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Monday, 27 February 2012
Page: 852


Senator XENOPHON (South Australia) (17:39): I indicate that I will not be supporting this motion. I think it is important that I outline the reasons for doing so, so that it is not misinterpreted as in any way supporting the government's position, in a substantive sense, with respect to the legislation that is being put up.

Firstly, I do not think it is appropriate to use this vehicle of the suspension of standing orders in relation to a motion with respect to legislation that will be coming to the Senate shortly. The fact is the legislation has passed the House of Representatives. The fact is we will have ample opportunity to debate this. Provided there is not a gag motion applied there will be a fulsome debate on this piece of legislation. So my issue with Senator Fierravanti-Wells is not with the substance of what she is trying to achieve—that is, to highlight the inadequacies of this legislation—but I do not think it is appropriate for there to be a suspension of standing orders so that the bills are not debated at all.

I do have concerns about the government's bills. I will be opposing the government's bills for the same reason that I opposed them previously. I think that this legislation will have a number of unintended consequences. Those consequences will be that people will drop out of private health insurance. It will mean that more and more people will go to the public system. It will place an undue and unnecessary burden on the public system.

We need to bear in mind what the impact of that will be. It could mean a spiralling of increased premiums in the private health insurance system. It could mean a greater burden on the public purse in terms of the public system. I think it is worth reflecting on the work of the Productivity Commission. Some three years ago I negotiated with the government, in return for my support for changes to the Medicare surcharge thresholds, that a report be undertaken by the Productivity Commission into the different outcomes between the public and private systems. Something like that was never done before. I thought it was a very fair report. It was a robust report, as is generally the case from the Productivity Commission. That report, I think, is worth reflecting on in the context of the legislation that this motion refers to. I am worried that we will disturb the equilibrium between the public and private systems as a result of the government legislation that has already gone through the lower house.

I am worried that the government has not adequately modelled a whole range of issues in terms of the impact of this legislation, including the issue of people dropping out or downgrading their cover because, if that is the case, expect to see—with respect to physiotherapy, some help with dental work, occupational therapy and a whole range of ancillary covers—a massive shift to the public system. In order to avoid any levies and in order to avoid any penalties people will simply downgrade their cover to the absolute minimum. That, to me, will have all sorts of dire consequences to the private health system, with a significant flow-on effect to the public health system.

These are matters that I think ought to be ventilated at the second reading stage. So I agree with Minister Ludwig in relation to this. That stage is the appropriate time to debate them. I certainly hope there will not be a gagging of debate either at the second reading or committee stages.

I do not quite understand that this motion to suspend standing orders is appropriate. I think we should subject this legislation to the robust scrutiny it deserves. I will be voting against the legislation but I am looking forward to the committee stages. For those reasons—those technical reasons, if you like—I cannot support what Senator Fierravanti-Wells is proposing. But I do share her deep concerns about the impact of this legislation.