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Wednesday, 11 September 1996
Page: 3270


Senator FAULKNER —My question is to the Minister for Social Security, Senator Newman. Minister, yesterday in question time you said:

It remains the states, and the Commonwealth is still picking up the tab for social security beneficiaries.

`It' is dental services, I interpolate. Minister, do you stand by your statement or did you mislead the Senate and all those low income and disadvantaged Australians who have benefited from the Commonwealth dental health program.


Senator NEWMAN —No, I did not mislead the Senate yesterday. What I said yesterday was misleading in only one respect, and that is that—

Opposition senators interjecting—Oh!


Senator NEWMAN —Listen carefully. I inadvertently informed the Senate yesterday that the four-year program that the Commonwealth government had introduced for addi tional dental services was going to be completed at the end of three years. In fact, the funding runs until the end of December this year, so it is for 3½ years that we are honouring that commitment to that program. I am sorry if I misled the Senate in any way. It was quite inadvertent. Nevertheless, the Commonwealth does continue to supply the entitlement for dental treatment for social security beneficiaries by way of cards and the states are still running dental health schemes, as they did before the scheme that is the subject of this question was introduced.


Senator Neal —You are wrong!


Senator NEWMAN —Senator Neal insists that I am wrong. It is interesting to know that I have been back to my department. I have had this matter checked thoroughly, because you seemed to be so concerned yesterday, Senator. I am advised that the states are continuing their dental schemes and we are still providing the entitlement under the social security cards for social security beneficiaries. I do not know how that can be in any way misleading the Senate.


Senator FAULKNER —Minister, isn't it true that not only was your statement in relation to the cessation of Commonwealth support for dental care for social security beneficiaries wrong, but also that you said, `What has happened is that we have ended a program which was a finite four-year program'? Why then, Minister, do the budget forward estimates for the health portfolio make savings from this program of $343.85 million from 1997, when you say it ends, up to and including the financial year 1999-2000? How come your government is making savings from a program that you say was to end in November 1997? It is a phantom saving and you misled the Senate on that matter, Minister, as well as misleading the Senate by saying that cessation of the Commonwealth dental health program means the cessation of Commonwealth dental benefits for dental care for social security beneficiaries. You lied twice! (Time expired)


Senator Hill —That was not a supplementary question at all. It was a speech, and a very loud one at that. If he is not going to—


Senator Conroy —Sit down!


Senator Hill —No, he didn't even ask a question and she should not have to answer it.


The PRESIDENT —What I heard of it was a statement and I did not detect a question within it.


Senator Faulkner —Are you ruling that out of order?


The PRESIDENT —Yes.


Senator Faulkner —I have a point of order, Madam President. I specifically asked, as my supplementary question, because Senator Newman raised it in her answer, and in accordance with your ruling—which I do not agree with—of yesterday: why, then, do the budget forward estimates for the health portfolio make savings from this program of $343.85 million from 1997, when you said it ends, up to and including the financial year 1999-2000? And I went on. That is a supplementary question, Madam President! It is in order! It is in accordance with the ruling you yourself made and which I do not support, but we will talk about it at a later stage in the Procedure Committee. It is absolutely in order in accordance with the ruling that you made yesterday.


Senator Hill —On a point of order: believe it or not he claims that that was a point of order, but in actual fact it was an attempt to ask the supplementary question that he intended to ask in the first instance but did not get around to because he was wanting to make a political point. Why he must seek to make his political point by shouting as if he is in the Sydney Town Hall, I don't know, but, Madam President, he does not get a second chance to ask the supplementary question that he should have asked in the first instance. He missed his chance and he has now got to come back and ask a new question.


The PRESIDENT —Senator Harradine, are you wishing to speak to the point of order?


Senator Harradine —Is there a point of order or was that a motion of dissent? I thought you had already ruled.


The PRESIDENT —It is being presented as a point of order.


Senator Robert Ray —On the point of order: once Senator Faulkner re-read his question I took your body language, Madam President, as maybe conceding it was a supplementary question. I could have been wrong in that. Senator Hill has made a statement that Senator Faulkner did not ask a question the first time round in the supplementary. Will you check the Hansard ?


The PRESIDENT —Of course I will.


Senator Robert Ray —Will you take the same course as President Beahan did: that if, in fact, Senator Hill's point is found to be in error—I think it was a question by Senator MacGibbon, in fact, that President Beahan ruled out—he is given an opportunity after question time, as I understand it, to ask his question? Are you going to give Senator Faulkner the same opportunity, given the precedence set in this chamber only some months ago?


Senator MacGibbon —On a point of order: Madam President, would you also instruct Senator Faulkner to withdraw that claim that Senator Newman had lied twice?


The PRESIDENT —Can you repeat what you just said? I am sorry.


Senator MacGibbon —I am a little hesitant because the volume of noise overwhelmed my auditory apparatus, but I understood Senator Faulkner to finish off his diatribe by shouting at Senator Newman that she had lied twice. On that basis, I would ask that it be withdrawn.


The PRESIDENT —That should be withdrawn, Senator Faulkner.


Senator Faulkner —I withdraw.


The PRESIDENT —As far as the question and the statement are concerned, I did not think that I had heard a question in the supplementary statement that Senator Faulkner had made. That may well be wrong. If what he read out the second time was what he said—which it may well have been; there has been quite a bit of noise—that was a supplementary question. If Senator Newman wishes to answer that supplementary question, she may do so.


Senator NEWMAN —Thank you, Madam President. I do not have to; I recognise that. Before I begin answering the supplementary and before the time goes, this is not exactly a point of order but we have a problem over on this side trying to hear what is actually being said for the noise that Senator Faulkner makes. I wonder whether the Sound and Vision Office has got his microphone turned up exceptionally loud because he comes over so loudly you cannot properly hear.

Having said that, I will give my answer regarding the continuation of the program. I am advised that the program was announced as a $278 million, four-year program for health card holders and their adult dependants in the 1993 budget and commenced in most states in January 1994. Four-year agreements were signed with states subject to appropriation. That will have come to an end at the end of this financial year. We are finishing it six months early.