The Politics    Wednesday, July 25, 2018

An unhealthy record

By Paddy Manning


Another digital rollout is going off the rails

My Health Record is another snowballing technology fiasco for the government, and Health Minister Greg Hunt’s credibility [$] is now on the line. The idea of a personal digital health record that can be accessed by health care practitioners is eminently sensible. It’s an indictment of this government that there is so much distrust: of its intentions in allowing access to third parties and authorities (such as the tax office and police), and of its competence to securely implement the scheme. Even a supporter of the scheme, AMA president Dr Tony Bartone, admitted in his National Press Club address today that My Health Record was “not the best possible system as it currently stands”. Bartone said he would do “whatever it takes” to lobby the government to ensure that the privacy and security of patient records was paramount.

Fairfax Media has reported that millions of Australians could choose to opt out of My Health Record as criticisms of the scheme continue to mount and doctors threaten a boycott to protect their patients’ privacy. On ABC Radio today, Sydney’s Mornings hosts were flooded with callers and texts, and Melbourne presenter Jon Faine described opting out as a “civil disobedience” campaign.

The My Health Record scheme began under Labor in 2012 and has been undergoing trials for the last six years. Deputy chair of the scheme and former AMA president Steve Hambleton told Faine this morning that there have been no security breaches in that timeframe: “We talk about bank privacy. This has to be better than the bank. I bet everyone listening knows somebody who’s had their bank account hacked. Well with six million people in six years, nobody’s been hacked. Now it would be silly to say it will never happen, but we need to have the best possible privacy we can get, and that’s what’s in the system right now.” But other big technology projects like the 2016 Census, or Centrelink’s robodebt scheme have been spectacular fails. It doesn’t instil confidence that the former digital transformation chief, Paul Shetler, told the ABC that if he were a citizen he would probably opt out, taking issue with the way My Health Record required users to arrange their own security settings, rather than defaulting to a more private set-up.

Since last week, when we were given three months to opt out, there have been a string of worrying revelations. The Guardian revealed that the My Health Record privacy framework is “identical” to that of the failed UK scheme called, which was selling records to drug and insurance companies. It was also reported that the man who ran, Tim Kelsey, is now in charge of the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), which is implementing My Health Record. Crikey revealed that the ADHA had misrepresented [$] the support of the College of GPs for the scheme. The ABC reported that the scheme was scrambling to put tough new restrictions on third-party mobile phone apps that use its sensitive patient data. Doctors told The Daily Telegraph they’re outraged that the police and ATO could access records without a warrant, and that has been borne out today by the bad news that Greg Hunt was wrong to claim that patient records could only be accessed by police with a court order.

A string of high-profile figures have criticised My Health Record. These include former “Freedom Commissioner” and government backbencher Tim Wilson, who admitted [$] that he would be opting out; former AMA president Kerryn Phelps, who has written [$] that it breaks the bond between clinician and patient; former Queensland premier Campbell Newman, who describes it as overreach; and Labor frontbencher Ed Husic, who has come out against it [$] over privacy concerns. The list will no doubt grow and grow.

Health insurer Mark Fitzgibbon says “we desperately need this data to make the world a better place.” That’s special pleading, which only calls into question why taxpayers spend billions in private health insurance rebates to shore up the profit margins and fragile business model of these health funds, rather than invest that money directly in universal public health.

On top of all that, there is the real fear that it would not be beyond this government to dig into the private health records of individuals for its own reasons, to misuse the apparatus of the state for political purposes. As Crikey’s Bernard Keane wrote [$] a fortnight ago, the government has a shocking track record on this score: this includes Alan Tudge’s office releasing information about robodebt critic Andie Fox, and Michaelia Cash’s office leaking the details of an imminent AFP raid on the AWU. It also extends to the attorney-general’s approval of the prosecution of Witness K, or when the AFP conducted a search of parliament to investigate embarrassing leaks from the NBN.

In terms of trust, My Health Record shows how far the federal government has sunk.

since this morning

The AFR reports [$] that inflation has fallen just short of market forecasts for the June quarter, rising 0.4 per cent and 2.1 per cent for the year as a spike in petrol costs edged out falls in the prices of domestic holidays, new cars and vegetables.

ABC Radio’s The World Today reports that Woolworths executives have apologised, at a Senate committee inquiry sitting in Devonport, for failing to ensure that its cleaning contractors were paying workers properly.

In part one of a two-part series, The Guardian’s Amanda Meade looks at the forces gathered against Aunty, concluding that “the existential threat to the national broadcaster has perhaps never been greater.”


Fairfax Media reports that the Energy Security Board’s final design report on the National Energy Guarantee, sent to state governments this week, projects an emissions target that would be 97 per cent fulfilled before the NEG policy starts in 2021. Meanwhile, The Australian reports [$] that some states have been warned that they will deny consumers lower power prices if they fail to support the plan.

After Malcolm Turnbull joined other conservative politicians in talking about a so-called “African gangs crisis” in Melbourne, Guardian reporter Luke Henriques-Gomes spent several days in the city’s western suburbs. Meanwhile, in The Australian, former Victorian police chief Kel Glare has accused [$] the Andrews government of failing to acknowledge that there was an African-Australian gang issue to the extent that it has hampered its ability to stop it.

Outspoken feminist writer Germaine Greer and former NSW premier and foreign minister Bob Carr have been told [$] that they are not welcome at the Brisbane Writers Festival because they are “too controversial” and would “overshadow” other writers on the program.

Education Minister Simon Birmingham has said Bill Shorten must dismiss Emma Husar if bullying allegations against her are proven. Today it has been reported that Husar is alleged [$] to have used a taxpayer-funded Comcar limousine service to visit her divorce lawyer.

Mark McVeigh, a 23-year-old Queensland ecologist, is suing the $50 billion REST super fund for failing to do more to protect members’ savings from the impacts of climate change.

Michael West writes that mainstream media have swallowed “hook, line and sinker” a government claim that personal income tax avoidance is three times larger than corporate tax avoidance. “It is more likely that multinationals are responsible for three times the tax gap of individuals, not the other way around,” he writes.

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Paddy Manning

Paddy Manning has worked for the ABC, Fairfax, Crikey and The Australian. He is the author of Body Count: How Climate Change Is Killing Us, Inside the Greens and Born To Rule: The Unauthorised Biography of Malcolm Turnbull.

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