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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2764

Senator GRIMES (Minister for Community Services)(12.05) —I again thank honourable senators. I particularly thank Senator Georges for his support. It is ironic to think that if the Government had proceeded in the way in which governments of both political persuasions usually proceed, this debate would not have taken place because the Department of Finance, the Department of Community Services or organisations such as the Department of Health would have looked at this proposal, got the information and undertaken the research. But we said: `Look, the Health Insurance Commission has technical and practical experience in the issuing of universal cards of this type. It would be sensible for it to use its expertise and facilities to do the planning'. However, we need to pass a bit of legislation if the Health Insurance Commission is to carry out this work. If we had done what governments have always done and said `We are going to introduce a proposal but we need to plan carefully for it and get all of the information' we would not have had this debate at all. Some department would have carried out this work and we would not have had to go through the rigmarole of this legislation. I am sure that some of us wish that we had done it that way, that Finance or some other department had been brought in. But we did what we thought was the most sensible thing to do: We got the people who had some expertise to carry out this work. This is the reason this debate is now taking place.

We have assured honourable senators that while the card proposal is being considered by a select committee the Health Insurance Commission will be doing only what is absolutely necessary for the planning stages of such a proposal. It will not spend any more than the funds that are necessary to do planning and research which, as Senator Haines has said, partly will be used by the committee which is looking at this matter.

That is the reason the legislation is before this place. The Government finds itself in a catch-22 situation that governments always find themselves in. If we had brought forward a proposal such as the one now before us without having had the Health Insurance Commission look at the planning and introduction aspects of the proposal, if we had decided in the party room that we would introduce an Australia Card without having had the Health Insurance Commission or some Government department look at it to see whether it was a goer-we did, and it said it was-we would have been accused by the Opposition of proceeding without doing proper planning and research. Now we are doing proper planning and research, the Opposition is saying that we should not do that until a Senate committee has had a look at it, that we should have made the suggestion that we intended to introduce an identity card and then gone away and done the planning and research. As I said, this is a convenient debate for members of the Opposition to make their points but the debate would not have taken place if we had not decided that the expertise of the Health Insurance Commission would be used. For those reasons, and for the very cogent reasons that Senator Georges put forward, I ask honourable senators to support the clauses.

Question put:

That the clauses stand as printed.