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Thursday, 18 August 2005
Page: 79

Mrs VALE (2:41 PM) —My question is addressed to the Minister for Health and Ageing. Is the minister aware of any proposals purporting to improve the health care of people over 75? What is the community’s reaction to these proposals? Does the government intend taking up any of these measures?

Mr ABBOTT (Minister for Health and Ageing) —I thank the member for Hughes for her excellent question. I am aware of a proposal that was released in September last year which purported to guarantee to everyone over 75—

Ms Gillard —I take a point of order, Mr Speaker. I refer you to page 553 of House of Representatives Practice, which indicates that it is not in order for a minister to be asked about opposition policy, as the minister is not responsible for it. The formulation of the question did not seem to ask the minister about anything else, and he is just about to go to opposition policy—

The SPEAKER —The member will resume her seat. The minister has just begun his answer. I am listening carefully. I call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT —There was a proposal that was made public in September last year which purported to guarantee to everyone over 75 immediate access to free treatment in hospitals. Because this proposal was underfunded to the tune of some $4 billion over just two years, this was going to help people over 75 at the cost of harming everyone under 75. Not surprisingly, this proposal was rejected by the Australian people as a con job—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, it follows from the point of order raised by the Manager of Opposition Business. Quite clearly, this is a question about opposition policy—debated tendentiously by a failed health minister. He should be brought back to order and sat down. The question should not be answered.

The SPEAKER —The Leader of the Opposition will resume his seat. The minister is in order. I call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT —That is right, Mr Speaker. This proposal was roundly rejected by a whole host of senior figures in the community.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. I refer to page 538 of House of Representatives Practice, which says that questions which relate to statements, activities, actions or decisions of other parties, including opposition parties, are out of order. Given the manner in which the minister is now seeking to interpret the question that was asked of him, it means that the question itself was always out of order. The answer, therefore, is also out of order and you should call the next question.

Mr Tuckey —Mr Speaker, on the point of order: at the commencement of question time today, you made a special reference to the circumstances of a person resuming their seat when it relates to a question in result of matters put to you by the opposition. I point out to you that, when the question was asked, you had called the minister before any point of order was attempted on the question.

The SPEAKER —The point of order raised by the member for Fraser was not raised at the end of the question. The minister is now answering the question. The minister is in order.

Mr McMullan —Mr Speaker, further to the point of order, in the normal course of circumstance, the member for O’Connor would be right—and I have never said that before, in 20 years! But the circumstance is this: the question was open to two interpretations. In my view it was probably out of order under either of them. However, quite clearly, as soon as the minister interpreted that question as being one about the opposition’s policy, he rendered the whole question totally out of order. You should have ruled so then, but he cannot continue to answer a question that is outside the standing orders.

The SPEAKER —The member for Fraser has made the point that the minister had been called before anyone had taken a point of order on the question. I have ruled accordingly, by calling the minister, that the question is in order. Therefore, I call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT —I was asked about community reaction to this proposal, and I have to say that some very sensible people have rejected this proposal. Michael Costello, former chief of staff to the member interjecting opposite, said that the proposal was a strategic—

Mr Beazley —Mr Speaker, I rise on a point of order. This has got way off the point of the question. The question is out of order, and the answer is out of order. We all recollect what was going on in September. You were giving your old gold guarantee on the safety net, weren’t you! We all remember that.

The SPEAKER —For the benefit of the Leader of the Opposition, I state again that, as the question has been ruled in order, the minister is entitled to answer it. I call the minister.

Mr ABBOTT —The well-known Labor intellectual, Peter Botsman, said of this particular proposal that it was designed with the head of a donkey and the body of a wombat. The National President of the Australian Labor Party described this proposal as a turkey. This proposal was even dismissed by the Leader of the Opposition himself, who said, ‘Medicare Gold disappeared with Mark.’ The only person who still believes in Medicare Gold is the member for Lalor, who said recently, ‘Everyone in Labor believes in the principle of Medicare Gold.’ Everyone in Labor, that is, except the party leader and the party president. What she is really trying to do is to show up the Leader of the Opposition as alone and isolated. This government certainly does not support Medicare Gold, because Medicare Gold for people over 75 means ‘Medicare Light’ for everyone else.