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Tuesday, 28 February 2012
Page: 2133


Ms HALL (ShortlandGovernment Whip) (21:11): I support the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Records Bill 2011 and related legislation simply because I care for each and every individual Australian. This is about the safety and protection of individual Australians. As a government and as a parliament I think we can best ensure that individual Australians—all Australians—are protected by introducing these bills.

When I researched the information I needed for my speech and looked at the history of this legislation it was amusing to discover that electronic health records were the child of the Howard government. It was the Howard government that was promoting electronic health cards. The Howard government were early enthusiasts of e-health—they were promoting e-health as a cost-saving device and they could see it streamlining healthcare records. They believed it would provide better health care for all Australians. Now the opposition seem to have changed their mind, viewing e-health now as some sort of sinister piece of legislation that is going to be detrimental, when every bit of information I have read convinces me that electronic health records are good for the patient, good for our health system and good for everybody involved.

The opposition argues against e-health records and the legislation before us but it puts up no alternative. Those opposite lack any viable alternative. When they speak to constituents and address people working within the health system they do not put forward any alternate ideas. I find that really disappointing. It shows to me that only one side of this parliament takes health seriously and is interested in ensuring that those people living in rural and remote areas have the best access to health information—this side of parliament.

One of the bibles that I use when I am talking about health care is the Blame game report that was released in 2006. I refer to a section in the report, entitled 'Better use of patient information'. The report highlights that all governments have recognised the benefits of electronic storage and transmission of health records and have made significant investments in information technology. The report says that the previous Howard government saw the benefits, invested in it and thought that more investment should be made in it in the future. It highlights that hospitals and other organisations, such as divisions of general practice, were also involved in information technology systems. The national approach to health records was being promoted through HealthConnect. That occurred not under the Rudd or Gillard governments but under the Howard government. The Howard government was totally committed to e-health and to electronic records. Now the coalition are sitting on the opposition side of this parliament. When they were in government they could see the benefits that e-health records would provide to Australians. They could see that legislation like that before us, on personally controlled electronic health records, would be good for the country, good for Australians and good for those administering the health system.

This legislation, despite what previous speakers have said, is not being rushed through the parliament. It has not just appeared out of nowhere. This legislation has had a long lead-in period. There has been an enormous amount of consultation. This has been considered in every possible way. I know that a lot has been said about privacy issues. Privacy protection and security has been paramount in the development of this legislation. To make it a little bit easier, I will use the acronyms. The PCEHR bills provide clear privacy protections and prescribe the circumstances in which consumers and organisations can collect and have access to this information. The legislation puts in place significant penalties for any breaches. All government records are protected. There are a number of firewalls in place. The highest level of protection available for electronic records will be put in place when this new technology comes in.

What will electronic health records mean for Australians? They will enable Australians to have easy access to their healthcare information online and enable them to share that with those authorised healthcare providers that they choose. And those providers can be anywhere in Australia. If someone goes away on holidays and leaves their prescription behind and they need to provide information about their medical condition they will be able to do that. They will be able to have their GP and any other GP connect and electronically access their records. This will save a lot of time and trouble. This will deliver good health outcomes.

Digressing just a little, I noticed that the previous speaker made a lot of noise about the number of deaths that occur because of hospital error—18,000 people a year. The legislation that we have before us today is designed to address just that. It is not about promoting more errors; this will cut down on the number of errors that occur within the health system. I find it difficult to listen to speakers on the other side of the House who turn the positives of this legislation into negatives. I can only come to the conclusion that they are objecting for the sake of objecting.

I sit here in this parliament day after day and I hear a constant mantra of, 'We oppose; no; no; no.' Sometimes both sides of this parliament need to come together to look at and consider things from a national perspective and from the perspective of whether it is going to deliver good health outcomes for the Australians we represent in this parliament. We need to ask: 'Should we accept the latest technology? Should we put in place the proper systems that are going to ensure that that technology will deliver the desired outcomes and make health care more accessible and safer for all Australians?'

I have come to the conclusion that that is exactly what this legislation does. I think that wider reading by those in the opposition would show that this is a really good change. I notice the member for Mackellar was conservative. She did not like change but sometimes we have to change. If we did not change we would be coming to work in a horse and buggy. I think change is good—not all change but change that is well researched, and this change has had enormous public consultation. Change is a key element of health reform in this country. This change will remove the fragmentation of healthcare information across a wide range of locations. It is change that was identified in the report The blame gameas a positive and something that would deliver to Australians. I might add that this was a unanimous report. Both sides of the parliament and all members on the committee at that time could see that this is beneficial. It will get rid of the outdated approach which allows for poor flows of information, unnecessary duplicating tests and delays and medical errors. I have already touched on the medical errors.

I constantly have constituents come to see me with the complaint that they have been to one doctor, who sent them to another doctor, who sent them back to another doctor, who then sent them off to somebody else. They find themselves back where they started but all the way along there has been a duplication within the system. I have spoken to friends who are health professionals and they can see the benefits of this legislation. They believe that this legislation is a positive change, a well-researched change and something that will deliver to Australians.

This is legislation where consumers and health provider organisations will be able to choose whether or not to register or participate in. It is not something people are going to be forced to become involved in. For the record, I can say that it is a system I will choose to become involved in because I believe it is the way of the future. I believe it will ensure my safety and I am convinced that the mechanism and the privacy surrounding it are adequate. I believe this is legislation for the future which will improve our health system. I have great pleasure in supporting this legislation and I congratulate the health minister on bringing it to the House. I know she will ensure it is implemented in a timely fashion.