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Health care – the secular Leviathan

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Neal Blewett and Michael Wooldridge were recent, memorable ministers for health, serving from 1983 to 1990 and 1996 to 2001, respectively. Bill Hayden understood both health and finance and blended these well in developing Medibank while minister for social security from 1972 to 1975. But the minister who appeared to me to have the greatest effect was Jim Forbes, who was health minister from 1966 to 1971. Forbes was an Adelaide patrician whose doctorate, like that of Neal Blewett, was non-medical. Unlike Blewett, Jim Forbes was a conservative of the most denim-blue hue.

What did Jim Forbes do? In 1968, he appointed a Committee of Enquiry into Health Insurance headed by Justice John Nimmo. Nimmo had cut his teeth in the Depression years as a young criminal lawyer and possessed an excellent insight gained from years at the Bar and on the Bench. He was assisted by an economist who had shifted from engineering into actuarial work as a young man, and for whom Lord Keynes had much admiration, Sir Leslie Melville, as well as Norman McIntosh, a distinguished chartered accountant. Among the many who presented to the Committee, the most influential were two young University of Melbourne academics, John Deeble and Dick Scotton.

The Nimmo Enquiry was limited to work within a voluntary framework. For Deeble and Scotton, its report provided the platform to prosecute the case for a universal medical insurance scheme, with Bill Hayden as their ally.