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Thursday, 16 December 1993
Page: 4827

Senator HERRON —My question is directed to the Minister for Health. Now that the entire health package will be subject to veto by the ACTU-caucus working party, will the minister finally concede that he has now lost control of his changes?

Senator RICHARDSON —These questions are amusing. I have to at least concede that.

Senator McMullan —I thought they were quite boring actually.

Senator RICHARDSON —`Boring' is one word. I still find some amusement. As a matter of procedure, Senator Herron ought to understand a couple of things because it is pretty clear that he does not. All that is being suggested is that a body will work through a whole range of what are detailed and complex proposals over the course of months and come up with recommendations that it would see as fitting in the light of its investigations.

  As would happen on many other occasions, the government then examines whatever those bodies might find and reacts accordingly. I would present a submission to government for legislation, which may or may not be in accord with what had been recommended. It will be up to the government then to reach a decision that may or may not be in accord with what I want. That is all predicated on the basis that the government agrees to any of it at all.

  So, when Senator Herron says that I have lost control of the changes, I do not really believe that there is ever total, utter and absolute control, in any event, because these things are subject to cabinet and party procedures. That is the same for every cabinet minister. We do not all just run out and do what we want; we have to do what governments agree to. That is what we shall do, as is normally the case.

Senator HERRON —Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. If the working party rejects all or any changes of the minister's plans, what alternatives does he have to address the massive decline in private health insurance?

Senator RICHARDSON —What we ought to be doing is allowing me to answer that question if and when any of the eventualities that Senator Herron is talking about ever occur. Some parts of the proposals that I am putting forward meet with everybody's support, so there is no possibility that they will reject the lot. Who knows how much they will reject? What I will do, what the cabinet will do and, eventually, what the caucus will do, is examine what they say and make decisions accordingly, in the light of that advice and other advice—as we always do. I do not see that it is any great change.

  Some people in my party do not think that a decline in private health insurance is a bad thing. I do not share their view. I have sought to put forward this package. We will have to see how it is reacted to over the next six months.