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Monday, 15 March 2010
Page: 1821

Senator PARRY (7:33 PM) —I rise to be the first coalition speaker on the Health Legislation Amendment (Midwives and Nurse Practitioners) Bill 2009 and the related bills. The way I have to rise to do this is disappointing because I need to correct the record for Ms Roxon, the Minister for Health and Ageing, who has been scathing about the process in the Senate in relation to these bills. I quote Ms Roxon. She said—

Senator Conroy —You are a disgrace!

Senator PARRY —Senator Conroy interjects about us being a disgrace. I was going to let him off the hook; I was not going to embarrass him but now that he has interjected I will say that we just had a quorum called because the government could only muster one senator to attend the chamber. We had four or five on our side and you had one on your side after a dinner suspension. That is pretty ordinary, I think. I was baited by the minister and I mention that now. The minister needs to get his program a bit more organised. It is typical of the government’s program—and this is where we have been heading for some time.

Minister Roxon has blamed the opposition in the Senate for the delay in this legislation proceeding. That is an absolute load of rubbish. Let me give you the chronology since this legislation started. The one accurate thing that the minister said in her statement was that the bill passed through the House of Representatives on 8 September last year. The minister was correct—that is absolutely spot-on: the legislation did pass through the House of Representatives on 8 September last year, and here we are considering it today.

We are considering it today for a variety of reasons. Everyone understands—even speakers on the government side have said for some time—that the government determines the order in which bills are presented to the Senate. Everyone knows that, if you want a bill to be presented to this Senate and debated in the chamber, you list it at a position where it can be considered. There must be some reason the Senate has not yet considered these bills. The Leader of the Government in the Senate, the minister or, indeed, any of the ministers on that side could have delayed the introduction of this bill. If you introduce a bill on a Monday or a Tuesday and it is high up in the order of business, that is fine—it will be debated. When you introduce a bill on a Wednesday you have very little time—

Senator Conroy —Give us more time, you hypocrite!

Senator PARRY —Senator Conroy calls for more time.

Senator Conroy interjecting—

The ACTING DEPUTY PRESIDENT (Senator Mark Bishop)—Order!

Senator PARRY —I will take him back to July, August and October last year, when I and senators on the crossbenches said, ‘When you plan your program for 2010, put enough sitting weeks in that program. Don’t make it the shortest program of sitting weeks you’ve ever had.’ This is what the government has done for two years in a row. You cannot then come in at the last minute and say, ‘We need additional sitting hours,’ when you had the chance back in October. What have they done? The Prime Minister, who knows very little about the Senate and is starting to wake up that the Senate is quite an important place, has planned the entire sitting schedule against his overseas travel itinerary. We need more sitting weeks—that is correct, Senator Conroy—but you should have planned it in October last year; you cannot just do it on the day before you want extra sitting hours.

Senator Conroy —You are no longer the government. I know you’re struggling to come to terms with that.

Senator PARRY —Senator Conroy says we are no longer the government—it is very sad for Australia, but that is correct. I just hope that the people of Australia see the mismanagement by the other side, evidenced on a daily basis.

Let us go back to the chronology. The minister or the Leader of the Government in the Senate or whoever is responsible for this mismanagement introduced the bills in the week commencing on 14 September 2009, but the bills were listed last on a Wednesday, not first on Monday or first on Tuesday, in the knowledge that they would never see the light of day that week. We never heard of them again. On 26 October 2009, the bills were listed again not on Monday or Tuesday but last on a  Wednesday. In the week of 16 November, there was an opportunity to list them; however, they made neither the last Wednesday nor even the week. They were not listed for that week. On 23 November, they were not listed either. I make some allowance for the government on this, because they went to a committee. We allowed that to take place and came back in the new year, but in the week of 2 February—that is, after the committee had well and truly reported—the bills, lo and behold, were not listed again! So the urgency of these bills has somehow been diminished on many occasions.

In the week of 22 February, they were listed on Tuesday, but they were listed for that day after the fairer private health bills. Everyone from the most junior person in this place to the cabinet knew that the fairer health measures were going to be debated heavily and strenuously, so listing the bills presently under consideration just after the fairer private health insurance incentives bills might have just been a copout to again not to get to the bills.

In the week of 9 March, what happened? They were not listed. Now they have been listed. This is government incompetence. For some reason, someone forgets about them and they are not listed, so what does the minister do? The minister says, ‘My gosh, we’ve made a huge mistake here; let’s blame the opposition in the Senate.’ You are going to keep doing this until the next election. This is total mismanagement on the government’s part. The government has to understand that the Senate needs to run in a proper and fair manner. The way the Senate should run is, first, that there be adequate sitting weeks planned well before the year commences and, secondly, that ministers understand how the process works and not go to the media thinking: ‘We’ll just do a cover off on this. We’ll just blame the opposition in the Senate.’ The government has been totally caught out again. I put the minister on notice: do not try this cheap political stunt again because we will hammer you every time you misrepresent the truth.