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Monday, 15 June 2009
Page: 3013

Senator PARRY (12:31 PM) —I move:

At the end of the motion add:

“but, in respect of the Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives Bill 2009 and two related bills:

(a)      the reference of the bills to the Economics Legislation Committee be transferred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for inquiry and report by 5 August 2009; and

(b)      in considering this matter, the Community Affairs Legislation Committee may consider the relevant evidence and records of the Economics Legislation Committee.”

Just to clarify the points, the amendment indicates that we wish the bills to be considered by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee with a reporting date of 5 August this year. That also incorporates the brief inquiry by the Senate Economics Legislation Committee and provides that those findings be examined by the committee also and that the economics committee does not report their findings as they are transferred to the community affairs committee.

The technical wording of the amendment has been circulated. The main reason we are suggesting this is that this is a very complex suite of bills. It has raised a lot of community concern and it was the coalition’s wish for these bills to be referred to the community affairs committee with the later reporting date. The bills were caught up in the catch-all notice of motion that brought all budget measure bills an opportunity to be referred to the economics committee and reported upon. The spirit of this particular motion was caught up in that and we did not intend for that to take place. I think the manager of government business acknowledged that was the case. We wish this to be dealt with at a more opportune time and over a longer period of time. Then it can be dealt with quite effectively.

There was media speculation last week about the bills being examined briefly, on one day, during the one week that the Senate was not sitting either through estimates or through the regular sitting schedule. Our senators did not believe this was an appropriate way to deal with these bills. We made that known at the Selection of Bills Committee meeting on Thursday the week before the bills were considered by the economics committee.

There are a variety of reasons as to why these bills need to be considered by the community affairs committee, none less than by the responsible minister who has the portfolio assignation for these bills. We feel as though the matters have not been properly canvassed. Through the estimates process, questions were asked by senators in relation to these bills and, as of yet, answers have not been forthcoming in relation to these bills. Certainly, of last week those answers were not available. We feel it is only fit and proper that answers to estimates questions do form part of this inquiry, because they can assist the committee in its deliberations.

Also, figures keep changing. We were informed that 25,000 Australians would drop private cover as a result of this measure. It appears that during estimates it became clear that some 40,000 may drop their cover. It is important to get all the information on the table prior to any committee considering these important matters. We are also concerned that public hospital admissions will increase and, again, it is important to have full examination of all these issues by the appropriate committee to determine that the public hospital system will not come under a lot of undue stress and pressure.

We just feel that the government is rushing this through unnecessarily. The start-up date for these measures does not come into effect until 2010. The idea of referring all matters in relation to the budget and appropriations to the economics committee was for those measures that started on 1 July 2009. These bills do not fall into that category; hence there is no urgency. So it is our strong argument, and our strong position, that these bills be referred to the Community Affairs Legislation Committee for report by 5 August.