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Wednesday, 4 May 1994
Page: 151


Senator NEWMAN (10.05 a.m.) —I have been interested to hear the comments of both Senator Chamarette and Senator Lees. My concern is with the facts to which Senator Lees has just referred and which have come from Dr Kindon. My experience with legislation of this kind is that doctors are good at doctoring and lawyers have perhaps a better understanding of civil liberties issues. With this particular piece of legislation, for example, it was not until the opposition looked carefully at this bill and alerted the medical organisations to some of the hidden difficulties that they started to realise that the rights of both their practitioners and their patients could be in jeopardy under the bill as originally printed.

  We alerted them to the concerns which we had. They then took the bill to legal advisers, and they were advised that our concerns were reasonable and that there was a need for improving this act. While we all support the purpose of the act, there are genuine concerns as to civil liberties. The privacy issues have been addressed. It remains to be seen in practice whether they are adequately addressed, but it appears on the surface that those issues have been improved.

  However, we are concerned, as I said yesterday, that people are being given police authorities without the controls which the police in this land are subject to. We do not believe that we can rely on the doctors' wish to clean up the fraud as being so overwhelming that civil rights concerns can be ignored. We are committed to cleaning up the fraud in the medical area, where it exists. In fact, the opposition has been keen, and expressed its views, on this issue long before this legislation came in. So there can be no way in which it could be suggested that we are soft on crime in connection with medical fraud. Nevertheless, I reiterate what I said yesterday: the end cannot justify unsatisfactory means. That is why we are so concerned to see that a search warrant should be obtained before such an entry takes place.