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Monday, 9 September 1996
Page: 3014


Senator FAULKNER —My question is directed to the Minister representing the Minister for Health and Family Services. In reference to an answer you gave earlier in question time, could you clarify for the Senate whether the minister for health knew before the budget that the private health insurance companies had put up their premiums?


Senator NEWMAN —I do not have any further briefing for Dr Wooldridge's portfolio on this matter other than what I have already said. I have given you the answer which has been supplied to me by the minister for health.


Senator FAULKNER —Madam President, I ask a supplementary question. How does Senator Newman reconcile the answer she gave earlier to the Senate with an admission Dr Wooldridge has just made in the House of Representatives that he did know about the price rises before the budget? Apparently the only people who did not know were Mr Howard and Senator Newman.


Senator Hill —Madam President, on a point of order: a supplementary question must arise out of the answer given and that one didn't. That was another question and therefore it is out of order, I respectfully suggest.


Senator Herron —On the point of order: Senator Faulkner just tried to mislead the Senate in that question. I would ask him to refer to the transcript of what occurred in the House of Representatives.


Senator Faulkner —On the point of order: this is a clear case of Senator Hill pathetically trying protect the minister who has just misled the Senate. I ask you to rule my supplementary question, which is clearly in order, in order and direct Senator Newman to answer the question.


Senator Alston —On the point of order: I don't see how anyone, and Senator Newman is the one being asked, could possibly comment on what Dr Wooldridge might have just said in the House of Representatives.


Senator Faulkner —I am referring to her earlier answer, you dope.


Senator Alston —It is a physical impossibility for her to know what Dr Wooldridge said in the House of Representatives, particularly when you don't have the transcript and when you don't then respond to what Senator Herron just said that your remarks may well have been a very inaccurate representation of what went on. I think you ought to be the one asking yourself a supplementary question: `Should I have asked that in the first place?' The fact is, as Senator Hill rightly said, this does not in any shape or form arise out of the original question. It introduces entirely new material—material that could not possibly be within the knowledge of the minister.


Senator Vanstone —On the point of order: as I recall Senator Faulkner's first question that he asked prior to the supplementary, he asked Senator Newman whether Dr Wooldridge knew something before a particular time. Senator Newman responded that she had nothing further to add to the answer she had already given. He then purported to get up and ask a supplementary question to that question, which in fact was not a supplementary question to that question but another question all together. He basically stood up and said, `Well, I didn't get anywhere with that, so I'll ask another one.' He then asked Senator Newman how she reconciled her earlier answer with something that he alleges Minister Wooldridge has said in the lower house. The question as to how Senator Newman might rationalise an answer she has given with what Dr Wooldridge might have said is entirely different from his first question and therefore is not a supplementary question and should be ruled out.


Senator Bolkus —On the point of order: the question that Senator Faulkner asked goes very clearly to when did the minister know of the proposed increase in medical fees.


Senator Bob Collins —Simple enough.


Senator Bolkus —Very simple. That was the preceding question that was asked to which Senator Newman said that Dr Wooldridge's staff knew before the budget but he didn't. Senator Faulkner's most recent question goes to the question that was asked earlier. Senator Newman was asked whether she had anything further to add to her answer—an answer which said that only Dr Wooldridge's staff knew before the budget but he didn't.

In that context, that is the issue that is at heart here. When did Dr Wooldridge know? Senator Newman said that he didn't know but his staff did. Senator Faulkner said that this was contradicted in the House of Representatives. It is very much to the core of the question. The supplementary question was totally relevant to the question asked and totally relevant to the issue at heart. There is no degree of obfuscating by the opposition. That is what the public wants to know. That is what Senator Faulkner asked. That is what this question is about. You can in no way rule it out as not being a supplementary question to the basic issue that Senator Faulkner raised.


Senator Faulkner —On the point of order: what the government is submitting to you is that it is improper for a member of the Senate to ask a supplementary question that goes to the responsibilities of the relevant minister, in this case Senator Newman, who represents the minister for health in this chamber.

Government senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! There is far too much noise!


Senator Faulkner —Further, they are putting to you, Madam President, that it is improper for an opposition to draw to the attention of the parliament inconsistencies between what a minister representing another minister is saying in this chamber and the responsible minister is alleging in the House of Representatives. It is a nonsense. It is an outrage. You should rule the supplementary question in order.


The PRESIDENT —I think the debate that has ensued indicates quite clearly the comments I made the other day: that supplementary questions in recent times have come to rise out of the question and not out of the answer. The statement I will make at the end of question time is that I think this matter should be referred to the Standing Orders committee for guidance on whether the Senate wishes to continue with the current practice or return to the practice that arose in 1973. This particular supplementary question by that standard would be quite out of order. If the minister has anything that she wishes to add, I will allow her to do so.

Opposition senators interjecting


The PRESIDENT —Order! I call Senator Woodley.


Senator Faulkner —On a point of order: is it proper for a minister to answer a question by simply sitting in her seat and pathetically shaking her head? Is that in order?


Senator Patterson —On the point of order: I refer Senator Faulkner to the Hansard when he was in government. I am sure he will find occasions when his ministers did exactly the same thing.


The PRESIDENT —I think at the moment we are using up a great deal of question time not specially productively. I call Senator Woodley.


Senator Bob Collins —Is that an editorial?


Senator Faulkner —On a point of order: I ask you to rule on the point of order I have taken.


The PRESIDENT —Normally the senator if she had something to add would rise in her place and receive the call. Senator Newman indicated that she had completed her answer and I did not then call her.