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Friday, 3 December 1976
Page: 3224

Dr CASS (MARIBYRNONG, VICTORIA) - I preface my question, which is directed to the Minister for Health, by reminding him that legislation designed to implement the recommendations of the Whalan Committee of Inquiry into the Protection of Privacy and introduced by my colleague, the honourable member for Oxley, lapsed in November 1975. Is the Minister aware that the General Manager of the Hospital Benefits Association of Victoria stated on 25 November that contributors to private health insurance funds presently have to rely on the 'good faith' of the administrators of these funds not to divulge confidential medical and financial information about their members? As the Liberal and National Country Parties in the past have expressed deep concern about this matter- in particular the former AttorneyGeneral, the late Senator Greenwood, in February 1975 warned of the dangers of the misuse of private information- can the Minister ex- plain to the House why complementary legislation has not been introduced by the Government in order to protect the interests and privacy of private health insurance contributors?

Mr HUNT (GWYDIR, NEW SOUTH WALES) (Minister for Health) - Earlier in the year I answered a question relating to this problem. The honourable member for Maribyrnong probably will recall that at that time I indicated that the Government had referred the whole question of privacy to the Law Reform Commission under the chairmanship of Mr Justice Kirby. One of the most important things that we have asked Mr Justice Kirby to do, under that Commission's terms of reference, is to inquire into the question of privacy, particularly as it relates to private health insurance and health matters. The Government does share some concern with the honourable member about the need to ensure that the privacy of individuals is preserved. Section 1 30 of the National Health Act, for instance, does provide that officers of the Department of Health and public servants generally are bound to ensure that the privacy of the individual is protected, but that provision does not apply to people involved in the private health insurance funds. However, we are mindful of the fact that it is in the interests of private health insurance funds to ensure that they maintain secrecy provisions and preserve the privacy provisions that are necessary to protect the interests of their contributors.

The honourable member expressed some real concern about the Hospital Benefits Association establishing a data processing bureau in Singapore. I have looked into this matter. I could as Minister, under a provision in the National Health Act, intervene in the matter but I have decided not to do so because even under the provisions that exist the HBA will be operating that office under its own jurisdiction just as it operates its office in Melbourne. We assume that the HBA would preserve and respect the privacy of its contributors in its Singapore office just as it would do in its Melbourne office. Quite clearly there is a great responsibility on the private health insurance funds , to try to operate as efficiently and as economically as possible.

Mr Uren - Fair go!

Mr HUNT -I beg your pardon?

Mr Uren - Ministers have been making lengthy replies.

Mr SPEAKER -The DeputyLeader of the Opposition draws attention to the length of the reply. I must say that that criticism would not be directed solely to the Minister for Health.

Mr Uren -i said that Ministers have been making lengthy replies this morning.

Mr SPEAKER -I apologise. I did not know that you were speaking generally. I ask the Minister for Health to draw his answer to a conclusion.

Mr HUNT - I have concluded.

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