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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8088

Senator DI NATALE (VictoriaLeader of the Australian Greens) (12:15): The Australian Greens will be supporting these amendments. We need to be really clear about what's happening here, and this is a highly technical area and it's confusing a lot of people. The bottom line is that, without these amendments, the opt-out period closes tomorrow. What that means is that every Australian who does not take an active step to opt out will have a medical record created for them. What that means, as Senator Polley has just indicated, is that a whole lot of PBS and MBS data will be uploaded and, from that point on, medical information will be recorded in the My Health Record. For many Australians, that's happening without their knowledge. We asked, through the Senate inquiry, about the number of people who were aware of My Health Record being created for them, and a very significant proportion of Australians—off the top of my head, close to 40 per cent of Australians—had no knowledge that a record was going to be created for them. That's a very serious issue when you consider the change that's taking place here.

Again, let's try to bring a bit of bipartisanship or tripartisanship to this debate. We all agree that there is a need to try to ensure that My Health Record proceeds. But it has to be done carefully. It has to be done in a way that acknowledges that there have been some major stumbles along the way, and that has undermined public confidence. What we're suggesting here is that we give another year for people to understand a little bit more about the system, where any further problems that are identified are acknowledged and dealt with before everybody has a medical record created. Let's not forget that we were given assurances in the lead-up to these government amendments that nothing needed to be done. We were given assurances that, for example, law enforcement officials couldn't access medical records without a warrant, and then we found that that's not actually the case.

So it's a prudent approach, a cautious approach—indeed, some might say it's a conservative approach—to extend the opt-out period for another year in order for us to ensure that people understand what's happening and can implement the appropriate privacy settings that they feel comfortable with rather than the default creation, particularly given that this legislation won't have even passed both houses of parliament and a new record will have been created. We can't say with absolute certainty that the changes that the government acknowledges need to happen will indeed pass both houses of parliament. Yet we're being told that this should occur tomorrow, that the opt-out period should end. We don't think it's prudent, and we think it potentially undermines people's confidence in what is a very important reform but one that should be proceeded with with caution and where we have an opportunity to identify any further issues that might arise over the next year.

Again, we will be supporting these amendments, and we think the government should think long and hard about whether it wants to press ahead and potentially undermine what's a very important change in Australian health care.