Federal Health Privacy Law A Farce – 20 January 2000

“The right of Australians to have their personal health information safeguarded from unwarranted intrusion will be weakened by Federal Government privacy legislation” Mr Stephen Milgate, Executive Director of the Australian Doctors’ Fund said in Sydney today.

“In health there is a rapid development of databases containing personal health information. The central questions are who will be given access to these sensitive databases? How will we know and how will we approve of who is using our personal information? What penalties will there be for unauthorised use and unauthorised access?”

“A growing demand for information, plus technological advances which enable vastly wider availability and encourage increased use of information, have meant that health information is required by an increasing number of users for an expanding range of purposes – Peter Williams Director Information Management and Clinical Systems, NSW Health, 1999.

“The Federal Government’s Privacy Amendment (Private Sector) Bill to be debated in Federal Parliament in February 2000 has determined that access to personal health information will be much wider and more diverse than has ever been previously contemplated”, Mr Milgate said. “Furthermore, the legislation will not penalise anyone who acts illegally as there are no penalties for a breach of this Privacy Act”.

“The Federal Government’s desire to produce weak private sector health information privacy legislation is being driven by its desire to satisfy a range of large private sector health care organisations” Mr Milgate said.

“The last thing the government wants to do is to impede or delay in any way its own project known as Health Online which will eventually see the clinical records of all Australians on one large interlinked database”, said Mr Milgate.

“The legislation should be withdrawn and a full privacy impact statement should be undertaken by an independent authority (not the Privacy Commissioner) and presented to the Parliament prior to debate on any legislation” Mr Milgate said.