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Thursday, 24 March 1994
Page: 2219

Senator HERRON (3.12 p.m.) —I listened to that diatribe before. No less a person than the Governor-General called Senator Richardson the minister for kneecaps. His reputation is as a kneecapper. What has he done as a minister? He has been a political hit man, that is what he has been. He has got the numbers, and Senator Sherry said that his reputation is that he has never lost a battle. He never lost a battle in the kneecapping right wing of the Labor Party of New South Wales. That was his contribution.

  I want to refer to an answer that he gave previously. I accused him of being gutless during a question that I asked. He agreed; he said that was his reputation, if we read the Hansard. He is walking away from the biggest crisis in health care in this country. But I will pay him a tribute: at least he was the first minister in 14 years to recognise publicly that there was a problem.

  There is a terrible problem approaching health care, and I cannot even blame the Labor Party—much as I would like to—because the crisis is associated primarily with the ageing of the population, the increased use of technology and the need for technology. The neglect that the Labor Party has shown over this period of time is absolutely abysmal. The Labor Party has denied that it existed.

Senator O'Chee —Criminal.

Senator HERRON —It is criminal, because it affects every person in this country. I will pay Senator Richardson a tribute: he thought he could actually do something. He went around the country seeking advice from everybody, and then he did exactly what everybody thought he would do—he let the department run him. There are two types of ministers in governments: the ones who know how to go about it and how to control their departments, and the others who let their departments control them. Senator Richardson was the classic kneecapper, the classic political apparatchik. He did not have a clue what to do, and he let the department run him. Within a few months of becoming minister, he ran with the department's agenda. The department's agenda was more control and more bureaucracy. Its agenda was not to trust anybody, control the private hospitals, so that they in turn could control the doctors, and then it is taken off the political spectrum. It was a great political exercise that he was attempting, and then the facts came home to him.

  I know why he is going now. He has lost the confidence of the Prime Minister (Mr Keating). The Prime Minister rejected the increase in the Medicare levy for higher income earners. The Prime Minister, peculiarly enough, was probably correct in rejecting some of those things, because, ultimately, what the minister did not realise was that those controls and those attempts to get the private hospitals to control health care have failed everywhere else in the world.

  These attempts failed because they came between the ultimate determinants of health care: the individual patient and the individual treating medical practitioner. Any system that comes between the patient and the doctor is doomed to fail because the patient will trust the doctor more than he or she will trust the politician. The patient is absolutely correct.

  The minister is now washing his hands of the whole deal; it has all become too much for him. He has seen the problems, he has collected them—I grant him that—and he has enunciated them. But, as I asked in my question to him, what is he going to say to all those people that he has been out there grandstanding to? What is he going to say to the Aboriginals that Senator Newman spoke of; to the women of Australia in relation to breast cancer research; to the medical research fraternity; and to the people of Australia?

  In answer to one question Senator Richardson said that he was going to spend the next 10 years improving the public and private health care system. Now he says, `Oh! I am going away. I need a rest. I am going to spend time away.'. If he had that in mind, why did he lie to the people of Australia when he made those statements earlier this year? As little as a week ago he said that he was not going to go around telling everybody what he was going to do. But it is on the parliamentary record that he said, `I will be around for the next two years. I will be around for the next number of years overseeing these changes that I am bringing in.' I hope Senator McKiernan is taking note of that so he can tell me why Senator Richardson made those statements. They were deliberately misleading. There is no way of getting around that; they are on the public record.

  Senator Richardson misled the Senate in the last few months as to what his intentions were—if they were his intentions. Alternatively, he made his mind up in a couple of minutes, as he said, in the last few days, and he has resigned. (Time expired)