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Tuesday, 23 February 2010
Page: 802

Senator McGAURAN (12:48 PM) —I am in continuation, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, having started my address last night amid the furore of Senator Carr and others who managed to wander in very late at night, very suspiciously after dinner, shouting me down. But I rise again in this early afternoon in this Senate to put the case—

Senator Forshaw —We are here to listen.

Senator McGAURAN —of the Labor Party—you be careful, Senator Forshaw, with your interjections—

Senator Forshaw —I’m here to listen. I’m here to listen to you.

Senator McGAURAN —You have got enough to do: you just keep your head down and watch your preselection. There is a point to be made. Isn’t this funny? This is the very point I was being shouted down on last night by Senator Carr, that big voiced leftie. Now I am getting shouted down and interjected on yet again by the Labor Party backbench. The point I was trying to make was: where is the Labor Party backbench on the speakers list? There is not one of them. Not one of them is on the speakers list. Senator Forshaw, yet again, has failed. He never got up on the ETS and he is not getting up on this issue.

We are told this debate about private health insurance is a possible election trigger, coming through the Senate for the second time—that this will be raised by the Rudd Labor government as an election issue. But not one of them is passionate enough to get up on their feet and debate this coming election issue. It is bit different on this side. We have packed the speakers list. That is the very point. That is the point I was making: not one of them has the courage or the wit or the rebellion in them—if that be the case, being so suppressed by the Prime Minister’s office—to stand up and speak on this issue that you say you are going to carry to the next election, that you say is possibly going to be a double dissolution trigger.

I am not surprised, because this is probably the most cowed and compliant backbench ever in this parliament. The Victorian senators are the worst. They would have to be the worst lot of Victorian Labor senators ever to come through here. I have never heard them get up and speak—not very often anyway, and certainly not on issues of gravity. I am not surprised, because we have the most compliant cabinet ever elected to government. They are willing to sit and have cabinet meetings on Thursday nights, after long sessions of parliament, when everyone is tired and itching to get home. The Prime Minister tells them, ‘We’re having cabinet meetings every Thursday night now.’ They are tired, they are not listening and they are dominated by the Prime Minister. It is a compliant cabinet.

This is a weak and pathetic government, and we are seeing that in the legislative program. It is coming through—don’t think it is not—the legislative program. You are ending up in a shambles and in disarray. You have a whole list of ministers that are now starting to fail after two years in the job. There is of course Mr Garrett. Could one minister be more incompetent? My memory goes back to Ros Kelly. I can tell you Mr Garrett has surpassed that piece of political folklore. Mr Garrett and his pink batts will surpass Ros Kelly and her whiteboard, now part of political folklore. But we are not short of them here in the Senate. We have Senator Conroy, the minister for good times, a good time Charlie—always has been a good time Charlie. Well, his good time Charlie days are about to end. And, of course, there is Senator Arbib. Now there was a nervous Nellie at question time yesterday! What a nervous Nellie Senator Arbib was, because he knows only too well he is caught up in the whole incompetence of it all. But there is more to the abandonment of the legislative program of the other side. And here comes their whip, who does all the spruiking for—

Senator O’Brien —Madam Acting Deputy President, I rise on a point of order. It is pretty clear that this is a filibuster, but could you draw Senator McGauran’s attention to the question before the chair. He is now talking about completely unrelated issues. There is no relationship to the bills whatsoever. If he is going to use the time of the chamber in the way that he is and filibuster on these bills, at least let him talk about them.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Crossin)—Senator McGauran, I draw your attention to the bills that are before us for debate.

Senator McGAURAN —I want to assure you, Madam Acting Deputy President, I have much research on these bills. I can show you my notes, profuse as they are. They all come back to the Senate economics inquiry on this issue. I am more than happy to enlighten the Senate of its findings. Senator Mathias Cormann has done a lot of work on this issue. The previous speakers have laid down the foundation argument that I will speak to and enhance.

Rest assured that I know all about the incompetence of Minister Roxon, who has flown under the radar. It is not just this issue; a whole array of issues in her portfolio ought to be brought out. Do not worry, I have done my research on the halving the rebate for cataract surgery, the disability care beds—which Four Corners did a show on; when it reaches Four Corners you know there are problems—her failure to meet her ambitious promise before the election on the number of nursing places, the $120 million she spent on the swine flu vaccine that is just sitting in storehouses—less than one-third has been used; what a waste of money—and the superclinics. We have perhaps two superclinics out of however many they promised. And it goes on. There was the attempt to cut $100 million from cancer treatment, which thanks to this side and public opinion did not get up.

I was in Ballarat recently for the community cabinet—‘community cabinet’?; it was Mr Rudd’s sideshow. That was all it was. You should have seen the glum faces on all of the ministers who turned up. What a joke. In this portfolio is the midwives issue, denying women the choice to have home births. That was what dominated the community cabinet. I got a guernsey; I was there in the front row. I could not believe it. It was a sight to see the one ego on display. He really does have a big ego. You have to see it to believe it, and you are all compliant to it. It is a joke. When are you going to stand up and speak on an issue?

This Prime Minister is so frightened of the midwives issue he is not willing to meet the public outside of a controlled situation. When he had to unveil the Kevin Rudd bust in Ballarat—as many of you know, in the gardens there there are busts of every Prime Minister—he did not turn up. He left the council, the Mayor and everyone else standing there waiting for him to appear at 11 am. He just did not turn up. He did not even ring ahead to say he was not going to turn up. Can you imagine the embarrassment and the frustration? Do you know why? Because there were midwives protesting there waiting for him and wanting to speak to him. Of course, they have dubbed it as ‘cowardly’. That is the portfolio I want to speak on.

Senator Ian Macdonald —Prime Minister Blah Blah.

Senator McGAURAN —Mr Blah Blah—that is his new nickname.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, it is unparliamentary to refer to members of this parliament in such a way. I ask you to withdraw that.

Senator McGAURAN —I withdraw that—and rightly so in the Senate we should not be using such terminology, but I do note that that is a term allowed in the House of Representatives. I know we are a little loftier than the House of Representatives and a little less cut and thrust, but I have noticed that term being used frequently in the House of Representatives. They have different standing orders, I accept that.

Talking about blah blah, let us look at the greatest blah blah of them all. I heard Senator Abetz saying that this is a comment that the Prime Minister used over 20 times in the lead-up to the election and has used since: one of the great moral issues of our time is, of course, climate change. We are whipping up the whole gravity of the issue. He has lived off the gravity of the issue in the last 12 months. Where is that great moral issue? Where are those bills we are meant to be discussing in the first week of parliament? We have been lectured by—

Senator O’Brien —Again, on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President Crossin, I make the point that whilst Senator McGauran may wish to filibuster, he needs to be in order. I ask you to draw him back to the subject.

Senator Ferguson —In this chamber historically we have allowed very wide-ranging speeches at the second reading stage. Senator McGauran throughout all of his speech—and I have been here for all of it—while he has sometimes referred to other matters he has always referred back to the bills. So I think that, as in the practice of the past, we do allow wide-ranging debates and he should be allowed to continue.

Senator O’Brien —I acknowledge Senator Ferguson’s contribution that we have allowed members to range widely in these debates. But in the time that I have been listening outside the chamber on my monitor and inside the chamber I have hardly heard this senator refer to the bills in question, which is why I have taken the points of order. So I simply suggest that if he has the material that he has claimed to have—and he has claimed to have a sheaf of material on the bills—that he actually refers to it.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Senator McGauran, both senators have made a good point I think. I do want to remind you that we are not debating climate change; we are actually debating bills relating to private health insurance, and I draw your attention to that.

Senator McGAURAN —We will soon be referring to it. But it is essential to also discuss the priorities of these bills and the priorities of this government—

Senator Fifield —In context.

Senator McGAURAN —In context, as my good colleague Senator Fifield says: why this Fairer Private Health Insurance Incentives (Medicare Levy Surcharge) Bill is where it is on a Monday and a Tuesday. Debating time in the Senate is—

Senator Jacinta Collins —A filibuster.

Senator McGAURAN —It is not a filibuster—far from it. You are the ones running scared. I do welcome the Victorian senator, Senator Collins, who has come in here not to debate the issue but to interject. Where is Senator Cameron? We have Senator Cameron, Senator Forshaw, Senator Collins, some of the best interjectors in the parliament, and none of them will get up and actually debate. None of them will take their 20 minutes.

The point is that climate change ought to be debated now—and that is my point—not these particular bills. They have already been rejected by the Senate and we will reject them again—rest assured. These bills are going nowhere. You are going around in circles. You are a government in disarray. We have been lectured by the Prime Minister and Penny Wong on the great moral issue about rising sea levels, melting glaciers, extinct polar bears, the drying up of the Murray River, extreme weather patterns, world temperatures, the Antarctic melting—all of that, have I missed anything? Yes, the Great Barrier Reef and the Amazon of course. They are all in there—

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator McGauran!

Senator McGAURAN —I thought the whip was about to jump up again. It is all backed up by the great and honourable United Nations committee. This has been the issue of the hour, of the year. It is terrifying stuff. If any of that were true, I would be terrified. I would be terrified to think that the sea levels were going to swamp the eastern coast.

But it has gone off the agenda and these bills have been put in its place. There is a reason for that. They have sniffed the political wind and they have seen the shift. It was only ever a political exercise to begin with and the truth has won out. As I say, we quite welcome debating this issue about health—

Senator Forshaw —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I have been listening to Senator McGauran now since he commenced today—and I did listen to his remarks last night in my room. I am just concerned that Senator McGauran is actually debating the bill that is listed as No. 2 on the Notice Paper, that is, the Carbon Pollution Reduction Scheme Bill and all of the other bills. I am rather concerned that he is debating the bill that is next on the list rather than the bills that are on the list. I was wondering whether you could draw his attention—

Senator Fifield —The bills that you do not want to debate!

Senator Forshaw —The bills are on the red, and I am just very concerned that Senator McGauran has wasted nearly all of his time with the speech that he would have made for the next bill.

Senator McGAURAN —I welcome Senator Forshaw’s interjection. I know that he is drowning in New South Wales politics at the moment, so any sort of—

Senator Forshaw —What?

Senator McGAURAN —Well, it is either you or Senator Hutchins. You are not going to take the knife to Senator Hutchins—

Senator Forshaw interjecting—

Senator McGAURAN —The point is that any stance he takes—now that got you! Why don’t you get up and prove to your preselectors that you can debate the issues of the parliament. You are just not a good old interjector or capable of good old points of order.

Honourable senators interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Order, Senator McGauran! Let me draw your attention to the bills and the debate that is before us. You have got less than four minutes left.

Senator Ferguson —I rise on a point of order, Madam Acting Deputy President. I heard Senator Forshaw call Senator McGauran a hypocrite, and I thought you would have as well. It does not require a point of order to make him withdraw it, and I suggested he should be made to withdraw.

Senator Forshaw —Senator Ferguson is correct. I did use unparliamentary language. I was provoked by the former senator for the DLP or National Party or whatever he is today, but I happily withdraw the reference that I made.

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT —Thank you, Senator Forshaw. No, I did not hear that, Senator Ferguson, probably because there is too much screaming and yelling in the chamber. Senator McGauran, we will call you to finish your contribution.

Senator McGAURAN —He was made to withdraw. It made me sound like Billy Hughes. These bills, as I said, have been rejected by the Senate and by Senate committees—and they have been before every committee system—but most of all they have been rejected in the public arena. These bills have been pretty much universally rejected, this suite of bills with their aim of reducing the number of participants in private health. That is the intent; that is the aim; it is a budget saving. The government tell us that it is a budget saving of $300 million. They want to save $300 million from health but they do not mind wasting billions on pink batts. But that is the intent and the aim, and naturally only the Labor Party, and card-carrying Labor Party doctors perhaps, support these bills.

This is just plain bad public policy and we reject it on those grounds. It is estimated by the government alone that about 550,000 people will drop out of private health. Access Economics gives a truer picture, saying it is more likely that 700,000 to one million people will drop out of private health. And we know that, rule of thumb, every one per cent drop in public health forces the states to spend an extra $100 million on public hospitals. So do the figures yourselves. Access Economics says that 700,000 people will drop out—and that is the most conservative of figures—and with about 10 million people taking out private health you can see that there is as much as $700 million that will now be shifted onto the states’ hospital systems.

Our stance against this is not ideological, unlike the Labor Party’s—and you laugh!

Senator O’Brien —Yes, we do. We laugh!

Senator McGAURAN —When I started speaking on this last night, guess who waltzed in—the most ideological of them all, Senator Carr! Whatever influence he has in cabinet, he has got his fingerprints all over this. But we are not ideological—far from it. We do it on the grounds of good management policy and good health policy.

We have proved it in government. When we came into government the private health system was collapsing, making the Medicare system unsustainable. That was a fact. Even when you left government you accepted that. Some of your ministers, namely, Senator Richardson, even accepted that, and we had to pick up that system.

We had to tweak it in the first term. We introduced the surcharge in the first term. In the second term we introduced the 30 per cent rebate, and in the next term we introduced the third prong of our policy, the life cover. It requires a balance, and it was not until we put the three prongs in place that we got it right. It took several terms of government. And then you saw a surge in uptake of private health and, of course, the obvious rational effect—it is all very rational; it is not ideological: you take the burden off public hospitals so that those who need it—the needy people, those that deserve access to hospitals and are in urgent need, those underprivileged—will have access. That is why we seek a balance between private and public health. Madam Acting Deputy President, I am about to hand over to the former president who is well across this issue and, like him and all the previous speakers, I reject this legislation.