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                    [post_content] =>  

Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's cash splash on helicopters, chauffered cars and European tours
launched a thousand memes on social media. 

 

 

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needs to urgently act on his promise to reform politicians’ work expenses before another one gets busted, say academics.

Parliamentary expenses have been under the spotlight again recently, with the high profile resignation of federal Health Minister Sussan Ley earlier this month.

Ms Ley quit after it emerged that she had purchased a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment ‘on impulse’ during a taxpayer-funded trip. News of her chartering and flying planes to attend work meetings back in 2015 delivered the coup de grace.

During the ensuing storm of negative public opinion and media commentary, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to creating a new independent parliamentary standards authority to vet politicians’ expenses claims, similar to that established in the UK after the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal exploded.

It is understood that the new body’s board would include the President of the Renumeration Tribunal, as well as former public servants, judges and politicians and an auditing expert; probably taking over from the Department of Finance, which currently administers the system of complex laws and rules around politicians' expense claims.

Mr Turnbull has also pledged to address the 36 recommendations contained in a February 2016 Renumeration Tribunal Review into politicians’ work expenses led by Tribunal President John Conde and former Finance secretary David Tune.

The review was commissioned by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop’s notorious Choppergate scandal the previous year.

The Reviews’ 36 recommendations included making the distinction clearer between official and personal business and defining whether duties are party political, electorate or office duties.

Prof Rodney Smith, who teaches Australian politics and public sector ethics at Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations, said immediate action was needed to dispel the ‘widespread public suspicion’ that politicians fiddled their expense claims, overlaid by the general idea that politicians were in it for themselves.

“I think it’s probably at a point where if nothing happens or there are only superficial reforms, the government is only really going to be making a rod for its own back further down the track if someone else has been embroiled in another scandal,” Prof Smith said.

But he said the public sometimes lacked understanding about what the job entailed.

“[Australia’s] geography is very big. It’s inevitable that you’re going to need some kind of reasonable scheme for travel and associated costs for doing your job as minister.”

AJ Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law at Griffith University’s Public Integrity and Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance, said the task of reforming the system “really is very urgent” and creating an independent regulatory body was a good start.

At the moment it was a system “that’s still fundamentally under the control of those who would stick their noses in the trough” leaving MPs to their own devices – and consciences.

But despite the positive move to take expenses away from the purview of politicians, he said the new body should also adjudicate on broader corruption issues such as conflict of interest, code of conduct and interest registers.

“I think they can get this moving but the pressure will mount for them to broaden its jurisdiction,” Prof Brown said. “It links in with having a stronger federal anti-corruption body generally because some of these issues are even more serious.

“My big fear is that this new authority won’t have the jurisdiction to cover all of these things that are sometimes more important and controversial, in terms of parliamentary ethics and standards: issues of public confidence.”

Prof Brown also backs creating a new role of Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, one originally suggested by former PM Julia Gillard and the Independents, to cover all areas of parliamentary standards.


Self-regulation has failed

Whatever occurs, it is clear that MPs regulating their own expenses’ claims has manifestly failed.

Prof Brown said that the independence of auditing and compliance needed to be upgraded because politicians had not been subject to sufficient checks and balances.

The rules that exist are too complex and have been built up ad hoc over many years, “The Finance Department have had a terrible time trying to administer it”, he added.

“I don’t think they’re [politicians] any more venal than the rest of the world and much of them are less venal but they have been the victims of weak systems.

“Just the assumption they don’t need some extra policing to help them keep in line like the rest of the world,” he said.

Australia had dropped the ball a bit when it came to clamping down on corruption.

“Australia has been very complacent about allowing these issues about corruption generally, both small and large scale. We’re really just catching up with the rest of the world," Prof Brown said.

“We need to make sure we’ve got our act together and our systems in place, especially because of how much more competiti­ve the world is and how much faster we are operating.”

Both men said that some politicians failed the pub test but still acted within the rules, partly because they belonged to a kind of insider community where what was viewed as convenient and acceptable to getting the job done could be at odds with broader public experience.

Prof Brown said: “It’s so easy for people in positions of power to confuse what they’re doing in the public interest with what they want to do in their own personal or political interest. It’s not about individuals, it’s about human nature.

“People set their standards on what they see other people do and think it’s ok or they see other people get away with it. The risk of people in high office losing their connection to the community is high.”

Prof Smith said that, for the most part, politicians did the right thing but sometimes just got sucked in to what appeared to be the ‘rules of the game’ and slipped up.

The big three areas of expense claims that need to be addressed by Mr Turnbull's government are probably: travel expenses, the definition of official business and family reunion allowances.


Travel 

Prof Smith said parliamentary travel entitlements had long been one of the most problematic areas in Australian politics due to the sheer number of politicians caught up in questionable travel claims and because public opinion was often fierce around such debates.

Prof Smith said the rules need to be tightened up in some instances and clarified in others.

“They are much more specific than they used to be but there are still some fairly broad limits in the rules. An example is [the definition of] official business,” he said.

Travel expenses have generated some of the most egregious and colourful scandals over the years.

Federal MP Bronwyn Bishop famously fell foul of public opinion in July 2015.

Choppergate put paid to her time in the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives and launched a thousand memes on social media after she charged the taxpayer more than $5,000 for a cheeky 80-km helicopter trip from Melbourne to a Liberal Party function in Geelong, rather than drive.

Neither did it help when Ms Bishop blew $88,000 on a European trip, part of which included her campaigning for the presidency of Inter-Parliamentary Union; or charging taxpayers $600 for a return flight to fellow Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, an expense that Mr Abbott himself paid back and advised other pollies to do the same.


What counts as official?

A common argument from politicians is that their expenses claims – often relating to travel - are within the rules but later admitting that they would not have passed the ‘pub test’.

The problem is, of course, that travel claims like these appear [in Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s words] ‘colossally arrogant’ and out of touch to the general populace, particularly when the government is in the middle of a highly flawed benefits crackdown and gearing up to reduce maternity leave.

These stories feed the public perception that says politicians are ‘all the same’ and have their snouts in the trough, leading rarefied lives compared with the rest of us. It is not a good look; neither does it foster much public confidence in the political system or the people elected to serve inside it.

Deciding on what constitutes official business clearly needs to be addressed and this is one of the recommendations of the Conde Review.

Few things raise the hackles of ordinary folk more than politicians charging taxpayers when they attend major sporting or cultural events as guests of a private company.

Tasmanian Senator David Bushby, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy after they charged taxpayers thousands of dollars to attend the 2013 AFL Grand Final, dubiously excusing themselves by saying they had important work chats with the companies that invited them.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop charged taxpayers $2716 to attend a polo match in the Mornington Peninsula last year as guest of beer maker Peroni and car company Jeep. Ms Bishop defended her expenses claim, saying she was attending in her official capacity.


I miss my family

Family reunion travel – designed to reduce the isolation many politicians experience from being on the road a lot – has also attracted a fair amount of negative attention.

Labor’s Tony Burke spent nearly $13,000 on flights, a hire car and other allowances when his family joined him on a four-day trip to Uluru in 2012 when he was federal Environment Minister. Even the kids flew business class, which Mr Burke later admitted was 'indefensible'.

While Mr Burke claimed the taxpayer bill was legitimate because he was on official business and visiting aboriginal communities, others did not see it the same way. 

The $90 Comcar to travel to a Robbie Williams concert also failed to endear him to a critical public.

It is another area that the Review suggests needs changing, reiterating that family reunion travel can only be funded if the politician is at the location for work, underlining that it should not be used to sneak in a taxpayer-funded family holiday.

How should reform proceed?

Prof Smith said making data transparent is critical to good reform because it will increase public confidence in the system and keep MPs on their toes.

At the moment, expenses are published every six months. The Review has recommended this reporting be narrowed to monthly to help open up and demystify the process, as well as to give the public a better understanding of politicians’ jobs.

He said that abuses often came to light accidentally or through freedom of information requests from journalists. Many never came to light.

“Politicians would be more careful just as they are more careful about accepting political donations or ministers having meetings with lobbyists, because they know there is greater transparency and greater understanding of what’s legitimate and what’s not,” Prof Smith said.


The Conde Review’s key recommendations
  • Define ‘parliamentary business’ to determine legitimate expenses claims
  • ‘Entitlements’ or ‘benefits’ now to be referred to as ‘work expenses’
  • Create a single legal framework to deal with work expenses and guide politicians
  • Publish rules and details of work expenses on data.gov.au, quarterly and then monthly
  • Principle of value for money to be central
  • Helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances ‘in the absence of compelling reasons’
  • A 25 per cent penalty to be paid where expenses claims are ruled invalid, not just those relating to travel
  • Prohibit the use of car and driver, including COMCAR, for journeys that are primarily personal
  • Abolish the $10 per night travelling allowance for partners accompanying ministers or office holders
  • Explore the option of leasing vehicles, rather than buying private plated vehicles
  • Tighten family reunion eligibility – only fund trips for partners and children when they join the MP or Senator who is there for the parliamentary business
  • Reduced provision for former parliamentarians who don’t qualify for a Life Gold Pass
  • Provide politicians from the Big Six electorates (over 500,000sq km) with a third staff office, second vehicle offset and extra travel allowance for stopovers on official business
  Transparency International Australia will hold its National Integrity 2017 conference on March 16 and March 17 at the Novotel Brisbane. [post_title] => Crack down on politicians’ entitlements now, say academics [post_excerpt] => Travel expenses biggest rort. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26080 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-30 17:05:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-30 06:05:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26080 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [1] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26025 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-18 12:15:39 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-18 01:15:39 [post_content] => Sussan Ley and Greg Hunt_opt Before the Gold Coast imbroglio: Sussan Ley and Greg Hunt.     New ministers
  • Minster for Health and Minister for Sport - Greg Hunt
  • Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science - Arthur Sinodinos
  • Minister for Aged Care and Minister for Indigenous Health - Ken Wyatt
  • Assistant Minister to the Treasurer: Michael Sukkar
  Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has done a mini-ministerial reshuffle - his fourth in 18 months - following the resignation of Sussan Ley on Friday last week over controversial travel expenses claims. Mr Turnbull had three gaps to fill as Ms Ley was Minister for Health; Sport and Aged Care. Greg Hunt, the former Environment Minister and most recently the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science takes on Ms Ley’s all-important Health portfolio and also gets the sought-after Sport Minister’s job. Health is a critical Cabinet position. Mr Hunt will need to deal with calls to dismantle the Medicare rebate freeze that GPs are up in arms about and confront Labor’s Mediscare campaign, should it reassert itself. Mr Turnbull noticeably avoided appointing Cabinet Secretary Arthur Sinodinos to the high profile Health job, probably in part because Mr Sinodinos’ reputation appears to have been somewhat tarnished by the NSW Independent Commission Against Corruption’s (ICAC) investigation into jailed Labor MP Eddie Obeid’s links to Australian Water Holdings (AWH), of which Mr Sinodinos was chairman. While no corruption findings are due to be presented against Mr Sinodinos, questions are likely to keep being raised about his poor performance as an ICAC witness and his responsibilities as AWH chairman. Mr Sinodinos, who was Acting Health Minister after Ms Ley resigned, will instead become the Minister for Industry, Innovation and Science, filling the vacancy left by Mr Hunt. The cabinet secretary function will now return to the Prime Minister's office, reducing the size of Turnbull's Cabinet by one to 22. Liberal backbencher Michael Sukkar becomes assistant to Treasurer Scott Morrison. Ms Ley’s departure also means there is now less women in the PM’s cabinet – nine out of 41 in the inner and outer ministry. Meanwhile, Western Australian MP Ken Wyatt has made history by becoming the country’s first indigenous federal minister as Minister for Aged Care and also Minister for Indigenous Health. He was previously Assistant Minister for Health and Aged Care.  The new ministers will be sworn in by the Governor-General Peter Cosgrove on Tuesday.   [post_title] => List: Turnbull’s mini ministerial reshuffle [post_excerpt] => Hunt gets Health and Sport. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26025 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-20 11:07:08 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-20 00:07:08 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26025 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [2] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 25464 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-11-04 11:35:44 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-11-04 00:35:44 [post_content] => daniel-andrews-cannabis_opt Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews with the government's crop Pic: Facebook      A major new Australian industry could grow up around medicinal cannabis, with possibilities for global export opening up further down the track. The Narcotics Drugs Amendment Act 2016 came into force last week giving the green light to cultivating and manufacturing cannabis for medicinal or scientific purposes in Australia and offering chronically ill patients some relief, where previously they were forced to source cannabis illegally, often of dubious quality. A clutch of companies, both domestic and international, are poised to enter the Australian market and make the most of the new conditions and capitalise on the global demand for the product, which is effective against a broad range of medical conditions including chemotherapy-induced nausea, severe fitting and nerve pain. Australian company MGC Pharmaceuticals, which already grows and manufactures medicinal cannabis overseas, has confirmed it is ready to go and Canadian company Tilray, which already cultivates and sells medicinal cannabis in Canada, has also flagged its interest in entering the new Australian market. Government News spoke to Elaine Darby, Managing Director of Auscann, which hopes to grow and manufacture medicinal cannabis in Western Australia. Ms Darby said there were a number of companies lined up to grow and or manufacture medicinal cannabis but they would need to be able to satisfy the requirements of the Office of Drug Control (ODC) first. The ODC is in charge of approving licenses, which are estimated to take 30 to 40 business days once requirements are satisfied. But there are hurdles to overcome before companies can take advantage of the new law.  “The key limitation is to have expertise to grow and produce standardised medicine so that every batch is the same. There’s lots of expertise required to do that,” Ms Darby said. “Manufacturers need to have clear runs of sight to the end user. They have to set up this supply chain … and identify patient groups.” Supplying the drug to clinical studies is one possible niche area, another is to supply to doctors, who can prescribe it after gaining authority from the Therapeutic Goods Authority (TGA) and the state or territory health department. Growers need to be able to have a manufacturer to sell to, or to grow and manufacture the product – which is not smoked but usually liquid or capsules – themselves. Ms Darby said: “Realistically it would limit the number of players at the start.”   Access scheme Establishing supply lines with doctors will be important for manufacturers (and growers) but the lack of a unified national access scheme could hamper this. States and territories have different rules around which medical conditions qualify for access to the drug and some do not yet have an access scheme in place. Doctors need approval from the TGA to prescribe medical cannabis and authorisation relevant state or territory government. In addition, they will need to comply with state rules about what conditions medicinal cannabis can be used to treat. The states furthest down the track are probably NSW and Queensland. NSW clinicians have been able to prescribe cannabis-based products From November 1 with no limitations on the medical conditions it can be used for. Applications are judged on individual merit and must be accompanied by clinical evidence on the potential benefits and harms. There is an expectation that the doctor has tried conventional treatments first. The Queensland access system is similar and begins on March 1 2017. Although Victoria was the first state to legalise medicinal cannabis and the state government grows its own crop for clinical trials, so far access has only been approved for children with severe epilepsy, although an independent medical committee will oversee the roll-out of medicinal cannabis to other patient groups.  Meanwhile, other states such as Western Australia and South Australia, are still working out their position although early indications suggest they are not restricting it to any specific medical conditions but on a case-by-case basis. Access schemes for Tasmania and the ACT are expected to be in place by 2017 but the prescription guidelines are not yet known. Ms Darby said a harmonised national system would have been better approach and not having one could cause some patients to cross borders to source medicinal cannabis. “It’s a bit of a dog’s breakfast, I’m afraid,” she said. “I don’t think this will work long term. It would have been better if they had just left it to the TGA.” A national access scheme could have seen approvals dealt with by the Authorised Prescriber Scheme, where clinicians become authorised prescribers and can prescribe a particular medicine for patients’ conditions without further TGA approval. Medical practitioners would need approval from the TGA before becoming an authorised prescriber. The demand in Australia for medicinal cannabis is likely to be strong. There are an estimated 1.8 million patients have neuropathic pain, 130,000 have nausea from chemotherapy and 82,000 treatment resistant epilepsy and that does not take into account access to global markets. Ms Darby said she had been “pleasantly surprised” at the interest from doctors who had approached the company to find out more. “Doctors need to say “I’ve got this group of patients who I believe can benefit” and then put the case forward why.” It will probably be late 2017 before chronically ill people can access Australian medicinal cannabis but it can be brought in from other countries, such as Canada before then. Ms Darby said that the government had indicated that it was open to allowing the export of Australian-produced medicinal cannabis further down the track, once the regulatory system was well-established and working well. “When they open up export as well it could be quite a significant industry for us. I think we could be leaders in this field because our medical techniques are quite advanced. Indeed, Australia already exports opiates from Tasmania. “Australia already has quite a strong reputation for the production of pharmaceutical narcotics and it doesn’t want to do anything to jeopardise that. “Certainly I think there are a lot of markets out there that allow medical cannabis and would be very interested in Australia’s products because we have a good reputation. China could be really significant.” Ms Darby says Auscann, which is going public in mid-December, is in a good position because it has established international partnerships with companies such as Canopy Growth Corp in Canada and a Spanish plant breeding company that has been producing medicinal cannabis for over a decade. “They share expertise on types of strains they grow, how to manufacture products and patient data. Canopy has 16,000 patients they supply. All that knowledge is critical to get into this industry.” Office of Drug Control While there is not a national access scheme in place there is a national regulator, the Office of Drug Control (ODC), who will oversee it. Companies must first be licensed by the ODC and then apply for a permit to produce medicinal cannabis, supplying the ODC with details on a number of factors, including how many and what plants and strains will be grown and what products will be made in what quantity. The permit will need to be reapplied for every year. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said: “I am confident creating one single, nationally-consistent cultivation scheme, rather than eight individual arrangements, will not only help speed up the legislative and regulatory process, but ultimately access to medicinal cannabis products as well. “A national regulator will also allow the government to closely track the development of cannabis products for medicinal use from cultivation to supply and curtail any attempts by criminals to get involved.” Ms Darby said the regulations were fair and not too strict or oppressive. “The key thing is security requirements to put in place. They are very concerned that the product could be pushed through into the illicit market so there are a lot of checks and balances.” [post_title] => Medicinal cannabis, a major new industry for Australia [post_excerpt] => Massive potential for exports. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 25464 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-11-04 12:17:44 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-11-04 01:17:44 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=25464 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [3] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24703 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-08-15 13:17:06 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-15 03:17:06 [post_content] => Nurse Showing Patient Test Results On Digital Tablet Sitting At Desk Having A Discussion   My Health Record: Medics speak up As the new trials of the My Health Record roll out in Queensland, NSW, WA and Victoria, Government News asks clinicians what might help – or hinder – the progress of the revamped national individual electronic health record. A bit of history The idea of a national individual electronic health record has been around for decades, routinely popping up in report recommendations from government health agencies. It was an idea former Prime Minister John Howard helped spread and one the National Electronic Health Transition Authority (NEHTA) was set up to drive in 2005. Labour introduced the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR) in 2012 after two years of GP trials. But from its inception, the electronic health record has been dogged with problems and fraught with complexities and it still has not had the uptake needed to fulfil the vision of a concise patient record available in an emergency. Academic Dr Helen Cripps compared the Australian e-health experience to that of Slovenia in her 2011 research paper The Implementation of electronic health records: a two country comparison, and found Australia was making much slower progress. In it, she lists a whole host of reasons for Australia’s sluggish progress in e-health: the country’s complex health care system, with state and federal involvement and a large private health sector; uneven adoption by clinicians;  problems securely sharing data electronically between GPs and other clinicians; the proliferation of different electronic health record formats and systems; fears about data protection and patient privacy; a lack of national direction; the cost of infrastructure, maintenance and training and a disconnect between government-led implementation and software vendors. The new Australian Digital Health Agency opened its doors on July 1, and appointed ts first CEO UK digital whizz Tim Kelsey. It is a clear sign that e-health is seriously back on the government’s agenda but what about the clinicians the government is relying on to make the record valuable? Both Dr Nathan Pinskier, Chair of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners (RACGP) and Dr Tony Bartone, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association (AMA), have weathered the vicissitudes of the electronic health record over the years. They spoke to Government News about what pitfalls should be avoided this time around and where the road to success lies. Dr Pinskier, who chairs the RACGPs expert committee on e-health and practice systems, says there is no question that individuals should have access to their own healthcare data but he believes that basic things need fixing first, such as making it easier for GPs to refer patients. At the moment, when doctors want to refer patients, for example to specialists, physios and hospitals, they must wrestle with a number of different electronic systems (including Argus, HealthLink and MEDrefer), as well as using fax machines, scanners, emails and letters. He says the technology was built by software vendors and NEHTA but has been gathering dust over the last few years and there is still no one secure, integrated system of referring people electronically. “You start electronically, you finish electronically and everything in between is a mish-mash. You change the business model and then it’s really easy to send data to a national repository.”   Prescription for change   Data quality Both clinicians say that the value of My Health Record will not be fully realised until there is decent data quality and coverage so that health providers can feel confident using the information. Dr Pinskier says there are currently eight sources of data within the My Health Record and patients can also add their own data. Instead, he suggests homing in on the most vital pieces of information: bad reactions to medicines, current medications and allergies. He recalls a hospital doctor searching through a jumble of sometimes conflicting records to find out what medication an out-of-town patient was on. The doctor eventually gave up and phoned the patient’s pharmacist. “What’s the value if you have all these lists for providers to spend hours trawling through the records?” he asks. Dr Pinskier says it is worth looking at alternatives, citing international examples such as Boston Open Notes, where local records of healthcare providers are made available to consumers. The patient sees exactly what the healthcare provider sees, which can also help reinforce medical advice, for example about how to take medication. He says Scotland’s Emergency Care Summary is a good example of how local records work, calling it “simple, effective and functional.” The summary lists essential details such as a person’s name, age and GP and their medications, allergies and bad reactions to medicines, extracting the information from GP records. “There is one source of truth, which is highly accurate and repeatedly uploaded to a national system. That is certainly regarded as a preferred model,” Dr Pinskier says. Dr Bartone, Vice President of the nation’s peak body for GPs, agrees that the success of the individual electronic health record relies on good data and not just from GPs, who he says have always been “ahead of the curve” and early adopters of e-health. The record also relies on getting good information from allied health providers, pharmacies and hospitals, amongst others, in order to get a useful medical summary. This could include pathology results, diagnostic imaging, immunisation, Medicare and Pharmaceutical benefit claims, organ donation, medication and advanced care directives. He says records are not expected to be as detailed as those held by GPs, but a reliable, secure and useful summary. “All of these things go into making up the record but at the moment we have got a situation where some hospitals’ IT platforms won’t allow them to upload information. For example, in Victoria whereas some hospitals were able to upload data right now,” Dr Bartone says. “It’s about an emergency situation where the patient is unknown to the doctor who needs to get some information on them in a hurry. It’s never going to replace the GPs file … it’s not designed to be that. “You don’t need all these details. Other providers need a snapshot of medications, tests and conditions; then they will move on.” A Department of Health spokesperson said that the quality of information uploaded to the My Health Record system reflected the quality of the records kept in local clinical information systems. “It is the responsibility of healthcare providers and is part of their professional standards that they keep accurate and up-to-date records about their patients,” said the spokesperson. “It is anticipated that records which are accessible by both patients and other healthcare providers treating that patient will see an improved quality over time.” Getting clinicians on board Dr Bartone believes the work needs to be clinically-led and the scheme’s practical implications for clinicians, such as cost and increased workload, properly thought through and addressed. He says there has been a lack of engagement with clinicians, caused by “too many people with various agendas pushing different methodologies and ideas” holding the process back so that it failed to deliver enough value to consumers. Although medics were consulted initially under the PCEHR, Dr Bartone believes this fell by the wayside when the project was delivered, with little thought to how it would actually work on the ground. “They expected patients to be registered by doctors in their waiting rooms. That’s a cumbersome and difficult process and these are busy places,” he says. “There was no awareness that this would impose a workload, red tape and duplication. There was lots of money but it wasn’t going to the right people.” The results so far have been questionable in terms of outcomes and performance. “The need to have a robust and reliable individual electronic health record is without question,” Dr Bartone says. “The issues thus far have been in terms of scope and implementation: how and who is controlling it and how it would be rolled out.” But he says offering GPs payments to register a certain number of patients (which has been announced as policy) and making the scheme opt-out for patients, rather than opt-in (which has not, as yet), were both be good ideas. The My Health Record trials have been a mixture of opt-in and opt-out, to test the public’s response. While the Nepean and Queensland trials were opt-out, two earlier trials in Western Australia and Ballarat, Victoria were opt-in. Dr Bartone says it is imperative that the back-end of the system is easy for doctors to navigate and does not involve duplication of effort - which he says had only recent been possible through new software – so it does not impose an additional burden on doctors. “There’s been lots of good will invested over the last four or five years. That will run thin if there are any further problems,” he says. Another discouragement for doctors to use My Health Record has been anxiety that they may be prosecuted under privacy legislation for accessing or sharing information, a fear which Dr Bartone says resulted in disillusionment, even for rusted-on fans of electronic health records. Government News put these concerns to the federal Department of Health. A departmental spokesperson said the My Health Records Act 2012 specifically authorised the collection, use and disclosure of health information in the My Health Record so that there would be no breach of the Privacy Act 1988. “This means that treating healthcare providers can access and use an individual’s My Health Record for healthcare purposes,” the spokesperson said. The spokesperson said the penalties for unauthorised collection, use or disclosure of data - which can be up to $540,000 or two years’ imprisonment - did not apply to accidental misuse. Patients are also able to restrict or remove documents in their My Health Record. “For example, if a healthcare provider inadvertently or accidentally accesses an individual’s My Health Record – they are not liable for a civil or criminal penalty,” said the spokesperson. Healthcare providers can use their judgement about what they upload onto an individual’s My Health Record.  There is nothing in the My Health Records Act 2012 that requires them to upload if they choose not to. Dr Pinskier says that some of the difficulty getting a national e-health record off the ground stems from earlier efforts to appease everybody, patients and multiple healthcare providers, ending in an extremely complex system. The national individual electronic health record became a hybrid of a clinical and consumer record, without quite meeting the requirements of either, he says. “I think we need to go back to basics and ask what we want to achieve – what’s its core purpose? “We are not addressing the questions of utility and functionality. There is still a really good opportunity to see what is it we’re trying to achieve, how best to achieve it and the steps needed to do it.” He is emphatic about how this should be done. “This is not a technological questions, it needs to be clinically led,” Dr Pinskier says. “We need to start again but we need the key clinical stakeholders involved and the clinical community needs to be listened to.” My Health Record trials Opt-in trials began in July in Ballarat, Vic and Western Australia. The Ballarat Health Service help patients register when they are admitted to hospital and their discharge summaries are uploaded to My Health Record. In Western Australia, the trial involves helping chronically-ill patients register at selected practices and modifying chronic disease management software. This will give treating healthcare providers, including specialists and allied health professionals, access to patients’ My Health Records using connected software. Opt-out trials are underway in the Nepean Blue Mountains area and Northern Queensland. The Department of Health says the trials are being conducted to gauge consumer reaction to an opt-out system of participation, as well as looking at healthcare provider use and how much clinical information is uploaded to the My Health Record when most patients have a My Health Record. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley announced last month that the number of My Health Records in Australia had surpassed four million, with an average of 2,200 new registrations every day in the preceding four weeks. “With changes to the General Practice Incentive, healthcare providers are increasingly contributing and viewing on-line health information about their patients,” Ley said. “We are now seeing one upload of clinical health information from a healthcare provider every 21 seconds.” Ley says that every day, one in five GPs saw a patient for whom they have little or no information but My Health Record would change that. “This may be a Medicare claim or pharmacy prescription, or clinical information uploaded by other healthcare providers such as a specialist, hospital and pharmacy,” Ms Ley says. “With a My Health Record, both a patient and their healthcare professional can gain immediate access to important health information on-line. “This can improve co-ordinated care outcomes, reduce duplication and provide vital information in emergency situations. Ley says My Health Record puts the power in the hands of health consumers to decide who they shared their health information with. Patients can register through MyGov for a My Health Record online and then link the two.   [post_title] => My Health Record: Medics speak up [post_excerpt] => Prescription for change. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 24703 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-08-16 09:49:15 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-08-15 23:49:15 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24703 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 8 [filter] => raw ) [4] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 24590 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2016-08-03 05:12:35 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-08-02 19:12:35 [post_content] => Close up of doctor's hand at computer typing   The new agency responsible for e-health records has secured the services of the man who oversaw the design of a new digital health strategy for Britain’s National Health Service (NHS). Tim Kelsey, who was the first National Director for Patients and Information in NHS England, will head up the Australian Digital Health Agency (ADHA), which came into being on July 1 this year. He will lead national digital health in Australia, including resuscitating the troubled My Health Record system, where patient’s health records are shared between doctors, hospitals, healthcare providers and specialists, with permission from patients. Kelsey’s CV shows a long-term commitment to transparency and forcing up healthcare quality by using data for public good but he has also been embroiled in some controversy in the past. During his time with the NHS, he drove patient participation, communication, marketing and brand in the role of National Director for Patients and Information, a role he describes as a combination of Chief Information Officer and Chief Technology Officer. He was also the first chair of the National Information Board, which designed the UK’s new digital health strategy. Kelsey had further success as the force behind the 2007 launch of the NHS Choices Information website - NHS England’s official website - which now boasts one-quarter of all health-related web traffic in the UK and he spent 2011 – 2012 as Executive Director of Transparency and Open Data at the UK’s Cabinet Office. Most recently, he left the NHS to relocate to Australia and worked as commercial director at Telstra Health, where he led the development of digital mobile solutions before taking up his post at the ADHA.   Tim Kelsey_opt Tim Kelsey. Pic: Google Images.   Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley said the new CEO was “internationally regarded as a leader in digital health, in both the private and public sectors” and had a strong track record in digital health service delivery. “He is the right choice for the appointment as CEO of the Australian Digital Health Agency to further the Australian Government’s commitment to use digital health to create a world-class health system for all Australians,” she said. Despite his stellar career, Kelsey has not been without his critics. He established the website Dr Foster in 2000, which made newspaper headlines in 2010 when it made comparative hospital data public, including publishing death rates by individual hospitals. But it was a deal done between Dr Forster and the NHS that caused a stir after the NHS brought a 50 per cent stake in the website. The transaction was labelled by the House of Commons’ Committee of Public Accounts, as a ‘hole and corner deal’ and criticised for not following the proper tender process or delivering value for money. Later rebranded Dr Foster Intelligence, the health analytics company was sold to Telstra in 2015. Putting in the hard yards Undeniably, Kelsey is an international heavy hitter in digital health but he faces a rocky road ahead when he starts his new job as CEO in mid-August. The My Health Record, previously named the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record, has been a stop-start time and money vampire since it was launched by Labor in 2012. Labor threw more than $1 billion at it but the opt-in system still had low buy-in from the public and then AMA President Brian Owler criticised it for being rolled out to GPs and leaving out specialists, thereby diluting the idea of an integrated electronic records system. A Deloitte 2014 report based on a review of the PCEHR found that although there was broad support for an eHealth record, it had a low level of public awareness and clinicians were concerned about the increased workload it could represent. There were also concerns about privacy and data security. It wasn’t just doctors and patients who were jumpy, vendors were too. The Deloitte report showed that vendors wanted more certainty around the timeframes for software development and redevelopment, a more collaborative approach to specifications and standards and sufficient lead-in time and the resources to bring it all together. But despite the concerns from different quarters, the report concluded that an electronic health record remained a goal worth pursuing. The report said: “Considerable good will exists to improve and hasten the achievement of an ubiquitous PCEHR used by clinicians and consumers in joint management of health – this can be harnessed though better identification of benefits, a clear path to implementation and extensive and ongoing consultation with and involvement of clinicians and consumers in the design of a redeveloped PCEHR going forward.” In 2005 the then federal Health Minister Tony Abbott famously said the scheme would count as a failure if it was not up and running within a year. "I want patients to see a difference in 12 months. If patients do not see a difference, we will have failed," Abbot told Computer World in 2005. "For too long we have tried to achieve too much. The best is the enemy of the good." Health Minister Sussan Ley announced a “rescue package” of $485 million last year to get doctors on board and start enrolling patients. The low take-up of only one in ten Australians was addressed by making the scheme opt-out (not opt-in) and mandating doctors to enrol patients. The Australian Digital Health Agency’s Promethean task It is clear that the political will to deliver an effective, widespread eHealth system remains strong. Ley has stressed that My Health Record is the new Agency’s most important task. “Most importantly, the new Agency is the system operator for the government’s recently launched My Health Record System which is a secure, online summary of people’s health information that can be shared with doctors, hospitals and healthcare providers with the permission of patients,” she said. “This gives people more control of their health and care and with access to new digital apps and online services the Australian community is benefiting from the modern information revolution.” She said the Agency would focus on “engagement, innovation and clinical quality and safety.” My Health Record also records and shares patient details such as pathology test results, allergies, x-rays, hospital discharge information and advanced care planning. [post_title] => Can UK digital whizz resurrect eHealth? [post_excerpt] => First Australian Digital Health Agency CEO. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => can-uk-digital-whizz-resurrect-ehealth [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-08-04 12:46:36 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-08-04 02:46:36 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=24590 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [5] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23582 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-04-11 16:41:26 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-04-11 06:41:26 [post_content] => P1010247   Australia’s dentists have mauled what they fear is a looming shutdown of the Child Dental Benefits Schedule (CDBS), warning the program’s closure “will be the biggest setback for oral health in a generation.” Peak body the Australian Dental Association has gone on the attack over uncertainty surrounding the scheme’s future funding in the run-up to the May 3rd Federal Budget, cautioning any rollback will come just as the subsidy program is starting to have an impact. The CDBS is targeted at around 3.4 million children from lower income backgrounds and provides funding for families of $1,000 in dental treatment every two years. Its core purpose is to get kids whose parents would otherwise struggle to pay a dentist’s bill turning-up to surgeries to get dental problems, especially decay and cavities, treated much earlier and before they develop into major issues that can cost thousands of dollars to fix. However with the scheme’s take-up initially lower than estimated, there are fears the cash will be snatched back and repurposed, leading to long terms negative consequences. As Australian kids gulp down big volumes high sugar soft drinks, dentists say cutting the CDBS isn’t just inviting a disaster, it bucks a wider international health policy push to control excess sugar consumption by using taxes to send a price signal. “Australia is one of the top 10 countries for high levels of per capita consumption of soft drink where a third of Australians drink a can a day and almost half of children (47 per cent) aged between two and 16 years, drink sugar-sweetened beverages each day. This means that if such habits continue, Australians stand to develop a multitude of health problems in the future,” the ADA said in its statement. “In spite of the increasing trend of government to support public health, the Australian Government is rushing to get some election year Budget savings by planning to end the Child Dental Benefits Schedule.” One challenge the Child Dental Benefits Schedule has encountered is that although the program is hitting its mark in terms of targeting, take-up remains lower than estimated thanks to a combination of under-marketing and poor awareness of how to access the scheme. Dentists say they want a voucher system introduced to replace the present standard form letter from Medicare so that people better understand that they’re entitled to free treatment. While a voucher system is potentially more expensive to devise, deliver and administer than present bulk billing arrangements, many believe it would be worth implementing to maximise take-up. A real risk for schemes and programs that underspend is that sooner or later Treasury and the government’s bean counters will seek to claw back the cash and put it to work elsewhere—precisely what the ADA is trying to avoid. It is understood Health a primary concern of Minister Sussan Ley’s office is that uptake of the CDBS has only been around 30 per cent of eligible recipients. While the Health Minister is certainly talking-up the long term benefits of early dental intervention, any conspicuous commitment to retaining the CDBS appears to have been shoved under the Budget cone of silence. “The Commonwealth has a responsibility to ensure every dollar it invests in dental services delivers the best health outcomes possible,” a spokesman for Ms Ley said. “We also know that tackling dental health issues early is vital and can alleviate more significant problems and expense later in life. The Turnbull Government continues to work on its previously announced dental health reforms, with more details expected in coming weeks.” However Labor’s Shadow health Minister, Catherine King, is accusing the Turnbull government of purposefully burying the scheme she says Labor first put in place. “The government's own report confirms Labor's dental scheme is a success,” Ms King told Government News. “It shows the scheme has been providing dental devices to the kids who need it most but the Turnbull government is deliberately hiding this, denying millions of kids the chance to get their teeth fixed.” One obvious policy option both major parties will be cautiously observing is the rollout of taxes and levies on sugary drinks overseas to combat obesity and diabetes – a far tougher public policy sell in a sugar exporting economy like Australia. Dentists, who frequently go into bat against sugar marketers, are happy to point out how domestic policy contrasts and link it back to the kids’ dental program. “While the United Kingdom is protecting oral health by announcing its sugar tax, the Australian Government instead plans to kill the Child Dental Benefits Schedule,” the Dental Association said. It argues that in the two years the scheme has been operating it’s been hitting the mark. “In just over the two years of the CDBS’ operation, children from low income families have benefited from provision of more than 9.7 million dental treatments; services which they could not otherwise have been able to access,” the Dental Association said. “No government can legitimately claim it cares about Australian children’s oral health if it denies them dental care because of the lack of means.” [post_title] => Pulling kids dental scheme a kick in the teeth: Dentists [post_excerpt] => Mistake of a generation. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 23582 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-04-11 16:41:26 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-04-11 06:41:26 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23582 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [6] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 23031 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2016-02-11 21:01:14 [post_date_gmt] => 2016-02-11 10:01:14 [post_content] => Pills Vitamins Pile Bowl April 23, 2012 2 A revived Coalition plan to outsource archaic in-house payments processing technology at Medicare – and potentially claims processing too – has exploded during heated Senate Estimates hearings after the Department of Health admitted it has been working on a stealth payments outsourcing project now in the market. Both the Health Department and its Minister Sussan Ley this week confirmed the active scoping of a new, commercially provided payments facility for Medicare, a move that had initially been put to the market in 2014 but then appeared to stall. Specifics surrounding exactly what kind of payments service or outsourced infrastructure Health is shopping for remain somewhat unclear; but what is now known is that a Request for Quotation was quietly issued to eight consultancies including KPMG, Boston Consulting Group, PWC, Ernst & Young and McKinsey. The quotes are due on Friday 12th February and a decision is expected by the end of the same month. However the new deal appears to be separate to the initial request for Expressions of Interest (EoI) for commercial services sent out by former Health Minister Peter Dutton. It is understood that a number of respondents to the initial EoI have been taken by surprise by the revelations of a restricted approach to market as they are still waiting on a response or feedback from the government. The use of a ‘Request for Quotation’ mechanism also suggests that the government has settled on at least a basic set of technical specifications rather than the more open-ended EoI process. Concurrently, Health has now created a so-called digital payments taskforce headed by John Cahill, who took the reins in January and has been allocated $5 million and around 20 departmental staff to get the ball rolling. The raw political sensitivity surrounding the nascent project being linked to the idea of privatising Medicare is acute. Health Minister Sussan Ley on Tuesday raced out a statement declaring that the Turnbull government “remains committed to Medicare” and was only “investigating ways to digitise its transaction technology for payments to a more consumer-friendly and faster format”. There is understood to be considerable anger within parts of the Coalition over how the issue has been handled by Health, with one adviser saying it was not the first time a health minister had been “thrown under a bus” and that the Opposition had been handed a gift. Labor has immediately seized on the revelations as proof the Turnbull government is secretly plotting to privatise the universal public health scheme. The thrust of the Opposition’s attack centres on why Health has been keeping its digital payments efforts under wraps, going so far as to keep its approach to market out of the normally open publication stream of the Department of Finance’s AusTender system – which would have alerted potentially interested parties to the business opportunity – along with Labor and the unions. “The Government has been secretly pursuing the plan after a request in late 2014 from former Health Minister Peter Dutton,” said Shadow Human Services Minister Doug Cameron and Shadow Health Minister Catherine King. “The Turnbull Liberals’ advanced, secret plans to sell off Medicare services could jeopardise the patient data of every Australian and the jobs of 1400 staff at centres all around the country.” Offshoring health data is political and regulatory strychnine. In July 2014 the Department of Defence tore up a $33 million contract with optical provider Luxottica Retail Australia after it was revealed the company had sent claims data offshore. The risks are real. A big part of the problem for Ms Ley and the Health Department is that the initial approach to market in 2014 – based on the hardline Commission of Audit – did little to distinguish between buying-in now commoditised electronic payment services (to put money like refunds into bank accounts) and wider Medicare claims processing and assessment. The cost and cumbersome nature of Medicare’s payments and claims process have been producing headaches for its political masters, stakeholders and industry for least a decade. Under the Howard government the cost of conducting an over-the-counter refund for a non-bulk billed doctor’s visit was pegged at about $10 – a figure that often equated to as much as 30 per cent for a refund of $30 for a $50 doctor’s bill. Put more simply, in the worst cases, Medicare has been paying out as much as 30c for each dollar it refunds, whereas commercial payment services normally charge a capped flat fee per transaction plus whatever a bank might layer on top. Medicare is also no stranger to technology outsourcing. In 2012 the agency finally scrapped a 12 year deal with IBM to maintain its legacy mainframe infrastructure and transferred its systems onto the Department of Human Services’ infrastructure in an effort to consolidate the welfare system’s costly technology base. A key question surrounding the present fracas over modernising Medicare’s payments systems is why the agency and its parent Health Department now appear to be separating development efforts away from Human Services, which itself is scoping for a core payments technology overhaul estimated by former Treasurer – and inaugural Human Services Minister – Joe Hockey to cost at least $1 billion. At the end of January Human Services revealed it had recruited the National Australia Bank’s transactions and deposits chief, John Murphy to take on the recently created role of Deputy Secretary in charge of the Welfare Payments Infrastructure Transformation Services project. Given a big part of the policy intention behind Human Services portfolio was to create a more centralised customer experience for welfare recipients, logical cost and structural questions arise out of any new bifurcation. Another known concern is about Health’s sometimes chequered execution record surrounding technology, especially its management of the repeatedly delayed Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record where problems prompted a near walk out by doctors and the Australian Medical Association. In the interim, Health Minister Sussan Ley is reaching for the fire extinguisher and insisting – like several Health Ministers before her – that Medicare’s systems need to evolve and become more usable. “This is why the Department of Health is investigating ways to digitise its transaction technology for payments to a more consumer-friendly and faster format,” Ms Ley said, adding the now obligatory reference to ensuring the government is embracing “innovation and is agile and responsive to changes in the digital economy.” “This work will be undertaken with the assistance of business innovation and technology experts, to determine the best and most-up-to-date payment technologies available on the market for consumers and health and aged care service providers.” The Community and Public Sector Union (CPSU), which represent Medicare’s employees, isn’t having a bar of it and immediately accused the government of harbouring “secret plans to privatise Medicare, putting the highly sensitive medical and financial records of all Australians into private hands.” As the countdown for a pivotal industrial bargaining vote ticks down in Human Services, CPSU National Secretary Nadine Flood applied maximum pressure. “Privatising Medicare payments would mean that when you need to lodge a claim, that personal information would be handled and processed by a private company, with the data possibly being sent overseas," Ms Flood said. “This privatisation could threaten thousands of jobs, particularly in regional Australia. It’s privatisation by the back door. It’s the beginning of the end of Medicare as we know it, opening the door to the privatisation of other public services as well.” The Health Minister responded in kind, branding the offshoring and outsourcing claims as scaremongering that demonstrated “their focus is on politics over patients.” [post_title] => Medicare outsourcing skunkworks explodes into confusion [post_excerpt] => Accusations fly as stealth project outed in Estimates. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => medicares-outsourcing-skunkworks-explodes-into-confusion [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2016-02-11 21:01:14 [post_modified_gmt] => 2016-02-11 10:01:14 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=23031 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [7] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 21966 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2015-10-28 16:44:18 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-10-28 05:44:18 [post_content] =>     The federal government’s myHealth Record will be rolled out to around one million people as a trial in Far North Queensland and in the NSW Nepean Blue Mountains region from early 2016. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley made the announcement during her address to the Press Club on Wednesday. The minister also said that the government should be moving towards a giving patients access to and control over their own health data so that they could use the data how they wanted and control who they shared it with. “What if you, as a consumer, were able to take your personal Medicare and Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme data to a health care service; to an app developer; to a dietician; to a retailer and say how can you deliver the best health services for my individual needs?” Ms Ley said. “It’s a revolutionary concept in health – but it shouldn’t be – given it’s already happening with industries like finance across the globe.” She said people could create a customized ‘health portfolio’ of products and services by providing their health data. Applications of this approach could include a doctor using an app to monitor a patient’s blood pressure while they recuperated at home after an operation, or using it to monitor a person’s insulin levels. It could be used by families to make sure a frail, older relative was ok, rather than them going into residential aged care. “The great digital health revolution lies literally in the palms of consumers,” she said. “We now live in an age of smartphones, watches and wallets. So, what if we, as government, got out the way and gave consumers full access to their own personalised health data and full control over how they choose to use it?” myHealth is the resurrection of Labor’s troubled Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record which sucked in $1 billion but only one in ten Australians registered, partly because it was optional. This time patients will have to opt out if they do not want to be on the system. The electronic record should mean better co-ordination and communication between health professionals, less duplication and repetition (and fewer errors) on areas such as medications, medical tests and medical history. “It’s time we reset the agenda when it comes to digital health and innovation and open our minds to the wider possibilities available,” Ms Ley said. “As consumers, digital health has obvious benefits when it comes to the storage of our personal medical information that will vastly improve the way diseases and conditions are diagnosed and managed for Australian patients. “This concept is also designed to support doctors and other allied health professionals with accessing patient information at their fingertips, will help deliver better health outcomes for patients the first time and cut down on unnecessary risks and inefficiencies in the system currently frustrating doctors.”   It has been a decade-long, expensive and bumpy ride for electronic medical records in Australia. The government announced in May this year that the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record (PCEHR), since rebranded myHealth Record, would become an ‘opt out’ digital service rather than patients having to ask for one, in a move backed by the Australian Medical Association. Although the majority of doctors are supportive of the PCEHR, there have been criticisms over the way the National eHealth Transition Authority’s (NeTHA) has handled the technological platform, so much so that key clinicians staged an unprecedented walk-out from the federal project in August 2013. The Authority is due to be replaced by the Australian Commission for eHealth in July 2016 with the new Commission taking on myHealth operations and governance from the Department of Health, while Health retains policy control over the program. There have also been concerns raised about privacy when patient data is centrally held. The Australian Privacy Foundation has also said it could become a national identity number by stealth. However, the Health Department has underlined that there will be safeguards in place: people can control who accesses their records, request certain information not be uploaded, cancel their registration and monitor if anyone had accessed their data. Ms Ley also used her Press Club address to launch a public consultation seeking feedback on private health insurance. [post_title] => myHealth to be rolled out to a million Australians [post_excerpt] => Give people access and control of their health data: Minister. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => myhealth-to-be-rolled-out-to-a-million-australians [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-10-30 10:12:05 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-10-29 23:12:05 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=21966 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [8] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 21625 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2015-09-30 16:16:37 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-09-30 06:16:37 [post_content] => SussanLey2 Aged care is set to move department again – for the second time in two years. While Christian Porter becomes the shortest serving minister responsible for the sector, of just over a week. In a surprise move, Sussan Ley today announced she had been appointed Minister for Aged Care, in addition to her portfolio responsibilities as Minister for Health and Minister for Sport. Ms Ley said she “proactively put [her] hand up to bring responsibility for aged care back to health and give it a seat at the Cabinet table.” Bringing the aged care portfolio to sit alongside the Ministries of Health and Sport would complement an integrated health system, she said. A key theme highlighted during consultations with health professionals as Minister for Health over the past nine months had been the connection between health and aged care, she said. Ms Ley said she looked forward to advancing the important reforms that had been progressed under former Assistant Minister for Social Services Senator Mitch Fifield. She said that Ken Wyatt would have a specific focus on aged care in his role as Assistant Minister for Health.

Departmental move

Today’s announcement means that aged care will move from the Department of Social Services back to the Department of Health. When the Abbott government took office in September 2013 it surprised stakeholders by taking aged care out of the health department, which ended a 15-year departmental arrangement. The Department of Health and Aged Care was first created in 1998 under the Howard government and was later renamed the Department of Health and Ageing (DoHA) in November 2001. Some argued that transferring aged care to DSS, putting it into the same portfolio as the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS), made sense as aged care was pursing a consumer-directed model while the NDIS was similarly focussed on client-centered decision making. However, concerns around the departmental arrangement have persisted, as much of aged care’s remit – such as palliative care, dementia, infection control and wound care – concern programs and policies administered by the health department. Many stakeholders will welcome the moving of aged care back to the health department, although there will likely be concern over the administrative and bureaucratic implications of such a large-scale move. As Australian Ageing Agenda  reported at the time, several informed observers said there was no doubt that the departmental changes had added to the normal delays seen with a change of government, which slowed down the aged care reform process (see ‘Talking Points’, AAA, Jan-Feb 2014).

A dedicated and named minister

Ahead of the most recent Cabinet reshuffle on 20 September, several stakeholders had called for Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to appoint a dedicated minister for the sector and will likely welcome today’s surprise announcement. However, many had argued for a minister for ageing, rather than aged care, given the issues around the ageing population had implications across a range of areas such as housing, pensions and superannuation. The appointment of Ms Ley as Minister for Aged Care comes just 10 days after aged care stakeholders had welcomed Christian Porter as the new minister responsible for their sector. [post_title] => Sussan Ley appointed Minister for Aged Care [post_excerpt] => Aged care moves for the second time in two years. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => sussan-ley-appointed-minister-for-aged-care [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-10-06 10:26:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-10-05 23:26:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=21625 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [9] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19967 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2015-06-03 15:52:12 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-06-03 05:52:12 [post_content] => Antibiotics A new national strategy aims to reduce the threat of antibiotic resistance following statistics showing Australia’s consumption of antibiotics is among the highest in the developed world Australia’s first Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy would address the decreasing effectiveness of antibiotics because of the rise of resistance in disease-causing bacteria. The strategy includes: •    Improving public awareness of the times when antibiotics don’t work and providing better support and resources for doctors to help them convince people; •    Greater surveillance of antibiotic use and resistance; •    Improved infection control, such as encouraging hand washing and cleaning of personal protective equipment; •    Co-ordination of research into the development, spread and containment of antimicrobial resistance; •    international co-ordination of efforts to reduce antimicrobial resistance due to travel, medical tourism and the movement of animals and people across borders Antimicrobial resistance occurs when bacteria, viruses, parasites and other disease-causing organisms become resistant to the medicines used to treat the infections they cause. The federal Minister for Health Sussan Ley  said in 2013 more than 29 million prescriptions for antibiotics were supplied under the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) and Repatriation PBS to over 10 million patients, or 45 per cent of all Australians. “The over and misuse of antibiotics has been identified as a significant contributor to the emergence of resistant bacteria,” Ms Ley said. “The new national approach focuses on measures that will prevent disease-causing bacteria from developing resistance to antibiotics as well as driving down the inappropriate use of antibiotics. “Antibiotics and other antimicrobial medicines are a precious resource and this strategy is not about removing access but about providing guidance to using them in the safest and most effective way.” Ms Ley said a recent survey showed 65 per cent of Australians believed antibiotics would help them recover from a cold or flu more quickly, one-in-five people expect antibiotics for colds and flu and nearly 60 per cent of GPs surveyed would prescribe antibiotics to meet patient demands. “Australia’s consumption of antibiotics is one of the highest among developed countries and well above the OECD average,” Ms Ley said. “The Antimicrobial Resistance Strategy identifies actions for the appropriate use of antibiotics and demonstrates the Abbott Government’s commitment to good public health policy. “Antimicrobial resistance is a serious problem and this strategy will guide how we tackle it as a nation – domestically, as well as at the regional and global levels.” Minister for Agriculture Barnaby Joyce said the strategy also guided antibiotic use in animal health and agricultural productivity. “The strategy will guide actions to monitor, and seek to minimise, the development of antimicrobial resistance in livestock,” Mr Joyce said. “With good administration of antibiotics in both humans and animals, there will be real public health benefits and enhancements to the productivity, quality and reputation of the livestock industry.” Mr Joyce said the strategy was developed in partnership with industry and government, and will guide action by governments, health professionals, veterinarians, farmers and communities to reduce the emergence of resistant bacteria that are, in some cases, becoming increasingly more difficult to treat. “Stakeholders from across the human health, animal health, food and agriculture sectors, as well as states and territory governments will be crucial in implementing this strategy, and we’re working closely with these stakeholders on the implementation plan,” he said. The release of Australia’s strategy comes following discussions at the World Health Assembly last week to agree to a global strategy for responding to the threat of antimicrobial resistance. [post_title] => National strategy to combat antibiotics guzzlers [post_excerpt] => Reducing resistance to antibiotics. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => national-strategy-to-combat-antibiotics-guzzlers [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-06-05 12:03:55 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-06-05 02:03:55 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=19967 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [10] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19682 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2015-05-20 15:48:47 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-20 05:48:47 [post_content] => pills The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has welcomed a new register of clinical trials in Australia that should make it easier for patients to access trials and for researchers to recruit people. Federal Health Minister Sussan Ley announced the new Australian Clinical Trials website today and said it would help boost patient participation in clinical trials but it is not a new initiative. The Australia New Zealand Clinical Trials Registry (ANZCTR) was established in 2005 with $1.5 million in federal funding through a National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) enabling grant. The NHMRC is also the same body behind the new clinical trials website. There are already numerous other trial registries such as Clinical Trials Connect and some based overseas, such as US website ClinicalTrials.gov, which covers trials in the US and other countries. Other registers target a particular illnesses, for example Australian Cancer Trials. Despite the number of clinical trials websites already in existence, Vice President of the Australian Medical Association Dr Stephen Parnis said the Association was supportive of the new register. “We acknowledge that clinical trials may not proceed from lack of appropriate participants and this initiative has the potential to increase awareness and participation, not just for members of the community, but also for both the scientific and medical professions as well,” Dr Parnis said. Asked if the apparent duplication of the new Clinical Trials website with the ANZCTR would make any appreciable difference to the number of people participating in clinical trials in this country, Dr Parnis said there was room for both registers and there was often more than one way to access the trials. “Give it a try and see whether they complement each other or ultimately become one source. It’s a step in the right direction,” he said. Dr Parnis said an increasing number of people were researching their conditions and the treatments available online and the Australian Clinical Trials website would be an important resource to give people an idea of their options. “Up to now people very much depended on advice from doctors, usually medical specialists, who would advise them about a particular trial. This opens it up a little bit so people can ask more informed questions,” Dr Parnis said. He commended the new website for having an area for consumers and said it would also be a useful resource for GPs to let them know what trials were going on. There is also an e-learning module to better explain clinical trials. He hoped the website would mean more clinical trials were better patronised. “There are a million reason why trials don’t go ahead. Sometimes it’s the funding breaking down and sometimes they don’t get enough people. Australia has a relatively small population so that has implications, not just for this but for things like organ donation or bone marrow.” While both websites allow patients to search for clinical trials according to illness, age, gender and recruitment status and provide contact details for researchers the new website looks better, is clearer and allows people to search for trials by state. However, it obviously only lists Australian trials, not those in other countries. Other organisations who advocate for patients have also welcomed the initiative. Paul Grogran, Director of Public Policy at Cancer Council Australia, said the launch of the new clinical trials website would be welcomed by many cancer patients and would enbable people interested in taking part in innovative research, who often had exhausted other avenues of treatment, a way of identifying relevant research projects. “Clinical trials are the only way to definitely test what new cancer treatments work, however recruiting participants can be difficult. This new website is an important step forward for cancer research in Australia, helping connect scientists with patients who may potentially benefit for their ground-breaking research." The Director of Patient Advocate Pty Ltd Claire Crocker said it would make trials more accessible to patients. "This initiative will make information about clinical trials much more available to patients and families who may otherwise not know how to access such avenues, especially for those experiencing chronic illness. It is extremely important that patients also receive, and are encouraged to receive, specific and personal medical advice to facilitate informed and safe decision making at all times," Ms Crocker said. The federal government hopes the registry will help to address the fact that just under half of all Phase Three clinical trials failed to meet their patient recruitment targets. Ms Ley said recruitment difficulties were considered one of the main reasons for a seven per cent decline in the number of Australian trials conducted between 2012 and 2013. “This Australian-first one-stop shop of information relating to clinical trials marks a significant milestone in the Australian Government’s $9.9 million commitment to accelerate clinical trials reform and improve access to critical treatments and therapies,” Ms Ley said. She said participating in clinical trials offered patients access to new trial therapies and a source of hope at a time when they may have exhausted other avenues. “This reform will provide Australians right across the country, including regional and rural patients, greater access to clinical trials and will help to improve health outcomes,” she said. [post_title] => Doctors back new clinical trials registry [post_excerpt] => Registry to boost trial participation. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => doctors-back-new-clinical-trials-registry [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-05-21 23:50:31 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-05-21 13:50:31 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=19682 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [11] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19545 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2015-05-12 10:23:59 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-05-12 00:23:59 [post_content] => Quirófano_01   Taxpayers will pour another half a billion dollars into Australia’s badly ailing national eHealth system in the federal Budget almost exactly a decade after Prime Minister Tony Abbott said the scheme would be a failure if it was not up and running in just a year when he held the health portfolio. After around $1 billion and ten year’s worth of stop-start development, Health Minister Sussan Ley has revealed the government will finally mandate the Personally Controlled Electronic Health Record as an ‘opt out’ digital service rather than patients having to ask for one. The extra money and mandate for doctors to start enrolling patients is a major win for clinicians and peak bodies including the Australian Medical Association that have long argued a national eHealth record wouldn’t accumulate sufficient take-up unless it was mandated as the default source of information from the start. In a carefully staged pre-Budget announcement, the big pot of new money for eHealth is being presented as a cash fix for Labor’s handling of the project which saw its development beset by problems while under the supervision of the Department of Health. “The Abbott Government will deliver a rebooted personalised myHealth Record system for patients and doctors that will trial an opt-out, rather than opt-in, option as part of a $485 million budget rescue package to salvage Labor’s failed attempts to develop a national electronic medical records system,” said Health Minister Sussan Ley. “Less-than one-in-ten Australians are currently signed up to Labor’s PCEHR system, which is opt-in, with an independent review last year finding this was not a large enough sample to make it an effective national system or worth the time and effort for patients and doctors using it.” In truth both sides of politics at the federal level have persistently made a hash of eHealth reforms, assisted by the added complication of having to also drag the states and territories along for the ride via the COAG process. The inability for hospitals and doctors to have a uniform, standardised electronic record and document that contains a patient’s key details and history remains one of the biggest administrative and cost overheads in terms of making healthcare more effective and affordable because of the huge levels of duplication and repetition required. But progress has been painfully slow. In June 2005 Tony Abbott as Health Minister had visibly lost patience with technology providers and told a group of them gathered at a breakfast that he wanted those receiving care to see a difference in 12 months. “If patients do not see a difference, we will have failed," Mr Abbott said, adding that “for too long we have tried to achieve too much. The best is the enemy of the good." Now Sussan Ley is sharing Mr Abbott’s frustrations. “In this modern world where technology makes information sharing boundless, there’s no excuse for Australia not to have a functioning national e-health system and that’s what the Abbott Government’s revamped myHealth Record aims to achieve,” Ms Ley said. “And as a parent of three children, I recognise the benefits of having your family’s personal health information safely stored and accessible to healthcare providers. In the case of allergic reactions or medicine emergencies, having fast access to critical health data could be a matter of life or death. “As patients, we’ve all been in situations where we’ve had to attend another GP surgery because we were out-of-town or couldn’t get an appointment with our regular doctor. It can be a time consuming and often frustrating experience for patients and doctors alike. In August 2013 key clinicians staged an unprecedented walk-out from the federal project amid frustrations over Health’s and the National eHealth Transition Authority’s stewardship over the technological development of the platform, prompting crisis talks between the Australian Medical Association and then Health Secretary Jane Halton. Dr Steve Hambleton, who was then AMA President, was later appointed chair of NEHTA in an effort to get doctors back on board. “Clinical utility will drive this thing,” Dr Hambleton said. “If we can’t get it from NeHTA let’s get it from somewhere else. We have got a railway line … we just don’t have any trucks.” Under the latest incarnation of the PECHR, the platform will be renamed the “myHealth Record” and the National E-Health Transition Authority will be replaced with the Australian Commission for eHealth from July 2016. “A transition taskforce will be established to manage the transition between the two,” Ms Ley said, adding that PCEHR operations and associated governance arrangements would also transition from the Department of Health to the new Commission. However policy functions for e-health will remain with the Department of Health. “These governance changes have been discussed with and are supported by states and territories, and will improve the accountability and transparency of arrangements,” Ms Ley said. [post_title] => Ley gets $485 million to resuscitate eHealth [post_excerpt] => NeHTA abolished as doctors get enrolment mandate. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => ley-gets-485-million-to-resuscitate-ehealth [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-05-15 09:01:24 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-05-14 23:01:24 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=19545 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 2 [filter] => raw ) [12] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19322 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2015-04-27 16:46:49 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-27 06:46:49 [post_content] => [caption id="attachment_19325" align="alignnone" width="287"]8534699243_8c418530d3 Knows what cuts it: Health Minister Sussan Ley.[/caption]   A final decision on whether more than $30 billion a year in Medicare benefit claims and payments processing will be outsourced to private industry looks no closer to resolution. The Department of Health has confirmed it is still mulling over its options despite issuing a heavily publicised call out to commercial providers to submit Expressions of Interest (EOI) in August 2014. “The EOI process is still with the Department of Health and possible next steps are under consideration,” a Health spokesperson told Government News late last week. Despite a flurry of initial submissions last year, parts of industry now appear to have heavily tempered any expectation of movement on contracts or pilot projects until at least 2016 because of a new review of the Medical Benefits Scheme and the Pharmaceutical Benefits scheme instigated by recently appointed Health Minister Sussan Ley. After investing almost a year in terms of engagement and bringing the government up to speed, industry is now avidly watching for potential signs that Medicare payments outsourcing push flagged by the Commission of Audit may be headed into political palliative care. Ms Ley last week revealed a three pronged overhaul of Medicare which closely involves health professionals and is being spearheaded by the creation of a Medicare Benefits Schedule (MBS) Review Taskforce led by Professor Bruce Robinson, Dean of the Sydney Medical School at University of Sydney. “Currently, the MBS has more than 5,500 services listed, not all of which reflect contemporary best clinical practice. The MBS Review Taskforce will consider how services can be aligned with contemporary clinical evidence and improve health outcomes for patients, Ms Ley said. The giant stocktake, which will be led by clinicians, has the clear potential to generate savings which informed speculation has put at up to $3 billion. At the same time the Ms Ley has announced another review of subsidised drugs that make it onto the PBS that could generate savings claimed to potentially be has high as $7 billion. One well publicised target is the writing of scripts for already cheap over the counter medications like paracetamol where the cost of processing of the script for a retail product can be higher than the price of the medication itself. The raft of reviews have serious ramifications for any potential suppliers of outsourced Medicare and PBS claims and payment processing because future policy decisions would almost certainly influence the business rules that potential outsourcers would need to build their services on. It could also dramatically change the business case assumptions for outsourcers, with the Department of Health now clearly keeping an open mind on where that might leave commercial options for both the government and industry. The most Health will say is that Medicare payments will still be made, although it has remained conspicuously ambiguous over what form these may take. “The EOI process was to assess the potential and feasibility for commercial payment service providers to support health service payments, and while the outcomes of the Medicare review could change the policies that lead to health service payments, it is anticipated that payments will continue to be processed in some form,” a Health Department spokeswoman said. The latest reviews which heavily involve clinicians are a far cry from the government’s previous failed efforts to ram through a Medicare co-payment that resulted in a policy backflip, sharp criticism from doctors and ultimately the appointment of the more personable Ms Ley to Health Minister to replace Peter Dutton who has been sent to Immigration and Border Protection. Selling the Medicare review as a major step forward in restoring productive relations with clinicians and the Australian Medical Association on ABC Radio last week, Ms Ley described Medicare co-payment backflip as “ancient history.” Another major factor industry is watching is the Department of Human Services’ announcement that it the business case for an overhaul of Centrelink’s ageing mainframe-based payments applications, dubbed ISIS, has been approved. The approval raises the clear question of whether the government will try and pursue both an in-house build of one key welfare payments engine while trying to get commercial providers for another. Although Health is formally the custodian of the Medicare and PBS payments system in terms of accountability it has in fact used DHS to make the equivalent of a giant electronic cheque-run for years. Under the Howard government the cost of manually processing Medicare refund claims over the counter had been estimated to be as high as $10 a transaction, a figure that jarred against costs to well under a dollar for electronic transactions. Human Services has said planning for the Centrelink overhaul “will begin on 1 July 2015 with the first stage to be completed by the end of 2016.” [post_title] => Payments outsourcing stuck in Medicare waiting room [post_excerpt] => Industry, public service still waiting for answers. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => payments-outsourcing-stuck-in-medicare-waiting-room [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-30 22:06:19 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-30 12:06:19 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=19322 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) [13] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 19065 [post_author] => 671 [post_date] => 2015-04-14 09:49:27 [post_date_gmt] => 2015-04-13 23:49:27 [post_content] => HP9835A The Department of Human Services is set to spend upwards of a billion dollars rebuilding its core welfare benefits processing and payments system after federal Cabinet finally gave the green light for the massive technology overhaul that is anticipated to take at least five years. However key questions surrounding the structure and go-to-market strategy for the project are expected to be left unanswered until the May Budget as key players in Australia’s technology supplier sector go into a last minute lobbying frenzy in a bid to try and lucrative secure work. The pressing need for a core system overhaul at Human Services and especially Centrelink has already been well established with the Abbott Government and Labor Opposition persistently trading barbs over who is responsible for dragging the chain on upgrading the welfare payments engine. A major factor in the ongoing delay has been the high degree of political and financial risk associated with replacing the existing mainframe and batch processing-driven system that has collected around three decades of customisation, expedient fixes and politically-mandated coding that comes with fast-paced policy announcements which ultimately need to land in people’s bank accounts. “This important long-term investment will allow the government to properly address the challenges facing Australia's welfare system, maximise the benefits of e-government, reduce the costs of administering the system for taxpayers and help crack down on welfare cheats,” Social Services Minister Scott Morrison said. Mr Morrison said the 30-year-old system now amounted to “30 million lines of code” that had to pump out “more than 50 million daily transactions is responsible for delivering around $100 billion in payments to 7.3 million people every year.” Peel away the numbers and by far the biggest challenge for the government and the Department of Human Services remains how to build a system that is both sufficiently flexible and fast enough to respond to persistently changing policy directives and still spit out or claw back cash as required. The nearest project in terms of scale and capability remains the Commonwealth Bank’s core systems replacement delivered by the institution’s former Chief Information Officer Michael Harte who was given a strong mandate to enforce a policy that suppliers worked with and for the bank - rather than vice versa. Under that regime, conventional procurement models - which more often than not eschewed risk- were forcibly and publicly challenged in favour of conscious, active and rapid experimentation that took a bigger picture and real-world view of technology that ticked risk management check boxes. A major issue for Human Services’ commitment to an overhaul is how much of the McClure report- tasked with identifying “how to make Australia’s welfare system fairer, more effective, coherent and sustainable” - is actually adopted. A key thrust of the McClure Report was that welfare benefits and entitlements had to be simplified back to a point where recipients, the public sector and the government of the day all understood the process and expectations. An enduring frustration for welfare recipients - who traverse social strata in Australia - has been an ongoing incompatibility between related policy driven decisions and enabling systems which have forced average people to spend hours on hold just to provide basic information. "If we want a flexible and modern social security system that meets the needs of those who rely on it, then we need flexible and modern infrastructure. This will ensure changes governments make to our welfare system can be implemented quickly and cost effectively,” Human Services Minister Marise Payne said. "ICT reform will also ensure more government systems are talking to each other, lessening the compliance burden on individuals, employers and service providers. Creating a simpler system will make it easier for people to comply with requirements and spend more time searching for jobs, which is the key element of welfare reform," her senior minister Scott Morrison said. Well here’s hoping. What is far less clear is where the latest announcement leaves a bid by former Health Minister Peter Dutton to outsource around $30 billion in Medicare payments and associated benefits processing to the private sector that has now fallen to Sussan Ley. There are known reservations within the government whether the outsourcing push and the Human Services IT overhaul can work effectively in tandem, especially because of the high reliance of Medicare on DHS’ infrastructure. That issue, along with the go-to-market strategy of Human Services for its overhaul, are most likely to be revealed in weeks in the federal Budget.   [post_title] => Human Services takes $1 billion tech plunge [post_excerpt] => Medicare outsourcing in Budget limbo. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => human-services-takes-1-billion-tech-plunge [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2015-04-14 10:06:17 [post_modified_gmt] => 2015-04-14 00:06:17 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=19065 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 0 [filter] => raw ) ) [post_count] => 14 [current_post] => -1 [in_the_loop] => [post] => WP_Post Object ( [ID] => 26080 [post_author] => 659 [post_date] => 2017-01-27 10:21:22 [post_date_gmt] => 2017-01-26 23:21:22 [post_content] =>   Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop's cash splash on helicopters, chauffered cars and European tours launched a thousand memes on social media.      Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull needs to urgently act on his promise to reform politicians’ work expenses before another one gets busted, say academics. Parliamentary expenses have been under the spotlight again recently, with the high profile resignation of federal Health Minister Sussan Ley earlier this month. Ms Ley quit after it emerged that she had purchased a $795,000 Gold Coast apartment ‘on impulse’ during a taxpayer-funded trip. News of her chartering and flying planes to attend work meetings back in 2015 delivered the coup de grace. During the ensuing storm of negative public opinion and media commentary, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull committed to creating a new independent parliamentary standards authority to vet politicians’ expenses claims, similar to that established in the UK after the 2009 MP’s expenses scandal exploded. It is understood that the new body’s board would include the President of the Renumeration Tribunal, as well as former public servants, judges and politicians and an auditing expert; probably taking over from the Department of Finance, which currently administers the system of complex laws and rules around politicians' expense claims. Mr Turnbull has also pledged to address the 36 recommendations contained in a February 2016 Renumeration Tribunal Review into politicians’ work expenses led by Tribunal President John Conde and former Finance secretary David Tune. The review was commissioned by former Prime Minister Tony Abbott following Liberal MP Bronwyn Bishop’s notorious Choppergate scandal the previous year. The Reviews’ 36 recommendations included making the distinction clearer between official and personal business and defining whether duties are party political, electorate or office duties. Prof Rodney Smith, who teaches Australian politics and public sector ethics at Sydney University’s Department of Government and International Relations, said immediate action was needed to dispel the ‘widespread public suspicion’ that politicians fiddled their expense claims, overlaid by the general idea that politicians were in it for themselves. “I think it’s probably at a point where if nothing happens or there are only superficial reforms, the government is only really going to be making a rod for its own back further down the track if someone else has been embroiled in another scandal,” Prof Smith said. But he said the public sometimes lacked understanding about what the job entailed. “[Australia’s] geography is very big. It’s inevitable that you’re going to need some kind of reasonable scheme for travel and associated costs for doing your job as minister.” AJ Brown, Professor of Public Policy and Law at Griffith University’s Public Integrity and Anti-Corruption in the Centre for Governance, said the task of reforming the system “really is very urgent” and creating an independent regulatory body was a good start. At the moment it was a system “that’s still fundamentally under the control of those who would stick their noses in the trough” leaving MPs to their own devices – and consciences. But despite the positive move to take expenses away from the purview of politicians, he said the new body should also adjudicate on broader corruption issues such as conflict of interest, code of conduct and interest registers. “I think they can get this moving but the pressure will mount for them to broaden its jurisdiction,” Prof Brown said. “It links in with having a stronger federal anti-corruption body generally because some of these issues are even more serious. “My big fear is that this new authority won’t have the jurisdiction to cover all of these things that are sometimes more important and controversial, in terms of parliamentary ethics and standards: issues of public confidence.” Prof Brown also backs creating a new role of Parliamentary Integrity Commissioner, one originally suggested by former PM Julia Gillard and the Independents, to cover all areas of parliamentary standards. Self-regulation has failed Whatever occurs, it is clear that MPs regulating their own expenses’ claims has manifestly failed. Prof Brown said that the independence of auditing and compliance needed to be upgraded because politicians had not been subject to sufficient checks and balances. The rules that exist are too complex and have been built up ad hoc over many years, “The Finance Department have had a terrible time trying to administer it”, he added. “I don’t think they’re [politicians] any more venal than the rest of the world and much of them are less venal but they have been the victims of weak systems. “Just the assumption they don’t need some extra policing to help them keep in line like the rest of the world,” he said. Australia had dropped the ball a bit when it came to clamping down on corruption. “Australia has been very complacent about allowing these issues about corruption generally, both small and large scale. We’re really just catching up with the rest of the world," Prof Brown said. “We need to make sure we’ve got our act together and our systems in place, especially because of how much more competiti­ve the world is and how much faster we are operating.” Both men said that some politicians failed the pub test but still acted within the rules, partly because they belonged to a kind of insider community where what was viewed as convenient and acceptable to getting the job done could be at odds with broader public experience. Prof Brown said: “It’s so easy for people in positions of power to confuse what they’re doing in the public interest with what they want to do in their own personal or political interest. It’s not about individuals, it’s about human nature. “People set their standards on what they see other people do and think it’s ok or they see other people get away with it. The risk of people in high office losing their connection to the community is high.” Prof Smith said that, for the most part, politicians did the right thing but sometimes just got sucked in to what appeared to be the ‘rules of the game’ and slipped up. The big three areas of expense claims that need to be addressed by Mr Turnbull's government are probably: travel expenses, the definition of official business and family reunion allowances. Travel Prof Smith said parliamentary travel entitlements had long been one of the most problematic areas in Australian politics due to the sheer number of politicians caught up in questionable travel claims and because public opinion was often fierce around such debates. Prof Smith said the rules need to be tightened up in some instances and clarified in others. “They are much more specific than they used to be but there are still some fairly broad limits in the rules. An example is [the definition of] official business,” he said. Travel expenses have generated some of the most egregious and colourful scandals over the years. Federal MP Bronwyn Bishop famously fell foul of public opinion in July 2015. Choppergate put paid to her time in the Speaker’s chair in the House of Representatives and launched a thousand memes on social media after she charged the taxpayer more than $5,000 for a cheeky 80-km helicopter trip from Melbourne to a Liberal Party function in Geelong, rather than drive. Neither did it help when Ms Bishop blew $88,000 on a European trip, part of which included her campaigning for the presidency of Inter-Parliamentary Union; or charging taxpayers $600 for a return flight to fellow Liberal MP Sophie Mirabella’s wedding, an expense that Mr Abbott himself paid back and advised other pollies to do the same. What counts as official? A common argument from politicians is that their expenses claims – often relating to travel - are within the rules but later admitting that they would not have passed the ‘pub test’. The problem is, of course, that travel claims like these appear [in Labor Leader Bill Shorten’s words] ‘colossally arrogant’ and out of touch to the general populace, particularly when the government is in the middle of a highly flawed benefits crackdown and gearing up to reduce maternity leave. These stories feed the public perception that says politicians are ‘all the same’ and have their snouts in the trough, leading rarefied lives compared with the rest of us. It is not a good look; neither does it foster much public confidence in the political system or the people elected to serve inside it. Deciding on what constitutes official business clearly needs to be addressed and this is one of the recommendations of the Conde Review. Few things raise the hackles of ordinary folk more than politicians charging taxpayers when they attend major sporting or cultural events as guests of a private company. Tasmanian Senator David Bushby, Finance Minister Mathias Cormann and Parliamentary Secretary to the Treasurer, Steve Ciobo stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy after they charged taxpayers thousands of dollars to attend the 2013 AFL Grand Final, dubiously excusing themselves by saying they had important work chats with the companies that invited them. Foreign Minister Julie Bishop charged taxpayers $2716 to attend a polo match in the Mornington Peninsula last year as guest of beer maker Peroni and car company Jeep. Ms Bishop defended her expenses claim, saying she was attending in her official capacity. I miss my family Family reunion travel – designed to reduce the isolation many politicians experience from being on the road a lot – has also attracted a fair amount of negative attention. Labor’s Tony Burke spent nearly $13,000 on flights, a hire car and other allowances when his family joined him on a four-day trip to Uluru in 2012 when he was federal Environment Minister. Even the kids flew business class, which Mr Burke later admitted was 'indefensible'. While Mr Burke claimed the taxpayer bill was legitimate because he was on official business and visiting aboriginal communities, others did not see it the same way.  The $90 Comcar to travel to a Robbie Williams concert also failed to endear him to a critical public. It is another area that the Review suggests needs changing, reiterating that family reunion travel can only be funded if the politician is at the location for work, underlining that it should not be used to sneak in a taxpayer-funded family holiday. How should reform proceed? Prof Smith said making data transparent is critical to good reform because it will increase public confidence in the system and keep MPs on their toes. At the moment, expenses are published every six months. The Review has recommended this reporting be narrowed to monthly to help open up and demystify the process, as well as to give the public a better understanding of politicians’ jobs. He said that abuses often came to light accidentally or through freedom of information requests from journalists. Many never came to light. “Politicians would be more careful just as they are more careful about accepting political donations or ministers having meetings with lobbyists, because they know there is greater transparency and greater understanding of what’s legitimate and what’s not,” Prof Smith said. The Conde Review’s key recommendations
  • Define ‘parliamentary business’ to determine legitimate expenses claims
  • ‘Entitlements’ or ‘benefits’ now to be referred to as ‘work expenses’
  • Create a single legal framework to deal with work expenses and guide politicians
  • Publish rules and details of work expenses on data.gov.au, quarterly and then monthly
  • Principle of value for money to be central
  • Helicopters cannot be chartered to cover short distances ‘in the absence of compelling reasons’
  • A 25 per cent penalty to be paid where expenses claims are ruled invalid, not just those relating to travel
  • Prohibit the use of car and driver, including COMCAR, for journeys that are primarily personal
  • Abolish the $10 per night travelling allowance for partners accompanying ministers or office holders
  • Explore the option of leasing vehicles, rather than buying private plated vehicles
  • Tighten family reunion eligibility – only fund trips for partners and children when they join the MP or Senator who is there for the parliamentary business
  • Reduced provision for former parliamentarians who don’t qualify for a Life Gold Pass
  • Provide politicians from the Big Six electorates (over 500,000sq km) with a third staff office, second vehicle offset and extra travel allowance for stopovers on official business
  Transparency International Australia will hold its National Integrity 2017 conference on March 16 and March 17 at the Novotel Brisbane. [post_title] => Crack down on politicians’ entitlements now, say academics [post_excerpt] => Travel expenses biggest rort. [post_status] => publish [comment_status] => open [ping_status] => open [post_password] => [post_name] => 26080 [to_ping] => [pinged] => [post_modified] => 2017-01-30 17:05:22 [post_modified_gmt] => 2017-01-30 06:05:22 [post_content_filtered] => [post_parent] => 0 [guid] => http://www.governmentnews.com.au/?p=26080 [menu_order] => 0 [post_type] => post [post_mime_type] => [comment_count] => 1 [filter] => raw ) [comment_count] => 0 [current_comment] => -1 [found_posts] => 14 [max_num_pages] => 1 [max_num_comment_pages] => 0 [is_single] => [is_preview] => [is_page] => [is_archive] => 1 [is_date] => [is_year] => [is_month] => [is_day] => [is_time] => [is_author] => [is_category] => [is_tag] => 1 [is_tax] => [is_search] => [is_feed] => [is_comment_feed] => [is_trackback] => [is_home] => [is_404] => [is_embed] => [is_paged] => [is_admin] => [is_attachment] => [is_singular] => [is_robots] => [is_posts_page] => [is_post_type_archive] => [query_vars_hash:WP_Query:private] => 14d9a42294070e6e05aa562512be1f5d [query_vars_changed:WP_Query:private] => 1 [thumbnails_cached] => [stopwords:WP_Query:private] => [compat_fields:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => query_vars_hash [1] => query_vars_changed ) [compat_methods:WP_Query:private] => Array ( [0] => init_query_flags [1] => parse_tax_query ) )

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