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Monday, 21 November 2011
Page: 9096


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (21:26): With the indulgence of the chamber, because I note that there will be a guillotine on this bill at 9.30, I need to—

Senator Cormann: And a whole series of other bills at the same time, without debate. It is a disgrace.

Senator XENOPHON: I know that. Senator Cormann should know that I am very unhappy about it as well, but if I reflect too much on Senator Cormann's—

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Cameron ): Senator Xenophon, I would be pleased if you did not engage in a debate with Senator Cormann.

Senator XENOPHON: I will not engage in a debate, because time is incredibly short. Can I indicate that I have an amendment on file, one that has been recirculated, that I propose to move in two parts. There are two parts to the amendment. One says that the pricing authority must not report publicly unless a period of 30 days has elapsed since a report has been given to the minister or, if the report has not been given to the minister and each state and territory health minister, a period of three months has elapsed since the report was completed. I will not seek to divide on that. I understand I do not have support for it.

The other part, which I will be dividing on, says that, if a report is given to the minister, the report contains one or more recommendations and the minister does not agree to adopt one or more of the recommendations, the minister must publish on the internet his or her reasons for not adopting the recommendation or recommendations. The reason I will move this is that the minister, in the second reading speech to the bill, said:

The Authority will have strong independent powers: it will be for public hospitals what the independent Reserve Bank is for monetary policy. This is unprecedented for the public hospital system.

The result will be a thorough and rigorous determination without fear or favour to Governments. The Government is confident that the Authority will provide the health system with the stability and robustness that the Reserve Bank has provided for monetary policy for decades.

If that is the case, let it be truly independent; let it be properly transparent. If the minister does not agree with any or all of the recommendations, the minister ought to give the reasons for doing so, given that we are setting up this truly independent body akin to the Reserve Bank in its robust independence. This amendment relates to transparency. The reasons for a recommendation not being supported, not being adopted by the minister, ought to be given by the minister. I think what I am proposing is an important transparency and accountability mechanism.

I do note that both the coalition and the Australian Greens supported an amendment to the Australian National Preventive Health Agency Bill 2010 which said the CEO of that organisation:

… must cause a copy of any advice given or recommendations made in undertaking the CEO’s functions … to be published on the … web site within 12 months of providing the advice or making the recommendations.

That is not quite the same as this recommendation but is similar in spirit and similar in terms of the process of transparency and accountability. I think that if we are setting up these bodies there ought to be some transparency and accountability. The minister of the day ought to give reasons why any recommendations are not followed through. That is why I urge my colleagues to seriously consider this amendment. It is consistent with the amendment supported by the coalition and the Greens on 17 November 2010, just over a year ago.

The TEMPORARY CHAIRMAN ( Senator Cameron ): The time allotted for the consideration of the remaining stages of the National Health Reform Amendment (Independent Hospital Pricing Authority) Bill 2011 has expired. The question is that amendment (1) on sheet 7178 moved by Senator Fierravanti-Wells be agreed to.

The committee divided. [21:34]

(The Chairman—Senator Parry)

Question negatived.