Wednesday, 16 July 2014
National Health Amendment (Pharmaceutical Benefits) Bill 2014; Third Reading
I seek leave to move that this bill be now read a third time.
Leave not granted.
That, pursuant to contingent notice, so much of the standing and sessional orders be suspended as would prevent the remaining stages being passed without delay.
The Minister for Health has just moved a suspension of standing orders to avoid answering questions that were put from this side of the House during consideration in detail. We are dealing with the first health bill of this parliament, and not only that: one of the questions was about the impact on Indigenous health. This government, with a Prime Minister who claims to be a Prime Minister for Indigenous Australia, has a Minister for Health who avoids answering a single question, put during consideration in detail, about the impact of these measures on Indigenous health. Under section 100, how much of the $1.3 billion is going back into listing new medicines on the PBS? How many scripts does the average pensioner fill? How many scripts does someone with a healthcare card, on average, fill? How much more will it cost per year for the average pensioner before they reach the safety net? How much more will it cost per year for the average healthcare card holder before they reach the safety net? What will the cost per script be by July 2018 for pensioners and healthcare card holders when the safety net is at 68? Can the government guarantee that the safety net will be capped at 68?
These are questions that the public has a right to have answers on. What is the impact of the bill on Indigenous Australians who access medications? These are questions that have been put during consideration in detail. But—something that I have not seen before in this place—during consideration in detail the relevant minister could not even be bothered to be in the chamber. We have had his one bill—the one health bill that has been before this parliament—and the Minister for Health cannot even be bothered to turn up for work.
We heard an allegation during question time today from the Minister for the Environment, who talks about energy. The Minister for the Environment—who does not talk about the environment—claimed that senators, because they were debating legislation, were on strike. Well, there is someone who is on strike at the moment, and it is the Minister for Health, who cannot be bothered to come into the parliament when his own bill is being debated. It is the Minister for Health who is in a government that is claiming that they care about Indigenous Australians and who refuses to answer questions about the impact of his own legislation on Indigenous Australians. I do not know what the reason is. I do not know whether the reason he will not answer those questions is that he does not know the answer. There is a fair chance that that is the case, because whenever he is asked questions in the parliament all he can do is throw political abuse across the chamber. Or, he does know the answer and does not want the rest of Australia to know the answer, does not want the rest of Australia to know what the impact of this bill will be.
Only six coalition MPs could be bothered to come into this parliament to speak on the bill. And this is in a situation where one of the commitments that was made by their Prime Minister, right up to the day before the election, was that there would be no cuts to health. Yet now, after being told there would be no cuts to health, no cuts to education, no changes to pensions, no cuts to the ABC and SBS and no increases in taxes, we come into this chamber and find precisely that they are cutting into the health system and doing so in a way whereby we have a Minister for Health who refuses to be accountable. We know on this side of the parliament that when you come to the end of the debate on these bills the government, obviously, in the House of Representatives, ends up with a majority. But we expect that they can be brave enough to defend their policies and that they can have a minister who is willing to answer the most basic questions.
Consideration in detail does not go for a long time. There is no provision that requires the Minister for Health to sit here throughout the whole of the second reading debate. But to have a situation in which his one piece of legislation is such that he cannot be bothered to have even a staff member here taking notes for him and telling him what the questions are—
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)
Now the minister is actually in the chamber! We have had an extraordinary circumstance where the minister was not here for consideration in detail. He should answer the questions. They are serious questions about this bill—