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Monday, 9 May 1994
Page: 449


Senator NEWMAN (5.34 p.m.) —I sympathise with the concerns that Senator Harradine has. Unfortunately, I do not believe that his solution is a very satisfactory one. I hope it will mean that the committee will support my amendment. I cannot imagine that Senator Harradine believes all fraud against Medicare will be dealt with within the first 12 months of the operation of this legislation.

  I cannot believe, either, that he is so certain of the guilt of people about whom he has been briefed by the Health Insurance Commission that he is prepared to walk away from the presumption that all Australians are innocent until they are proven guilty. Am I therefore to assume that what Senator Harradine is saying is that there are certain Australians who, for some reason or another, are not going to be entitled to the protection that we are concerned all citizens should have, provided they are investigated and prosecuted within the first 12 months of this legislation?

  Senator Harradine is not saying that all fraud will be dealt with. One presumes that he is still saying that people are innocent until proven guilty, but it appears that he is saying, `Even though certain people are innocent before they are proven guilty, the Health Insurance Commission has certain people in its sights to whom we can give a little less civil protection then we would to any other citizen.'

  No matter how much I am convinced that we need to deal with fraud against Medicare, I cannot go along with Senator Harradine in saying that some Australians are entitled to more protection from the law than others. Effectively, that is what Senator Harradine is saying: in that 12 months, it is going to be open season on certain citizens, largely because the Health Insurance Commission is so convinced of their guilt. They may well be guilty of fraud, but until that is proved in a court we will not be able to say with any certainty whether or not they are guilty. They are therefore, in my view, just as entitled as every other citizen to the normal protection of their rights, in the first 12 months of operation of this bill or otherwise.