As the Super Saturday by-elections loom, My Health Record has become a political platform with a Liberal MP confirming he has opted out of the system and the Opposition calling for an extension to the opt out period.
Federal Liberal backbencher Tim Wilson, the first dissenting Coalition MP, said the government had “inherited” the national online health information platform from Labor and he had opted out.
“I don’t think it will surprise anybody that my instinctive position should always be as a Liberal that systems should be opt-in and people should be able to freely choose to opt in to a system rather than have to go through the process of opting out, and that includes myself,” Wilson told Sky News this week.
Conceding there were some clinical benefits to the system, Wilson said he had made his choice regardless.
“I have opted out of the system and ultimately it’s up to everybody to choose what to do, because of course people who don’t currently have access to their medical records, there is some benefits to the system in terms of efficiency and access to your medical records under the new system put forward by My Health Record,” he said.
“There is nothing wrong with having a My Health Record system but my position about whether people should be free to choose remains resolutely clear.”
Labor introduced an opt in version of My Health Record while the Turnbull government chose to shift the system to opt out.
The Opposition yesterday called for an extension to the three-month opt out period and a comprehensive information campaign to educate the public about the national online health information platform.
“There has been significant and growing community concern about the My Health Record since the beginning of the opt out period on 16 July,” Shadow Health Minister Catherine King said in a statement.
“The government has failed to effectively communicate with the public about what the My Health Record is and the potential benefits it could bring. It has also failed to explain to people how their rights will be respected and their privacy protected.
“This approach has fuelled suspicion and scepticism, which could be why tens of thousands of people rushed to opt out in the first week.”
King said Labor supports digital health and the My Health Record but has concerns that the government’s implementation of the opt out process has “seriously undermined public trust in this important policy”.
Opposition leader Bill Shorten today called out the government’s track record in the management of tech projects and claimed the My Health Record roll out needs to slow down.
“Doesn’t this government have a track record of turning everything they touch into custard?” Shorten, who hasn’t decided to opt out, said.
“They’ve stuffed up the NBN, they’ve stuffed up the NDIS, they stuffed up the census and now they’re jeopardising the My Health Record system.
“I think the government needs to take a deep breath, climb down off their arrogant high horse and they need to extend the opt out period. And I think it’s interesting, when you’ve got prominent government backbenchers like the Liberal Member for Goldstein in Victoria saying he’s opting out, if Mr Turnbull’s own members of parliament are opting out, that should ring alarm bells for all Australians.
“I think the government, with its track record of bad implementation, just needs to slow down and get this right and listen to the concerns of the public, rather than arrogantly steam-rollering people and creating a real disaster.”
Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has been forced to defend the system since the opt out period began last week with 20,000 Australians withdrawing from the system on the first day. On Friday he assured Australians My Health Record is secure and claimed significant withdrawals would not derail the system.
"It doesn't need to have a particular number of people in it," the Prime Minister told Tasmanian radio station LAFM.
Meanwhile, Cybersecurity Minister Angus Taylor, who has opted in to My Health Record, said the portal had heavy duty cybersecurity.
“We use encryption which means that the data is essentially impossible to decode because it is encrypted. It’s like it’s coded, heavily coded,” Taylor told Sky News.
“These are high grade security measures that are taken. If you look at how health data is stored on many of the existing systems, not government systems but private sector systems out there, they don’t use these heavy grades of security necessarily and so it’s crucial that we do have that high grade security in place for these sorts of projects.”
Australians have until October 15 to opt out of the national health database or a My Health Record will be created for them by the end of the year. About 6 million currently have one.
Five electorates are up for grabs on the weekend, four as a result of the citizen crisis that saw Labor or crossbench MPs forced to quit for having dual citizenship, while another Labor MP resigned to spend more time with his family. The Super Saturday by-election frenzy will see Longman in Queensland, Mayo in South Australia, Braddon in Tasmania, and Perth and Fremantle go to the polls.
While there’s no risk of the government falling, the electoral outcomes could be a test of community feeling for the Coalition’s management of a $2 billion major health infrastructure project.
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