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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8578

Senator CORMANN (4:54 PM) —by leave—Pursuant to contingent notice and at the request of the Leader of the Opposition in the Senate, Senator Minchin, I move:

That so much of the standing orders be suspended as would prevent Senator Minchin moving a motion relating to the conduct of the business of the Senate, namely a motion to provide that the Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill 2009 be called on immediately and have precedence over all other government business today till determined.

I will not hold the Senate up for long. Our actions in relation to this bill are directly related to the government’s ill-considered decision to cut patient rebates for cataract surgery by 46 per cent. This was implemented by the government immediately after a previous 50 per cent cut was disallowed by the Senate. We would have preferred to do this in a much more timely and efficient manner. The Manager of Opposition Business had a discussion with the Leader of the Government in the Senate to find a way to smoothly handle this process, with the intention of essentially wasting as little time as possible so that we could go back to other important business of the Senate. However, given that the government did not cooperate with the very constructive suggestions made by the Manager of Opposition Business, the government does not leave us any other choice than to proceed along these lines.

I remind the Senate that on 28 October 2009 the Senate disallowed the Rudd government’s cold-hearted cut to patient rebates for cataract surgery through Medicare. We as a Senate did that in a very responsible way. We first passed a private member’s bill, which would have seen any disallowed items revert back to the previously applicable rebates for cataract surgery. Only then did we move the disallowance.

Instead of taking due note of and accepting the Senate’s actions, the minister completely thumbed her nose at the Senate. We have a Minister for Health and Ageing who does not realise that she is a minister in a parliamentary democracy. We have a Minister for Health and Ageing who seems to think that she is a minister in a dictatorship. We have a Minister for Health and Ageing who does not realise that in our parliamentary democracy there is both the House of Representatives and the Senate and that if the Senate passes a disallowance motion there are some consequences. If the government wants to take certain actions through regulations and those actions are disallowed in the Senate, there ought to be consequences. But this is a minister who does not think that what happens in the Senate matters one bit.

The minister came out with a series of spurious claims and assertions. The first thing she said was that the bill that was passed by the Senate was unconstitutional and it should not have been introduced and passed in the Senate. That was a completely unfounded and incorrect assertion made by the minister. I remind the Senate that the minister said in the House of Representatives at the time that she was happy to provide a copy of the legal advice that was provided to her. Since then, we have chased the minister incessantly and she has refused to provide us with a copy of that advice, even though she herself promised in the House of Representatives that she would provide one. Every time that the Senate has passed an order in relation to this, government senators have voted to help the Minister for Health and Ageing essentially duck and weave and not provide us with that information. She has also said a whole range of other things which are not right, and I will deal with those on the debate proper on the amendment.

I have a final point—a bit of a constitutional newsflash for Minister Roxon. Minister Roxon, I am sending you this message: you can not limit the constitutional power of the Senate through a departmental briefing note to executive government and you cannot expand the constitutional power of executive government through a departmental briefing note to executive government. We had advice from the Clerk of the Senate that those bills were completely constitutional. We have to deal with this now through the Health Insurance Amendment (Compliance) Bill, which we want to bring on for debate now so that, prior to the disallowance motion being dealt with by the Senate on Wednesday, the government will have had the opportunity to deal with this piece of legislation in the House of Representatives. I remind the Senate that a fortnight ago the government stopped this legislation in the House of Representatives at the last minute.