Senate debates

Monday, 11 September 2023


Consideration by Estimates Committees

3:20 pm

Photo of Ross CadellRoss Cadell (NSW, National Party) Share this | Hansard source

On this point, it's exactly what my good friend Senator Anne Ruston said: if you went into an election promising to be more accountable, more open and more careful about what you do, this is not what you do—stand up and deliver answers at the very last minute only on compulsion. You don't have to be forced to do the right thing in this world.

If we want to talk about transparency and accountability: when I was growing up my parents always said, 'Don't use words you don't know the meaning of,' and it is clear that this government do not know the meaning of this word. If they were being transparent with the public, with the people of Australia, in the lead-up to the election, they would have said: 'Our policy is don't consult, don't explain, don't think about what people are doing out there and don't care about the results. That's what we're doing.'

We've heard about 60-day pharmacy and what's happening out in regional and remote Australia—to people in my part of the world, the people in rural and remote New South Wales, which I represent. What is happening is that someone sat down in a Labor Party think tank and said, 'We need to make pharmacy cheaper.' What a great idea! We've seen the problem, and everyone admits it—Senator Ruston said we all want to make pharmacy cheaper. They asked, 'How long do we want to spend on this?' The first idea that came up was to double prescription rates: 'A great idea, let's model it. No, let's not model it, we haven't got time.' This is what's happening. We're trying to get the answer to these questions about the process, but that's what it looks like from the outside.

What is the consequence? In the other place and in here, pharmacists whose businesses will close and whose pharmacies will become unviable. We're not talking about affordability of medicines, we're talking about access to them. We're talking about entire communities that don't have a doctor but who might have had a pharmacy, and that's going to go. We want to understand why, so we asked the question. That's so we can sit down and so Senator Ruston and the opposition can come here and say, 'Here's another idea.' But do you know what weak-minded people do? They have an idea and they don't vary it: 'I have the solution, I know everything and I know the way to go.' This is what's happening here We are not entitled to the answers and the Australian public are not entitled to the answers.

There may be a better way to do it. There may be a way to give cheaper medicine to the people of Australia and not shut down the pharmacies across rural and remote Australia. But they can't give the information and they didn't even have the modelling. They didn't even think about seeing what the consequences were, 'Because we are right.' That's what was thought across the road there; that's what was thought in government. They have probably moved on to the next thing: 'Let's have a referendum and we won't tell people what we really want; we'll just tell them it will be a lovely question and a lovely gesture. We'll come into the chamber and change superannuation—it will just be a modest change.'

Government is a serious business and affects everyone here. If you can't get your governance right, and the way you handle information and the way you deal with decisions and maintain accountability right, then you can't get government right. I've sat in here and I've stood and spoken about getting our governance right—for both sides. There is no political party without sin when it comes to governance in this joint. But it is an opportunity for us to get it better, to respect the Senate and respect the processes. You don't have to hide information if you're not scared by what is behind it. And something is crook in Tobruk; something is wrong here if they're not prepared to answer simple questions about process. And if they aren't in question time, I'm sure people will go into that—to talk about what time they met someone, if they met someone or if they had a conversation about these things.

This is a government that came in with a lot of ideas and no idea of how to execute them. It's like someone jumping into the driver's seat for the first time and thinking they're going down the road but hitting every second thing and saying, 'Oh, you might have done that,' or, 'That's a problem because there wasn't enough fuel in the car and the tyres weren't inflated when I took over'—all of these things. If you want to be in the driver's seat, you've got to take responsibility.

So when these questions are asked, when we're talking about the people on diabetes medication who are managing their health and their plans—life and death—do they deserve more than 20 days notice? Do they deserve more than 20 days of information to make plans? I and most on this side would think that, yes, you do deserve more than 20 days to make plans about your lifestyle. But here we go: 'We're in the last four days of this sitting period before we have a five-week break from sitting, so let's drop it out now. Don't give any real scrutiny.' I'm surprised, I've got to say, Senator Ruston, that they gave us four days. This was going to be a Thursday thing, in my book: 'Let's put it out on a Thursday. That's always a good day. It's the last day we'll be here.'

So we get 97 per cent of questions answered. That's fine, but those answers are coming at the very last minute, when there's little work that can be done on the information and there are real consequences to what we can do. We're seeing it right across this on so many points. But what we really want to do is come back to that governance question: if you have nothing to hide, give the answers. If the health minister is proud of this situation and confident that he went through the right processes, if they are feeling this is the right thing to do, don't hold back till the last minute. Don't be fearful that Senator Ruston is going to stand up and give you a good grilling here. As mean as she can be, she wants to put the Australian people first. She wants information that allows better decisions. She wants some clarity going forward so that people aren't sitting 20 days out, wondering what drug they're going to get next month and what effects it will have on their life.

There are questions about mental health still outstanding. Is there anything more important to people now, in respect of health, when we have such economic uncertainty? We have real wages getting lower, the cost of mortgages going up and the cost of energy going up—all of these things. We're not getting answers to questions around the mental health provisions being put in place for these people, and there are stresses. Everyone suffers with mental health, but so many people in my area, the Hunter region, particularly the men—the blokes—don't want to talk about it or address it, because they're tough. Too many times, that ends in horrible circumstances. There have been incidents of self-harm, family breakdown and DV because of this. There's more than one victim. We're asking a few questions on mental health, and I think Senator Ruston said that the answers are still outstanding.

As we move forward and look at a governance procedure to improve government, can we just ask that when these questions are asked that they're answered at a time where we can do things to make a better Australia? I can't think of anyone here, individually, that doesn't want a better Australia but, collectively, we suck at it. We get behind our little banners and wave our little flags, and we don't make decisions in the best interests of the country. We sit over there and talk about our team and your team and who said this or that. Put the information out there. If the information is in the public interest, we will always make better decisions. Let's get the rest of these questions—93 per cent, 97 per cent or 90 per cent, I don't care what. Let's get to 100 per cent. Let's get them on time. Let's enable a proper conversation so we can see why things were done. Let's start a conversation across the chamber and out there in the world. Let's talk to stakeholders more—all of these things—so that we can say that we do consult and we do care about the results, because that's what we need to make this country better.

Question agreed to.


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