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Thursday, 25 November 2010
Page: 3758


Ms COLLINS (Parliamentary Secretary for Community Services) (9:24 AM) —I move:

That this bill be now read a second time.

I have great pleasure in introducing the Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010, which integrates Medicare Australia and Centrelink into the Department of Human Services.

This bill supports the government’s service delivery reform agenda, which was announced by the former Minister for Human Services, the Hon. Chris Bowen MP, in December 2009.

The bill continues a broader program of reform that commenced in 2004 when the previous government created the Department of Human Services to place greater emphasis on the way government delivers services to Australians.

In 2007, the department’s role was expanded to reflect responsibility for the development, delivery and coordination of government services and the development of service delivery policy.

The continued reform of service delivery through this bill will create a better experience for people and contribute to improved policy outcomes for government, particularly in areas such as economic and social participation, education, child care and health. These outcomes are in line with greater integration and cross-agency service provision initiatives within government.

Service delivery reform will significantly improve the way services are delivered by the Human Services portfolio. The progressive rollout of co-located offices will extend the portfolio’s reach by providing one-stop shops in more places. Increased self-service options will allow people to manage their own affairs, including through expanded online services. People facing significant disadvantage or multiple complex challenges will be offered more intensive support through coordinated assistance with a case coordinator.

Effective and accessible service delivery is also an important element of the government’s efforts to build a more inclusive society. Service delivery reform will simplify people’s dealings with the government and provide better support to those most in need.

A key element of the reform is the integration of the portfolio into a single department of state. Bringing together back office functions will drive efficiency, reduce the cost of service delivery for government and free up staff for more front-line customer service delivery.

Schedule 1 of the bill amends the Medicare Australia Act 1973. The primary purpose of the amendments is to integrate Medicare Australia into the Department of Human Services. The statutory office of the Chief Executive Officer of Medicare Australia will be replaced by a new statutory position, Chief Executive Medicare. The Chief Executive Medicare will be a Senior Executive Service officer in the Department of Human Services who will have broad service delivery functions and will maintain statutory powers.

These administrative changes do not alter the government’s commitment to Medicare. Medicare has provided Australians with affordable, accessible and high-quality health care since 1984. The integration of agencies will further extend the reach of the widely recognised and successful Medicare brand in the community. For example, through the co-location of services the number of shopfronts where Medicare services are available will double from 240 today to around 500.

The bill also amends the investigative powers of the Chief Executive Officer of Medicare Australia, in Part IID of the Medicare Australia Act. The investigative powers will not be extended in scope. The amendments will bring the provisions into line with the Crimes Act 1914and reduce unnecessary notifications to patients whose medical records are seized but not examined in an investigation.

Schedule 2 of the bill amends the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997. Schedule 2 replicates, for Centrelink, the governance changes made by Schedule 1 for Medicare Australia. Schedule 2 integrates Centrelink into the Department of Human Services and replaces the statutory office of Chief Executive Officer of Centrelink with a new statutory position, Chief Executive Centrelink. Like the Chief Executive Medicare, the Chief Executive Centrelink will be a Senior Executive Service officer in the Department of Human Services who will have broad service delivery functions and will maintain statutory powers.

Centrelink and Medicare Australia employees will become employees of the Department of Human Services under the machinery of government provisions in the Public Service Act 1999. Departmental employees will be able to assist both chief executives to perform their functions, enabling consolidation of back office functions and greater focus on front-line service delivery.

Schedule 3 amends the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988. The amendments align the provisions for the appointment of the Child Support Registrar with the provisions for the appointment of the two chief executives.

The bill also contains transitional provisions to facilitate the transition from the current governance arrangements to the new integrated Department of Human Services, with no interruption to service delivery.

Finally, Schedule 4 makes consequential amendments to a range of legislation to reflect the new governance arrangements. References in legislation to Medicare Australia, Centrelink or the chief executive officers are amended to refer to the Department of Human Services and the new chief executives.

The secrecy provisions will continue to operate in essentially the same way under the new governance arrangements for the portfolio. To bring this about, the consequential amendments include changes to various provisions in program legislation, for example the Health Insurance Act 1973and the Social Security (Administration) Act 1999.

The government is conscious of the need to protect customer data, therefore only existing customer data sharing arrangements supported by legislation will continue. Importantly, any new sharing of customer data within the integrated Department of Human Services will occur only with customer consent. The government is particularly aware of the trust Australians place in Medicare Australia’s management of their clinical health information and the need for this information to be held separately and securely. For this reason clinical health information will be excluded from any data sharing under service delivery reform.

The changes I have outlined today are an essential component of the government’s service delivery reform agenda. Service delivery reform will transform the delivery of services by the Human Services portfolio and will provide better outcomes for generations of Australians. It will put people first in the design and delivery of services and will ensure services are delivered more effectively and efficiently, especially to people who need more intensive support and to those with complex needs. The Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2010 is a significant step towards achieving this vision.

I commend the bill to the House.

Debate (on motion by Mr Laming) adjourned.