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Wednesday, 30 October 1996
Page: 6100

Dr WOOLDRIDGE (Minister for Health and Family Services)(10.18 a.m.) —The proper purpose of examining a bill in detailed consideration is not to have another go at question time or Senate estimates. I have been asked very detailed questions. They are normally and properly something that would be done on notice, or placed on the Notice Paper . So it is very difficult for me, without warning, in a forum that is not normally used to do this sort of thing, to be expected to say things off the top of my head.

Mr Lee —What about the criteria?

Dr WOOLDRIDGE —I will do it as best I can, but I am just saying it is without warning and it is not normally a forum in which one would do this. With regard to Medicare offices, the Health Insurance Commission showed me some draft criteria before the budget, I think. There were four, as far as I remember, some of which I have mentioned. The first was a rapidly declining number of claims, the second was a low absolute number of claims, the third related to geographic proximity—and off the top of my head I cannot remember what the fourth was.

I do not see any inconsistency. It is quite possible that they are not finalised. I do not know off the top of my head whether they have or have not been finalised. I have not seen anything to do with a further set of criteria since before the budget, so it is quite possible they have not been finalised and a minute is working its way through the system to me to do so. I have just assumed there would be no change to those criteria but it is possible that there would be change.

As for giving people assurances that offices will stay open, I think a check of the records of what I said before and what I said last night would show that the comments I made to my colleagues were on the basis of saying things would be likely. I have talked about the criteria openly. I would be happy to do the same thing for an opposition MP or an independent MP, because I think being elected to this place does give an obligation and that members, in pursuing activities in the area they represent, deserve a degree of courtesy.

Not many MPs have bothered to come to see me. I have tried not to give assurances, but in one case I pointed out they should be prepared because there is a great likelihood, given a very low absolute number of claims, and in others that given certain other criteria it would be likely. I have tried to leave some flexibility because the process is somewhat at arm's length from me.

The second question related to auctions. Again, I can inform the honourable member for Dobell (Mr Lee) that not a lot has happened between 10.30 last night and 10.30 this morning in relation to the government and the Pharmacy Guild's negotiations. As soon as they are finalised, we will let everybody know, because there is a good deal of interest on the part of rural MPs—most of whom are on our side, but I concede that you still have a few rural seats left, although not many. I will treat rural and regional MPs in the same way, regardless of where they sit in this House, for exactly the same reason that I outlined before. To represent people in this place means that you deserve a degree of courtesy. Any MP will have a chance to have an input into that. The final way that we will do it is still subject to detailed negotiations with the guild.