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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8080


Senator O'NEILL (New South Wales) (11:35): I rise to make a contribution to this debate on the My Health Records Amendment (Strengthening Privacy) Bill 2018. It is of importance to so many people. Just to describe the reality: so many Australians get on and live their lives in complete blissful ignorance of what we do here, in either the green chamber or the red chamber. But those who paid attention at school understand that the red chamber is the house of review, where we get to look at whatever legislation comes through and do this process of amendment that many Australians don't understand. Basically, it's the second chance you get to have a look at what the legislation's doing. If it's doing something really bad, there are a couple of things we can do. We can have an inquiry, where we get experts from around Australia to talk to us, and we can also make amendments. That's what we're trying to do here today. We're doing it in a way that reflects, sadly, the chaos of this government, which has been completely focused on itself.

We were here a couple of weeks ago. If this government had any control over what they were doing and weren't so obsessed with the infighting that's become the hallmark of the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison government, we wouldn't be doing this at the last minute. But here we are, literally at the last minute, in the Australian federal parliament, in the Senate, trying to protect 17 million Australians from this government's failure to carefully look at legislation that they brought in here, that they said was going to be fine and wouldn't have any problems. But those of us here today in the chamber—on behalf of the Australians who are out there at work, looking after their families, working in their community and getting on with their life—are witnessing what an opposition does, certainly what a Labor opposition does, in trying to prevent the worst excesses of what this government is trying to inflict on Australians as of tomorrow night. That's how 'last minute' we are.

Why should we be concerned about this government when it has anything to do with technology? Let's look at a few of their failed technologies that are experienced by too many Australians. Let's look at the rollout of the NBN, which was supposed to be a brand new technology. It's absolutely vital to the economic wellbeing of the country. There was an opportunity, through Labor, to roll it out into regional areas and build the economy. They stuffed it. Instead of giving us a fibre network for the 21st century, they opted for a copper network from the last century. I'm sure that you, like me, have had your problems in dealing with the NBN to try and maintain access. Businesses across the country have had terrible troubles. That's the litany of problems that we see with this government. They don't seem to understand technology. They're not up with the 21st century. You can see it just by looking at them. There are so many blokes; there are hardly any women there. They're behind the times, and they're behind the times on this legislation. We're doing this last-minute effort to try and save 17 million Australians from having this government's flawed legislation impact our lives. That's what we're doing right now. We're going to vote on it pretty soon, probably. The Labor Party is very clear about our role in opposition in terms of protecting the Australian people.

They've failed on a whole lot of other fronts. The rollout of the NDIS is a debacle. Do you remember the census? 'Everything will be fine,' they said. They privatised a little bit here and a little bit there and said, 'It will all be fine'. Come census night, it crashed. What's going on right now is that Australians—the ones who are listening, the ones who aren't too busy actually living their lives, who believe that this government is looking after them—don't know what's going to happen tomorrow night; they don't know what it's going to do. So people who are just waking up to the fact that this is going to impact their lives have decided that they're going to opt out. And the system's crashing as we speak, with 17 million people never going to be able to be accommodated by that system in the next 24 hours. That's an impossibility.

If this government were to come anywhere near looking at the truth of the situation that we're in, they would not be continuing to push for this legislation in the form that they've advanced it. They would make the change. They would grant what you just heard Senator Watt speaking about—the 12-month extension that we are seeking. They would responsibly do that. Instead, we've got them pushing for this to be cleaned up by tomorrow night because they don't want everybody to see this mess continue. They just want to put it aside and then they can focus on their internal troubles again. Well, it's not good enough for Australia. It's not good enough for all Australians, and it's certainly not good enough for the 17 million who, as of tomorrow night, will have a permanent health record if this government get their way.

How did we get to this spot? This is one of the things that surprises me about this government, and I'm sure it would surprise you too: when you put legislation forward, it's a good idea that you check with people. This legislation really did start quite some time ago, in terms of a personally controlled electronic health record under Labor. We actually think it's a good idea that, if you're travelling around the country or overseas, you've got all your documents in one place and they're accessible to you. But we believe, unlike the government, that you should be in control of that information and who can see it, just like when you talk to your doctor. Getting health care relies on a therapeutic relationship of trust. Your personal information is of value to you and your doctor. It should be controlled by you and your doctor.

What was originally proposed by this government was legislation that didn't make enough of a change from an opt-in system to when they decided, 'Let's just get the job done and we'll make it opt out and everybody will just have to put up with it.' That's the arrogance and the hubris that we see from this government continually. First of all, they said, 'Everything's fine—don't worry about it; there's nothing to see here.' Labor said: 'There's no way that this is okay. We've got to have an inquiry into this.' The Senate needed to do one of those things that I said it has the power to do—to have an inquiry and get the experts in—because we knew the government hadn't spoken to them. The experts came on, and we've had a number of recommendations. Along the way, the government have, with resistance, finally come to a couple of amendments, because even they, in their arrogance and hubris, in their ignorance of the reality, had to acknowledge some of the experts and make a couple of changes.

But Labor thinks there are a lot more changes that need to be made. That's why Senator Polley, in her speech this morning, foreshadowed six significant amendments that Labor will be advancing. They're very, very important. We know that one of the concerns that has been raised is that there could be a breach of the act. Somebody who might think that your information is valuable to them, even though it's the law, might break the law. So one of the things we're recommending is that, for a breach of the act, there should be tougher penalties. We have to provide a great offence for those who are actually going to be caught up in this system.

Senator Watt, in his recent contribution—and I acknowledge Senator Griff mentioned this as well—said that we've recommended changes to address the concerns around domestic violence and employer access. Happily, I haven't had this personal experience, but people who flee domestic violence do so at incredible risk in a very vulnerable period of their life. It's not surprising that they might have to visit doctors and get support for themselves and their children in such a situation. There are insufficient protections in this bill, as advanced by the government, to ensure that a perpetrator of domestic violence is unable to track down a family that has fled from a violent situation. That's a problem; that's one of the problems. Even if that were the only problem, you'd think the government would wake up and say, 'We'd better slow down on this; we'd better fix it up.' But no: they want to press ahead regardless.

The other issue we think needs to be addressed—concerns that have been raised with the committee—relates to employer access. I have to say that I feel pretty fortunate that, in the work I've done, I would not be concerned, for the most part, that my employer would have accessed my My Health Record documents. But I can tell you, as the shadow assistant minister for mental health to Julie Collins from the other place, the member for Franklin, that there are lots of concerns about mental health records and the way in which they are used. They've been raised over and over again. In a recent inquiry that we had into the insurance industry we had testimony, day after day, from people who were denied insurance. One woman was denied insurance for 20 years because she had a period of postnatal depression. For 20 years she couldn't get insurance because of that single incident in her life—how appalling.

Mental health records impact very significantly on peoples' access to insurance, and unscrupulous people will access these records. We don't have sufficient protection from this government to make sure that employer access is absolutely denied. There are many situations you could think of. Would a young woman looking for work really want her employer to be able to find out whether she was using contraception or not? Is it really within your employer's rights to find out that at age 12 there was a short period during which you had an eating disorder? Is that really within your employer's rights? If I asked you—man, woman or child—you would say, 'No; that is a matter for me and my practitioner.' What we're seeing at the moment from the legislative agenda of this government is a failure to adequately deal with that level of protection that I think is a fair thing for ordinary Australians.

We also are still very concerned that this government, which moves to privatise everything—or a future government with the same kind of attitude—could find a way to sell off information. It's wrong on every single level; it is an intolerable position. But there is not adequate protection in the legislation that this government has brought forward. I bet that the day they should have been looking at that they were doing something else—maybe having a few discussions in the corridors and on phones to one another, talking about taking out Mr Turnbull and putting in Mr Morrison. That's what they do. That's what they've been doing. There is no excuse for legislation with so many failure points to be advanced into this Senate chamber, except that they have stopped paying attention to the job they're supposed to be doing as a government and instead have gone on a flight of fancy of their own making. They've decided that they're just going to have warfare inside and have forgotten to do the job they're employed to do here for the Australian people, which is to advance careful, considered legislation that is full of insight as a result of careful consultation with experts across this country.

We're also very concerned that insurers should not have access to this information. I'm sure you share that concern with me. Like you, I'm sure, I don't watch much television; I have a very full life and I choose most of the time to read, talk to family, go for a walk, play some music or something like that, rather than watch television. But in the little bits of time that I've been watching television, just recently I've noticed, just as you might have noticed, a few TV ads that tell you something about this My Health Record. Why you didn't hear about it months and months and months and months ago is because the government didn't think you needed to know. The only reason that you have any advertising going on across our country right now about this issue that will affect 17 million Australians and that is going to be determined tomorrow night unless we can force the government back—the only reason those ads have gone onto television is that the Labor Party here, on this side of the chamber in opposition, have made such a song and dance about it that they had to put some money into advertising. But 30 seconds or even a 60-second ad cannot tell you the detail of risk to the Australian population that I've been able to put on the record now for the 15 minutes I've been talking. I'm sure you're more aware about things now after 15 minutes than you would be after a 30-second ad.

That's what we've got. A little balloon has gone up to say to people: 'You're going to get a health record. It's going to be really good for you'. If I choose it, if I'm in control of it, if I'm confident that no-one else can look at it who might exploit me, then it would be a good thing, but that is not where we are. It's absolutely not where we are today.

The Labor Party is calling for the government to support all of the amendments that we have proposed. It's a difficult thing to fix legislation that is so flawed and ill-matched to what they've decided to do, to switch from an opt-in system to a 'You've got to choose to opt-out' system. That's where they made their biggest mistake: they didn't recognise the scale of the difference that that made. Given the mess of the legislation, given the concerns that we still have—and our amendments, if they get up, will be some form of protection—we think it's still not good enough and that there shouldn't be a deadline tomorrow for 17 million Australians who are just really starting to get a handle on what this government's about to do to them.

We say there should be a 12-month moratorium, a 12-month delay, so a couple of things can happen, including, for starters, Australians getting more than 60 seconds of information about this. We think there should be a 12-month delay so that experts can continue to provide good counsel to a government that has ignored them for far too long. We think there needs to be a 12-month delay so the Privacy Commissioner, who's pretty good at his job regarding privacy, can look at what Australians need to have in place to be confident that our privacy is protected—our privacy around health, around critical, intimate information about you and I, about our kids, about grandparents. We need that privacy. Many of you probably don't even know that we've got a Privacy Commissioner, but we have, and this is exactly the kind of job that a privacy commissioner should undertake. It is their task to look at the impact of changes—particularly legislative changes—that might erode the current privacy that Australians have access to. That is really why we are seeking support of the crossbench today. There might be proposals around three months, six months or 12 months, but the government's still saying tomorrow night. So let's see what happens in the vote. Everybody's so confident that their best interests might be served by Independents; we'll see what the Independents do.

Like so many of the things that happen in this place, outside of this red chamber and the green chamber, which isn't sitting this week, Australians are getting on with their lives. The trust that Australians showed in electing the Abbott-Turnbull-Morrison Liberal National Party has been destroyed over and over again. Things that they promised, they have not delivered on. Things that they promised they wouldn't do, they have done. Today we can see a government that is not listening to the Australian people. It is completely out of touch. This legislation is just another example of the many failure points that we have seen in this chamber from this government that doesn't listen to experts, that denies scientific information, that doesn't understand new technology and what it can do, that doesn't have sufficient respect for the Australian people to provide adequate information and even the decency of a letter. None of us got a letter to say, 'You're going to have your privacy invaded and you're going to have a record whether you like it or not.' None of us got that letter. They didn't think they needed to do it. That's why this amendment and Labor's amendments should be supported here in this chamber today.