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Wednesday, 3 October 1984
Page: 1106

Senator CROWLEY —My question is directed to the Attorney-General. I have received a number of representations from scientists and medical researchers involved in epidemiological research. They are concerned that proposed privacy legislation which has received support from the Australian Law Reform Commission will effectively prevent proper and sufficient epidemiological research if medical records are unavailable to researchers without the permission of the patients. Can the Attorney-General say whether the proposed legislation will allow for necessary exemptions to permit adequate epidemiological research, guaranteeing anonymity of patients involved, to continue?

Senator GARETH EVANS —The Australian Law Reform Commission's report on privacy addresses the very difficult problem of balancing the individual's right to privacy with the community need for medical research. The Commission recommends as one of the general principles of privacy protection that private information including private medical records should be available to researchers only if collected expressly for research purposes or if disclosed under requirement of law or with the consent of the subject of the records. There has been a great deal of concern among researchers, as Senator Crowley indicates, that the Commission's general principle may impede epidemiological research, that is to say study particularly using statistical surveys of patterns of illness and health problems across the community as a whole. The Government has received representations from researchers at the South Australian Health Commission, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation and ANZSEARCH, that is the Australia and New Zealand Society for Epidemiological Research in Community Health, among others. The most I can say at this stage is that my Department is currently engaged in consultations with the Department of Health and the National Health and Medical Research Council on the reconciliation of the Commission's proposed general principle and the needs of medical research. Certainly the Government's response to the ALRC recommendations will ensure that privacy legislation does not hamper the proper conduct of research.