It’s the little green card stashed away in our wallets and purses that you might not think too much about but are mightily relieved is there when your health or that of a loved one takes a turn for the worse.

It’s Australia’s Medicare card ­and for millions of us is worth its weight in gold as it provides access to a wide range of health and hospital services at low or no cost.

Brought into existence by the Bob Hawke Labor Government on February 1, 1984 the nation’s universal health insurance scheme is the envy of the world.

Bob Hawke was Prime Minister of Australia from 1983 to 1991. Picture: National Archives of Australia

Today, it’s hard to envisage our country without the safety net of Medicare protecting its citizens but it’s also alarming to think there were forces in politics and vested interests in the health world that were fiercely opposed to it.

Thankfully the Australian Labor Party and the nation’s 23rd Prime Minister Bob Hawke won the fight and secured its future to ensure families were not financially ruined through bankruptcy if a family member sadly became ill.

Celebrating the milestone Brisbane City Council Labor Opposition Leader Jared Cassidy said Medicare was a visionary policy that ensured all citizens were looked after.

“That’s what the Australian Labor Party does and does best. It looks after people from all walks of life. It’s in our DNA whether it’s health, housing or jobs.”

“We’re working for a better future for all Australians,” Cr Cassidy said.

History of Medibank/Medicare:

“The first iteration of Medicare was called Medibank, and it was introduced by the Whitlam government in 1975, early in its second term.

Edward Gough Whitlam was the 21st Prime Minister of Australia, from 1972 to 1975.
Picture: National Museum of Australia

“The federal opposition under Malcolm Fraser had rejected Bills relating to its financing, which is why it took the government so long to get it established.

“Medibank began on 1 July 1975 after the passing of legislation by a joint sitting of Parliament on 7 August 1974. It had only a short period of operation before the Whitlam government was dismissed.

“The incoming Fraser government modified Medibank, establishing a levy of 2.5% on income to fund it (but providing the option to take out private health insurance instead). Interestingly, the levy was higher than that proposed by the Whitlam government and which the Coalition had blocked while in opposition.

“Other changes followed, such as changes to agreements with the states over how much money hospitals would receive, restrictions in benefits and bulk billing, and rebates for those with private insurance.

“Most of these changes were revoked by the incoming Hawke Labor government in 1984. Aside from a name change from Medibank to Medicare, the health care system that started operation on 1 February was very similar to that introduced in 1975. Medicare remains in place but it is often a hot political topic.”

National Museum of Australia

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