Save Search

Note: Where available, the PDF/Word icon below is provided to view the complete and fully formatted document
 Download Current HansardDownload Current Hansard    View Or Save XMLView/Save XML

Previous Fragment    Next Fragment
Thursday, 22 June 2006
Page: 222


Senator McLUCAS (10:44 PM) —by leave—I move opposition amendments (1) to (8) on sheet 4989:

(1)    Schedule 1, page 6 (after line 7), after item 11, insert:

11A After paragraph 82ZRC(b)

Insert:

            (bb)    to refer matters to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission or to other bodies for inquiry;

 (2)   Schedule 1, page 16 (after line 16), after item 70, insert:

70A of Part VIC (heading) of Division 4

Repeal the heading, substitute:

Division 4—Health Insurance Commission may conduct investigations, refer matters to ACCC or other bodies

 (3)   Schedule 1, page 21 (after line 32), after item 82, insert:

82A After section 82ZTBB

Insert:

82ZTBC Health Insurance Ombudsman may refer matters to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

                  The Health Insurance Ombudsman may on his or her own initiative refer by notice in writing a specified matter or specified matters concerning charges by health care providers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for inquiry and report.

 (4)   Schedule 1, page 21 (after line 32), after item 82, insert:

82B After section 82ZTBB

Insert:

82ZTBD Minister may refer matters to Australian Competition and Consumer Commission

                  The Minister may refer by notice in writing a specified matter or specified matters concerning charges by health care providers to the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission for inquiry and report.

 (5)   Schedule 1, page 21 (after line 32), after item 82, insert:

82C After section 82ZTBB

Insert:

82ZTBE Health Insurance Ombudsman may refer matter to other body

                  If, in the Health Insurance Ombudsman’s opinion, it is more appropriate for a specified matter or specified matters concerning charges by health care providers to be referred to a body other than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Health Insurance Ombudsman may refer by notice in writing, that specified matter or those specified matter to that other body for inquiry and report.

 (6)   Schedule 1, page 21 (after line 32), after item 82, insert:

82D After section 82ZTBB

Insert:

82ZTBF Minister may refer matters to other body

                  If, in the Minister’s opinion, it is more appropriate for a specified matter or specified matters concerning charges by health care providers to be referred to a body other than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, the Minister may refer by notice in writing that specified matter or those specified matters to that other body for inquiry and report.

 (7)   Schedule 1, page 21 (after line 32), after item 82, insert:

82E After section 82ZTBB

Insert:

82ZTBG Inquiries by other bodies

              (1)    If a specified matter is, or specified matters are, referred to another body under section 82ZTBE or 82ZTBF, the other body must, if it agrees to hold the inquiry, appoint by instrument in writing a person to preside at the inquiry.

              (2)    If the other body is a group of two or more individuals, the Minister must by instrument in writing appoint one of those individuals to preside at the inquiry.

              (3)    The Minister must, as soon as practicable after confirmation that the other body will hold the inquiry, cause a statement to be tabled in each House of the Parliament specifying that the body will hold the inquiry, and giving the reasons the body, rather than the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission, has been requested to hold the inquiry.

 (8)   Page 27 (after line 10), at the end of the bill, add:

Schedule 3—Amendment of the Trade Practices Act 1974

1 After subsection 95C(1)

Insert:

                  (1A) This Part also applies to an inquiry concerning a specified matter or specified matters referred to the Commission under section 82ZTBC or 82ZTBD of the Health Insurance Act 1953.

2 At the end of section 95E

Add “and to protect consumers by holding inquiries referred to it under section 82ZTBC or 82ZTBD of the Health Insurance Act 1953”.

3 After subsection 95G(3)

Insert:

                  (3A) The Commission must hold such inquiries as are referred to it under section 82ZTBC or 82ZTBD of the Health Insurance Act 1953.

This group of eight amendments that Labor is moving seek to extend the powers of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman to a broader set of powers than those proposed in the legislation. The first amendment enables the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman to refer matters to the ACCC. The second amendment allows the minister to refer matters to the ACCC. The third amendment allows a matter to be referred—


Senator Allison —Mr Chairman, I rise on a point of order. I cannot hear a thing because there are about 15 conversations going on behind me. If you would not mind drawing attention to that.


The CHAIRMAN —Senator Boswell and Senator Scullion, take your conversations outside, please. Senator Allison is entitled to hear this debate.


Senator McLUCAS —The proposal of the Labor Party is to extend the powers of the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman even further than what is proposed in the legislation. The amendments allow the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman to refer all matters related to issues within his or her scope. The first amendment suggests that the PHIO can refer matters to the ACCC. The second amendment allows the minister to refer matters to the ACCC. The fifth amendment allows the PHIO to refer a matter to another body. The sixth one allows the minister to refer, if appropriate, a matter to another body.

For this amendment to take effect there also must be an amendment to the Trade Practices Act and in particular to part VIIA, the prices surveillance section of the act. Part VIIA of the TPA allows for price inquiries, price notifications and price monitoring. However, the amendment we are seeking relates only to the ACCC powers to hold and report on inquiries—that is, we are not proposing that the private health insurance market be subject to price notification.

The amendments also will allow the minister to direct the ACCC to hold an inquiry into specified matters and report its finding to the minister, who then can make decisions on its recommendations. Companies are liable to a maximum penalty of 100 penalty points if they increase prices during an inquiry without approval from the ACCC.

Public inquiries initiated under the PSA have been used for a number of purposes in the past, including to determine whether pricing outcomes reflect competitive market forces, to advise the minister on what types of prices oversight, if any, should be applied to the company or companies under inquiry and to play an educative role by bringing information into the public domain, thereby facilitating public understanding of the pricing matters at issue. These amendments, I think, extend the scope of the bill in question. In Labor’s view they will give far more consumer protection, using the Private Health Insurance Ombudsman’s role, than envisaged by the government.