When Gough Whitlam took office, only Queensland and Tasmania provided free public hospital treatment, and more than a million people could not afford insurance. While the then Coalition government provided tax incentives to encourage people to purchase private cover, these were grossly inequitable.
“I personally find quite unacceptable a system whereby the man who drives my Commonwealth car in Sydney pays twice as much for the same family cover as I have, not despite the fact that my income is four or fivetimes higher than his, but precisely because of my higher income,” Mr Whitlam said in his 1972 election campaign speech.
Mr Whitlam’s solution was Medibank, Australia’s first universal health insurance scheme. The scheme would provide free public hospital treatment and access to a range of other subsidised medical services.
“It was absolutely revolutionary,” recalled John Deeble, who co-authored proposals that formed the basis of Medibank.
To implement the scheme, Mr Whitlam fought opposition from private health funds, who argued it constituted a socialist takeover, and doctors’ groups, who were worried it would hurt their incomes.
The Medibank bills were repeatedly blocked by the Senate, only becoming law after the first joint sitting of Parliament in Australian history, following the double dissolution election of May 1974.
Medibank began operation little more than a month before “the dismissal” and was largely repealed by the Fraser government, before being restored under the name of Medicare by the Hawke government in 1983.
Mr Whitlam also committed significant funding to build new hospitals, including a seeding grant for the construction of Westmead Hospital in Sydney’s west. His government also funded the construction of community health centres and provided money to the states for alcohol and drug rehabilitation and mental health services.
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.