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Governor-General will open Parliament tomorrow; Shadow Ministers comment on Government agenda.



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This transcript has been prepared by a source external to the Department of the Parliamentary Library.

 

It may not have been checked against the broadcast or in any other way. Freedom from error, omissions or misunderstandings cannot be guaranteed.

 

For the purposes of quoting verbatim from a transcript, it is advisable to verify the transcript against the broadcast.

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AM

 

Monday 15 November 2004

Governor-General will open Parliament tomorrow; Shadow Ministers comment on Government agenda

 

TONY EASTLEY: Parliament officially opens for busines s tomorrow and the Howard Government looks set to test its new mandate. 

 

The Government says it's been given the green light by voters to implement promises made during the election and to reintroduce legislation previously blocked by the Opposition parties in the Senate. 

 

AM understands Labor may be ready to give the go ahead to some of the Coalition measures. 

 

At the top of the Prime Minister's list are his election promises to boost the Medicare rebate for all patients to around $31 per visit to the GP, and increase the private health insurance rebate for older Australians. 

 

Alexandra Kirk reports from Canberra. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Governor-General will outline the fourth Howard Government's legislative agenda when he opens Parliament tomorrow. Keen to put to the test his election victory mandate, the Prime Minister says Michael Jeffrey's speech will be full of things the Coalition promised Australians they'd do.  

 

But some, like Labor frontbencher Stephen Smith, view the next three weeks of Parliament as something to endure. He maintains the real test of the Parliament will be what the Government does after the first of July next year when it gets a majority in the Senate.  

 

STEPHEN SMITH: Well, I don't think that anything that occurs in the three weeks of the Parliament sitting of the rest of this year is a test of anything. We know that the Government will turn up, they will arrogantly rub our noses in it and we expect that and we will take it on the chin, because we've lost an election. But the real test of this Parliament will be over the next three years, not whatever political stunts the Government comes up with in the next couple of weeks. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: Top of Mr Howard's to do list is delivering his election pledges of 100 per cent Medicare rebate for GP visits and the extra private health insurance rebate for people over 65. Sources indicate Labor is set to agree to back both. 

 

Labor's health spokeswoman Julia Gillard is still concerned more older Australians in private health funds will drive up premium costs for everyone else. But she says Labor understands who won the election.  

 

JULIA GILLARD: Obviously there is the issue of election mandate. These policies were raised during the election campaign, but Labor's Caucus is the master if its own destiny and it will make a decision about which way Labor should vote on this legislation. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: The Government's also ready to put up its industrial relations agenda early on, arguing this is Labor's chance to show it really is keen to be more business friendly.  

 

While open to backing legislation he's yet to see, Stephen Smith says if the Prime Minister puts up the same plan to exempt small business from unfair dismissal laws, he can expect the same outcome. 

 

STEPHEN SMITH: We don't believe that you create jobs by allowing people to be unfairly sacked. 

 

ALEXANDRA KIRK: But the Prime Minister appears to be playing down the current abortion debate in his own ranks.  

 

While it could come up in Cabinet today, Mr Howard has reservations about holding a parliamentary inquiry, preferring MPs discuss abortion in, quote, a "quiet and reflective way". He insists the Government won't be sponsoring any changes to abortion laws and doesn't expect a private members bill to emerge any time soon.  

 

And Mr Howard's denied any knowledge of a weekend report that the Government is considering a plan to introduce a specific Medicare item number for an abortion, meaning women would have to declare abortions on Medicare paperwork.  

 

Recently the Health Minister Tony Abbott refused to respond when asked if his department was doing any work on the issue of abortion. Mr Abbott's office said last night the minister has not asked for any formal advice. 

 

Labor's Julia Gillard says it's time Mr Howard clearly stated his position.  

 

JULIA GILLARD: I don't sense in the community any mood for change around these issues. Everybody knows that a private members bill will only get debating time in Federal Parliament if the Prime Minister wants it to and gives it the big tick. 

 

So John Howard should really just be honest. If he's opposed to this matter being debated in Federal Parliament he should say that. If he wants it debated and he wants to change Australia's abortion laws then he should say precisely how he wants them changed and why he didn't raise this matter during the federal election campaign. 

 

TONY EASTLEY: Labor's health spokeswoman Julia Gillard, ending Alexandra Kirk's report.