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Tuesday, 3 May 1994
Page: 78

Senator LEES (Deputy Leader of the Australian Democrats) (6.46 p.m.) —We oppose this amendment, and oppose it very strongly. Basically, it eliminates altogether the value of having this search power in the legislation. What is the point of having a two-stage process if we are now going to get rid of one stage? We might as well forget about it. Why on earth would a person who knows that they are not complying let anybody in? Why would they have anything whatsoever to do with the Health Insurance Commission? Therefore, one has to go away and come back with a warrant, which may be in an hour or in a couple of days.

  It is not so much that incriminating evidence can be removed. It means that incriminating practices can—how shall we say?—be adjusted. Pathology practices, for example, need to have certain things displayed to let people know about charges. It may be that the Health Insurance Commission has some reservations about the type of equipment that is available due to the sorts of things that are being claimed on Medicare. If people know that a search is about to happen, they can make sure that the right sort of equipment is in the particular surgery at that particular time.

  If we are going to do this, then we might as well take this whole section out altogether. I want to stress here that we are not talking about patient records. I ask the minister to reaffirm that for us. We are not talking about any access whatsoever to patient records. There must be a warrant in those particular cases. The search powers merely give visual access and the ability to look at record-type books—for example, appointment books—and take samples, but they do not give any powers to look at confidential documents such as patient records. I believe we have to have this initial power if we are going to seriously tackle some of the problems that have been occurring. The pathology people—those who have been working very hard on trying to stop the fraud that is going on in the pathology area—say that this power is absolutely crucial in the early stages of investigation. They argue that, without this, for pathology in particular, the bill is almost useless.