Senate debates

Wednesday, 12 October 2016


National Cancer Screening Register Bill 2016, National Cancer Screening Register (Consequential and Transitional Provisions) Bill 2016; Second Reading

12:36 pm

Photo of Murray WattMurray Watt (Queensland, Australian Labor Party) Share this | Hansard source

You do remember that—and I think Australians remember that. We continue to hear the horrified claims from the government that Labor perpetrated a lie in saying that Medicare was going to be privatised, and here we have a very good example of the government's determination to outsource and privatise aspects of our health services by giving the contract to run this register to a private, for-profit corporation. Not only that; the way the bill is drafted has left it very unclear. It would appear that the register operator, who will be a private, for-profit corporation—that is the government's desire—will be allowed to collect all Medicare claims information on people who are on the register. I remember the Prime Minister claiming very loudly, 'This is just terrible. We're not privatising Medicare. Nothing to do with Medicare will ever go to the private sector,' and here, in the third sitting week of the new parliament, we have the government putting through legislation which will, apparently, allow private access to Medicare claims information. Under the government's plan, this would allow Telstra to see all health services that a person has received, including in sensitive areas like mental health and sexual health. The more Australians hear about this, the more horrified they will be to think that their personal health information—really something that is just between them and their doctor—will now potentially fall into private hands. That is something that I think most Australians would not want to see.

So, last week, Labor proposed nine amendments to improve the government's legislation, and we have now dragged the government, kicking and screaming, into accepting many of those amendments. We understand the government has accepted some amendments that meet many of our demands—very practical, sensible demands. Remember, this is the same government which said that the Senate inquiry was a hysterical tirade, and it is now admitting that it has to amend its own legislation.

Unfortunately, despite the amendments that have been taken on board by the government, this legislation remains full of holes. In addition to the Labor amendments that the government is accepting, we are going to continue on and move three amendments that it refused to accept. Labor's amendments will ensure that Australians' personal information is collected appropriately and used appropriately and that appropriate penalties are in place to protect all Australians. The first batch of amendments concerns this attempt by the government to privatise Medicare and privatise health services. First, Labor will proceed with its amendment to limit the operation of the register to a not-for-profit organisation or a government agency. I do not have a problem particularly with Telstra—they have done a great job; they are a great corporation; they provide a lot of services to Australians—but the problem is that Telstra have never operated a register like this. We took evidence to that effect in the hearing. In fact, at the hearing it was made very clear to us by a number of witnesses that nowhere in the world has a for-profit corporation operated a cancer-screening register like this. So this would be a world-first privatisation of health services in this way committed to by the Turnbull government—which, of course, is the government that is not going to privatise health services. We remain very concerned about that and the prospect of people's private health information being handed to a for-profit company.

The Senate inquiry revealed that the Australian Medical Association, the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and other experts share Labor's concern about outsourcing the register to a for-profit corporation. So this cannot be dismissed as some ideological pursuit by the Labor Party; this is being backed up by some of the most respected voices in the health community around Australia. They share our concern and also believe that this register should be operated by a government or not-for-profit organisation.

The second set of amendments concerns mandatory disclosures. We will move an amendment to ensure that individuals are notified when their most sensitive health data is breached. I am conscious of the time, so I will not say too much more. We will be moving amendments to increase the penalties for unauthorised use or disclosure of information. One of the really great concerns is that the government continues to refuse to say that the government will remain the data custodian. The government says this in its explanatory memorandum to the bill but is not prepared to do so in the bill, which really raises some concerns. In the interests of time, I might wrap up my speech there, but I do want to move an amendment to this bill. I move:

At the end of the motion, add:

  ", but the Senate condemns the Government for outsourcing Australians' most sensitive health information to Telstra before the Parliament even saw the necessary legislation.".

Debate interrupted.


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