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Monday, 23 November 2009
Page: 8597

Senator LUDWIG (Special Minister of State and Cabinet Secretary) (6:21 PM) —There might be a pointer in Senator Scullion’s response, but Senator Fielding should understand that the amendment he is seeking to progress would prevent necessary filing and administration tasks such as the secure storage of documents. It would be administratively unworkable for the one individual who receives the document to keep possession of it permanently. There is the question of what would happen if that person then went on sick leave, took long-service leave or shifted employment. The amendment would also require trained medical practitioners to perform routine administrative tasks which are best undertaken by trained auditors. We would be giving the administrative tasks that auditors do—and are well trained to do—to doctors. It would take up a significant amount of their time for little gain. We do not want our medical workforce performing administrative tasks when they could be providing health services or sharing their expertise.

I understand that Senator Fielding has likened this to the pathology position. I have a recollection of that issue; I dealt with it at that time. I am not sure the advisors are familiar with it. When you bring on a bill to be debated with little or no notice, you cannot expect all of the relevant advisors to be here, able to answer all of your questions and deal with your amendments in the comprehensive way they should be. It would be absurd to expect that. This bill was not in the range of bills we would have ordinarily dealt with this side of Christmas.

Senator Cormann —Starting date of 1 January 2010.

Senator LUDWIG —We would have expected to deal with it if we had sufficient time and had dealt with the range of other urgent bills. Usually, with a day’s notice on the red, all the relevant advisors can be here.

I got a helpful interjection from Senator Cormann, who always tends to provide helpful interjections. I indicated, and Senator Cormann seems to have missed this again, that with relevant notice we can marshal relevant advisors to provide input into these debates.

Senator Cormann —We offered for you to do it tomorrow—you know that.

Senator LUDWIG —Senator Cormann bleats again about how he—not I—sought to reorganise the program. Senator Fielding, you have agreed to that reorganisation. I do not think you can walk away from that. You have perhaps sought to arrange the program to suit your own circumstances or position. I do not think you can be critical of the government if it cannot provide a response in the short time that you have made available. You have also been critical of the government for not managing the program—well, you are managing it now. Senator Fielding is now seeking to manage the government’s program by agreeing with the opposition. Senator Fielding might want to turn his mind to managing his way out of a wet paper bag. It was his decision to bring this on with little or no notice, expecting us to be able to deal comprehensively with the amendments. As a government, we will manage as best we can. I have indicated our position. That is the advice we have to date. It has not been finalised, but we do understand that we have a broad agreement.

As for your amendment, Senator Fielding, I can only indicate that the principles may be there but I cannot agree to it. On face value, it does not look like a sensible amendment, and I understand it was not in the committee’s recommendations—although I am happy to be corrected. It came from you. I understand that you are genuinely trying to provide effective input into the legislation and that you have at heart the best interests of both the providers and the patients. But in this instance we do not see any merit in the amendment.