rounds, that person can see one of the doctors who is on duty at the surgery but he may not be the doctor of that person's choice. That person must see whoever happens to be on duty and, then again, at some later time - that is, later that day, on another day or perhaps next week. Furthermore, anyone unfortunate enough to fall ill at the weekend is in a worse position. Not only is there no choice of a person's private doctor but he would be fortunate indeed if he could get any doctor from a group practice. The chances are that when a person rings his doctor's phone number he will be given the number of an answering service, and when he calls that number he will be referred to a locum or a locum service. So much for the choice of doctor. It is just not true. It does not exist, and the people of this country know that it does not exist.

I know of no doctor's surgery in the Newcastle area where a person can immediately see the general practitioner of his choice. I repeat that he is told that he can see the doctor who happens to be on duty and at a time to be arranged. Then, having made an appointment, when he arrives for the consultation in many surgeries he is requested to pay the consultation fee before the doctor will see him, no matter how ill he happens to be. In one surgery in my electorate recently a sick aged pensioner waited almost 3i hours, in a waiting room packed with approximately 40 patients, to see the doctor. I do not have to tell honourable members what a distressing experience that is for a sick person, but it is worse still if the person is not a pensioner patient and payment is requested in advance before he can see the doctor. There is no doubt in my mind that these kinds of procedures cause great discomfort and concern to those people who are ill and have to seek the service of a doctor.

It would be idle to ignore the fact that the campaign of fear and confusion conducted against our sick and aged persons by the opponents of this Government has succeeded in hurting and frightening some of them. A case brought to my notice recently concerned 2 members of the one family - one of whom is an aged person and both of whom have been receiving prolonged treatment from a specialist. Someone convinced these people that under the Government's health program they would no longer be able to see the specialist who had cared for them throughout their illnesses. It was an absolute untruth and it has caused those sick persons unnecessary distress and worry. It was a cruel and despicable act on the part of those responsible.

On top of this, nowadays patients in doctors' waiting rooms are subjected to a display of garish and amateurish posters and propaganda designed to create fear and confusion in the minds of people seeking ease from their illnesses. They are a captive audience for what amounts to visual intimidation. A visit to the doctor's surgery these days can be described only as an experience that most patients would much rather avoid - one that accentuates their worry and preys on their vulnerability, particularly if they are aged or short of money. It is a social tragedy and a disgrace that the Opposition parties - the Liberal and Country Parties - seek to perpetuate this sick system of health care. No matter how they and their supporters in the medical profession and the undemocratic health insurance funds try to conjure up" a picture of a special doctor-patient relationship, the people of Australia know from their own experience that it is a sham and a fantasy, and that it does not exist.

Yet, when the Australian Labor Government seeks to introduce a health care system which is based on the capacity of the income earner to pay and which will bring complete freedom of fear from illness and improved quality of . medical care, the Liberal and Country Parties act to obstruct it. Their actions can be described only as irresponsible and mercenary. Make no mistake, they are not fooling anyone with their campaign of fear and intimidation because, as I repeat, Australians know the poor quality of treatment and service they receive under the hotch-potch health system that was developed over a generation of Liberal-Country Party administration. Remember that it took Sir Earle Page 20 years to sell it to his own Party before he was able to bring it into this place.

Not all general practitioners are willing participants in the campaign that has been conducted against this Government. Some of them are sick to death of what has been a disgraceful campaign of misrepresentation of this Government's proposals. I pay tribute to those general practitioners who are dedicated, hard working sincere men - men to be admired for the long hours they give to patient care at the expense of their own private lives. I have some of these doctors in my electorate. They are men who have seen a diversion of a large part of their practice to their more fortunate colleagues, the specialists, under the present patched up scheme. I have sympathy for these doctors. They believe in their profession, but they are captives of the Australian Medical Association and its selfish attitudes. This Government's health proposals will bring justice and relief to these men, and I believe that they deserve it. The vicious campaign of fear, confusion and misrepresentation waged by the Australian Medical Association and the General Practitioners Society has misled doctors as well as patients. I hope that these doctors will now strike out, stand up for honesty and truth and join in the development of the proposals outlined in these Bills.

Finally, what has been the result of the malicious, vindictive, selfish campaign of untruths, misrepresentations and denigration that has been waged by the Australian Medical Association, the General Practitioners Society, the undemocratic health insurance funds, the vested interests and their puppets in this place against this Government's health proposals, against salaried medical staff, against the Prime Minister .(Mr Whitlam) and even against the Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden)? The result has been to sweep away forever the credibility, the trust and the respect that the community once reposed in the medical profession. Members of the medical profession themselves are the major casualties. Never again will the community trust them. But this Government, with the clear mandate given to it by the Australian people last December, will carry on with its responsibility to bring universal health care to all Australians and to remove from our society forever the fear of illness.

Debate interrupted.

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