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Monday, 16 March 2009
Page: 1556

Senator LUDWIG (Minister for Human Services) (3:08 PM) —I thank Senator Ronaldson for drawing this matter to the government’s attention. As I understand, Senator Ronaldson has listed a range of numbers. So that we do not end up at cross-purposes, I can certainly provide a more definitive list at some point. A range of answers have been provided today in response to the email that was sent, and I indicated that a range of those were tabled today. Rather than go through the numbers to try to work out which they relate to, can I say more broadly that a range of them are across all of the portfolios and are quite detailed and complex questions. Therefore, to provide the specific answers that Senator Ronaldson has sought, the government is working diligently on those and will provide them as soon as practicable. One of the challenges is, of course, that there are a significant number of questions which are very broad in their nature and ask for a significant amount of information. The government, far be it from when the Howard government was in place, has taken on the duty responsibly and is providing and gathering that information as we speak. Some were tabled, as I have said, and the information on others will be provided in due course.

In addition, some were misplaced, specifically, 888 and 897; they should have been referred to other portfolio areas. We have indicated that they are matters that should be directed to the health and sports areas respectively. I did not want to go into the specifics, because we might want to argue over those, but, in the interim, there are a range of answers from my portfolio which, it appears from the list that I have, have been tabled or for which we are coordinating a response. It does take, unfortunately, a little bit of time to ensure that we provide a full answer. What I can say, though, more broadly, is that these matters do receive our attention and are ones which we take seriously. Far be it for us to indicate that the previous government did not take, in my view, these matters as seriously as they should have. It is not unusual to look through the Hansard and find that I have raised this in the past when in opposition and felt that the response by the government—

Senator Ronaldson —Mr Deputy President, I rise on a point of order going to relevance. My understanding is that it is not open to the minister to talk about matters other than an explanation as to why these answers were not given. Therefore, this is not relevant.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —I think the minister was being relevant. But I would suggest, Minister, that you perhaps confine your remarks a little more tightly to the matter at hand.

Senator LUDWIG —The only point I was making was that we are, in contrast to the previous government, working through these matters. Some of them are complex. This government does take its position seriously in answering all of those questions on notice and providing responses. As I have indicated, a range of answers have already been tabled. There are a range of questions which are across portfolios and which will need some further time to gain the information to be able to table answers to them. Some will require cross-portfolio coordination in order to be able to provide a response. As my last contribution to this debate, it does concern me that it is a little bit unusual for the opposition to raise this so close to the date. Usually a little more notice is given to allow the government to provide an explanation, which is usually readily accepted by the opposition, so that we can provide a coordinated approach. It seems to be that, when the opposition were in government, they did not take the matter as seriously as we do.

Senator Ronaldson —If we want to get through this in reasonable time, how can this possibly be relevant to the question that I asked the minister in relation to an explanation for this?

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT —The minister is probably drawing his answer to a close.

Senator LUDWIG —I have.