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Monday, 10 November 2008
Page: 9

Senator ABETZ (1:34 PM) —What a very distinguished temporary chairman we have in the chair. Senator Ellison, I wish you well in that new role. We have just received the schedule of the amendments made by the Senate to which the House of Representatives has disagreed. That has been circulated in the chamber with some of the reasons and rationale provided to us. For example, for Senate amendment (1), the ‘Objects’ clause, the only objection seems to be that it is unnecessary; it is not going to unravel harmonisation. I ask why that was not, at least as a gesture of goodwill and an indication that this arrogant government was treating the Senate seriously, accepted by the government if the only thing that could be said against it is that it might be unnecessary. It is the same with the audit committee.

I note that we still have not been told how long the ministerial meeting considered the Senate’s amendments. We would have had officers representing the Commonwealth there, so the Minister for Human Services is in a position to tell us. I would be very interested in that. I am also interested in the government’s response to termination of CEOs’ appointments for unsatisfactory performance. We went through that at Senate estimates, did we not? Every example that could be provided was materially different from the provision in this legislation, yet we are now being given a document—when we were just about to conclude this discussion it got dropped on my desk, so I read through it. It is one of those occasions when I must say I am thankful for the minister’s longwinded answer, but he is now going to be suffering the consequences of it.

I was able to read through this document, and it quotes certain legislation—if I recall correctly, the legislation on CEOs that was referred to during Senate estimates. If I recall correctly, it had the caveat that it had to be within the ‘reasonable’ opinion of the minister—whereas the word ‘reasonable’ is not in this legislation. Another thing that the officer at the table tried to serve up to me when I asked for the details was that it had to be done by the Governor-General in council. In other words, it had to be by the agreement, one would imagine, of the cabinet and the Executive Council, and not simply at the whim of the individual minister. At Senate estimates, when I pursued this ground, the department and you, Minister, were unable to come up with one single analogous situation. So I ask again whether that is the correct situation and how amending the termination provision for the CEO in any way undermines the harmonisation process. In your answer, please spare us a lecture about the need for harmonised legislation and the importance of having good occupational health and safety legislation, because we are all in heated agreement on that. We do not need the generalities; we are down to the specifics. That is what the committee stage is all about.