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Thursday, 27 February 1997
Page: 1027


Senator NEAL(10.39 a.m.) —I seek leave to make a statement on the basis that I have been misrepresented by Senator Newman.

Leave granted.


Senator NEAL —I must say I am somewhat surprised at the allegations made by Senator Newman in light of what occurred yesterday. In spite of the relatively early hour that we retired, she seems to have some difficulty in remembering what actually occurred. The issue of immunisation and the new scheme being introduced by the government was canvassed at some length, and I think quite properly. We made some inquiries about the impact of this immunisation scheme and what would occur if a parent chose not to immunise a child and did not take up the opportunity of being a conscientious objector.

During this debate I took the opportunity to answer a question, although it is unusual in the circumstances, and I stated very clearly at that time that I was very much in favour of the immunisation of children and I saw it as an extraordinarily important issue. I find it rather unusual and dishonest for the minister to come forward now in question time and try and put my view as being the contrary.

Also, I was quite surprised that, despite the announcement of this scheme by the Minister for Health and Family Services, Dr Wooldridge, the department was unable—


Senator Patterson —I raise a point of order. The senator is now debating the issue and I think you should call her to order and ask her to sit down.


The PRESIDENT —Order! It should be related to the misrepresentations, Senator, but do proceed.


Senator NEAL —I was, in fact, inquiring about what the impact of this scheme might be and what detrimental effect might arise from a failure to comply.


Senator Knowles —I raise a point of order. I too was at last night's committee hearings—in fact, I was chairing them—and I have to say that what we are now hearing is a continuation of the debate of last night. It is not in any way related to any misrepresentation. This is purely and simply a repetition of the debate last night and, if Senator Neal has been misrepresented, I am waiting to hear how. But I am not waiting to hear a repetition of last night's debate.


Senator Crowley —On the point of order, Madam President: there is no way the claim by Senator Newman can be refuted by Senator Neal, as I will shortly attempt to do on my behalf, unless the terms in which that misrepresentation occurred can be spelled out. It is necessary for Senator Neal to canvass the context in which that misrepresentation happened. That is what she is doing. It is entirely proper and legitimate in making a personal explanation to make that clear to you so that you and other senators can understand the misrepresentation. It is absolutely vital that it be done.


The PRESIDENT —The explanation should relate to the misrepresentation and not stray into debating the issue, but you may proceed with your explanation, Senator Neal.


Senator NEAL —The essence of it is that a questioning of the department about the impact of a measure does not amount to opposition, and I think if that were to be the case then certainly we are not complying with the democratic principles that I adhere to and I would have thought the minister would adhere to. I was very surprised to see the department was unable to tell me—


The PRESIDENT —Senator, I think that is straying into debating the issue. The previous explanation I accept as relating to the misrepresentation.


Senator NEAL —With respect, Madam President, I was coming to explain why I questioned at length what the impact of that proposal was to be, as the department was unable to tell me what the full impact of that was.

Government senators interjecting


Senator NEAL —If you would like to stand up and take a point of order, Senator, I invite you to do so, rather than screaming from your position.