House debates

Tuesday, 11 October 2016


National Cancer Screening Register Bill 2016, National Cancer Screening Register (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2016; Consideration in Detail

5:54 pm

Photo of Ms Catherine KingMs Catherine King (Ballarat, Australian Labor Party, Shadow Minister for Health) Share this | Hansard source

by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (3):

(1) Clause 26, page 22 (line 16), omit "The Minister", substitute "(1) The Minister".

(2) Clause 26, page 22 (lines 16 and 17), omit "a person", substitute "a permitted entity".

(3) Clause 26, page 22 (line 20), at the end of the clause, add:

  (3) In this section:

permitted entity means:

     (a) a Department of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory; or

     (b) a body (whether incorporated or unincorporated) established for a public purpose by a law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory; or

     (c) a person in the service or employment of a Department mentioned in paragraph (a) or a body mentioned in paragraph (b); or

     (d) a person who holds or performs the duties of an office or position established by or under a law of the Commonwealth, a State or a Territory; or

     (e) an entity (whether incorporated or unincorporated) established for a charitable purpose.

  (4) This section has no effect to the extent (if any) to which its operation would result in the acquisition of property (within the meaning of paragraph 51(xxxi) of the Constitution) otherwise than on just terms (within the meaning of that paragraph).

These are very important amendments. They go to the heart of Labor's concerns with the National Cancer Screening Register Bill 2016. This is a very serious debate we are having here in this chamber this evening. This is a debate about not only who will hold some of the most sensitive health information but the future possibilities of the private, for-profit sector in the health space. We have known for a long time—it happened to us when we were in government—that there are a lot of very large for-profit companies circling our health system. Our system is largely delivered by the public sector. It is delivered currently through Medicare and the Department of Human Services. These companies have been circling for a long time to try to get a slice of that pie. They want a slice of that pie because it is very lucrative and it will make them money. There is a reason why we have suddenly seen a telecommunications company set up the Telstra Health arm. They are not the only ones in this space. There are other large companies that are very keen and have been circling the space of Medicare.

In this bill for the first time we have had a register—the national bowel cancer screening register, which is currently run by the Department of Human Services—contracted to a for-profit company. We also have the cervical cancer screening registers that have been run in the states and territories by their departments or in the case of Victoria and South Australia by a not-for-profit organisation, the Victorian Cytology Service, which has been running that since 1989 in Victoria at least. This is really at the heart of what this government has done.

We know that they have been giving very clear signals to the private sector that there is money to be made here—'We want you to start coming up with ideas to make money out of health.' Labor thinks there is a problem with that. It is a fundamental problem, which needs to have a proper debate. We started to say that we have some concerns about this. Remember that this government signed a contract with a for-profit company to run the Australian government's National Cancer Screening Register—something we support; we want to see the Cancer Screening Register—four days before the election was called. There was no announcement that that was what they had done. They signed the contract before they went into caretaker mode. They did not announce it during the election campaign—we thought they were going to—and then they actually said, 'We are not privatising Medicare at all.' This is a thin-end-of-the-wedge argument. This is where we are starting to see the creep of for-profit companies into what the government is already delivering—the delivery of government services. This is a very substantial change that the government is making. The amendments I have moved say that that is not okay. We do not believe that this new National Cancer Screening Register—part of which is the national bowel cancer screening register, which is already run by the Department of Human Services—is an appropriate service for a for-profit company to run.

We had a Senate inquiry. The government said, 'The world is going to end if you have a Senate inquiry.' Hopefully, we have improved this legislation through the proper processes of this parliament. We have seen this government decide that it is right for a for-profit entity to hold data about you—your Pap smear results and your bowel cancer screening results. They will know a whole heap of information about individuals—your Medicare data, whether you are a transgender individual and a lot of very sensitive information.

The government are also saying that they do not think the Department of Human Services is up to running this sort of register. That is basically what they are saying. We saw this government during the Ebola crisis, for example, give $20 million to a for-profit, private company rather than actually back in our AUSMATs. We saw the government take that $20 million decision. This is another decision they have taken. It is a $200 million contract over five years, with an option of 10, to give a for-profit company an edge when it comes to our healthcare system. The amendments I have moved very strongly say that we do not believe that we should have a for-profit company running this register. I want to make it very clear that we will be moving these amendments in the Senate as well. These are amendments that I believe the House should support because if we do not it is the thin end of the wedge when it comes to this government privatising our Medicare system. (Time expired)


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