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Tuesday, 22 June 2010
Page: 6117

Mr DUTTON (4:08 PM) —by leave—It is widely recognised and acknowledged that the introduction of a unique individual healthcare identifier is one of the important pieces of architecture in e-health in our country. The opposition understands this. We support e-health. We supported it in government. For example, the widespread computerisation of general practice was an initiative of the Howard government almost a decade ago. We support the introduction of a unique individual healthcare identifier; however, as many submissions to the Senate inquiry identified, the healthcare identifier legislation is too broad. That is why the opposition has drafted a number of sensible amendments to prevent function creep and to see that there is greater parliamentary scrutiny of the laws that will underpin the healthcare identifying service.

E-health is an area where substantial amounts can be wasted. According to Deloitte’s 2008 National e-health strategy report, $5 billion has been spent by the Australian state and territory governments over the past 10 years alone. This minister is proposing $467 million for electronic health records before they even have an identifier in place. At the COAG meeting in December 2009, $218 million was allocated from 30 June 2012 for the introduction of a health identifier, so the crocodile tears from the minister today really need to be exposed for what they are. There is money in the system. We propose sensible working amendments to the Healthcare Identifiers Bill 2010. We want to encourage the government to support them so that we can have a healthcare identifier.

To put this debate in perspective, I was first contacted by the Minister for Health and Ageing in relation to this bill at one o’clock today to say that she was going to provide this ministerial statement. A draft text of the ministerial statement was sent through to my office. We perused that information and it does not reflect the speech that was given by the minister only a few minutes ago. A page magically disappeared from the text of the speech that the minister provided—the page which included the tirade of personal abuse that we have become used to from this minister. It was not what was delivered to our office and it shows that this minister knows nothing else but personal abuse. She probably took that decision to modify her speech on the advice of the Leader of the House.

Why are we debating this bill today, at a time when this opposition has said that we will support sensible legislation? We are having this debate today because the government want to distract from their major failings, particularly in relation to mental health but also in relation to health more broadly. This is a government who have sat on their hands for the last 2½ years in the health arena. We have seen great frustration from health providers and indeed from patients right around the country, and that really came to a peak in the last 48 hours when Professor John Mendoza resigned his position as chief advisor in relation to mental health. For that the government should stand condemned. That is what we are doing here today.

This is a government that are trying to distract. They cannot say that they have a good record in health. They cannot say that they have a good record full stop. There are a number of reasons why people should not vote for this government at the next election and they have been well detailed—the insulation program, the billions of dollars being wasted in the school halls rip-off and the way in which GP superclinics have not been delivered. This government promised 31 GP superclinics at the last election and have three fully operational 2½ years later. Now they want us to believe that they can take over Australia’s 762 public hospitals and somehow competently run them when they cannot manage money and they cannot manage the health system.

We are here today as part of a massive distraction. If this minister were sincere about getting this legislation through, why would she approach me only a couple of hours before question time today? Why would that be the case when the shadow parliamentary secretary for health has been negotiating with the minister’s office in relation to this matter for some time and we said before question time, in a meeting which I urgently convened with the minister, that we would be prepared to look at a sensible halfway mark? We should be able to sensibly negotiate an outcome because we as an opposition want to see this bill passed, but we have some serious considerations that the government has ignored. They are not just our considerations; they are considerations that have also been raised during the Senate process by people who have an expert knowledge in relation to these matters.

We have raised those concerns on behalf of some of those stakeholders because we want this bill to be legitimate. We want to address some of the concerns so that, as we go forward in what is a contentious debate, particularly around the privacy issues, we do not have function creep and this government cannot just introduce by way of regulation some further function under the guise of this legislation when it should be a legislative change passed by both houses of this parliament. In essence, that is all we are asking for. We are asking for a sensible outcome and a debated outcome with this minister, but that is not the approach of this government. This government have been sitting for months on recommendations. It took them about two months to reply to the Senate committee’s recommendations. They want to come in here at the eleventh hour, only a week before 30 June, with this legislation due to start on 1 July this year, yet this minister cannot get her act together. This is not the first example of the way in which this minister has been completely negligent in the way in which she has managed her portfolio. She is completely incapable—with all due respect to the minister—of negotiating sensible outcomes.

We see it in relation to a number of issues, not the least of which is cataract surgery where announcements are made with no consultation and there is an expectation from the government that the opposition should just meekly roll over and agree to what is a failed process. All we have said as part of this debate is that we should have sensible amendments agreed to. Dr Southcott, our shadow parliamentary secretary, has put forward those arrangements and negotiations are now ongoing between the government and the opposition. I expect we will get a reasonable resolution to this, but do not come in here as a government trying to take some sort of high road and make some political issue of the fact that we want sensible amendments supported.

The Australian people should know that Mr Rudd is a complete failure as our Prime Minister. There are countless examples of that and I detailed some of them before. The real reason, as I said in my opening remarks, is that the government want to deflect from their other failings, not just in other policy areas but specifically today in relation to the ongoing criticism which they are receiving for their failure in mental health.

Professor John Mendoza is one of the most respected mental health professionals we have seen in a generation. He has great respect from both sides of parliament. This man says he took up the position as the chair of the National Advisory Council on Mental Health as ‘perhaps the most important public service responsibility of my life’. They were his words. This man is passionate about mental health and he reflects the passion that is in the mental health sector right around the country. This is a government which, at budget time, tried to rip money out of mental health, while having said over the last couple of years that they really want to put money into mental health. That is not the case. Do not look at what the Rudd government say; look at what they do. Do not take our word for it; take the word of an independent expert who was chosen by the Prime Minister himself to chair the Advisory Council on Mental Health. This man is highly respected in the Australian community and he said in his letter to the Minister for Health and Ageing of 18 June:

... it is now abundantly clear that there is no vision or commitment from the Rudd Government to mental health. While significant improvements have been made in disability employment policy and to a lesser extent in housing ... there is no evidence of a change in policy or investment in mental health.

This is a person also who claimed quite rightly that the Rudd government was trying to rip off the policies which had been implemented by the Howard government, by our commitment to mental health. It just shows why we are in this chamber today. We will accept sensible negotiations and I think we will provide a resolution, but we will not be bullied and harangued into supporting what is otherwise a flawed bill—not just identified by us but identified by others as well. This is clearly a government that has sought to distract from the main business. The main business that this government has shirked its responsibility on is trying to implement the reform they promised at the last election. The Australian public should not forget at this election that an amazing amount was promised by Kevin Rudd in 2007 but this Prime Minister clearly is all talk and no action and there is no clearer example than in the area of health. (Time expired)