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Tuesday, 3 December 1985
Page: 2760

Senator PETER BAUME(11.46) —I seek some information from the Minister for Community Services (Senator Grimes) on clause 27. The Minister will be aware that clause 27 concerns the new retrospective 3B certificates. This matter was discussed during the second reading debate and I now seek information. The changes to the legislation contained in this clause have been sought by the Voluntary Health Insurance Association of Australia for some 12 months and it welcomes the new capacity for retrospective certificates. A number of speakers have referred to this and there is general agreement that the proposal has merit.

However, clause 27 inserts a new section 3A which will allow the Secretary to the Department or the Director-General, or whatever the head of the Department is now called, or that person's delegate I presume, to determine that certain long term inpatients of hospitals are in need of acute care. It is the extent and the operation of this delegation to the permanent head which is the cause of some concern. As it is written, it seems that that delegation is potentially open ended. It seems that it provides the Secretary or his delegate with potentially very wide powers and it seems, as we read the section, that there are no appeal provisions in relation to any determination which may be made. We have no reason to assume that the Secretary will exercise that power capriciously, but as it is presented, that possibility-if one takes an extreme case-could exist. People are wondering about the way in which it is intended that that power should be exercised.

What assurances can the Minister give to the industry that the open ended powers will not be used capriciously? In the event that there is some disagreement about a termination by the officer, how do we get over the old calumny of power argument? What kind of appeal provisions would be open to those who feel aggrieved? Can the Minister give an assurance that any declarations made in proposed section 3A are determined on sound medical criteria? Could he further assure the Committee that no declarations will be made before full consultation is carried out with the health funds which may be affected? Will he further assure us that if these declarations prove to cause difficulties to health insurers-because they could prove to be potentially very expensive for the voluntary health funds-the Government will establish an appropriate appeals or objections machinery?