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Wednesday, 14 November 2018
Page: 8086


Senator SCULLION (Northern TerritoryMinister for Indigenous Affairs and Leader of The Nationals in the Senate) (12:07): Before I place formally on the record the summing-up speech for the My Health Records Amendment (Strengthening Privacy) Bill 2018, I thought it might be useful to comment on some of the contributions by those opposite in the very short time I've been here listening to them—particularly that from Senator O'Neill. Senator O'Neill actually went into the detail and was speaking to the gallery, almost trying to persuade those there. She asked them the questions: 'Is it within your employer's right to know if you're taking contraceptives? Is it your employer's right to know if you had an eating disorder when you were 12 years old?' Wow! Deb O'Neill is the only one who has asked that question and I don't even know why that question was asked! Well, of course it's not! It has never happened, nor should it ever happen. Any suggestion that it has happened in the past or that the circumstance exists where it could happen in the future is a pretty low blow in this place.

I will go on. Apparently, this is all a complete flight of fancy. We had a Senate inquiry. It had three coalition members, four Labor members and two members of the Greens, and other senators had a participating role. The government has listened very carefully. You'd think, from what Senator O'Neill said, that the only reason the government is making any amendments is because of her and that the only reason the government has invested in the extensive education campaign that you've all been listening to is because it was her idea! Well, thanks, Deb! Perhaps she should have a chat to voters in the electorate of Robertson, who were so impressed with her that they threw her out. That's why she's in the Senate.

We should be beyond all this in this place. This is a serious matter, and there are enough things to talk about without making things up. It's really important that we've had a Senate inquiry into this matter. We've listened carefully, and the government has considered it carefully—

Senator Polley: You didn't even want a Senate inquiry!

Senator SCULLION: Madam Deputy President, I listened in silence to some pretty controversial contributions from the other side. If you could ask Senator Polley to provide the same respect to the coalition, that would be wonderful.

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, the minister is correct: he is entitled to be heard in silence. Please respect that right. Minister, please continue. Senator Polley?

Senator Polley: I want to raise a point of order: the minister is failing to advise the chamber correctly that the amendments that have been proposed by the government are a result of the lobbying that was done by stakeholders and the Labor Party, because you overlooked—

The DEPUTY PRESIDENT: Senator Polley, resume your seat. That is not a point of order; it's a debating point. Minister.

Senator SCULLION: The indications were that we were somehow unwilling to listen to the concerns of the Australian community. Well, today's the day that you can judge us on that. We're here with government amendments that we've considered as part of the committee process, as part of the consultancy with the wider Australian people. I think, in the broad, there's broad agreement that there be amendments. There is concern with some elements—the opt-in/opt-out element. As many of you would be aware, this parliament in this place in 2015 universally supported legislation that supported the opt-out approach.

The purpose of the My Health Record system remains unchanged. It is to help overcome the fragmentation of health information by allowing a person to more easily access their own health information and to make it securely accessible to healthcare providers involved in their care. My Health Record is an important piece of our national health infrastructure, and it is changing the nature of health care in Australia for the better. The benefits of a safe and secure system are significant for all Australians through avoided hospital admissions, fewer adverse drug events, reduced duplication of tests, better coordination of care for people seeing multiple healthcare providers, and better informed treatment decisions. More than six million Australians already experience the benefits, with access to important health information when and where it's needed so that the right treatment can be delivered faster and more safely.

In recent months, concerns have been raised about elements of the My Health Record system, including as part of two Senate inquiries. We've listened, and this bill, as I indicated earlier, addresses those concerns. The bill will strengthen the privacy protections for the My Health Record system to remove any doubt as to how seriously the Australian government takes the security of health information. The protections enshrined in this bill are some of the strongest in the Commonwealth. The key measure proposed by this bill will restrict the circumstances in which My Health Record information can be disclosed. We will apply significantly increased penalties for the misuse of My Health Records and the system. We will require that, if anyone decides to cancel their My Health Record, the system operator destroy all of the health information it holds forever for that person.

We will prohibit the use of My Health Record information for employment or insurance purposes, regardless of where that information is accessed or held. We'll establish the governance for the use of My Health Record information for research and public health purposes and will make it clear that the information will not be available to insurers. We will ensure that if a person has restricted access to their child, or could pose a risk to the child or someone associated with a child, they will not be able to get access to the child's My Health Record. I would like to thank senators for their contribution to the debate on the bill.

Question agreed to.

Bill read a second time.