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Thursday, 17 September 2015
Page: 7160

Medicare


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:23): My question is to the Minister for Human Services, Senator Payne. I refer the minister to the theft of Medicare clients' sensitive, personal information including bank account details. When did the minister become aware of the theft of Medicare clients' confidential, personal information which has been used by scammers to create fake bank accounts into which Medicare rebates are deposited?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:24): I thank Senator Cameron for his question. What I do not thank Senator Cameron for is his outrageous misrepresentation of the Department of Human Services staff, which he has engaged in at least twice in the last 24 hours, by accusing them, without a shred of evidence and without a shred of material to stand on, of engaging in a cover up, and I will not stand for it.

Opposition senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Senator Cameron, a point of order.

Senator Cameron: I raise a point of order on relevance. This is a very, very clear question with one aspect: when did the minister become aware of the theft. That is the question and the minister should be directed to go to that very important question of public policy.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. Senator Moore, a point of order.

Senator Moore: Mr President, I would like to actually question whether the minister's comments were a reflection on Senator Cameron.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Can I just deal with Senator Cameron's point of order first. In relation to Senator Cameron's point of order, I think it would be very unfair to say that the minister has not been directly relevant because she has not really had enough time. She has only been into her answer for a short period of time.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! We need to give ministers some time to at least come to the question. In relation to the second point of order, I do not believe that was a reflection necessarily on Senator Cameron. I think Senator Payne was referring to facts that have occurred in the last 24 hours. However I will be listening fairly carefully to the answer. Minister.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much, Mr President. I reiterate that I completely reject the senator's outrageous slur on my department's staff. The New South Wales Police alerted the department on Thursday, 10 September that they had found a number of allegedly stolen medical files during an unrelated police operation. This is an ongoing police investigation, and ongoing police investigations must be allowed to take their appropriate course. The department is undertaking investigations as to any matters associated with inappropriate Medicare claiming. As is standard and responsible practice, the department does not comment on open or ongoing police investigations as this could potentially jeopardise their investigation. Observing this level of responsible behaviour has apparently escaped Senator Cameron.

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. A point of order, Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: I come back to relevance. I did not ask when the department found out, I asked: when did the minister become aware. She has not gone to that question yet. I think she is well into her answer and she should draw her attention to the question.

The PRESIDENT: Thank you, Senator Cameron. The minister is being relevant to providing some background information. It is a sensitive area. She has also indicated that it is a matter for the police at this point in time. I remind the minister, again, of the question. Minister, you have 36 seconds in which to answer.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you, Mr President. There were a number of matters in Senator Cameron's question to which I am responding. I would also note that Senator Cameron has said publicly that he has concerns about the comprising of Medicare/Medibank information and has indicated that Medicare information has been stolen. This is not the case. What has been stolen—

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! Pause the clock. Senator Cameron.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, this is a very important public policy matter. I asked the minister: when did she become aware of the theft. She has 13 seconds left, you have given her plenty of rope and she will not go to that question.

Honourable senators interjecting

The PRESIDENT: Order! On my right. Thank you, Senator Cameron. I remind the minister of the question and indicate the minister has 13 seconds in which to answer. Minister.

Senator PAYNE: Thank you very much, Mr President. As I was saying, a number of medical files have been stolen, allegedly, from medical practices in south-west Sydney. I want to make it very clear that they are medical files stolen from practices. (Time expired)

















Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:28): Mr President, I ask a supplementary question. Can the minister advise the Senate of the number of Medicare clients whose identities have been stolen and the amount of money that has been defrauded from the Commonwealth?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:29): Mr President, I am not able to advise the Senate of the details that Senator Cameron has sought because the matter is the subject of a police investigation. We will work with the police in New South Wales to provide any and all information that they require.


Senator CAMERON (New South Wales) (14:29): Mr President, I ask a further supplementary question. What steps has the minister taken to ensure that Medicare clients can be absolutely confident that their confidential personal information is secure from identity theft and fraud?


Senator PAYNE (New South WalesMinister for Human Services) (14:29): As a matter of course, the department uses very sophisticated data analysis and other processes to prevent and proactively detect instances of alleged fraud and noncompliance, which include a number of mechanisms that we have spoken about in the chamber before. I indicated that the New South Wales police advised the department on Thursday, 10 September that they had found a number of allegedly stolen medical files from a medical practice or practices, not material stolen from the Department of Human Services.

The PRESIDENT: Stop the clock.

Senator Cameron: Mr President, I rise on a point of order, on relevance. This question is very targeted—

The PRESIDENT: Senator Cameron, can I stop you there. The minister has been directly relevant to your question. She answered it completely up-front by saying she could not advise you. So I do not accept that there is a relevance issue in this case, I am sorry, Senator Cameron. The minister is in order.

Senator PAYNE: I indicated in my answer to Senator Cameron's first question that the department will undertake appropriate investigations as to any matters associated with inappropriate Medicare claiming or any other issues that the New South Wales police believe are associated with this. That is exactly what we are doing. We are undertaking appropriate investigations of the material provided to us by the New South Wales police. (Time expired)