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Monday, 25 June 2018
Page: 6191


Ms CATHERINE KING (Ballarat) (16:21): The Australian Institute of Health and Welfare is an invaluable resource for health policy-making in this country. For the last 30 years it has been Australia's principal source of health and welfare data. So important is it there was a very strong move when the government attempted to amalgamate the AIHW into the ABS. The entire health and welfare sector mobilised very strongly to make sure that the government did not do that, so valued is the AIHW amongst the health and welfare sectors and academics across the country. It produces accurate and trustworthy statistical information and reports that contribute a great deal to our understanding of our collective wellbeing. It is well-respected across the health sector for its independence, its professionalism and its ethical integrity. It has a broad remit. In the past month alone it has produced reports on everything from eye injuries to palliative care services, smoking rates to disability support and, of course, Australia's health 2018, a very important publication that gives us a broad insight into what is happening across the health of the nation—into funding and into health status—as well as providing guidance for future policy makers. In a sense, the AIHW in itself is a diagnostic tool. It tells us precisely what's wrong with the nation's health so that we in this place can come up with policy prescriptions. Critically, it also tells us what we're doing right so that we know where to double-down. I think the AIHW and its staff do a fantastic job.

As the shadow health minister I don't have unfettered access to the vast resource that is the Department of Health so I have to look elsewhere for reliable data to shape opposition policy. The AIHW is an absolute treasure trove of this information. Without the institute we'd often be flying blind, and evidence based policy-making in this country would be all the poorer for it. So, Labor values the AIHW and wants to see it thrive. We want to see it continue to be as important and relevant 30 years from now as it has been for the last 30.

Having said all of that, the AIHW exists in a radically different environment today than it did when it was established in 1987. It no longer enjoys a monopoly in the analysis of administrative health data. The Australian Bureau of Statistics has moved into this space as it has outgrown its traditionally narrow census and survey role, and policy agencies like the Department of Health are doing an unprecedented amount of their own in-house analysis. We hope they are able to do more.

This all raises some pretty fundamental questions about the institute's role into the future, which is why the department commissioned a review of the institute in 2015. The Nous Group review considered the institute's role and purpose; its business model, product range and funding model; and its internal governance and organisation. The review made some 35 recommendations, most of which do not require legislation. It recommended a change to the institute's funding structure, better coordination between funding departments and better coordination with other information bodies, but its central finding was that the institute needs to undertake a major reorganisation and transformation to secure its future as a leading information agency. That is primarily what this government bill, the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Amendment Bill 2018, aims to do, and Labor is happy to support those changes.

The bill amends the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare Act 1987 to make changes to the governance and administration of the institute. The bill's major provision is to establish a skills based board replacing the current board structure, in which members are selected based on the groups that they represent. Currently, the board includes representatives from Commonwealth departments, COAG committees and stakeholder groups, a structure that the review concluded had encouraged a focus on operational rather than strategic issues. That being said, I do want to recognise and commend the boards across all of those 30 years for the work that they have done in ensuring that the institute continues to deliver good health and welfare data for the nation.

Under this bill, the new board will have up to 12 members, including a chair, a deputy chair, a CEO—renamed from 'director'—up to three members nominated by the states and six others. Each of these members will be required to have skills or experience in public administration, education, Indigenous health and welfare, data, statistics, performance reporting, financial and corporate management, consumers' interests and/or law. Board members will be appointed for up to five years.

The bill also reassigns responsibility for appointing board members from the Governor-General to the Minister for Health. The change is intended to streamline appointments and to bring the institute into line with other Health portfolio agencies. Whilst I acknowledge the moving from the Governor-General to the Minister for Health, I also strongly encourage the Minister for Health to consult with the opposition on the appointment of the chair, certainly, given the fundamentally bipartisan and independent role that the AIHW plays.

The bill also removes the requirement for the AIHW to seek agreement from the Australian Bureau of Statistics to collect health- and welfare-related data, instead requiring it only to consult with the ABS as necessary. The bill also includes a number of minor provisions—for example, setting out probity requirements for board members and procedures for board meetings. I think these are not radical changes by any means, but Labor certainly supports any measures that will help the institute reposition itself so that it remains relevant and even indispensable for decades to come.