Senator FIFIELD (Victoria-Manager of Opposition Business in the Senate) (13:4 6):
I rise to speak on the Human Services Legislation Amendment Bill 2011. This bill continues a program of reform that was initiated by the previous coalition government in 2004 when it created the Department of Human Services to place greater emphasis on the way government delivers services to Australians. This bill merges the back-end support services and some customer areas for Medicare and Centrelink, locating both within the Department of Human Services. The bill will achieve this through making amendments to the provisions of the Medicare Australia Act 1973 and the Commonwealth Services Delivery Agency Act 1997, which is more widely known as the Centrelink act.
It will abolish the statutory offices of the chief executive officer of Medicare Australia and the chief executive officer of Centrelink and create statutory offices of Chief Executive Medicare and Chief Executive Centrelink within the Department of Human Services. It will also abolish Medicare Australia and Centrelink as statutory agencies, and the existing functions that both of these agencies provide will be delivered by employees of the Department of Human Services in support of their chief executives.
The inquiry into the legislation by the Senate Community Affairs Legislation Committee did raise issues regarding privacy, and this bill brings in amendments to clarify the operation of program secrecy provisions after the restructure to ensure that there is substantially no change from previous arrangements with respect to the sharing of customer data. As a consequence, the bill will bring in new defined terms of ‘Medicare programs’ and ‘Centrelink programs’ to replace the current secrecy provisions which focus on the agencies as the basis for regulating information sharing.
The bill also amends the Child Support (Registration and Collection) Act 1988 to align the provisions for the appointment of the Child Support Registrar with the provisions for the appointment of Chief Executive Centrelink and Chief Executive Medicare. It also makes consequential amendments to a number of other acts that currently refer to the agencies or statutory authorities that will be abolished. The amendments to formalise the new structure of the Department of Human Services will be implemented on 1 July 2011 and transitional arrangements have been put in place to ensure no disruption in customer service delivery occurs consequent to these changes.
The bill also amends the investigative search and seizure provisions of part IID of the Medicare Australia Act. Many of these provisions were modelled on earlier versions of the corresponding provisions in the Crimes Act 1914. Because there have been amendments to the Crimes Act over time, some of the provisions in the Medicare Australia Act are no longer aligned with provisions in the Crimes Act. The main purpose of the proposed amendments to the investigative search and seizure provisions is to bring those provisions into closer alignment with the Crimes Act provisions.
The coalition believes in smaller and more streamlined government. This bill continues in that reforming tradition. This bill, which will consolidate the backoffice operations of Medicare and Centrelink into a single department, should enhance service delivery from the perspective of the taxpayer with minimum change to the interaction of the clients of Centrelink or Medicare. Clearly, it is not the intention of the opposition to oppose this bill.