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Wednesday, 11 December 1974
Page: 3378

Senator BUTTON (Victoria) -The debate on the Government's proposed health scheme has become something of a 'Blue Hills' saga. I want only to make two or three points. In the course of this long debate over the Government's health insurance proposals there have been 2 elections at which they have been put to the people of Australia.

Senator Bonner - And rejected.

Senator BUTTON - And rejected, says Senator Bonner, which is an obtuse view, if I may so describe it with the maximum of charity and the minimum of offensiveness to him. There have been 2 elections and a joint sitting of the Parliament in relation to this legislation. Even now at this stage, in this chamber, when the Opposition has announced its intention of rejecting this legislation, Senator Guilfoyle is referring to what has become almost a new concept in Australian politics- government by Gallup poll. We were told again today that recent Gallup polls show a larger percentage than last year of the Australian people in favour of the retention of a system of voluntary health insurance. I remind the Senate that in the 2 years over which this debate has proceeded in Australia, the Opposition has had no alternative health policy but consistently maintained opposition to the Government's proposals. I welcome the fact that in the Hansard report of the debates in the other place there is recorded for the first time what is described as an alternative health scheme. It involves of course the suggestion that those members of the community who are not currently insured- the figure is put at 8 per cent by Senator Guilfoyle- should be brought into what is an existing voluntary health arrangement. I remind the Senate that for a number of years while the Opposition Parties were in Government they failed dismally in any way to bring those people into the voluntary health insurance scheme despite desperate efforts. It is no solution to the problem to say that we can patch up what is essentially a rotten health structure. I said that there was a Joint Sitting and that this legislation had been formerly debated in the Senate. I want to remind the Senate of what Senator Baume, who I understand is to speak next, said in the Senate on the last occasion this legislation was rejected here. I refer to the Hansard of 1 8 July 1 974 in which he said:

We have our right by virtue of election to have our say and to be heard, and it would be quite improper for the Senate to demand that these Bills be put through . . . without new members democratically elected having their say -

He went on to say:

I am willing to accept that there is an inevitable chain of events which may unfold. I was elected by people who support the point of view I adopt, people who believe it is right to oppose this bad legislation. They want this view put and put forcefully.

I interpose that the Opposition has done that. Senator Baume stated further:

I accept the right of the Parliament to hold a Joint Sitting and I will abide by the verdict that it reaches, but we will have our say and will vote as our consciences dictate in the meantime.

All I wanted to do in this debate was to commend Senator Baume for putting in that passage what I regard as a very proper view as to the functioning of Parliament and as to the functioning of this Senate and as to the effects of the Joint Sitting decisions. This Government at 2 elections received a mandate to put forward its health insurance program. Senator Baume adopted the very respectable and proper view that it is the democratic right of an elected government to implement its policies. The Government was elected on a particular program about which every voter in Australia was quite clear- that if the Labor Government was re-elected we would get this health insurance program. Everybody knew that. Senator Baume knew it when he spoke on 1 8 July. As a true individual democrat Senator Baume put forward that point of view in the Senate and I think the whole chamber should be reminded of it. That is what we are really still talking about in this debate here today. There has been no basic change in the Government's program and no basic change in the Opposition's program as it was put earlier this year. The only significant change which Senator Guilfoyle can point to is an apparent change in gallup poll appreciation of the voluntary insurance scheme. As I said, I rise briefly to make that comment which is my final contribution to a long saga which looks like ending in some degree of tragedy for the Australian community because of the Opposition's obstruction of this legislation in this place.

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