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Wednesday, 5 December 1973
Page: 2520

Senator LITTLE (Victoria) - I wish to draw the attention of honourable senators to a very serious matter. It is the withholding from the Parliament of information, by a responsible or irresponsible Minister of the Government, to which this Parliament was entitled to have access. I allege that the Minister deliberately withheld this information because today it has been drawn to my attention that the information requested in the Senate was made available for a radio program in Melbourne. As late as yesterday morning the Minister in the Senate representing the Minister in the other place told the Senate that he was unable to obtain from the Minister the information which was freely given today by the Press Secretary of the Minister in the other place. To make the point clearly to the Senate I must reiterate a little history to nail another misstatement of fact, a deliberate misleading of the Senate, that was contained in an answer given to my original question on this matter. I think honourable senators will recall that when I first asked the question in the Senate the Minister insulted the Senate by returning to it an answer couched in the terms of an answer given to a member in another place. The Minister is Mr Hayden. He concluded his reply in this manner:

When I was in Opposition I received no help from the Government and did the hard work myself.

Senator Wheeldon - That was a change.

Senator LITTLE - It would have been a change. The honourable senator must know the Minister personally. The Minister deliberately misstated the facts. I have since ascertained the facts. In 1972 when that Minister, Mr Hayden, was in Opposition and did all the work himself, he placed on the notice paper of the House 30 questions to the Minister for Health and 20 questions to the Minister for Social Services on the particular item on which he said that he did all the work himself. If honourable senators would like verification of my statement I am prepared to read to the Senate from the official files of Hansard to verify whether Mr Hayden, as a member of the Opposition, or the Ministers of the Government of the day did all the work. It would take the next 3 hours to read the questions and the answers that were given to the present Minister in another place to the 50 questions which he placed on notice. That makes no allowance at all for questions that he asked without notice. Mr President, you will recall that I asked one simple question that required only an answer of yes or no from the Minister, and I was forced to speak in the adjournment debate to try to get the answer but I could not get it from the Minister's representative here, although he informed the Senate that he had tried to get the information. I raised the matter again twice by way of question. The last time I raised it- only yesterday morning- the question was a simple one, as follows:

Is the Minister representing the Minister for Social Security now in a position to inform the Australian people whether the compulsory payment of 1.3S per cent of taxable income proposed to finance the Health Insurance Bill 1973 will itself be tax deductible? Are any other insurance commitments entered into to provide cover for private ward treatment in hospitals to be a deduction from income for tax assessment?

The reply ofthe Minister in this chamber was as follows:

I have sought from my colleague the Minister for Social Security the additional information required by the honourable senator but as yet it is not forthcoming. All I can say to the honourable senator is that I provided htm with an answer on behalf of my colleague last Wednesday and the honourable senator then raised the matter on the adjournment. In addition to that information-

Honourable senators will recall that that was no information at all but merely a boast by the Minister, Mr Hayden, of how he did all the work himself, which he did not do- with which I provided him I have sought additional information. As I said, that information, if any, as yet is not forthcoming.

Today my attention was drawn to a radio broadcasting program in Melbourne which is a talkback session. Mr Norman Banks, who conducts this session, was raising the question of health. I telephoned him and told him of the problem I had in getting vital information in order to make a comparison between the cost to the individual of the Government's proposals and the cost that is met by people under the present health benefits scheme, and that no intelligent comparison could be made without this vital piece of information. I explained to him that I had sought it on 4 occasions. He instructed his secretary to telephone the Minister. Of course, the Minister's Press Secretary replied, and the information that was not available to the Minister in this chamber or to the senators who are members of the Government Party in this chamber was readily made available by the Minister's Press Secretary to a radio broadcasting program in Melbourne.

I make the allegation quite seriously. There had to be a reason why this Federal Minister, Mr Hayden, was deliberately withholding from the Senate- and from the people of this nation who have inquired from members of this Senate- the facts on this question and why he was giving deliberately misleading information to this Senate. The only possible conclusion that one can come to, after the publication of his White Paper which was alleged to explain all the details of his health scheme but which did not contain this information, and after his attention was drawn to what one might conclude because the money was to be raised in the manner of a tax on assessable income, is that it will not be tax deductible. But it was a fact that it could have been made tax deductible in a subsequent year. The Minister refused to disclose information to the Parliament which he must have had at that time. We must condemn in the strongest possible terms this sort of behaviour from any Minister who is trying to place before the people an entirely new proposition that will completely reorient the whole approach to medical services in this country.

The Minister has done his cause great harm. He has done his Party and his ministerial colleagues in this place great harm by withholding from them the information which they are entitled to have. Is it that the Minister does not trust his colleagues? Is it that the Minister has no confidence in the ministerial representatives of his own Party in this chamber? What are the reasons, if they are not the reasons that I have stated, for his deliberately trying to place before this Parliament a proposition in relation to which no proper explanation was given as to how it was to be funded? The Minister had made statements to the effect that 3 out of 4 people would be better off under the proposals that he was advancing. I give those statements the lie.

I expect the Minister for the Media, who is sitting at the table, to inform us whether or not the Press Secretary ofthe Minister for Social Security has correctly informed the radio station so that at long last we can have officially placed before this chamber of the Parliament the facts from the Minister himself instead of receiving them secondhand by way of information given to a radio station in Melbourne by the Minister's Press Secretary. I challenge the Minister to verify the information given to the radio station. I would ask him to explain to us when he verifies it why Mr Hayden has refused to disclose the information. Answers given by the Minister for the Media to my questions asked in this chamber have revealed that he has repeatedly sought answers to the questions and was refused such answers by the Minister for Social Security.

It would be insufficient to say that one can read into the proposal that the scheme will be financed by everyone paying 1.35 per cent of his taxable income for that purpose, because traditionally medical charges have always been deductible under our tax structure. Whatever I may have read into the proposal as a member of this Parliament, who takes some interest in economics and in tax matters, the great mass of the general public would immediately conclude, unless publicity were given to this particular aspect, that, as all medical costs in the past have been tax deductible, whatever proportion of their taxable income they might pay under the new scheme would attract the same sort of tax rebates as they have always received in the past. So I take this opportunity to reveal to honourable senators, to members of the Government and, indeed, to the Minister at the table that an answer has been given. I request the Minister to place before this chamber tonight information as to whether the statements that have been made on a radio program in Melbourne are authentic. I point out to the Minister that the question was not related only to the 1.35 per cent being now taxable -

Senator Wheeldon - Do you not think we have got the point by now?

Senator LITTLE - The honourable senator can now have the personal satisfaction of sitting down and working out what his own contribution will be. The Minister did not disclose to the honourable senator earlier that this payment was to be taxable. Honourable senators could not make that calculation. They should congratulate us for having gone to the trouble to enable them as senators at least to be able to explain the position to other people and to know it for their own satisfaction. - Honourable senators will not escape the costs of this free medicine program. When this question was posed it was amazing that the Press secretary to the Minister answered not only that the payment of 1.35 per cent would be taxable but also the other part of the question I asked of the Minister for the Media yesterday morning in this chamber. The radio commentator was told that the other insurance costs to provide coverage for a private ward, for a private hospital treatment and for a charge to the contributor of $5 for each attending doctor- that is, the doctor who operates, the anaesthetist and so on- in the free medical scheme would be tax deductible. Those are exactly the 2 components contained in the question that I asked the Minister yesterday. He told me that he could not obtain an answer from the Minister for Social Security. I now ask the Minister to tell us whether he has been admitted into this great secret conclave that has given information to a radio station in Melbourne or is he still in the position that he cannot answer that question in the Senate.

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