Mr D O’BRIEN (Gippsland South) (10:44): It is never a shock to hear the member for Essendon get a little bit carried away when he is talking about data. I know it excites him like the 1989 grand final. Anything to do with data, he is going to get up and talk about it.
Mr Pearson interjected.
Mr D O’BRIEN: No, we do not talk about 1990. I cannot believe the member for Essendon barracks for Collingwood. I still cannot get over that.
It behoves me again to say, and I have said it a few times in recent weeks, the government’s attitude and arrogant attitude is that whatever it presents is 100 per cent right and everyone should just accept it. For the member for Essendon to get up and say, ‘Well, you’re not showing leadership because you’re suggesting that we should have a bit more of a look at this bill through investigation via a committee’ just highlights that problem.
We have already said we are not opposing this legislation and we are certainly supporting it in principle. But our concern is that there are questions unanswered that both the member for Lowan and the member for South-West Coast went to and that there is history, there is form, when it comes to the Labor Party and introducing information technology situations such as this. Whether it is data, whether it is tech, whether it is HealthSMART—which has been canvassed by previous speakers—whether it is Myki, we see these things become problematic from go to whoa under the Labor Party. I wondered when I first actually saw this Health Legislation Amendment (Information Sharing) Bill 2021 whether what it means is that every hospital gets a new fax machine, because we have seen in the past 18 months that as far as the Victorian health system under the Labor Party has been during COVID it is woefully underprepared for information sharing and for getting correct information out.
The member for South-West Coast mentioned it as well, and I have had my own experiences even in the last week or so in my electorate with COVID. Clearly the numbers of COVID cases have got beyond the department, and I am not critical of the contact tracers in that respect. Once you get above 200 or 300 cases a day, it is going to be almost impossible to keep up. But we have certainly seen a paring back of the information that is available to the community. Whether it is tier 2 sites, whether it is information for secondary close contacts, all of those things have been wound back. I had some people last week who had had contact with their son. He had subsequently tested positive. They had done the right thing; they had tested and isolated as soon as they heard from him. But five days later they still had not heard from the department. When I raised a query with the department as to whether someone could please contact them, I was told they may not have been deemed to be close contacts so that was why they had not been contacted. And I thought, ‘Fair enough’. But literally hours later those constituents came back to me and said, ‘We’ve finally got a text message from the department, and yes, we have to keep isolating’. Luckily they had done the right thing for the six days they had been waiting to hear from anyone, because the department certainly had not been in contact.
Communication, information sharing—all of that process is critically important in the health sphere. But we have genuine concerns, and I think quite reasonable concerns, about the government’s ability to actually deal with this. In a circumstance where we have had literally six days to consider the legislation and where questions about process, questions about funding, questions about the technology to be used and questions about privacy of information have not been answered satisfactorily, I think it is fair that we refer this legislation off to the Legal and Social Issues Committee because we do need to get into it a bit more. As I said, the principle of this is very sound. It is important from a health perspective that we do share information to ensure that mistakes are not made. And we have seen that we have got better in that as a community over recent years, including in the pharmaceutical space, where we are trying to make sure that people are not doctor shopping for drugs and also that people that go to different doctors or different health services are not getting combinations of drugs that could cause them issues. That is important.
The principle of having the information at hand is good, and the My Health Record federal system has been mentioned. I note, for example, that one of the key things with My Health Record is you being in control, which is critically important. On the My Health Record website it notes that you can add personal notes about your allergies, you can set access controls to restrict who can and cannot see your health information, you can review your own health information and you can set up SMS and email notifications and do many other things. I just logged in myself actually to have a look to see what is there and was surprised how healthy I am. It is quite straightforward, but you are in control. These are the things that we need to prosecute with this legislation and this new system to make sure that it is sound and that people’s privacy is protected of course.
But I do know the issues with sharing health information. In recent times I have had unfortunately more to do with the health system, but like most people, in my younger days I did not. It was not until I had newborns, and very sick newborns, that I had the experience of going to hospitals, in my case to a neonatal intensive care unit. That was one thing, but then we went back subsequently to hospitals with further problems, having to tell our story 100 times, particularly while our baby was really sick and we really wanted to be focused on them—and it literally was like that. I mean, once we went to emergency when the baby had stopped breathing and I think I had to tell his history three times really to different doctors and nurses as we went through the process. Now, I am not saying that this sort of information will necessarily fix that. When you can go to your own doctor or a health facility that has been treating you it is certainly much easier because they know your history, and that is critically important. I am one of those people that likes to be informed about what is going on around me, I like to take control of my finances and my planning and all that sort of thing, but I have to confess I am pretty ordinary when it comes to my own health records and history. I am taking four tablets at the moment and will be forever after having a heart attack a couple of years ago. I could not tell you what those four tablets are called without going back and checking the boxes, so we are not necessarily good at that. In the situation of an emergency obviously it is important that health services have access to information that could be life saving and could certainly help with treatment.
The member for South-West Coast talked about rural health services, and I just want to touch on that a little bit because in my own experience in my electorate many of those small towns have the sort of connection and information sharing between facilities that is absolutely crucial to ensuring people get good health service, and it is done probably on a more informal basis. I am not talking about sharing of confidential information, but one example that I think of is Foster, where the South Gippsland Hospital is right next to the Foster Medical Centre and right next to the aged-care facility, and they have a great relationship. Many of the GPs work at the hospital as well and there is fantastic cooperation between those facilities, and it works really well. Likewise in Yarram we have the YDHS, the Yarram and District Health Service, which runs the hospital, some aged care and its own clinic—which we got the money for a couple of years ago; $4 million to build a new clinic. I might add we are now needing some new assistance for Crossley House, one of the aged-care facilities there, which just last week received money for planning for a redevelopment, and that is really good. I certainly encourage the Minister for Health to keep an eye on that one. We will need some further funds to upgrade Crossley House in the coming year or two because they have just managed to scrape in with their accreditations and the physical state of the building certainly needs work. But those rural communities I think can lead the way, and it was good to hear the member for Essendon acknowledge that we can learn from many of those rural health services in terms of this issue of health information sharing, and certainly we have some good examples in Gippsland South.
Certainly we do not oppose this legislation. In fact, we are supportive of the principle, but there are many questions, whether it is in respect to the funding for it, whether it is in respect to what the actual technology might be, how privacy will be protected or how cybersecurity will be delivered. These are important questions, and that is why I support referring this legislation to the Legal and Social Issues Committee for further investigation before it goes through this chamber.