HEALTH Minister Nicola Roxon has been embarrassed by delays to her tobacco plain packaging legislation caused by a government attempt to bring on the carbon tax debate in the Senate earlier.
Ms Roxon issued a strongly worded media release mid-afternoon yesterday lashing opposition senators for their “delaying tactics”, saying they had “played into the hands of big tobacco”.
“The opposition has twice chosen to stall the bill by choosing to debate procedural, administrative issues, playing into the hands of the tobacco companies,” Ms Roxon insisted. “Despite Tony Abbott saying he supports this legislation, the opposition continue to effectively block it.”
But the opposition has fired back, saying debate was delayed by government attempts to start debate on the carbon tax bills immediately, rather than in the extra sitting week next month arranged in the September sittings to debate the legislation.
The plain packaging legislation was passed by the House of Representatives on August 24 and the government has had ten sitting days since to get the matter through the Senate.
In a letter to Ms Roxon yesterday Liberal Senator Fierravanti-Wells said she had consulted with Coalition senators yesterday at the request of the minister asking them to reduce the time they would speak on the bill to speed its passage through the Senate.
A number of them agreed to do this.
“In light of your media release, I would assume my efforts have been in vain,” Senator Fierravanti-Wells said in her letter.
“Indeed I question the bona fides of your call to me this morning,” she said.
Debate on the plain packaging bills commenced in the Senate on Tuesday but Senator Fierravanti- Wells was able to speak for just seven minutes before Senate question time intervened.
The Senate did not return to the matter yesterday.
Although the bill was listed for debate by the Manager of Government Business in the Senate, Senator Bill Ludwig called for debate on a change to the hours and a variation in business early yesterday.
“The Senate has failed to debate the plain packaging legislation because the Gillard government has failed to bring it forward. Today it abandoned debate on other matters to bring forward the carbon tax bills,” opposition health spokesman Peter Dutton said.
“The government decides the order of business in the Senate,” he said.
He said Ms Roxon “had form in failing to get her legislation through parliament in a timely fashion and then turning around to blame everyone, but herself or her shambolic government”.
The Coalition has pledged to support the plain packaging legislation that will replace branded tobacco packets with a uniform dirty brown packet covered in health warnings.
By Christian Kerr and Sue Dunlevy
From: The Australian