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Tuesday, 28 August 2001
Page: 30392

Ms GILLARD (4:52 PM) —by leave—I intend to address my remarks to the third chapter of this report, which records the unanimous conclusions of the Joint Committee of Public Accounts and Audit following its inquiry into the Auditor-General's report on the MRI scan scam. Let us recall that the MRI scan scam arose from the Minister for Health and Aged Care's leaking of the 1998 budget decision in relation to Medicare benefits for MRI machines, and of course we recall that the minister was involved in associated fundraising scandals. Indeed, we now have it confirmed on the public record that the minister is proud of his reputation for being bought and sold. In the most recent Australian doctor newsletter, the minister is recorded as saying to doctors who have a deal with the government:

Most groups I deal with would spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on consultants, tens of thousands of dollars on political donations, tens of thousands of dollars on meals, to try and achieve what you've got for nothing.

The minister should have resigned over the scan scam. Now, as this bipartisan report reveals, he should resign because as minister he is responsible for the gross incompetence of his department in relation to the MRI budget measure and its implementation. That gross incompetence includes there being no documents. The JCPAA in this report describes the department's failure to keep documentation of its pre-budget negotiations as appalling. During the course of the committee's inquiry, the Audit Office indicated that it could not rule out the possibility that departmental records had been destroyed. There was no signed agreement. The department ended up with no signed copy of its multimillion dollar MRI deal with radiologists. There were no probity processes. The department failed to deal in any way with the conflict of interest questions regarding negotiating a budget measure with radiologists who could and did financially benefit from the decision. There were no prosecutions. No prosecutions flowed from the scan scam because the relevant regulations were flawed, according to the DPP—flawed because of the use of the phrase `option to cancel'. Despite a full examination, JCPAA could not ascertain why the phrase `option to cancel' was used in the regulations. Whether it was gross incompetence or something worse we will never know.

As the report details, the MRI scan scam fiasco has cost taxpayers plenty: $8.2 million in Medicare moneys given to radiologists as profits off the minister's budget leak and the overspend on the whole initiative, which was running at $53.2 million at the end of the last financial year. How many people could have been got off trolleys and put into beds in our public hospitals with that kind of money? The report details that on this minister's watch his department has been involved in an administrative fiasco—no documents, no signed agreement, no probity processes, no-one prosecuted, taxpayers' money wasted and a budget leak—and people in my electorate still cannot get local access to Medicare rebatable MRI services. The minister and the House know that it is the minister's responsibility, and he should accept it and do the right thing. He should have resigned at the time the scan scam was first revealed; it is certainly time to do so now.