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Wednesday, 21 November 1973
Page: 3596

Mr CHIPP (Hotham) - The Minister for Social Security (Mr Hayden) has made one of his rare confessions of being restrained. He has also confessed that he has been moderate. I would agree with both of those confessions with regard to the statement he has put before the House. It is a statement of moderation but I should like to point out a couple of instances in which I believe it was not or where the statement had included in it matters which need not have been included if the statement had been one of complete moderation. The Opposition welcomes what the Minister has said. However, at the outset, I should like to refer to what the Minister said on page 18 of his statement. The Minister stated:

The system just did not evolve the way it should have but people - Ministers and public servants - were too busy with so many other immediate and very pressing issues to call the procedures into question.

That is not true. I am not suggesting the Minister has misled the House on purpose, but the honourable member for Mackellar (Mr Wentworth) has authorised me to say specifically that quite often he did call these procedures into question.

Mr Hayden - The Department advises me that the same thing was said in 1948.

Mr CHIPP - Unfortunately, the Government will not allow the honourable member for Mackellar to speak on this matter. So that he can justify-

Mr Wentworth - The Government will now; arrangements have been made.

Mr CHIPP - I thank the Leader of the House (Mr Daly) for allowing my friend to speak. The Deputy Leader of the Australian Country Party (Mr Sinclair) also called these practices into question. But there is no direct reflection in this document on any previous Minister and we are thankful for that. Therefore, it is not in any way a political document.

The thing that concerns me about the statement is that running through the entire document like the thread of Ariadne is the fallibility of human beings and, possibly, the future fallibility of machines. Strangely, the Minister has raised the question of human fallibility to strengthen his argument for tightening the procedures. This is the very thing that concerns me and members of the Opposition about the Minister's health insurance scheme. There is nobody in this House who has a higher regard for the integrity and honesty of members of the Public Service than myself. As a former Minister who was responsible for over 5,000 officers, I have nothing but admiration and praise for the officers of the Department of Customs and Excise. But the Minister for Social Security would know that, human fallibility being what it is, there is always a bad apple. Only recently, 2

Customs officers were prosecuted for being involved in drug smuggling.

No matter what sorts of precautions are taken with human beings, the temptation is there for them to divulge information and this is one of the reasons why the Opposition is deeply concerned about the data bank that is to be held in Canberra, or wherever it may be, containing the personal medical details and history of all human beings in Australia. We are concerned because of the fallibility of human beings and, indeed, the fallibility of computers about which I spoke the other day in reference to an IBM computer belonging to Trans-Australia Airlines in Melbourne which, instead of tapping out airline reservations, tapped out health prescriptions from the Department of Health.

Mr Coates - There is no need to repeat that misrepresentation.

Mr CHIPP - Is the honourable member suggesting that that was a lie?

Mr Coates - Misrepresentation was the word.

Mr CHIPP - I am grateful for the interjection because if the article in 'Rydges' was a lie I think the honourable member has a duty to this Parliament to disclose that lie. This statement has not been challenged by anybody on the Government side before. I will repeat it and the honourable member can and will have a duty to deny it. There were 2 computers. One was in Brisbane and one was in Melbourne. One belonged to the Department of Health and one belonged to Trans-Australia Airlines.

Mr Coates - A very colourful story.

Mr CHIPP - By some freak the TAA computer in Melbourne started tapping out health prescriptions and the Department of Health computer in Canberra started tapping out TAA airline reservations. It is a good story. If that is not true, will the Minister please tell the House about it? I think he has a duty to do that. One thing I found rather strange in the Minister's statement was where he stated:

To be perfectly frank, if I had not received some letters from different employees of the Department pointing out the weaknesses of this system - and they did this in response to the current hysteria being whipped up on health insurance recording procedures - I doubt that I would ever have called the procedures into question.

Again it seems to me that the Minister is advancing an argument which we have been advancing. Apparently his own officers have been so concerned about human fallibility that they have rightly and properly in the past brought to his attention this matter of human fallibility. They have done it in the context of the fears expressed by honourable members on this side of the House about the disclosure of personal medical records under the health insurance scheme. I find that a rather strange thing for the Minister to bring into question. The only other 2 criticisms I have are not of the Minister's statement but of the way in which he introduced it. In the last couple of days he has made 2 announcements. 'Smear' is a word I do not like using and I will not apply it here. I think he made a misdirected criticism. Firstly, he said that debt collecting agencies had been given access to departmental records. I was deeply concerned about that as was everybody else. But the Minister in his statement says:

I regard it as quite improper that debt collecting agencies such as State housing authorities, local government bodies, and power distribution authorities____

I had in mind, as did everybody else who heard the Minister and read his report, some sleazy debt collecting agency which uses standover tactics being given access to departmental records. I am not suggesting that the Minister has tried to smear anybody on this, but I think his words both then and in his statement were very ill-chosen. They have been misinterpreted in a very wide section of the community. Unconsciously, I think he has placed a reflection upon the officers of his Department because everybody who read the report was appalled to think that any officers of the Department of Social Services, as it then was, would have given records to a sleazy debt collecting agency.

The other thing to which I object is the reference to Professor Pollard. It is most unfortunate that the Minister has taken 4 pages of his statement in criticising Professor Pollard, a most distinguished man, a man who has tried to do some real research in this area in which the Minister is interested. Simply because the professor belongs to other organisations such as the Medical Benefits Fund of Australia and the Economic Advisory Council of the Australian Medical Association the Minister is virtually calling him a hypocrite. It is also very unfortunate that he has brought into question the fact that Professor Pollard is a member of the Longueville Presbyterian Church. The relevance of that completely escapes me.

In conclusion I commend the Minister for referring the matter to the Committee of Inquiry into the Protection of Privacy. He has made some point of this, but I want to emphasise it. The fact that certain agencies - State government agencies and local government agencies - can obtain information about pensioners, for example, is often to the pensioner's advantage. In the case of some authorities - housing commissions, for example - if substantiation of the fact that a -person is a pensioner can be made, that person receives special dispensation from that authority. I know that it would not be the Minister's wish to close off additional benefits that might be given to pensioners and people in the low income groups by obsessive secrecy in what he finally implements. I know that that is in the Minister's mind. But I did want to point out that the disclosure of this information, provided that it is under proper and adequate supervision - I agree with the Minister here, I agree with the actions he has taken - quite often can act to the benefit of the underprivileged groups in the community.

Sitting suspended from 1.1 to 2.15 p.m.

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