House debates

Wednesday, 16 July 2014


National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014; Third Reading

6:08 pm

Photo of Mr Tony BurkeMr Tony Burke (Watson, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Finance) Share this | Hansard source

He did have staff? Well, there we go. I apologise to the staff. Apparently they were here. Apparently the minister does know what the questions were that were asked, and the minister is treating this parliament with contempt. Not only that, but the minister then thought he might get away with moving a suspension of standing orders without there being a circumstance in which members of the parliament would then stand up and oppose what he was trying to do.

The reason we should oppose the suspension of standing orders is that we should demand that that minister participate in the debate. We should demand that that minister explain the broken promises of his own Prime Minister. We should demand that the Minister for Health offer something more to this chamber than just the political abuse that he delights in day after day. In the end, this is not a bill that has an impact on the parliament; this is a bill that has an impact on every single Australian when they are not well. And on this side of the House we are particularly concerned about the impact on the most vulnerable Australians.

The Minister for Health might not know anything about the most vulnerable Australians, but certainly he is Australia's Minister for Health and he has an obligation to answer questions asked on their behalf. When the member for Lingiari stands up and asks questions about the impact on Indigenous health, there are Indigenous communities throughout the Northern Territory wanting to hear the answers to those questions. This Minister for Health is treating those communities, one by one, with absolute contempt when he fails to do what those of us who were ministers in previous terms have always done and what those opposite, when they were ministers in the Howard government, always did.

It used to be the case in this parliament that when you got to consideration in detail the responsible minister would come into the parliament and would answer the questions that were asked. If the minister had a diary commitment and could not be in the parliament, that might be partly excusable—if at least he got a parliamentary secretary in here to answer the questions, or if he bothered reading the notes his own staff took and decided to treat this parliament with a level of respect.

Those opposite know that what they have done with this budget and the measures associated with it is indefensible. They know that we are dealing with a litany of broken promises, but what is worse is that they are broken promises that will hurt people. These measures are aimed at the most vulnerable people in our society. They are aimed at low-and middle-income Australians. They are aimed in this case—because he is not answering the questions—at Indigenous Australians. They will hurt people when they hard up for cash, when they are not well. Those are the circumstances of the people who are going to be affected by the changes being made by this parliament.

It is no good for them just to get to the end of votes and engage in their group hugs, to get to the end of votes and suddenly congratulate themselves, effectively saying: 'Look at what we have been irresponsible about today. Look at who we have hurt today. Look at the vulnerable people we have done over today.' When this legislation goes through, it will hurt people squarely. If the Minister for Health is ashamed of the legislation he is introducing, he should just resign. Just stand down—if you don't want to do your job, don't do your job. We are really not fussed if you want to stand down. But, if he is going to be Minister for Health, if he wants the job, he should do what every one of his predecessors has done: he should be willing to defend his own legislation. He should do what every one of his predecessors has done, not only when Labor was in government but back in the years of the Howard government and every government beforehand. We do not always go to consideration in detail, but, when we do, there is an expectation that the relevant member of the executive will be present, will engage in the debate and will answer questions.

We have a situation now where, when this parliament rises, the member for Lingiari will go back to his community and all he will be able to say is that the minister either did not know or did not care about the impact on his constituents. The shadow minister for health, when she is dealing with stakeholders and they are asking, 'What is the impact?', can go through the questions that were asked and she can go through the answers that were not given—which will not take long! It is one thing, and bad enough, when we get to question time and answers given are inadequate and irrelevant, but this government has tonight, this minute, gone to a new level of arrogance. Tonight they have decided they do not even need to stand up and give answers at all. Tonight they have decided that they do not need to say a single word. (Time expired)


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