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Wednesday, 10 March 2010
Page: 2180

Mr LINDSAY (7:01 PM) —Over in the United States, the Americans are paranoid about any move whatsoever to change gun laws. The Americans say, ‘It is our right to carry arms,’ and it is not unusual, if you travel on a bus somewhere in the United States, to find that every third person probably has a gun in their pocket. It results in some terrible outcomes and is something that should be changed. America should follow Australia’s lead in relation to gun laws.

Here in Australia we have our own peculiar phenomenon, which relates to national ID issues and the paranoia that Australians seem to have about having national ID cards and the like. Just as the gun law situation in the United States is wrong, the paranoia in Australia about having national identifiers is wrong. It is such a pity that, whenever there is a proposal to establish a common identifier, the public are very ill at ease and edgy, and often it is opposed. A government will put up a policy to have some kind of national identifier and the opposition will oppose it, building on the fear of Australians that Big Brother is watching.

That happened under the last government when the Labor Party opposed the notion of a national health card which rolled into one card a whole range of possibilities. The card had a smart chip which had all sorts of Centrelink information, health information, taxation information and so on, but it was extraordinarily well protected. The security that was proposed for the card was second to none. The card also had the potential to carry people’s personal information—bank details and so on—and would have produced a situation where you only needed to have one card to carry everything that you used in your normal, day-to-day life. But the Labor Party opposed it and it did not fly. That is such a pity, because it would have been so convenient to have it.

Of course, what we have now is the de facto national ID card, which is your drivers licence. How often is it that you have to present your drivers licence as a form of identification? Interestingly, I recently had to apply for a new ordinary passport. I went to the post office, as everybody does, and had to identify myself. I said: ‘Here is my current official passport. This is my identification.’ The people at the post office said, ‘No; you have to produce your drivers licence and your Medicare card.’ The official passport was not sufficient identification for me to get an ordinary passport. What a nonsense that is.

My point is that this legislation—the Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010 and Healthcare Identifiers (Consequential Amendments) Bill 2010—seeks to establish a 16-digit identifier for healthcare purposes, and I do not think it goes far enough. I certainly support the legislation. I certainly support the notion that this is a safe, secure mechanism and that there are no privacy issues, and we should implement it. I am just disappointed that it does not go far enough. My message to the parliament tonight is that we should extend this proposal. We should have a practical national ID number for everything.

Other countries have it. I will give you an example. A country that you would think would be opposed to a national ID number is Sweden. It is basically a socialist country. But everybody in Sweden accepts the need for a national ID number. It is used in everything. You cannot go anywhere without quoting your national ID number. It does not lead to any fraud or misuse of the number. People’s privacy is respected. It is even used for the electoral roll. Incidentally, when I was looking at this issue, I discovered that in Sweden you can have two votes. If you cast your vote in an election and then decide that you want to change it, you can then go back and change your vote. But you can only do that because of this national ID number. So I appeal to the government to think about expanding the concept—effectively this is a narrow form that is being presented to the parliament tonight—to a truly national identifying number that can be used everywhere you go across all federal, state and local departments and that is securely protected for the convenience of Australians. These days, with the wonderful technology that we have access to, surely it makes sense that we can produce such a system for the benefit of all Australians.

So this is a positive step by the government. I support it. There are clear benefits for the e-health program, and it does help create a more unified and coordinated national healthcare system. The key aspect of this is that there will be, through increased communication and availability of healthcare information for both patients and doctors, clear benefits. As Australians have a propensity these days to move around the Commonwealth—lots of Australians move from state to state and from district to district—it is just so sensible to be able to arrange for whoever is the local doctor you are going to see to have access to the information in the e-health system.

I guess I do have a word of disappointment, though, in that it has taken the Rudd government 28 months to do anything on health care. Inaction has been Labor’s only solution for too long. When it comes to an issue as important as health care, taking the first small step is only the beginning. I draw parliament’s attention to Townsville Hospital in my electorate. It is one of the many hospitals around the country that are struggling. Townsville Hospital is under serious pressure. A Queensland Health report in September 2009 showed that, for that quarter, patients in Townsville spent an average of eight hours waiting for a ward bed—that is the highest state wide—and, in just one day in February 2010, last month, there were 26 patients in the emergency department waiting to be admitted to a ward. Labor knows that Townsville Hospital is struggling. The state government knows that Townsville Hospital is struggling. The Queensland health department released a report in January 2010 which predicted that there would be an extra 40 per cent of overnight hospital stays by 2016-2017 and the need for an additional 179 beds. But the report did not address many of the real concerns or propose actual solutions. There is no solution for the chronic workforce shortages of the hospital and no plan to boost the number of doctors and nurses to provide care for these extra beds. Bed shortages are a big issue for Townsville Hospital. In June 2009, the hospital had over 21,000 people on a waiting list to get on a waiting list. That is an extraordinary situation. It is unacceptable for patients in Townsville. But it is just one of the problems in health care in North Queensland. The e-health initiative in this legislation before us tonight does help.

I come from regional Australia. Behind Townsville is the great north-west minerals province, where people work on a fly-in fly-out basis at the mines. As people come and go across the north-west minerals province, they may need to see a doctor in Townsville or Cloncurry or Mount Isa or Hughenden or Richmond and so on. So this e-health initiative helps with their medical records and this legislation provides an individual identifier which allows people to access their information and doctors to access this information no matter where they might be in this great land of ours. The Australian health system is facing increasing pressure. Can I just ask the member for Petrie: how much time do you want to use in your speech?

Mrs D’Ath —Twenty minutes.

Mr LINDSAY —So I can conclude.

The DEPUTY SPEAKER (Hon. JE Moylan)—The member for Herbert, I think, should continue.

Mr LINDSAY —That is okay. I was just trying to assist the House. Thank you to the member for Petrie for assisting me. The whip asked me to talk on. Now I will not talk on—

Mr McClelland interjecting

Mr LINDSAY —The Attorney-General loves that. So I will wrap up and say to the House that I do not think we have gone far enough in this legislation. I would like to see the parliament really seriously look at a proper national identifier that can be used for everything, not only for health but for all facets of our identification requirements across all levels of government, and indeed across the private sector as well. I will be supporting these bills, and I thank the House for its attention.